How Your Website’s Load Speed Impacts SEO (Plus Best Practices)

website load speed SEO

Few factors can make or break your rankings like the time it takes for your pages to load.

Users are often looking for quick answers, and they will not hesitate to bounce if your page takes too long to load.

When Google’s algorithm notices that people are frequently bouncing away from your page, your rankings will suffer.

In this article, you’ll learn:

The Difference Between Site Speed and PageSpeed

Site speed and PageSpeed are often lumped together, and while there is overlap between them, they are two different metrics.

Site speed is the speed at which your entire website loads as users click through it. Google first announced that site speed would be a ranking factor in a 2010 blog post, and it’s only become more important since then.

PageSpeed is the speed at which a specific page on your website loads. There are a few ways to measure the PageSpeed of a page:

  1. Fully loaded page: How long it takes for every element of the page to load.
  2. Time to first byte: This measures how long it takes for the page to start loading.
  3. First meaningful paint: The time it takes for the page to load enough elements to actually view/read the content.

There are pros and cons to all three of these PageSpeed measurements. If you had to focus on one, it should be time to first byte, but you should really focus on improving all of them.

To understand how/why site speed and PageSpeed impact SEO, read this quote from Moz.com:

Google has indicated site speed (and as a result, page speed) is one of the signals used by its algorithm to rank pages. And research has shown that Google might be specifically measuring time to first byte as when it considers page speed. In addition, a slow page speed means that search engines can crawl fewer pages using their allocated crawl budget, and this could negatively affect your indexation.

Page speed is also important to user experience. Pages with a longer load time tend to have higher bounce rates and lower average time on page. Longer load times have also been shown to negatively affect conversions.

Since improving your site speed will also improve your PageSpeed, and because there are no tools to measure site speed as a whole, the rest of this article will hone in on PageSpeed.

How to Measure Your PageSpeed

There are a few great tools you can use to measure PageSpeed:

Google PageSpeed Insights: This Google-made tool analyzes the content of a web page, then generates suggestions to make the page faster.

✔️ Free to use (no paid plans available)
✔️ Mobile and desktop tests
❌ Can’t set or see the test location

Pingdom: This tool analyzes the speed of a web page, then spits out a ton of data on how fast the page is.

✔️ Free to use ($42/month paid plan available)
✔️ Mobile and desktop tests
✔️ Set test location

GT-Metrix: This tool lets you see how your web page performs and allows you to monitor a page’s progress over time.

✔️ Free to use ($15/month paid plan available)
✔️ Mobile and desktop tests
✔️ Set test location

Each of these tools have pretty similar overall functions, but each also has a unique advantage over the others:

  • Use PageSpeed Insights to get actionable tips that impact your SEO directly.
  • Try Pingdom to get super detailed data with everything you need to know about your website’s speed.
  • Create a GTmetrix account to run tests with detailed results that you can track over time.

If you only want to use one tool, we recommend PageSpeed Insights or Pingdom. But if you’re ever doing a deep dive on a specific web page, hoping to make it faster, you should run the page through all three tools to get as much information as possible.

6 Best Practices for Improving PageSpeed

These best practices will improve your overall site speed, which in-turn improves the PageSpeed of all of your pages.

1. Optimize images

By compressing the size of your image files, you can increase PageSpeed. Loading images is very resource intensive, so this is often the lowest hanging fruit for websites.

We recommend using a plugin for this. If your site is on WordPress, try Imagify (as low as $5/month with a free plan available) or WP Smush (as low as $70/year with a 7 day free trial).

Don’t worry if your site is not on WordPress. You can use Caesium (free) to compress images before uploading them to your site.

2. Clean and compress your code

This is known as minifying the resources on your page, including:

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • JavaScript
  • Any other code on the page

How should you start minifying this code? I’ll let this quote from SEO expert Brian Dean do the heavy lifting:

Your first step should be to clean up any bloated code that you have on your page. This extra code could be from features that you don’t have on your site anymore. Or from shoddy developer work.

Either way: the cleaner your code, the faster things will load. –Brian Dean from Backlinko

Once you’ve removed the bloat, compress your code with a program like GZip.

3. Activate browser caching

Activating caching allows users to store parts of your page in their browser cache, allowing it (and other pages with overlapping elements) to load faster the next time they visit.

We recommend setting up caching with a plugin (our favorite is WPRocket), but you can also do so in your .htaccess file.

4. Use a Content Distribution Network (CDN)

Implementing a CDN is one of the easiest ways to significantly improve your load times.

CDNs store copies of your site at multiple data centers around the world. When a user lands on your site, the CDN identifies their physical location and serves up your site’s resources from the data center that is closest to them.

Image from Backlinko.com

There are many CDNs you can use, but we recommend CloudFlare.

5. Reduce redirects

Redirects don’t happen instantaneously. Every time a page redirects to another, your users will face additional wait time.

Reduce the number of redirects as much as possible to keep your pages lightning fast.

6. Upgrade your hosting

Brian Dean’s general rule is: when it comes to hosting, you get what you pay for.

If you’re paying for $5/month hosting, you’re likely sharing a server with thousands or even millions of other websites. Sharing resources in this way is a huge obstacle to making your site to load quickly — and none of the best practices above will be enough to overcome it.

Look into a premium host or upgrade to a dedicated server if you’re serious about improving website speed.

Final Thoughts

Google’s algorithm is obsessed with user experience these days, and loading times are a big part of that.

Providing a fast and engaging user experience will give you a huge leg-up on your competition. By contrast, a slow and confusing user experience will make it nearly impossible to attain high rankings.

Want our team to handle all of this technical SEO stuff for you? Schedule a free SEO consultation today!

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