By: Nikia Sayre, Organic Optimization Director, TruStar Marketing, LLC

Properly optimized websites use long-tail keywords, conversational content strategies focused on customer intent and mobile-first indexing. However, another important factor, which carries much weight in Google’s ranking algorithm, is site speed.

Simply put, if your website is slow to load, it will get penalized by Google, even if you have the other SEO pieces in place.

Why Does Site Speed Matter?

Website speed is important for many reasons, all of which work together to improve (or harm) a website’s ranking on Google. Here’s how:

Slow site load causes High Bounce Rates.

A slow site, even with properly optimized content, will elicit high bounce rates because customers do not like to wait for a website to load. Truthfully, people will not wait, especially on mobile devices.

For example, if your current load time is about a second, that is good. When your site load speed takes 3 seconds, your bounce rate will increase approximately 30% (yes, for 2 seconds!). Mobile pages may take longer, depending on data speeds. Go to a 6 second load time and the bounce rate can go to 90% or higher.

There will always be bounce, by the way. Normal rates for great websites are between 25-40%. So, you aren’t looking for perfect, but performance monitoring is something you need to do from time to time, especially if you start adding some speed-clogging functions to your site, which we will get to shortly.

A high bounce rate is also a sign of poor user experience.

Google takes great pride in delivering the very best answer to a search query. Improving how search works is probably the one thing they spend most of their time on, and let’s face it – they are getting very good at it. So, if they match your site to a query, but the user leaves quickly, they will conclude:

1. The site speed is slow because of technical/load issues, or
2. The content that was supplied is not what the searcher was looking for. That is a big problem for Google, and the higher a website or page’s bounce rate, the more Google believes that the content does not match user intent. When this happens repeatedly, that page will fall further down the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) because Google no longer considers it a good answer for the query.

Time spent on site works in conjunction with bounce rate and user experience.

Once Google sends someone to your site, they will monitor how long a person stays on the site, and how many pages are viewed. Time spent on site is an almost direct indication of how well the content on the page matches the user’s query. When time spent on a page is very low, Google interprets that as the page not meeting user experience expectations, and the page will continue to fall further down the SERP.

Website speed also impacts the time spent on site and page views per visitor. If your website takes 2 seconds to load, you will likely have an average of eight page visits per user. With a load time of 8 seconds, you will be lucky to get about three pages per visit.

Click-through rate and site loyalty are also affected by site speed.

Clicking on a search result is a great indicator to Google that the results offered were probably a good match. If one result gets more clicks than the others (Google likes cumulative results), then Google will move that result up to the top of the SERP, while other results with fewer clicks will start moving down.

What does this have to do with site speed? Not too much for the first time someone clicks on a result. However, if the site takes over 4 seconds to load, you will lose as much as 75% of returning traffic to your site. Site loyalty depends on fast load times. Customers are very impatient. If they don’t have a good or fast experience with one site, they will find another (faster=better) site.

What does Page Load mean?

When talking about page load speed, it means the time it takes to get to a Fully Loaded Page, meaning that 100% of the resources on the page are loaded.

Time to First Byte is the time it takes to start the loading process. This is important to get as low as possible if you cannot get your full load under 3 seconds, because customers will be slightly more patient if they see something immediately, even if it isn’t the whole page.

First Meaningful Paint/First Contextual Paint, is almost a hybrid between the page load types above. This is the time it takes to load enough information so users can read the content on your page. You are aiming for this content to load within 1.5 seconds, so a user can start interacting with your page almost immediately. This will also make the user believe you have a fast-loading page, which helps with site loyalty.

What affects Site Speed?

The quick list on things that affect site speed include:
● Bulky images
● Slow host/service provider
● Apps, Plugins & Widgets (oh my!)
● Third party scripts
● Website’s theme
● Redirects

How to Speed up Your Website

Luckily, there are a few tactics that can improve your site speed considerably, without too much time or effort. Here’s how to get started on improving your site speed:

Determine current load time and see what is slowing you down.

You are aiming for a load time under 3 seconds. There are a few free and paid sites that can help you with this, but a great free place to start is Google Page Speed Insights.

Optimize the size of images on your website.

Compress your images using an image resizing tool, like Photoshop. PNGs are better for graphics with fewer than 16 colors, while JPEGS are best for photos. It’s a page’s biggest win, since images take up about 50-90% of a page’s size.
Though this might take some time depending on the number of images, it can make a huge difference in site speed immediately after you optimize images. Do this first, and retest site speed – see what a difference it makes!

With web hosting, you get what you pay for.

Upgrade to a premium web host, or dedicated server. If you have a national or global site that gets traffic from around the world, consider a Content Delivery Network (CDN), which is a set of web servers distributed across geographic locations that provide web content to end users based on their physical location.
When you host on a single server, all requests go through the same hardware, so page speed decreases. While there are several types of hosting arrangements (shared, virtual private, dedicated), try to get the best and fasting hosting service you can afford.

Reduce the number of Plugins, Apps, Widgets and Third-Party Scripts on your site.

When you use plugins or third-party enhancements that add specific features like search tools, pop ups and directions, more resources are needed to run them, so the website runs slower. Some of the plugins that slow speed the most are those that load a lot of scripts and styles or generate database queries.

For the ones you do need to keep, make sure they are always up to date, and re-run performance tests from time to time to make sure they are running as efficient as possible.

You should also minimize Javascript and CSS files using a minify tool (Google recommends CSSNano and Uglify JS), and /or implement a GZip compression, which compresses the files before sending them to the browser to minimize the HTTP request and reduce server response time.

Your Website’s theme, fonts and design might be slowing site speed.

Even the prettiest site will be penalized if the fonts, theme and other design assets are slowing it down. Reduce the use of Web fonts or use an already optimized font like WOFF/WOFF2. If you use them, you won’t need GZip compression, because they are already compressed.

Detect redirects and validate.

Google does not like redirects, as it hinders the user experience. Use a tool like Screaming Frog to quickly identify redirects, but only fix the redirects and link addresses for critical pages that still have traffic. Don’t bother redirecting old landing pages that no longer get traffic- having too many redirects on a site works against you.

Once you have implemented some of the items above, you’ll want to re-test your site speed to see your new site rating. If it’s improved considerably, in addition to better performance on the SERP, you may also see an increase in traffic, time spent on site and conversions.

An illustration from Hubspot research shows that a 1 second page load slowdown means a 7% reduction in conversions. To put into perspective, that 1-second slowdown to a company like Amazon could cost them 1.6 billion in sales each year. Sure, most of us aren’t Amazon, but no business can afford to lose almost 10% of their annual sales on something that is relatively easy to fix.

Make sure your site speed isn’t slowing your business down.

TruStar Marketing fuses the art of the brand with the science of analytical marketing to increase ROI. We specialize in Voice Search and Mobile First Website Strategies design and development for Health Care, Financial & Insurance and Global manufacturing industries.

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