One of the less obvious factors for SEO is page speed. Speed is so important for search engine optimization that Google made it one of the ranking factors a few years ago. How much does page speed actually affect your search engine optimization? To find out, you need to know what page speed consists of to make your website more user-friendly.
What does page speed mean in SEO?
Page speed is the speed at which a page loads on a given website, and different pages on your website may have different speeds. Speed is influenced by various factors, such as the user’s ISP, the processing power of the device used, the Internet package, the browser used, the number and type of apps running, the type of Internet connection, the performance of the server, and so on. You don’t have power over everything, only over your website and the web server – so these are the things you need to focus on.
There are many tools that you can use to track the page speed of your website. These tools have rankings and are a great way to see how you can improve your page speed. However, page speed is not a ranking, but is measured in seconds. Page speed is the loading time of a web page or “time to first byte” – how much time it takes the browser to get the first byte of information from the server.
Are the time to first byte and the page speed the same?
From a user’s perspective, page speed and website speed may sound the same. In reality, website speed is something else – it’s a term that refers to how fast your website loads when a user navigates through it. In Google Analytics, you can check your website speed report and see how long it takes users to interact and view your website content.
How important is speed for SEO?
We have already established that page speed is one of the ranking factors for SEO. This is a direct ranking factor, meaning it directly affects the overall ranking. On the other hand, slow page speed can also indirectly affect the website ranking by increasing the bounce rate and decreasing the dwell time.
Users are the most important part of your website, and case studies have shown that the average loading speed is too slow. According to analyses, it takes an average of 22 seconds for a web page to load completely. This is a big problem considering that over half (53%) of website visits are abandoned by users if the mobile website takes more than 3 seconds to load.
People expect a super fast experience when they browse through shopping websites, and if it takes too long, they abandon their shopping cart and find another place to shop. Now it’s all about accelerating the overall user experience, because users demand an immediate response when they go to a particular web page.
The bounce rate is related to how likely the user is to abandon a page in their browser if it takes too long. Therefore, the bounce rate should be as low as possible. Research on bounce rate supports this:
Dwell time is the time that passes when the user clicks on a search result before returning to the SERPs. Dwell time is a different factor than bounce rate because there is no information about how much dwell time affects website rankings. The only thing you should know is that dwell time definitely affects and influences the website.
User experience is not the only important reason why page speed should be improved. If Google can access your website faster (with faster page speed), this will improve your ranking. Google’s Page Speed Insights says that you should load the Google Analytics script later in the footer. And why? Because the script is considered a rendering blocker. Insights provide you with information about factors that affect speed, but more on that later!
Improving your page load time is also very important for your website’s crawl budget. The crawl budget is the attention given to your website by various search engines, especially the Googlebot. Faster loading time results in Googlebot crawling more URLs of your website. This increases the crawl budget and overall SEO performance. If you help Google crawl your website faster, you will definitely get plus points 😉
Is website speed a ranking factor?
In 2010, Google decided to include the speed of a website in the rating. This project is called “Speed Update”. There weren’t a lot of details about how much website speed would affect the overall ranking, or anything else.
However, it was pointed out from the beginning that the relevance of the website is still more important than the speed of the website in terms of SEO. The SEO signal for website speed would initially only apply to English language search queries.
The reason why website speed is a ranking factor for mobile search is because it is crucial for a good user experience. When users are not satisfied with the website speed and page speed, the bounce rate skyrockets. Exactly what role page speed plays in SERP results is still unclear.
Tools for checking the page load time
Since we have already established that page speed can play a role in your rankings, it is worth mentioning that there are several tools you can use to check page speed. Faster loading websites get better SEO rankings, bounce rate is lower, dwell time is higher, user experience is better and engagement rate on your website is also better.
There are many free tools for testing your website’s page speed, and it’s important that you use them to give users the best performance possible. Google, for example, wants your website to load in less than a second, which is still a bit unrealistic.
Page speed directly affects the bounce rate. If the page speed is more than 3 seconds, it is a sign for many users to abandon the page. However, if your website has a loading time of less than 3 seconds, you probably don’t have to worry in terms of page speed.
In my opinion, among page load time tools, there are two that work best for me. These are:
- https://gtmetrix.com/ and
Now let’s get to the specifics of each search ranking tool!
GTMetrix is a tool developed by a company called GT.net from Canada. It was intended as a tool for their hosting customers – to help them check the performance of their website. Nowadays GTMetrix is one of the most popular and widely used tools for testing page speed on the Internet. The tool itself is very user-friendly, and even beginners can understand the intricacies of the tool without breaking a sweat.
GTMetrix is a tool that uses a combination of factors from Google PageSpeed Insights and YSlow to build SEO rankings and give you possible recommendations to improve your score.
When you open the GTMetrix website, the first thing you should do is select the location, and this is important because it is the place where your website is hosted. Lower latency means faster page loading. The available locations are currently Dallas (USA), Hong Kong, London (UK), Mumbai (India), Sydney (Australia), Sao Paulo (Brazil) and Vancouver (Canada).
After that, you can select the browser, and the available options for a browser are Chrome for desktop and Firefox for desktop, and for checking the speed for mobile users is available in the premium plan. GTMetrix gives users the ability to change the connection speed to simulate the connection types. This way, users can see how different connection types affect the page loading speed.
Another great option on GTMetrix’s website is the ability to create and upload a video. A video can help the user with troubleshooting, as they can see how the page is rendered, and AdBlock Plus is also a great feature. If you use a third-party ad network, you can enable the AdBlock Plus feature to see the impact of ads on load time. The impact of advertising on your loading time can be significant – it can increase the loading time by several times.
Other options available to GTMetrix users include pausing the test on load, using HTTP authentication, the ability to whitelist or blacklist URLs, screen resolution, and device pixel ratio.
We will explain in detail how GTMetrix works and what factors are used to evaluate the performance of your website. GTMetrix creates a performance report that consists of two things: Your GTMetrix Grade and Web Vitals.
The GTMetrix score is calculated using two metrics called performance and structure. Performance is a value that comes from the Lighthouse site audit tool, and structure is a performance metric that measures overall site performance.
Web Vitals is a set of web performance and user experience tools introduced by Google. A variety of metrics are included in Web Vitals, but GTMetrix takes into account LCP, CLS, and TBT.
- Largest Contentful Paint – LCP, this is the time it takes for the largest part of the page to load. LCP can be a large image or text – it depends on the website.
- Cumulative Layout Shift – CLS, is the shifting of elements while the page is loading. The layout may shift significantly when pages load if they contain embedded tweets.
I put up my site, besirious.net, for scoring and here are the results:
Google PageSpeed Insights
Google PageSpeed Insights is one of the most popular tools for evaluating page speed to get field data. There are many different factors that affect page speed. The Google tool divides these factors into categories and helps users understand the issues. Also, Google prioritizes the problems you should address first by putting the factors that slow down your site at the top.
The problems that PageSpeed Insights addresses are mostly technical issues related to your website’s web performance. The tools used by Google Insights analyze the website from the user’s perspective and examine the user experience and accessibility, as well as server response time.
Using Google Insights is quite simple. The first step is to enter the URL and have the website edited. In a few seconds, the tool will provide you with the results of your website’s performance, along with a general rating. The Insights use Google Chrome as the browser for the tests.
There are other tools offered by Google, such as mod_pagespeed and Lighthouse. However, Google Insights is the most convenient tool for SEO specialists to see how the blog post or specific blog pages are performing.
When you paste the URL to check the page load time, Google PageSpeed gives you two search results: one for mobile and one for desktop users.
Search results may vary depending on the type of device used to access the websites. As a rule, the mobile page load value is lower because mobile devices have slower processors. The mobile rating is tested with a 4G connection, as this is the most popular connection type in the United States.
However, many people in the world only have access to a 3G network. The problem with the 3G network is the slower loading times, but 3G users still expect it to be fast. Even with a 3G connection, the page load time must not be 10 seconds or more, otherwise the bounce rate will skyrocket.
For desktop users, the result is always higher due to better connection speed, especially for light and fiber connections. The page goes through the same type of test, but the type of link affects the search engine optimization results. That’s why the mobile score is a bit more important – your focus for SEO success should be on improving pages for mobile users.
Here I put my website, besirious.net, on Google Insights for a load time test, and here are the results:
The truth is that page load time will never meet Google’s requirements if it is over 1 second long. And let’s face it – that’s very hard to achieve on mobile! We could spend more time going into detail and trying to solve every “speed problem”. However, my approach here is that it should not affect the experience on the website. Sometimes speed improvements can have a big impact on how your website feels, even in a negative way. So I try to find a middle ground.
How can I increase Page Speed Insights?
The beauty of Page Speed Insights is that it shows you all the aspects that affect your page’s search ranking. To ensure that the time to first byte of your page is decent, Insights will give you a prioritized list of things that cause problems.
The User Experience report provides you with information on the speed metrics (First Contentful Paint and DOM Content Loaded) and the critical issues are marked with a red triangle next to them.
For my site, we can see here that mobile users have a slower experience and the site has more issues (Update: Some of the issues have already been fixed after writing this article). Since we have already talked about the slower processors for mobile devices, this is only natural.
How can you improve your page speed?
Best practices for improving website speed include WordPress page speed optimization plugins or using a CDN. CDN stands for Content Delivery Network, the highly distributed platform of services. It is used to reduce page loading time while maintaining content quality. The Content Delivery Network offloads traffic from content servers and improves the web experience. Thus, both the content provider and the end users benefit from the CDN.
As for page speed plugins, these 3 are the best in my opinion:
Autoptimize has a free version with a complete set to optimize your WordPress pages and websites. It does not perform HTML page caching, which means that it is compatible with all web hosts. With over a million active installations, this website optimization plugin is quite popular. It is constantly updated and re-optimized to ensure the best user experience with any browser.
Autoptimize makes website optimization quite easy, as it can minify and cache scripts and styles. It also inserts CSS into the page header by default. It can also include critical CSS and move the aggregated full CSS and scripts to the footer. With Autoptimize you can reload images, optimize Google Fonts, remove WordPress emoji cruft and use many other useful features.
reSmush.it Image Optimizer
reSmush.it is an API that provides free image optimization. It has been implemented for the most popular content management systems like WordPress. There are many image compression plugins for pages, but reSmush.it simply makes pages load faster.
For many websites, the images are the biggest problem in loading time, and this is because of the size of the images. The more space an image takes up on the hard disk, the more time it takes to download. If you have some large images in your blog post, you can be sure that your page will load very slowly. The page loading time can be over 10 seconds.
A plugin like reSmush.it compresses the images without affecting the quality of the images. You can reduce the size of the images without losing quality, which makes the page load faster.
All these plugins will help you speed up response time and client-side rendering. In the real world, it looks like this:
Is a 100/100 Insights Score essential?
Well, no. While a solid Insights Score is a sure sign that your pages are optimized, a 100/100 score is not necessary. Why actually?
To be honest, we are not sure if Google uses the score as a ranking factor or the seconds of loading time. There are pages with lightning-fast loading time that receive only a medium rating.
In addition, we do not know how Google conducts the tests and where the tests are conducted. For the best results, you should always consider the loading time, not the score!
In conclusion, there is no sure way to determine how much a slow page speed will affect the search engine optimization of your websites. As any SEO specialist is wont to say: It depends!
There is no doubt that page speed affects the SEO rating of your page. Low speed leads to unsatisfactory placement in Google search results. However, there is no sure way to determine how much it affects ratings, only that it does. Using plugins or content delivery network will help you to reduce loading time to minimum!