Meta description: How much does page speed affect SEO? Why is the page speed important for the SEO score? Are Google Insights rankings relevant? Read our article to find out!
One of the less obvious factors for SEO is page speed. Speed is so important for SEO that Google made it one of the ranking factors a few years ago. How much does page speed affect your SEO in reality? To determine that, you have to know what is page speed made of, which will help your website become more user-friendly.
What is Page Speed in SEO?
Page speed is the speed at which a page loads on a particular website, and different pages on your website can have different speeds. The speed is affected by various factors like the user’s internet provider, the processing power of the device used, the internet package, the browser used, how many apps and what apps are running, the internet connection type, the server’s performance, etc. You don’t have the power over everything, just your website, and the web server – so, those are the things you need to focus on.
There are many tools that you can use to track the page speed of your site. Those tools have rankings, and they are a great way to see how you are improving your page speed. However, the page speed is not a ranking, it’s actually measured in seconds. Page speed is the loading time for a web page, or “time to first byte” – how much time it takes for the browser to receive the first byte of information from the server.
Are Time to First Byte and Site Speed the Same Thing?
From a user’s point of view, page speed and site speed may sound like the same thing. Actually, site speed is something different – it’s a term related to how fast your site is loading when a user is navigating through it. In Google Analytics, you can check the report on your site’s speed and see the time it takes for users to interact and see your website’s content.
How important is the speed for SEO?
We already determined that page speed is one of the ranking factors for SEO. This is a direct ranking factor, meaning it affects the overall ranking directly. On the other hand, a slow page speed can also affect the website’s ranking indirectly, with the increase of bounce rate and the reduction of dwell time.
Users are the essential part of your site, and case studies have shown that the average loading speed is too slow. The average time it takes to fully load a web page is around 22 seconds, according to analyses. That is a big issue, considering that over half (53%) of web page visits are abandoned by users if the mobile site takes over 3 seconds to load.
People expect a super-fast experience when browsing through the web pages for shopping, and if it takes too long, they will leave their cart and find another place to shop. Now, it’s come down to making the whole user experience faster, because the users demand an immediate response when they enter a specific 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. So, the bounce rate should be as small as possible. The research on the bounce rate supports that:
As for the dwell time, it’s the amount of time that passes when the user clicks on a search result before they return to the SERPs. Dwell time is a different factor than bounce rate because there is no information on how much the time spent affects the website’s rankings. The only thing that you should know is that dwell time absolutely does affect and impact the website.
The user experience isn’t the only thing important as to why the page speed should be improved. When Google can access your website quicker (with a faster page speed), it improves your ranking. Google’s Page Speed Insights states that you should load the Google Analytics script later in the footer. Why? Because the script is considered render-blocking. The Insights will provide you with information on factors that affected the speed, but more on that later!
Improving your page load time is very important for the crawl budget of your site, as well. The crawl budget is the attention given to your site by various search engines, most commonly Googlebot. A faster load time leads to Googlebot crawling more of your sites’ URLs. That increases the crawl budget and the overall SEO performance. Helping Google to go faster through your site definitely will give you plus points 😉
Is site speed a ranking factor?
In 2010, Google decided to add the site speed in the mix for the ranking of your site. This project is called the ‘Speed Update’. There weren’t many details as to how much the site speed would affect the overall ranking, or anything else.
However, some things were noted from the start like that the site’s relevance would still be more important than site speed SEO-wise. The SEO signal for the site speed would initially only be applied to searches in English.
The reason why site speed is a ranking factor for mobile searches is that it’s crucial for a good user experience. If users aren’t satisfied with the site speed and the page speed, the bounce rate soars. What role does the site speed play in SERP results exactly – remains unclear to this day.
Tools for checking Page Load Time
Since we already determined that page speed can play a role in your rankings, it’s worth mentioning that there are various tools you can use to check page speed. The faster loading websites get better rankings in SEO, the bounce rate is lower, the dwell time is increased, the user experience is better, and the engagement rate on your website is better, too.
There are many free tools for testing the page speed of your website, and it’s principal that you use them to provide the users with the best performance out there. Google, for example, wants your site to load in less than a second, which is still a little unrealistic.
Page speed directly affects the bounce rates. If the page speed is over 3 seconds, for a lot of the users, it’s the sign to bounce. But, if your site has a page load time under 3 seconds, you probably have nothing to worry about when it comes to page speed.
In my opinion, among the tools for page load times, there are two that work the best for me. Those are:
So, let’s put our finger on the specifics of each of these search rankings tools!
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 see how their website is performing. Nowadays, GTMetrix is one of the most popular and most used page speed testing tools on the Internet. The tool itself is very user-friendly and even beginners can understand the nits and grits of it without working up a sweat.
GTMetrix is a tool that uses a combination of factors from Google PageSpeed Insights and YSlow to make the SEO rankings and give you possible recommendations about upping your score.
The first thing you should do when you open up the GTMetrix website is to pick out the location, and this is important as it relates to the place where your website is hosted. Less latency means faster loading of the page. The available locations right now are Dallas (USA), Hong Kong, London (UK), Mumbai (India), Sydney (Australia), Sao Paulo (Brazil), and Vancouver (Canada).
After that, you can pick out 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 the users the possibility to change the connection speed to simulate the connection types. This allows the users to see how different connection types affect how fast the page loads.
Another great option included in GTMetrix’s website is being able to create and upload a video. A video can help the user debug issues as the user sees how the page renders, and the AdBlock Plus is a cool feature, too. When running a 3rd party ad network, you can turn on the AdBlock Plus feature to see the full impact of the advertising on your load time. The effect of advertising on your loading time can be significant – it can increase load time by a lot.
More options given to users on GTMetrix are stopping the test onload, using HTTP authentication, being able to whitelist and blacklist URLs, screen resolution, and device pixel ratio.
We are going to get into the details of how GTMetrix works and what are the factors used to rate your website’s performance. The GTMetrix will make a performance report that consists of two things: your GTMetrix Grade and Web Vitals.
The GTMetrix Grade is calculated using two metrics called performance and structure. The Performance is a score gotten from the Lighthouse site audit tool, and the Structure is a performance metric that measures the overall performance of pages.
The Web Vitals is a set of web performance and user experience tools introduced by Google. There is a variety of metrics included in the Web Vitals, but GTMetrix takes into consideration the LCP, CLS, and TBT.
- Largest Contentful Paint – LCP, which is the amount of time required for most of the page to load. LCP could be a large image or body text – it depends on the website.
- Cumulative Layout Shift – CLS, is the shifting of the elements during page loading. The layout can shift a lot when the pages load if they contain embedded tweets.
I put my page up for scoring, besirious.net, and here are the results:
Google PageSpeed Insights
Google PageSpeed Insights is one of the most popular page speed score tools out there for getting field data. Many different things affect the page speed, so Google’s tool divides those things into categories, helping the users understand the issues. Also, Google prioritizes issues you should tackle first, by putting the factors that slow down your page at the top.
The issues the PageSpeed Insights tackle are mostly technical issues related to the web performance of your website. The tools Google Insights uses analyze the site from the user’s point of view, and analyze the user experience and accessibility, along with server response time.
Using Google Insights is fairly simple, and the first step is to enter the URL and let the website process. In a few seconds, the tool will give you results of your website’s performance, along with a general score on top. The Insights use Google Chrome as a browser for testing.
There are other tools offered by Google – there is the mod_pagespeed and the 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 do insert the URL to check out the page load time, the Google PageSpeed will provide you with two search rankings: one for mobile, and one for desktop users.
The search rankings scores can vary depending on the type of device used to access the sites. Usually, the mobile page load score is lower, because mobile devices have slower processors. The mobile score is tested with a 4G connection, as it’s the most popular type of connection across the United States.
However, many people in the world still only have access to the 3G type of network. The problem with the 3G network is the slower page load times, but the 3G users still expect it to be fast. Even on a 3G connection, the page load time cannot be 10 seconds or more because the bounce rate will soar.
For those on desktop, the score is always higher because of a better connection speed, especially the light and fiber optics. The page goes through the same type of test, but the connection type affects the search engine optimization results. This is the reason why the mobile score is a bit more important – your focus for SEO success should be pointed at improving the pages for mobile users.
Here, I put my site, besirious.net for load time testing on Google Insights, and here are the scores:
The truth is, the page load time will never be satisfying according to Google’s requirements if it’s over 1 second long. And let’s be honest – that is very difficult to achieve on mobile! We could spend more time going into the details and trying to fix every “speed” issue. My approach here is though, it shouldn’t take away from the experience on the website. Sometimes speed improvements can have a big impact on how your website feels, also in a negative way. So, I try to find the middle way.
How do I increase Page Speed Insights?
What is nice about the Page Speed Insights is that it provides you with all the issues that affect the search rankings of your page. To make sure the time to first byte of your site is decent, the Insights will provide you with a prioritized list of things that are causing problems.
The user experience report will provide you with information on speed metrics (First Contentful Paint and DOM Content Loaded) and the critical issues are marked with a red triangle next to it.
For my site, we can see here that the mobile users have a slower experience and the page experiences more issues (Update: Some of the issues have already been fixed after writing this article). Since we already talked about the slower processors characteristic for mobile devices, this is only natural.
How can you improve your Page Speed?
The best practices for improving the sites’ speed include WordPress plugins to optimize page speed or using a CDN. CDN stands for Content Delivery Network, which is the highly distributed platform of serves. It’s used to help minimize the time it takes for pages to load while retaining the same content quality. The Content Delivery Network offloads traffic from the content servers and improves the web experience. So, the content provider and the end-users benefit from the CDN.
As for Page Speed plugins, I feel these 3 work the best:
Autoptimize has a free version with a complete set for optimizing your WordPress pages and sites. It doesn’t do any HTML page caching, meaning it’s compatible with all web hosts. This is a fairly popular sites’ optimization plugin, with over a million active installs. It’s constantly updated and re-optimized for the best user experience using any browser.
Autoptimize makes site optimization fairly easy since it can minify and cache scripts and styles. It also injects CSS in the page head by default. Also, t can inline critical CSS and defer the aggregated full CSS and defer scripts to the footer. With Autoptimize, you can lazy-load images, optimize Google Fonts, remove WordPress core emoji cruft, along with so many other, useful features.
reSmush.it Image Optimizer
reSmush.it is an API that provides free image optimization. It has been implemented on the most common content management systems like WordPress. There are plenty of image compression plugins for pages, but reSmush.it simply makes the pages load quicker.
For many sites, the images pose the largest problem loading time-wise, because of the images’ size. The more physical space an image takes on a disk, the more time it will require to be downloaded. If you have a few large images on your blog post, you can be sure that your page will load very slow. The page load time could be over 10 seconds.
A plugin like reSmush.it will compress the image without damaging the images’ quality. You can shrink the images without any difference in quality, making the page load faster.
All these plugins will try to help you make the response time and the client-side rendering faster. In the real world, it looks like this:
Is 100/100 Insights Score Essential?
Well, no. While having a solid Insights score is a sure sign that your pages are optimized, a 100/100 score is not necessary. Why?
To be honest, we are not sure whether Google uses the score as a ranking factor or the seconds of loading time. There are sites with the speed of the lightning loading time with only medium ranking scores.
Also, we don’t know how Google makes the tests, and where the tests are made. For the best results, always take the loading time into account, and not the score!
To conclude, there is no sure way to tell how much slow page speed affects the search engine optimization of your sites. Like every SEO specialist likes to say: it depends!
There is no doubt that the page speed does affect the SEO score of your page. A low speed will give you an unsatisfying ranking in Google search results. However, there is no sure way to know how much it affects the ratings, just that it does. Using plugins or Content Delivery Network will help you reduce that loading time to a pinch!