It’s essential to know about search engine optimization (SEO) and page speed if you’re hosting a website. If you already knew, you may wonder whether it’s necessary to balance page speed and SEO. Prioritizing page speed may seem better from an end-user perspective as it can be exasperating to deal with a slow-loading site, but is it relevant for SEO performance?
Here, you can find out all about page speed: what it is, how it affects SEO, the metrics it affects, and how you can improve it.
What Is Page Speed?
Page speed is either the time it takes for a website to fully display an individual page or the time it takes for a browser to receive the first byte of information from the website. Every page element, such as images, scripts, videos, other multimedia, can affect page speed. It also depends on the server and website’s performance.
On the end-user side, things that can affect page speed are the pages the users visit, their connection type, internet service provider, browser, and device’s processing power. What the user is currently doing and how many apps they have open can also play a large part.
Regardless, you can only concern yourself with what you can work on if you host a website: your page and your server. Other factors are entirely out of your control.
Does Page Speed Matter?
Page speed is relevant to users as faster-loading pages provide them with a significantly enhanced user experience. Webpages that take longer than usual to load often lead their users away.
Mobile users also expect good load times. In fact, one of the best and most convenient tools for measuring page speed, Google PageSpeed Insights, now show mobile results first. The reasoning is that more than half of search engine users now use mobile devices for their searches. This tool also analyzes a website’s accessibility and user experience.
Is Page Speed a Ranking Factor?
Ever since 2010, page speed became relevant for SEO. Google announced at that date that they would include a new signal in their search ranking algorithms, site speed. Regardless, at the time, it didn’t carry as much weight as the page’s relevance did, with fewer than 1 percent of queries being affected by it.
However, further ahead in 2018, the page speed ranking factor became even more prominent for Google search and ads, especially for mobile searches. The “Speed Update,” as Google called it, implemented site speed as a landing page factor for mobile searches, effectively making it a direct ranking factor for search engine queries on all devices.
Although Google weights page relevancy more than page speed, it becomes more important when you consider that it also improves the user’s experience.
Which Metric Is Affected by Slow Page Speed?
Many things can affect page speed. In Google’s PageSpeed Insights product, the metrics which affect slow page speed are split into different categories, field data and lab data, to show you what exactly impacts it the most.
Field data, if available, is on the Chrome User Experience Report dataset. On the other hand, lab data comes from Lighthouse, an open-source automated tool that can analyze and collect it.
It’s the data that Google extracts from real users, and it’s the most critical one of the two. Google gets this either through Chrome or any other data provider. It’s an average, and Google lets you know whether it has enough data to show it. If it does have a dataset available, it reports the following performance metrics:
First Contentful Paint. It measures the length of time it takes for a page to render any of its content on the screen. Content refers to images, elements, or any non-white section.
First Input Delay. This metric measures the site’s response time from when a user first interacts with it to the moment the browser can begin processing the response to that interaction. If you want your site to provide an excellent user experience, you should try to have a delay below 100 milliseconds.
Largest Contentful Paint. It measures and reports the render time of the most prominent image or text block visible from the initial viewport. It’s relative to when the page first starts loading. In simpler terms, it’s the moment in which the user can understand some of the page’s content. Sites should try to score 2.5 seconds or less.
Cumulative Layout Shift. Measures the number of individual layout shifts that occur in a page as it loads. A layout shift happens every time a visible page element changes its position from one place to the other.
The score considers two measurements, the impact fraction (how it impacts the viewport area between jumps) and the distance (how much it moved relative to the viewport.) A good score would be one of 0.1 or less.
The Google page speed score comes from this metric. It’s useful yet of less relevance as it comes from a controlled environment. This environment is a single connection that doesn’t combine data from multiple users.
Google uses this as an alternative when they don’t have enough field data. It does this on the spot by considering six performance metrics, some of which are also present in the field data, like First Contentful Paint, Largest Contentful Paint, and Cumulative Layout Shift. The other three are the following:
Speed Index. It’s a more complex metric that measures how quickly the page’s elements are visually displayed while it loads. The faster they appear, the better it is. Like the others, it’s measured in seconds, and you’re looking for a score of 4.3 seconds or less.
Time to Interactive. Measures how long it takes for the website’s interactive elements to become entirely interactive. Pages are fully interactive once they display applicable content, respond to user queries in under 50 milliseconds, and when most visible elements have their event handlers registered.
It’s similar to the now deprecated First CPU Idle metric, which reports the moment the user can begin interacting with the site. Some find this measurement more meaningful than Time to Interactive, but they’re too similar to keep using them both.
Total Blocking Time. It measures the length of time between First Contentful Paint and Time to Interactive in which a long task blocks the main thread and delays input response. The main thread gets blocked because a browser can’t interrupt a task in progress. Users who try and interact during this process need to wait until it finishes before the browser can respond.
Page Speed SEO – Best Practices
It may be hard to understand some of the terms previously described. Still, they aren’t completely essential to improve your page speed. However, it’s necessary to set a baseline before bettering it, which you can do with PageSpeed Insights. This tool also provides you with a list of opportunities and diagnostics which can help your page load quicker.
Besides these suggestions, you can also try some of these best practices to improve your page speed:
Compress and Optimize Images
Images are often the biggest problem with websites, as they can negatively impact page speed. Some of them are big and take too long to download. You need to ensure they aren’t larger than necessary and are in the correct file format.
You can easily compress PNG, which works better for pictures with fewer colors, and JPEG, which is suitable for photographs. Most browsers support these file extensions. Also, avoid having images larger than one megabyte.
Another way to speed up page load is by deferring images. With this method, users download them later as they scroll further down the web page. There may be a moment where images aren’t visible, but they show up sooner than later. Several plugins can help you implement this method, like Joomla or Magento, but you can also use jQuery with the help of a developer.
Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
With them, you can offer high performance and availability to your end-users with the help of geographically distributed network proxy servers and data centers. It lets users access your website through a closer CDN server, improving their page load time. These servers can also reduce your bandwidth costs because it minimizes the amount of data that the original server has to provide.
Minify HTML or CSS Structure
The HTML structure of a website dictates how it loads. A browser reads it from top to bottom and loads it the same way. If you want a specific element to load first, you have to place it higher on your page. Still, most issues aren’t with HTML but with CSS. When people write their website’s CSS poorly, it results in significantly slower load times and a bad user experience.
Optimizing and minimizing your site’s code can improve your page speed. You can do this by taking out all unnecessary information, such as spaces, commas, comments, and unused code, from it. Although most of these things can make the code more readable and easier to work on, they can pile up and reduce your page speed.
Implement an Effective Caching Policy
Web caching is the temporary file storing process in a user’s browser for later reuse. Users that visit your website for the first time need to download all of your page’s elements. With an effective cache policy, most of these files can remain in their browser, significantly reducing the page speed by eliminating the need to load the web page again in its entirety.
As you add more plugins to your website, it gets heavier and loads slower. The page’s theme may be the most extensive plugin it can have, and some come with third-party builders and libraries that can significantly slow down your site. If you’re looking for a theme, try to find one without many animations, functions, sliders, and other heavy elements.
Regarding other plugins, you only need to consider whether they are essential to your website. If you install them, test your score and loading speed to determine if it made your page run slower. Should it do so, figure out if it’s necessary to keep the plugin, look for a better alternative, or remove it entirely.
The Bottom Line
Page speed isn’t only an essential part of the user experience, it’s also a vital ranking factor in both desktop and mobile searches. Higher page speed leads to better search rankings. If you want to improve it, you can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights coupled with utilizing the services of a proven SEO agency. It’s an excellent tool that can help you analyze your site while also providing you with several possible optimizations.
You can also compress images, simplify your code, or use a content delivery network to enhance your page speed. Continue improving it and increase your page views!
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