When we talk about website optimization, a lot of people tend to focus on a site’s content, meta data, and other traditional on-page SEO factors. But for some time now there’s been something else that’s just as important for SEO: site speed. That’s how fast your site loads and responds to the user.
Google announced in 2010 that site speed would be a factor they take into consideration for ranking purposes:
We’re including a new signal in our search ranking algorithms: site speed. Site speed reflects how quickly a website responds to web requests.
It’s becoming an increasing weight in the algo. So if you want to stay competitive online, site speed is something you have to pay attention to. If you look into the nitty-gritty about the things that affect your site’s download and response time, you’ll realize that it’s basically all about creating a “clean” site.
You want to have a site that’s not riddled with messy code and images that aren’t optimized. What can you do to ensure your site is performing fast enough? Here is a quick outline of some of the easier things you can do.
If your site takes more than a few seconds to load, then your rankings, your bounce rate, and more may be adversely affected. But should that be your main focus right now? While site speed is something you should pay attention to, it may not be the top priority at the moment.
If you have poor content (or barely any content at all), if your site isn’t optimized in the first place, if it doesn’t have a well-organized navigation structure, if you have poor (or no) backlinks, or if you have an abundance of pages with duplicate content … then these issues probably take precedence. Bounce rate and performance will not be telling you the true story unless you start with a well-designed site that’s optimized.
Site speed can actually be considered in a number of different ways, and all of them culminate in your overall speed and loading times.
Document Complete-Based Page Loading Times
When you access a webpage, the information streams in gradually. You see words and images appear on the page at different times, and this is especially apparent on slow-loading websites. A webpage is considered loaded as “document complete” when it has loaded enough to allow a user to start clicking buttons or entering written text. It’s possible that not all of the content is fully loaded, but a user can begin to take action.
Full Render-Based Page Loading Times
On the other hand, it’s also possible to measure page loading times based on when the entire page is fully loaded. This loading speed is always longer than a “document complete” loading speed, but the difference between the two values may be different for two different sites.
Time to First Byte
Finally, it’s also possible to measure your overall site speed by looking at the “time to first byte” (TTFB) metric, which is the amount of time it takes for a browser to download the first byte of information from an online source. Essentially, it measures whether or not there is any significant delay between the request for information and your web server’s response. Where page loading times generally depend on your site settings and the type and amount of content you have on your page, TTFB measurements are usually indicative of your server settings.
Below are some more sources to help you get your site speed optimized:
Now that we know how site speed can be measured in different ways, we can come up with a ballpark for what are considered “good” or “bad” metrics. Like I mentioned earlier, Google doesn’t publish what types of site speeds it takes into consideration, or if there are any specific numbers it looks for, but we can make reasonable assumptions for target loading times based on other sites we’ve seen, and based on a recent analysis by Google.
According to this analysis, the average “full render” page loading time is roughly 7 seconds on desktop devices, with a median page loading time of roughly 3 seconds. On mobile devices, the average page loading time is more than 10 seconds, with an average of nearly 5. It’s difficult to compare individual sites against such broad metrics, especially with such a sharp rift between the median and mean values, but if your site loads slower than the average page, you can generally consider your site to be too slow.
According to Moz, the median TTFB figure for high ranking websites is roughly 0.4 seconds, with that same figure being closer to 0.6 seconds for lower-ranking websites. If your site’s TTFB is greater than 0.6 seconds, you have some room for improvement.
If you’re looking for a way to measure your own site speed to compare it against these metrics, try out WebPageTest. It’s a free tool that will allow you to perform multiple types of tests to measure your site’s performance.
WordPress, one of the most popular platforms for website creation, offers a number of different themes, templates, plugins, and widgets to give you a completely controllable user experience. For most businesses getting started on the web, this is a bit overwhelming, but it’s important to make the right decisions when setting up and maintaining your WordPress site. In order to give your users the best experience and improve your chances of ranking, use these strategies to improve your site’s load times:
Hosting may not seem like a big deal, especially if this is your first site, but the type of hosting you have makes a big difference in your load times. For example, if you opt for shared hosting in order to save a bit of money, you could be setting yourself up for drastically slower load times, especially under peak conditions.
As you might imagine, high-definition images can be a major drag on your site’s load times. Each individual user must download these images when accessing a page that contains them, so if you can replace those images with much smaller, faster images, you’ll instantly improve your load times. The WordPress plugin WP Smush.it is one tool that can help you automatically and efficiently compress the size and load times of all the images on your site.
The themes and frameworks available on WordPress are part of what has made the platform so popular, but not all themes are efficient. In many cases, it’s better to choose a simple, unadorned theme with lightning-fast load times than a bulkier theme you prefer from an aesthetic perspective. Don’t worry; there are tons of themes with light frameworks to choose from (including some of the defaults).
Some plugins can be valuable to your load times, like the WP Smush.it tool we mentioned above. However, many plugins simply take up space and make your site bulkier to process. Check out P3, the Plugin Performance Profiler—it can quickly tell you how each of your plugins affect your overall load times and give you direction for which ones to keep and which ones to disable.
Compressing your website as a ZIP file allows for much easier transmission to your users’ browsers. Essentially, you’re reducing the amount of data that is transmitted without changing the final product displayed. There are several zipping applications available, but any of them will suffice so long as they don’t otherwise interfere with your loading times.
Caching plugins tend to be free to download and install, and they’re relatively easy to use. By directing browsers to download files stored in a visitor’s cache instead of trying to download them from the server, you can cut significant loading time. It only works for repeat visitors, but it’s still valuable. Just avoid playing around with the advanced settings too much or you could interfere with its proper functioning.
Maximize your layout for speed. Show segments of posts rather than full content, make the length of your homepage shorter, and remove any widgets and plugins you don’t need on the homepage (including social sharing widgets, which belong on individual posts rather than on the homepage directly).
If you know what you’re doing, you can clean up your database manually, but the better way is to use the WP-Optimize plugin. With this plugin, you can quickly and easily establish settings that prevent the buildup of unnecessary information on your database. Since you’re storing information more efficiently, your page will end up loading faster on your users’ machines.
You can selectively control which images load immediately for the user in order to reduce the total amount of information necessary for a user to download from the server. With the right setup, only images above the fold will load immediately, and the remaining images will load only when the user scrolls down accordingly. It’s possible to do this manually, but it’s easier to do it with a plugin.
Pingbacks and trackbacks are notifications from external blogs that inform your blog that it’s been mentioned. Pingbacks and trackbacks automatically update the data contained in your post, thereby increasing the amount of data needed to load and increasing load times. Getting rid of pingbacks and trackbacks will preserve your backlinks but prevent the extra data from being stored on your site.
Drafts of old blog posts can weigh down your site more than you think. For example, if you revise a draft four times, you’ll have five total versions of your blog post sitting in your site’s database. You’ll never need to reference those earlier drafts, so update your database settings (perhaps using the WP-Optimize plugin we mentioned in point 8) to delete them and prevent unnecessary storage in the future.
This isn’t something everyone should do, but for those of you looking to cut load times dramatically, it’s an additional option. PHP is a useful way to improve the efficiency of your site, but it also occupies server processes while it’s running. If you can replace it with a static HTML equivalent, it’s worth trying.
Content delivery networks (CDNs) provide the same data you would ordinarily need to transmit to your users—such as CSS files and images—but on closer servers to maximize user download speeds. There are many CDNs available, but most will require a subscription fee to use. Many of the best hosts out there provide a CDN service included or for a much smaller fee bump if you wish to use them.
Hotlinking is the process of linking to another person’s images, thereby increasing server loads without necessarily increasing your traffic. Disable hotlinking with a handful of steps and prevent that extra burden.
Lazy load allows the browser to only paint critical elements within the view of the user, allowing for faster load times. As the user scrolls, new items are loaded. You may have noticed new images popping up on certain sites as you scroll. We use a lazy loader on SEO.co due to the fact that many of our posts are >5K words. This can significantly boost load speeds and enhance SEO.
Third party tools, including but not limited to cookie trackers, website analytics tools, popups and graphics tools can significantly slow a site’s load speed in the background. It is best to remove them or optimize them to get the best performance.
Obviously, load times aren’t the only factor Google uses in populating its search results. You still need to have a regular, high quality content marketing strategy, a social media presence, well-structured meta data, and a long-term link building program. However, if you put these tips to good use and decrease your WordPress site’s load time, you’ll be able to simultaneously improve your domain authority (and thus, your rankings) and give your users a better overall experience.
There are two factors you should bear in mind when analyzing your site speed and making preparations for the future:
Still, if you’re concerned about your site speed and you want to make it better, you can only stand to benefit. Don’t obsess over site speed, but do whatever it takes to give your users a great experience.