optimise site speed seo

When Google decides how it should rank your pages in the search results, it takes into account how fast (or slowly) your site loads. Google sees loading speed as a strong ranking factor as it knows that popular sites load quickly. Site loading speed has been important for good search engine rankings for years. Google recognizes that even if a site looks promising in search results, users will be disappointed if they hit the back button because the site is taking too long to load.

Even a small delay in the time it takes to load your site can have an impact on visitor numbers, ad views and conversions.

Not only is load speed a contributing factor to achieving top rankings in Google, extensive industry reports have shown for each second shaved off a site, there is an average increase of 7% to the site conversion rate. In other words, the faster your site loads, the more chance you have of people completing a sale or filling out an inquiry form. Clearly this is not an aspect of your site to be overlooked.

How fast should my site be?

Most experts agree there's a noticeable loss of traffic if the delay is more than 3 seconds. That doesn't mean the entire page should load in 3 seconds, but the basic content and layout should be visible in that time allowing visitors to start using the page as quickly as possible.

That means if your site is taking any longer than 5 seconds to load there's room for improvement. If it takes 10 seconds or longer the delayed loading time is almost certainly dragging your site down in search results.

Your aim should be to have the basic content and design loading in 2 or 3 seconds, with the remaining images and dynamic content loading over the following few seconds.

Test your site for speed

The best way to test your site for speed is by using Google Page Speed Insights. This free tool will give you a page load score out of 100. You can see how well your load speed compares to other sites. You can also see how well your site loads on mobile and desktop. Scores closer to 100 are near perfect.   After running a test on your site, the tool will give you a list of high priority, medium priority and low priority areas for improvement. You can forward these on to your developer to speed up your site, or if you are a bit of a tech-head, you can have a crack at fixing these up yourself.

Remove unnecessary plugins and widgets

If you're using a content management system like Wordpress, beware of using too many plugins as these can slow your site down dramatically.

Widgets are often one of the biggest bandwidth hogs on a site, so reducing the number used will make a quick and dramatic improvement to site loading times.

Some widgets are useful, but on many sites the sidebar ends up as a collection of slow loading ornaments that contribute nothing to the user experience. All those Tweet, Facebook and other "news" panels might look pretty but because widgets pull in data from external sites they're almost always the slowest loading elements on a page.

Having too many widgets also tends to make a site look like an amateur personal blog. Be ruthless. Drop anything that's not essential.

Compress your media files for faster page loading.

There's no doubt that good use of images can really help bring your site to life and get your message across, not too mention increase "shareability" on social networks, but be careful not to overdo it.

The key to optimizing images is to make sure each one is serving a useful purpose and that the file size is as small as possible.

If you're creating your own images, use as much image compression as you can before the quality starts to degrade. There's no visual difference between a JPEG image exported at 100% and one exported at 85% but the difference in file size can be huge.

Likewise, use the best format for the type of image. Photography looks best as a JPEG. Most other types of image look best, and have a smaller file size, when exported as a PNG.

Minify HTML, CSS and Javascript files

Even the tidiest of web code has extra spaces and line breaks in it. Minifying code means to strip out all these extras in HTML, CSS, Javascript and other files.

It might not sound like something that could have much of an impact on file loading time, but minifying code can give a speed boost of anywhere between 10 and 30%.

Use Reliable & Fast Web Hosting

The other techniques in this section won't be as effective as they should be if your web hosting is slow and unable to send pages to visitors quickly.

Speed is often a problem on cheap, unoptimized shared hosting because thousands of sites are crammed on a single server. That means just a few busy or badly run sites can hog too much server power and slow response times for you and everyone else on the same server.

Free hosting services suffer the same problem but on a larger scale. Because no one is paying for the service, an even greater number of sites are crammed into the servers to keep costs down.

That's not to mention that free hosting usually runs ads on your site and won't let you use your own domain name (a major disadvantage for SEO).

If you're not sure how reliable your current hosting is, try using a website monitoring service to run a check every few minutes. Not only will you get an instant email or SMS alert if your site goes offline, the loading time archive lets you see if there are problems that you wouldn't otherwise know about.

Use a Content Distribution Network (CDN)

With standard web hosting, one copy of your site is located on a server in, for example, London. The further a user is from London the slower the site will load because the files have to travel further over the internet.

The distances don't have to be that large to make a measurable difference. Anything over several hundred miles will cause a noticeable delay, with users on a different continent to the server experiencing even greater delays.

With a Content Delivery Network, multiple copies of your site are hosted on a network of servers around the world. Instead of all connections going through London, users connect to their nearest network location. This gives a huge improvement in loading times.

Other areas to optimise your site for speed

You may want to take a look at some of the following suggestions which will help speed up your site:

  • Stay away from video splash screens.
  • Use media files only when you need to.
  • Make sure you describe your graphics, videos, and sound files.
  • For sound and video content, provide text transcripts.
  • Make use of thumbnails for large images.
  • Use web server compression for your HTML web server transmissions to speed up transmission for all your clients, including search engine web spiders.
  • If you're using Wordpress, installing a cache plugin can improve site performance.

If your site takes a long time to load, then it is likely your site is not living up to its potential in the search engines. If your site load time is average, improving the load speed is an opportunity for an easy SEO boost.

If you need assistance with tackling your website speed issues then using the services of an SEO expert may be worthwhile. They can help you modernise and improve the design of your site. An SEO consultant can also use advanced offsite promotional activities alongside on-page tactics to help project your site up the Google organic search listings.