While it is only one of the many on-page SEO metrics, slow page loading times can negatively affect how well a page ranks in search engine results pages (SERPs) and negatively impact user experience (UX). Here’s what may be slowing down your pages and how you can begin to increase page speed.
Why Does Page Speed Matter For SEO?
Google’s neural network research estimates that as page loading time goes from 1 second to 3 seconds, the probability of the visitor simply abandoning the site before loading finishes goes up by 32%. And the slower the page, the higher the likelihood a site visitor will leave out of frustration. Since Google wants users to have the best experience possible when using Search, it made page loading speed a ranking factor. That means if you want to rank well for your target keywords, you need to monitor your page speeds. After investing in an attractive website with quality content, the last thing you need is slow page load speeds killing your rankings.
Note on page speed vs. website speed: While page speed refers to the speed of an individual page, site speed refers to the speed of a sample of different pages across the site, which is used to estimate the overall speed of the site. Having well-optimized page speeds across your site will naturally result in a faster overall site speed.
So how can you know if your page load speeds are negatively affecting your site’s SEO?
There are numerous tools you can use to check a page’s speed. Google alone offers multiple free tools like Google Search Console, Lighthouse, and PageSpeed Insights, which all provide valuable information about page load speeds. Use them to see how quickly page elements are loading. (Here’s how Lighthouse and PageSpeed Insights break down when it comes to measuring site performance.)
What Can Impact Page Speed SEO?
Several different on-page and off-page elements can affect a page’s load speed. If you’re faced with long load times, look for these possible culprits.
However, using too many style sheets and scripts on your site can be a recipe for slow loading times. And the more complex and resource-intensive they are, the more they’ll impact your page speed.
Plugins provide added interactivity and functionality to a page. However, just like with scripts, too many plugins can slow down a page’s loading time. Plus, outdated or poorly maintained plugins can pose a security risk and lead to compatibility problems. Lesser-known plugins from smaller development teams are especially prone to these problems.
Images can greatly enhance your site’s content, making it more appealing and engaging. However, using large images on your pages can also increase load time, especially if there are a lot of them.
Unoptimized images are one of the main contributors to slow load times. The larger the image file size, the longer you can expect to wait for it to load. In the early days of the internet, when connection speeds were slow and sites had to be small, image optimization was a necessary step. Now, with so many elements contributing to page weight on modern websites, it can be easy to overlook.
Popups are useful for directing traffic to landing pages or delivering CTAs and special offers. However, they’re also notorious for slowing down page loading times. You’ll need to consider how effective your pop-ups really are and whether or not they’re worth the slowdown in page load speeds.
Web Server Speed
When someone visits a website, they’re opening files from a remote server. The slower the server, the slower the site’s assets load on the visitor’s browser. Saving money on a cheaper hosting package or server may seem like a good idea, but it can actually end up causing more harm than good. Hosting plans that lack dedicated resources, have a slow server response time, or have resources spread out over multiple servers can negatively impact website performance.
Redirects are a really handy tool for moving traffic around your website, but each one causes the browser to visit an extra page, extending the final page load time. When redirects are linked together in a redirect chain, the load time is extended further. And the more redirects in the chain, the slower the overall load speed.
Redirect chains often happen by accident as a site’s architecture continues to expand. Redirect chains can also harm the user experience and waste your site’s crawl budget. So as your site continues to expand, it’s a good idea to be mindful of redirect chains and to regularly crawl your site to identify any that may have developed.
What Are The Most Important Page Speed Metrics?
Speed tests report on a variety of metrics. Since Google is the predominant search engine and our goal is to rank well in search results, I’m going to cover some of the metrics Google uses to measure site speed and performance. These aren’t the only page speed metrics, but for our purposes, they’re the most impactful.
Core Web Vitals
In 2020, Google released Core Web Vitals. This set of metrics lets web admins know how their site is performing in terms of browsing experience. These metrics are especially useful for identifying how to speed up web page load time.
You can use Google Search Console to see your mobile and desktop Core Web Vitals reports. These reports show URLs that are good, need improvement, or are poor. If you have URLs that are poor or need improvement, it also provides a list of issues along with the URLs affected. Click on the issue to learn more about the issue and the affected URLs.
Your site’s Core Web Vitals data can be found in PageSpeed Insights or Google Lighthouse.
In PageSpeed Insights, your Core Web Vitals will reflect a real user experience. Google Lighthouse uses lab data in addition to real user data.
The top of the PageSpeed Insights reports shows your Core Web Vitals metrics:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): How long it takes a page to load. An ideal LCP is 2.5 seconds or less.
- First Input Delay (FID): How long it takes until users can interact with your page. Ideally, this should be 100 milliseconds or less.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): How much page elements shift as they load. This should be .1 or less.
- First Contentful Paint (FCP): How long it takes until a user can see something on the screen. A score of 1.8 seconds or less will keep you in green.
- Interaction to Next Paint (INP): The amount of time between a user action and the page response. 200 ms or less is seen as good.
- Time to First Byte (TTFP): The amount of time between the initial browser request and when it receives the first byte from the server. Aim for 800 ms or less.
Click on any of the metrics in PageSpeed Insights to go to their corresponding web.dev page, which further explains what each metric is and why it matters.
PageSpeed Insights Metrics
After the Core Web Vitals section, you’ll find additional PageSpeed Index metrics, including:
- Speed Index: How quickly content is displayed during page loading. Less than 3.4 seconds will keep you in green.
- Time to Interactive (TTI): How long a page requires to become fully interactive. Google says to strive for less than 5 seconds.
- Total Blocking Time: How long a page is blocked to user input. Green here is under 200 ms.
Once you see a page is performing poorly, you can attempt to troubleshoot the problem. Here are 10 ways to optimize page speed.
How To Optimize Page Speed
1. Compress and Optimize Images
When you want to increase your page speed scores, start by compressing and optimizing images. Reducing the image file size naturally reduces a page’s size and, consequently, the time it takes to load.
There are a variety of tools you can use to compress the size of your images, like TinyPNG or Attrock. If you’re on WordPress, there are several image optimization plugins available, such as Smush, EWWW Image Optimizer, and Imagify.
Using the right file type, resizing images, and getting rid of GIFs can all help to reduce page weight.
2. Cut Unnecessary Plugins
If your WordPress site has more than a dozen plugins, think about which can be removed. Some plugins are more resource-intensive than others, so you may have to do some testing to figure out which ones may be slowing your page down the most.
Review your site’s plugins, speak with other stakeholders, and determine which are really necessary.
If a plugin provides questionable value to your website, or if it may provide value in the future but isn’t doing so right now, disabling or removing it may make sense. Also consider whether you can replace multiple plugins with different functions with one plugin that does it all.
3. Clean Up Your Code
The page speed optimization process is a good opportunity to analyze your site’s code and clean up any unnecessary characters or lines. Every little bit of unused or unnecessary code you remove will help to speed up your site, although it may not be noticeable. Be mindful when working with code. Create backup before making any changes and stay focused on the task to avoid mistakes.
To minify code, remove extraneous characters, counters, spaces, or other code elements which may be unnecessary. The end result should be cleaner code, smaller file sizes, and faster loading pages.
7. Implement Browser Caching
Develop a caching policy that determines which resources can be cached, for how long, and by whom.
8. Remove Redirect Chains
This article outlines how to find and remove redirect chains. Make it a best practice to track redirects and always link to the final destination URL to reduce the likelihood of future redirect chains.
9. Use a CDN
Another way to optimize page speed is by leveraging a Content Delivery Network (CDN), sometimes also called a Content Distribution Network.
A CDN distributes copies of your website’s static content to geographically-diverse servers across the world. This reduces the geographical distance between potential visitors and the server, cutting down on latency and reducing the Time to First Byte.
10. Find a Faster Hosting Service
There’s really only so much you can do to increase web page load times, and the reality is the problem won’t always be on your end. Your web hosting provider plays a major role in the performance of your website. It’s entirely possible your site’s speed problems may be the result of poor hosting performance rather than poorly optimized pages.
If you’ve already done everything you can to optimize page speed but your pages still aren’t loading quickly enough, it’s probably time to look for a faster hosting service. Look for a performance-focused hosting service that offers dedicated hosting so you’ll never have to share your potential hosting resources with other sites.
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