Why your website should be blazing fast (and how to achieve that)
Let’s talk about speed. Everyone enjoys fast websites. To a certain extent this might be subconscious, but as soon as some negative threshold is surpassed, it becomes very conscious, i.e. when a website is loading terribly slowly. Especially when you are on the road and you start to appreciate when you’re getting the content quickly. On the island where we stay frequently, we’re getting 3G connection on the coastline as soon as we face the larger neighbouring island. In the jungle we’re depending on edgy Edge, and of course WiFi inside the houses and Cafés. For such cases it’s obvious that faster is better. But our personal satisfaction over a site that loads quickly is not the only reason why it’s good to have a blazing fast website. Read on to learn more.
Human Perception vs. Machines
Yes, we got it, we human beings appreciate fast websites for various reasons, especially because we don’t like staring at progress bars (or hey: circles). It’s even possible to pull a quantitative value out of that: 3 seconds. If you’re page is loading for over 3 seconds, you’re gonna have a bad time. Your visitors expect to load it within two seconds; if it’s longer than three, 40% will abandon your page. That’s massive! (Source)
But how about the machines? We’re specifically interested in the one machine: Google. Does page speed matter for ranking your website? You’re guessing it already: Oh yeah! Latest studies put a tiny ‘but…’ after that statement, but its core is still true.
Search engines are particularly interested in the background processes, not so much about the time the websites take to load completely. That’s more what matters for the users, and also the users’ behaviour is being fed back to the search engine to a certain extent, but we’ll talk about this later. For now let’s have a look at the so called back-end performance, the stuff going on under the hood.
The back-end performance of a website directly impacts search engine ranking. The back end includes the web servers, their network connections, the use of CDNs, and the back-end application and database servers. – Zoompf
Those points, on the one hand, relate to infrastructure: how good is your server -do you pay for services which deliver the content from a location closer to your users (CDN) etc? They can be solved by putting more money on the table. Not necessarily a lot more, but more than you might be paying for the cheapest webhosting package at Hostgator. On the other hand, the back-end performance can be improved by having the cleverest website, which has as few database queries as you need. That puts a lot of custom site builders (wix etc…) in a not ideal position, and even WordPress could be overpowered (and therefore taking longer to load) for what you actually need.
Let’s go back to the users abandoning your website due to long loading times. This negatively effects your bounce rate, which is a value measured by Google Analytics. According to current knowledge, there is no proven connection between the bounce rate and the rankings on Google, but there very well might be.
Search engines also have the ability to detect when a user comes back to his search results immediately via the ‘back’-button. This is a sign for the search engine that the search result was not satisfying, and it will be adjusted over time. Which means the slow site will rank lower in the long run.
So there are enough reasons to satisfy your users as well as the search engines, when it comes to your website’s loading time.
How to Measure Page Speed
So how fast is your website? Google has a nice tool for that: PageSpeed. But personally I prefer using GTmetrix which uses Google PageSpeed’s rating plus another one called YSlow. It works by entering your (or any other) URL into a field and then letting some remote server do the work. It measures various aspects of the performance (back-end, front-end…) and compiles it into a number, e.g. 79%. This number is relative, so it indicates how well your site is optimized. It could still be huge and packed with megabytes of text, and therefore loading slowly, but as long as it’s optimized, it gets a good ranking.
GTmetrix has the convenient option of tracking your page speed over time, and sending you weekly reports. For fewer than 5 sites this service is completely free, which will suffice for most semiprofessional users.
Bringing Your Site up to Speed
So what are the actionables once you have discovered your site is slow? Luckily Google PageSpeed as well as GTmetrix are very helpful in showing you what is slowing down your page. The items are even rated in terms of difficulty of implementation. So once you’re using those tools, you’ll have a lot to do! We’ll be covering specific actionables in this blog over time. For now we’re leaving you alone with the possibly depressing list (or you simply give us a call.
It’s up to you how far you go with your optimization. There’s the perfectionist approach which aims at nothing less than 100%. That’s cool, and a possible killer for your competition in competitive niches. It’s definitely recommended to reach for 80% and higher. Everything below that is not really acceptable.
Page speed matters. And the way to a faster website can be quick. At least the easy tweaks can have rewarding results. Some of the more advanced settings should be evaluated regarding their return of investment. In the long run Google always rewards sites that care for their visitors, so don’t miss out on that opportunity!