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Why page speed is important - SEO for 2010

17:38 on Wed, 2 Dec 2009 | SEO | 3 Comments

As users, we all get frustrated when a website seems to take an age to load. With broadband now so common and speeds increasing all the time, we expect websites to load with near instantaneous speed.

When was the last time you checked how quickly your site loads? As a new user I mean, with no images, css or external scripts cached, and on a standard 512k broadband connection.

Why fast loading web pages are important

PPC
'Landing page quality score' has long been a factor in overall quality score for AdWords, which helps determine how much you have to pay per click and where you'll appear in results. As a slow loading website provides a poor user experience, it's reasonable that slow load times will negatively affect this quality score, costing you more money.

SEO
At the recent PubCon, Google's Matt Cutts (head of web spam) stated that page load time may well be a ranking factor in 2010. Whilst this is not likely to be a major factor, it is likely that sites which take unusually long to load will experience reductions in rankings.

Conversion rates
It's common sense to expect that a site which loads slowly may be negatively affecting conversion rates. Users get frustrated, and may not complete their purchase or enquiry.. or just click back to search results if a page is taking ages to appear. Recent research by Forrester suggests that this issue is becoming ever more important for website owners.

• 47% of consumers expect to see a page loaded in 2 seconds or less
• 40% would abandon their visit if page load takes more than 3 seconds
• 52% stated that quick page loading is important to their site loyalty

and when faced with a poor online shopping experience,

• 79% are less likely to purchase from that site again
• 27% are less likely to buy from that retailer off-line


In summary, the speed in which users can view and navigate your website is becoming ever more important. Websites which have a poor user experience because of slow loading pages are potentially missing out on search traffic and sales.

What causes slow loading times?

Hosting
An important business website hosted on a cheap, shared hosting account is often a false economy. Shared hosting, especially with cheap providers who often overfill their servers, means that you are sharing resources with an unknown amount of other websites. Some of these may be experiencing high traffic or be using scripts that monopolise server resources. If your website generates revenue for your business, it deserves to be hosted on a server which will deliver performance.

Location of hosting is also worth bearing in mind. The nearer a server is located physically in relation to your customers, the less distance and fewer 'hops' the data has to travel to appear on their screens. This may well mean that, for UK businesses, a UK based hosting provider is the best option. Although often cheaper, a server based in the US (especially the west coast) will normally add a second or more to every request a browser in the UK makes.

Page size and included files
Obviously, the larger a page is in terms of kilobytes, the longer it will take to send to visitors. Page size can be reduced by removing unnecessary content, including HTML comments, and by optimising code - for example using CSS based layouts instead of HTML tables.

Included files also add directly to page load times, whether they be images, CSS stylesheets, Flash movies or scripts such as JavaScript. These can all be optimised to reduce filesize, but it's also worth bearing in mind that every request for an external file causes it's own delays to loading time due to a new request being sent to the server. This can be minimised by using techniques such as 'CSS Sprites' for image rollovers, combining multiple CSS files into one and combining and 'minimising' external JavaScript files.

Tools to test and improve loading time

Simple
Web Page Analyzer
Easy to use web tool which tests a page loading time and presents results and recommendations, along with overall load time on different connection speeds. Bear in mind that this website is based in the US, so if your website is hosted in the UK the loading times will be inflated slightly by the distances involved.

Image Optimizer
Manually upload images, and Image Optimizer will return a smaller image with similar quality. Simple, but slower than a solution such as Google Page Speed (below)

Medium
Google Page Speed
This tool from Google is a plugin for FireBug, which means you'll need the FireFox browser and the Firebug plugin installed to use it. It's well worth doing, as you can analyse your page and Page Speed will present a comprehensive list of issues along with suggestions. It even does some optimisation for you, for example providing links to optimised versions of your images where appropriate!

Advanced
CSS Sprites
Combining several images into one and then using CSS to display the part needed on your page can cut down on total image size, as well as effectively reducing the amount of requests each page load requires. Getting the CSS working 100% and the sprite image laid out effeciently can be tricky, but is very worthwhile if your design uses lots of small navigational images. csssprites.com is a website which will automate some of this for you, but it appears to be currently down for maintenance.

More resources
Google have recently launched a collection of resources and information about improving site speed. It can be found at http://code.google.com/speed/

Yahoo also have a good reference and tips for optimising site speed at http://developer.yahoo.com/performance/

 

[Update 2:25pm] Google have just posted about a new tool within Google Webmaster Tools which presents site specific feedback including, interestingly, aggregated data on actual load times of your visitors using the Google toolbar. With the amount of noise Google have been making about site speed over the last week, it seems evident that they are taking the issue of site speed very seriously.

Comments & Discussion

(3 Comments)

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Adam

Adam • Years ago

Agreed. However I would rather spend my time focusing on the areas which have a massive difference....This seems to be more time efficient too. For example, would you rather spend your time focusing on page load speed, and getting the keyword density to 0.2% perfect, or would you rather get a few high quality permanent links from say ezinearticles from highly relevant pages, dofollow with your anchor? It is good to have a holistic approach, however I tend to get the nuts and bolts sorted, then focus on link building (and never stop really) and whilst focusing on link building, fine tuning other elements too etc.

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Rob Welsby

Rob Welsby • Years ago

Hi Adam, thanks for your input. In the world of SEO, there are hundreds of things that are each small factors and don't make much difference all other things being equal. The thing is that, on the web, all other things never are equal, and all those small improvements added together can make a huge difference to your overall search marketing campaign.

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Adam

Adam • Years ago

Hi Rob,

Page speed has entered into the realms of Caffeine algo changes, however Matt Cutts has confirmed that it is not a massive "winner" and is only likely to come into play when all other aspects are equal and when are all other aspects equal.... Not that often, however it doesnt hurt when doing SEO to look at site speed and size of images/flash etc, keep all that minimal for your SEO pages then for other pages perhaps bulking them up.

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