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Is Your Website Speed Hurting Your Rankings?

Written on March 4th, 2014 by

Your grandparents were right: the world is just too fast these days.

We expect everything now, instantly, on demand and when we don’t get it, we look somewhere else for what we need.

Just think about the last time you clicked through to a site and it took "forever" to load. How quickly did you hit the back button and move on to a site that could provide what you wanted at a speed you’re accustomed to?

This is why Google looks at your site’s speed when considering where it should rank one of your pages.

Slow sites create unhappy searchers. You make searchers unhappy too many times and they will find a new search engine. Your ad revenue goes down, stock prices drop and somewhere a fairy loses its wings.

Jokes aside, making sure your website is performing up to snuff and isn’t angering the Google Algorithm gods is an important part of any SEO campaign and will lead to more traffic and better conversions.

The Need for Speed… Kind Of

In April 2010, Google announced that it would be taking website speed into consideration when ranking a website. However, Matt Cutts was quick to point out that while website speed was going to be a ranking factor in the algorithm, it wouldn’t be a major one.

On his blog, Cutts said, "we still put much more weight on factors like relevance, topicality, reputation, value-add, etc. — all the factors that you probably think about all the time. Compared to those signals, site speed will carry much less weight."

According to Google, less than 1 percent of search engine queries were affected by the change. Most people wouldn’t have noticed the change had Google not said anything. As marketers who are focused on SEO, it’s typical for us to ignore anything that doesn’t send us deep into the SERPs.

But ignore your site’s speed issues at your own peril. Here’s why you should care:

User Experience

In 2006 Jupiter Research did a study and found that the average online shopper expected a site to load in 4 seconds. Today, shoppers expect a site to load in 2 seconds. 

If your site is painfully slow, users will get frustrated and leave quickly. This means all that awesome content you created isn’t going to be seen by the people who abandoned your slow-loading site. Fewer visitors means fewer conversions, fewer sales and less revenue.

Furthermore, you may be sabotaging all of your other SEO work by dropping the ball at the goal line with a slow site. You’ve optimized your meta tags, created search engine-friendly content, built links — the whole nine yards. And now all of that is for naught because once you got users to click through, they didn’t want to wait for your site to load.

It would be like getting a date with someone you impressed by being talkative and personable and then not speaking for the first 20 minutes of your date.

Indirect SEO Damage

When you have a bad user experience and users bail on your site, it’s not only going to waste your other SEO efforts: It’s also going to taint other ranking factors the search engines weigh heavier.

Visitors who leave because your site is slow are going to lower your page views, as well as time-on-site and other engagement metrics. Bounce rate — the percentage of people who click through to a page, do nothing else and then leave — is going to increase. That’s a bad thing.

Google wants to provide the best sites and the best information to its users. The algorithm looks for sites with bad user experience metrics and ranks them lower. So while the actual speed "penalty" in the ranking algorithm isn’t as important as the others, it can have a big affect on metrics that are given more weight.

Measure Your Speed

They say the first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem. If your site seems to lag a bit and you’ve tested it out on different browsers and computers, then it’s time to find out whether you do indeed have a speed issue.

There are many speed checking tools out there, but the first one you should use is Google’s PageSpeedInsights. To get a good idea of how your site is performing, do the following:

Test the Homepage

Enter your homepage URL in the tool and see what score you get. It will spit out a numerical value between 0 and 100 (100 being the best) for your site, on mobile devices and on desktops as well.

Record Issues

Google’s speed tool will give you a list of your speed issues and highlight the ones it feels are the most important with yellow and red exclamation point icons.

Google will also give you information on how to fix these problems, but for now hold off on doing that.

Test Inner Pages

We also want to test inner pages of our site to make sure that issues listed for the homepage aren’t specific to that page alone. Repeat your test with a couple of inner pages and note all of the major issues that are similar. This will give you a hit list of problems to attack.

Get a Second Opinion

Google is not the only speed checker on the block. There are several others that are highly regarded among speed-obsessed webmasters.

Some of the best are:

Make sure to run several tests on each of these tools, as your site can load differently at times. You’ll want to run these tests at different times of the day and over a few days if you have the time to come up with a true average of load times.

The Usual Suspects

After running your tests with all of these tools you should have a list of time bandits you can start attacking.

The most common are:

Large Images

Everyone loves a great image, but if it’s too big it can take some time to load, and that’s time you don’t want to be wasting. To fix issues with images:

  • Find a version of the image that is a smaller file size.
  • Use a .png file instead of a .jpg. 
  • Make sure the image is the size you want it displayed. In WordPress and other content platforms, you can upload a picture then specify a different size you want it displayed as. Adjusting the image may be the fix for the time-suck you’re looking for.

Large CSS and JS Files

Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) and JavaScript (JS) files can get a little out of hand on a site and compressing them will usually save a lot of load time.

While it may help to have a more technical background before you start poking around with these files, us simple folk can stand on the shoulders of techie giants by using handy tools like these:

Too Many Bells and Whistles

This is a common occurrence with WordPress-based sites. There are themes, theme frameworks, child themes, plugins and widgets all stacked on top of the regular mix of images, along with CSS and JS.

It’s easy to find a plugin for everything you need, but every time you add a plugin, you’re tacking on extra data that needs to load.

Instead, find a theme like Affilotheme, which has the functionality of plugins built in. Avoid downloading an SEO plugin. Instead, use a theme that has those options available, which cuts down on the data bloat of your site.

Full Steam Ahead

Speed issues most likely aren’t going to be your biggest concern. But if your site is noticeably slow, it’s something you need to fix ASAP.

You work hard to build, promote and rank your site. Don’t flush that down the toilet with a site that pushes users away with a slow user experience.  Check your site’s speed today and make sure you’re not shooting your SEO efforts in the foot.