Page speed is one of the more overlooked ranking factors when it comes to SEO. It’s easy to get caught up in keywords, word counts and blogging and forget all about technical ranking factors, especially if you’re new to the SEO game.
The problem with ignoring technical SEO, like your website’s page speed, is that all the on-page optimisation in the world can go to waste on a slow-loading website.
Let’s dig a little deeper into how page speed affects SEO and why it’s important for your overall search engine success.
What is page speed?
Page speed is the amount of time it takes a page on your website to load. Your page’s loading speed is made up of a few different factors, with the three most common being:
- First Contentful Paint: When the user’s browser loads the first bit of content on your page.
- Time to Interactive: When the user can interact with your page.
- Fully Loaded: When all the content on your page has loaded and can be interacted with.
While you should pay attention to your page speed for all of these markers, it’s best to focus on “Time to Interactive” or “Fully Loaded” if you want to provide a good user experience for your website visitors.
Why is page speed important?
Page speed is important because a fast-loading website delivers a better user experience. This will boost your ranking factors with search engines, improve your customer experience and boost your website’s conversion rate.
In a nutshell, it’s a huge boost for your website in more ways than just your SEO!
Page Speed and SEO
Search engines want to send users to a website that will provide an excellent user experience, as well as answer their queries. The main ranking factor they use to determine this is the loading speed of your website pages.
This isn’t a new thing. In 2014, Google announced they were prioritising page speed as a ranking factor. Four years later, they announced the “Speed Update”, which declared that this ranking factor now applies to mobile page speed. In more recent updates, we have only seen user experience and page speed be prioritised more.
Page Speed and User Experience
We’ve covered that search engines rate page speed highly in determining the user experience of your website. But why is that?
In the world of short-form video content and even shorter attention spans, consumers want everything right now. Unless your website is an absolute necessity for the visitor, chances are they will ditch your website in favour of a competitor if you’re not providing a fast and smooth user experience.
The best way to do this is with a fast-loading website.
Page Speed and Conversions
Page speed can also affect your website’s conversion rate optimisation (CRO).
Studies have found that at least half of online shoppers will abandon their shopping cart if the pages in the checkout experience are taking too long to load. We’ll dig deeper into more stats from that study shortly, but when you consider how many sales a slow page could lose your business, it’s a no-brainer to optimise your speed for conversions.
What is a good page speed?
In a 2022 study by Digital, results showed that over 50% of online shoppers expect a website’s load time to be under 3 seconds. With 45% of that same group having a negative impression of a business with a slow-loading website. Many studies over the years have found similar results.
When it comes to Google, they haven’t released any official guidelines on what your page load time should be, however in a recent Google Webmaster video they advised e-commerce websites should take no more than two seconds to load. They also shared that they aim to keep their pages at Google to under half a second.
Taking all of this data into account, it’s best to aim for a page load speed of under 3 seconds to keep search engines and users happy on your website.
How can I measure my website’s page speed?
There are several tools you can use to measure your website’s page speed. The three most popular are:
When it comes to running a speed test to improve your SEO, you’re best off sticking with Google tools. After all, you may as well check your page speed using a Google tool so you can be sure the stats are what Google is seeing too!
GTMetrix and Pingdom offer decent breakdowns of their metrics within their reports, but the Google tools can feel a little overwhelming, so let’s break them down.
Google PageSpeed Insights metrics
Google’s PageSpeed Insights will provide you with 6 different speed metrics that can positively or negatively affect your SEO.
Here’s a quick snapshot from PageSpeed Insights for a website that is *almost* nailing it but needs some slight improvement in one area.
Here’s another breakdown of the metrics and what they mean behind their fancy names:
- First Contentful Paint: When the first bit of content loads
- Speed Index: How quickly content is visually displayed
- Largest Contentful Paint: When the largest piece of content fully loads
- Time to Interactive: When the user can fully interact with your page.
- Total Blocking Time: The period between First Contentful Paint and Time to Interactive.
- Cumulative Layout Shift: The visual stability of your page (i.e. measure unexpected movement of content)
Each of these metrics is scored with a number and colour. Google advise the following:
- Green = good
- Amber = needs improvement
- Poor = bad
As you can see from the report above, this website needs to improve the Largest Contentful Paint to achieve all green scores in PageSpeed Insights. The image fix I recommend in the “how to speed up your website” section should resolve this!
Core Web Vitals
You’ll find a link to your website’s Core Web Vitals report on the left-hand side after you log in to Google Search Console.
We know that Google is prioritising user experience and page speed on mobile devices now, so you should to click “Open Report” for mobile rather than desktop.
This site doesn’t have a lot of pages, and they’re all performing pretty well. When clicking on “View data about good URLs”, you may find that your URLs have been grouped. This typically happens with website pages that have similar content or share the same template, which means their performance will often be the same.
Let’s take a look at a report that isn’t performing so well.
Underneath this report, we have details about why the URLs are marked as “Needs improvement”.
You can click on each of these to find more information on which URLs have the issue, although for this site, it appears to be all of them!
You’ll notice each issue as an abbreviation related to the issue. In this instance, the issues are related to two of the three Core Web Vitals.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): The visual stability of your page (i.e. measure unexpected movement of content)
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): When the largest piece of content fully loads
- First Input Delay (FID): When your website responds to a user’s action (i.e. clicks a link, button, etc.)
You may recognise a couple of these from PageSpeed Insights!
How to speed up your website
If you want to increase your chances of ranking on the first page of Google, you need to ensure your page experience is top-notch. This means if you’ve found a less than ideal speed score for your website pages, you will need to carry out some speed optimisation.
Your speed tests may indicate what elements on your website are affecting site speed the most, and if you have a full understanding of the report then I recommend you action everything recommended. If you’re unsure, here’s a foolproof plan you can follow to improve your site speed.
Optimise your website images
Website images are one of the biggest culprits when a page is slow to load. You can get a good indication of this by entering specific page URLs into speed tests and seeing if the loading times vary dramatically. If you find that your image-heavy pages load much slower, you need to optimise your website images!
If you’re on a different website platform, or self-hosted, you can use Adobe Photoshop’s “Save for Web” feature. Alternatively, you can use a tool like TinyPNG to compress your images before you upload them to your website.
Remove unnecessary features
An example of this is websites that add falling snow to their website pages during December. Sure, you might think it’s a nice feature, but it will affect the time a page on your website takes to load… and it’s unnecessary. So ditch it in favour of a faster-loading website!
Install a cache plugin
If you’re a WordPress user, you’ll find a huge improvement in the amount of time a page takes to load on your website if you install a cache plugin.
Here’s how my PSI report looked after installing WP Rocket on a site recently:
Install a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is designed to store pages of your website on its servers and deliver them faster to users. They work best when you’ve carried out other speed optimisation tasks on your website first but they can give you the boost you need to hit green scores in website speed test tools.
Cloudflare’s free plan will get you pretty far with this, but if you need more of a boost, you may need a paid plan to get your website the results you need.
Change your website host
Sometimes a slow-loading website can be the result of your website’s hosting not being up to scratch. You don’t necessarily have to switch to a new host, sometimes it’s enough to just switch to a higher level plan. For example, if you’re currently on a shared hosting plan you may need to move on to a dedicated server.
However, sometimes the problem is the website host as a whole and you’re better off switching to a new one. You may find this provides an instant boost in your website’s page speed. I experienced this myself after switching from my old host to SiteGround!
Wrapping Up: How Important is Page Speed for SEO?
There are many factors that make up why page speed is important for SEO. When you improve page speed on your website, you will:
- Provide a better user experience for your website visitors
- Show Google that you deliver a fast user experience
- Improve your website’s conversion rate
All of which work towards your website’s presence and performance. So let’s keep it to under 3 seconds and watch the results roll in!