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The Importance of (Website) Page Load Speed for SEO

Search engine optimisation or SEO for short has the objective of improving the ranking or visibility of a website/page in the organic listings of major search engines such as Google and Bing.

Most of the SEO industry is constantly on the half-turn looking for the next trend or signal for what factor(s) are driving success or higher rankings in the search engines?

Note: As at April 2014, Google enjoys the bulk of the UK search engine market share, handling 89.55 per cent of all queries, a long way ahead of Yahoo with 3.29 per cent and Microsoft (Bing) with 5.49 per cent. Thus, when the SEO industry talks about attaining higher search engine rankings they are nearly always referring to higher rankings in Google.

The list of 200+ algorithm factors or signals that Google uses to rank web pages is the source of continuous debate and second guessing amongst folk inside both agencies and clients. As Google states: These signals include things like the terms on websites, the freshness of content, your region and PageRank.

Further reading on the analysis of what may constitute the right combination of SEO Success ranking factors, or “signals.”

The purpose of this article is to consider the SEO importance of one element of the on-the-page factors that make up the architecture of your website: Page Load Speed. Note: On-the-page ranking factors are deemed to be in the direct control of the web page publisher.

So the question we need to ask is twofold:

1. Does your website load quickly?
2. What is the relevance between page load speed and higher organic search engine rankings?

Does Your Website Load Quickly?
Without question a very high proportion of all websites on the Internet today could improve their page load speed. Improving page load speed is important because it is speed and performance which are essential to providing a great end-user experience for websites and web applications.

In the 21st century it is clear that everybody deserves (and expects!) a fast web experience. The percentage of web users accessing the Internet on a smartphone or tablet is rising at break neck speed. It is this shift to what I will call on the move web access that is one major reason for the growing importance of page load speed. Consumers simply do not have the time, or inclination, to sit around at home or work waiting for a web page to load!

In an ideal world if you had the chance to develop your website from scratch, then planning your site architecture around page load speed would be an important consideration to factor into the build. In addition, from the outset, major consideration should also be given to the presentation of the website on various devices such as the smartphone and tablet. This is often referred to as responsive website design. Responsive design is very much about enhancing the end-user experience.

If your website is already built, then you will be pleased to know that there are a whole host of excellent tools and software which can assess the current page load speed of your site and help you develop a faster, more efficient, and all-around improved website experience for your users.

This is not the correct place to analyse every specific page load speed tool of software provider on the market, more to point you in the direction of a small number of high quality providers:

• Page Speed – Google Developers. Evaluates the performance of web pages and get suggestions on how to improve them.
• Website speed test. Use this free Website Speed Test from Pingdom Tools to analyse the load speed of your websites.
• Website Speed and Performance Optimization. GTmetrix is a free tool that analyses your page’s speed performance.

SEO and Page Load Speed
So, the second question is: whilst we know that improving page load speed will no doubt enhance the end-user experience of your website, will it also raise the ranking of your website in the search engines?

Well, we can do no worse than start with reiterating a message from Google in 2010. In this announcement Google unequivocally stated that website speed would begin to have an impact on search ranking. Or, in other words, the speed at which someone could view the content from a search result would be a ranking factor. A video from leading Googler Matt Cutts (head of the Google web spam team) elaborated further.

Now, it is at this point that many have in the past and some will probably still get carried away with digging frantically into the SEO ramifications and divine importance of page load speed for the purpose of SEO. This is the WRONG approach. What Google is saying here is that it will be attributing a higher value/importance on the factor of page load speed – because it plays an increasingly important role in end-user experience.

It is this last phrase that should be the key take-away from the Google statement(s). A poor performing website results in a poor user experience, and sites with poor user experiences deserve less promotion in search results.

The specifics of what metrics Google is actually using in regards to page speed is open to on-going debate and discussion. As we know Google, whilst being far more open and communicative than it ever used to be, is still (quite rightly, in my opinion) secretive as to the finer details.

Summary
I would recommend that you take a fresh look at your website load speed. This would have the twin objectives of:

1. Improving everyone’s experience of your website on the Internet.
2. Improving your ranking in search engines.

Read more about our SEO Sussex services.

Paul Brewster, June 2014