Marketing, PR & Advertising and Technology

Site performance influences SEO and users

August 13, 2018
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You stream content whenever you’d like, from wherever you are, from whatever device is nearby. We check Amazon to see if a product is cheaper than our local store because we know we can get it in two days. We’re programmed to go to Google to get answers to our questions or find things near us. It’s also known that a goldfish now has a better attention span than us humans.

Why does this matter, and what does it have to do with the performance of a website, you ask? We live in an on-demand world, and users get frustrated by slow and poorly performing websites — especially on mobile. A speedy site with a good user experience means a great deal.

History of page speed and site performance

Since 2010, Google has used site speed as a ranking factor; and in July 2018, Google announced the use of page speed for mobile search ranking. Known by most as the Google Speed Update, this comes on the heels of the mobile-first indexing that rolled out this spring. With well over half of all searches performed on a mobile device, Google launched an index that was more representative of the real-world audience.

While this is something that we as SEOs follow quite closely, most marketers might not be keeping their finger on the pulse of what Google is doing and how it impacts your business. Google continues to put efforts into understanding the ways in which your audience searches, but also how they interact with sites in their rankings.

If a person visits your site from a Google search and immediately hits the “back” button on their browser, Google remembers that. It could be that the person didn’t find your site to be relevant to their search, or the page itself didn’t load in a timely fashion. Either way, the person is frustrated — and with enough of these actions over time, Google will take note of this and push your site farther and farther down in rankings, ultimately not showing your site in the results or at least the coveted “page one.”

Let’s walk through some simple steps you can take to identify problem areas and notify the right people on your team to get everything headed in the proper direction.

Test for site speed issues

Before you can take action, it’s best to see if site speed are issues impacting the performance of your site, and whether the investment you might have to make will pay off. Follow these steps to uncover the weaknesses that really hold your site back.

1. Use Google Analytics to identify the most popular pages on your site (by page views) and use these as your baseline for testing.

2. Run those pages through reputable tools like Google PageSpeed Insights or WebPageTest.org to gather insights.

3. Look for low-hanging fruit that commonly inhibits sites from performing better (see list below).

4. Identify and document these issues, and pull in the proper individuals to get them cleared up.

Common page speed issues

Many of the common issues that come up in page speed tests are easily identifiable and can be swiftly remedied.

Optimize Images: Most websites are image-rich, and while we think that provides the best experience and really sells our products, these image file sizes can wreak havoc on load times. It’s not uncommon to see between a 40 percent and 80 percent reduction in the bytes of data used to load your images. One thing to note here is that we’re talking about “file size” and not the dimensions of the image.

Browser Caching: Database-driven websites are pushing and pulling data from every angle. There are large amounts of resources that are being used to load static data across nearly every page of your site. Most of the content and images in the header and footer of the page, for instance, are the same. By leveraging browser caching (pronounced “cashing”), these elements don’t have to reload on every single page load, which improves the speed.

Minify Resources (Javascript, HTML, CSS): So much data being used on a website is redundant data—meaning much of that could be optimized to remove the unnecessary code, shorten up variables when possible, etc. These efforts will all help the site/page load faster.

Just because the majority of your traffic may come from desktop users doesn’t mean these elements should be ignored. Given the current landscape of the mobile-first index, it could very well mean that your audience doesn’t have a good experience with your site on a mobile device. By doing some basic homework, you can identify weaknesses of your site and its performance and take the necessary action to improve it for your users — and for search engines.

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