Page speed has been a known organic ranking factor since way back in 2010, when Google announced that “users place a lot of value in speed — that’s why we’ve decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings”. The 2018 Google Speed Update also confirmed that as of July 2018, mobile page speed features in the ranking algorithm for mobile search results. We can infer that page speed is also going to play a part in Ad Rank for PPC campaigns too, specifically the landing page experience component of quality score.
Over the past 10 years, Google has been placing an ever-increasing focus on page speed and how it impacts the user experience. We only need to look at the number and frequency of updates they’ve released to understand how much of a priority page speed should be.
A timeline showing Google’s emphasis on page speed over time, created by Unbounce
We are being offered more and more incentives to get on board with faster page speeds and if Google’s previous carrot-then-stick record is anything to go by – see the approach to HTTPS and E-A-T guidelines – then we can expect to see these page speed incentives followed up with ranking losses for slow speeds in the future.
Why page speed matters
As the web has become more advanced, users have become more impatient. We’re busier than ever before and with more people using their mobiles to browse on the go, Google is clear on the impact that poor page speeds have on bounce rates. In 2017, Google used a deep neural network to test exactly how much page speed contributed to a user’s likelihood of bouncing, and the results were fairly damning.
It’s clear to see how much shaving just a couple of seconds off your loading times can help to reduce the likelihood of users bouncing off your pages, but what does that mean in real terms? Often marketers can struggle to get development changes pushed through due to resistance from higher-ups in the business, but now Google offers its helpful Test My Site tool which demonstrates just how much of a financial impact that slow page speeds can have. You can input your actual figures for monthly visitors, conversion rate, and average order value, to see just how much revenue you could be missing out on – so there is really no excuse anymore.
See the impact of slow page speeds on your bottom line
But despite this, according to a 2019 Page Speed Report from Unbounce, although 81% of marketers said they know that speed influences conversions, only 3% said that faster loading times are their top priority in 2019. That’s a huge disparity! Tasks such as A/B testing, created more personalised website content, and adding more compelling design elements were just some of the aspects cited as higher up their to-do lists. But ultimately, those tasks are going to have a minimal impact if users are bouncing off before your pages have had the chance to load. You can add as many aesthetic features to a car as you like but if there is a problem with the engine, then you aren’t going to get very far. Google’s advice is clear – fix your engine first!
Page speed by industry
When it comes to understanding your website’s page speed, it’s important to be aware of the wider search landscape within your industry and amongst your direct competitors. You should get a clear picture of your site compared to your competitors using Think With Google’s Test My Site tool, and you can better understand your wider industry using the benchmarks below.
Here we can see that the automotive, travel, and (perhaps surprisingly) technology industries are the worst offenders when it comes to loading time. These industries tend to feature a lot of design-heavy landing pages which can hold performance back. It’s all very well having a beautifully designed landing page, but this needs to go hand in hand with technical optimisation work.
How to optimise your page speeds
So now that we’ve established just how important page speed is to modern-day websites, you’re probably wondering how to go away and improve your loading times. It’s always best to get a personalised report using a tool like PageSpeed Insights, Pingdom, or GTmetrix, so you know exactly what you should prioritise for your particular site.
But in addition, here are some of the key fixes you can ask your web developer implement to increase your page speed and delivered an improved user experience:
Enable image and text compression
By compressing images and text you can minimise the size of your webpage to speed up loading times. Google estimates that 30% of pages could save more than 250KB with this quick fix!
Eliminate render-blocking resources
Flags up when the resources used for page functionality and styling are delaying the visibility of the page’s primary content. Consider delivering any critical JS/CSS inline and deferring any non-critical JS/CSS.
Remove unused CSS
If you have style sheets that contain unused CSS, this can have a significant impact on how long users have to wait before your content will appear. So if you’re not using it, get rid of it!
Serve images in next-gen formats
Serving your website images using JPEG 2000, JPEG XR, and WebP helps them to load faster and use less mobile data.
Defer offscreen images
Images that don’t appear ‘above the fold’ and are offscreen when a page first loads can be delayed through ‘lazy loading’ to prioritise the content which will appear straight away.
The minification process removes any data from a code file that isn’t needed in order to execute the file, resulting in a faster response time and reduced bandwidth costs.
Properly size images
Make sure to resize your images so that they match display dimensions to avoid serving images that are larger than the version that can be rendered on a user’s screen.
Avoid multiple page redirects
Make sure to audit any redirect chains on your site regularly to avoid lengthy redirects. This will help to reduce user and crawler agent response times.
Accelerated mobile pages (AMP) are web pages that are designed to load in less than a second on a mobile device. Using AMP requires you to create a version of your website which follows the AMP project standards, so this won’t be for everyone, but it’s certainly worth seeing if AMP would work for your business.
It’s clear that the majority of websites are still relatively slow and are suffering due to bloat from too many elements. Moving into 2020 and beyond, every marketer should ensure they are being proactive in following a mobile-first approach and serving content which is quick to load to gain a ranking advantage over competitors, keep user engagement high, and boost conversion rates.