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How Page Speed Affects SEO & Google Rankings

Page Speed is a ranking factor confirmed by Google twice – in 2010 and 2018. Page speed affects ranking both directly and indirectly. Directly, as it is a ranking factor for the Google algorithm. Indirectly, since it increases the bounce rate (the percentage of users abandoning a website) and decreases dwell time (time users spend on your site before returning to search results).

What Is Page Speed

The amount of time required for a web page to load is called Page Speed. Although it sounds straightforward, there are a few things to keep in mind when talking about Page Speed. The ways of measuring page speed differ:

  • Time to First Byte (TTFB) measures the time it takes for a web page to start a loading process.
  • First Meaningful Paint is the time it takes a page to load enough data to read the primary content of the page.
  • Fully Loaded Page is the time it takes to load the entire content on a page.

Now you might be wondering: How does Google measure the site speed? Do they mean the speed for a page to fully load? Google didn’t clarify this in either of their statements in 2010 and 2018. However, PageSpeed Insights developed by Google can check your website speed, and by looking at the components it uses, we can assume the algorithm combines all of the above-stated ways to check the page speed.

Why Is the Speed So Important to Google

The core idea behind search engines is to find relevant and useful information that the users need. In our fast-paced lives, your customers and potential clients don’t have time to stare at a blank screen while waiting for your page to load – and why would they? There are more than 1.5 billion websites out there, and they would much rather open a site that can load fast. This is not an assumption we make. Numerous research shows users abandoning a website if it takes more than three seconds to load. 

“Speeding up websites is important — not just to site owners, but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users, and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there. But faster sites don’t just improve user experience.” – wrote Google in 2010.

In 2010, Google announced a new signal in their search ranking algorithms: site speed – how quickly a website responds to web requests. Google stated that site speed is not as crucial as the relevancy of the page in the ranking. But site speed, according to Google, is essential to improve everyone’s experience on the internet. In 2010, the signal of site speed was focused on desktop searches.

Eight years later, in 2018, Google announced another update involving the page speed, and this time, site speed became a ranking factor for mobile searches, too. According to Google, the content and its relevance is still the strongest ranking factor, but the update might affect the slowest loading websites.

“The “Speed Update,” as we’re calling it, will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and will only affect a small percentage of queries. It applies the same standard to all pages, regardless of the technology used to build the page.” – wrote Google in 2018.

Google uses software known as web crawlers to find web pages. Crawlers go from link to link and visit pages (crawl) to bring data about those web pages back to Google’s servers. Then Google takes notes of the main signals and keeps track of it in Search Index. Google Search Index contains billions of web pages. A slow website means that search engines can crawl fewer pages using their allocated crawl budget – “limits” in terms of pages Google can crawl per day while scanning your web page. Google, with its algorithm, is going to estimate the importance of a website, its relevance, and then determine the crawl budget. The longer it takes to crawl a page on your site, the fewer pages Google is going to crawl – another reason for speeding up a website.

User Experience

It is a very competitive world, and the competition is not only among you and your competitors but between search engines, too. Google, Yahoo, and Bing understand that, if they start providing the results, which users are going to abandon, it’s going to affect their reputation. Google is the leading engine now, but it wasn’t always the case. Google was launched in 1998, but it became the number one search engine somewhere between 2002-2004. Google knows that user experience is among the top factors to keep in mind when providing results, and page speed significantly impacts user experience.

According to Google, as page load time goes:

  •  From 1 to 3 seconds the probability of bounce increases by 32%,
  • 1 to 5 seconds the probability of bounce increases by 90%,
  • 1 to 6 seconds the probability of bounce increases by 106%,
  • 1 to 10 seconds the probability of bounce increases by 123%

So, what’s the point of providing a result if users are going to leave the website anyway?

“People want to be able to find answers to their questions as fast as possible — studies show that people really care about the speed of a page. – wrote Google in 2018.

Even if we forget all the numbers, when your potential customers land on a website, don’t you want them to have the best experience with your site? Because, for most of the visitors, it is going to be the first time to deal with your company; the better the web page performs, the happier users are going to be. And happy visitors, most of the time, mean more conversion rates and more clients.

Bounce Rate and Dwell Time

Just like we said at the beginning of this article, page speed might also affect your SEO and Google ranking indirectly. The bounce rate which, as we saw, increases drastically if a page takes more than 5 seconds to load, might be a factor for ranking. We say “might” as Google has never confirmed it, and this topic has been discussed and debated throughout the years. Although many experts believe the bounce rate doesn’t directly impact your performance in search engines, it still shows that your page is not useful to a user. The reasons for the bounce rate vary, and page speed is among the primary motives of users abandoning a website.

The amount of time a user spends on a web page after clicking a link, in search results before they return to search, is called Dwell Time. Just like the bounce rate, it has been a controversial topic amongst SEO experts. Does it really affect ranking?

“Dwell Time is the amount of time that a Google searcher spends on a page from the search results before returning back to the SERPs. Many SEO professionals consider Dwell Time an important Google ranking signal.” – is stated in the article by Backlinko.

In 2018, Backlinko published a list of 200 ranking factors. Some of them might be proven, while others are debatable and unconfirmed. Although we cannot state the dwell time and the bounce rate is definitely amongst ranking factors, both bounce rate and dwell time are in the list. Although we don’t know the ultimate truth, it’s still worth investing time in improving your page speed so the users do not abandon your site just because of the load time.

The Importance of Page Speed for Voice Search

Page speed affects all kinds of searches, including the voice search. The faster your page loads, the more voice-enabled devices will like it. The reason behind wanting a faster speed for ranking in voice search is that voice search is used primarily by mobile devices, and Google tries to deliver the most relevant, but also the most rapid, results to users. For answering users’ queries in voice search, Google uses featured snippets, also called Position Zero. A featured snippet is a piece of information provided above the list of web pages and below the ads in a search. Primarily, a featured snippet is an answer to the question. With Position Zero, users don’t need to click any website to find the answer, and the device is going to read the featured snippet to the user. It’s crucial to target featured snippets in the voice search, and to rank for it, amongst other factors, your website should load fast. Because people use voice search to get faster results and there is no doubt that the page speed is going to affect your ranking.

Reasons Behind a Slow Website

The reasons for longer load times vary and depend on various factors. Most of the time, the reason behind a slow website is the server, uncompressed images, redirects, JavaScript issues, and too many HTTP requests, amongst other factors.

For checking your server, you can visit Check-Host – it will automatically check the server speed from several different countries and give you a grade based on performance. Remember, when you click a website, you request a server to load the information. Now, if you are in the United States and try to load something from a server in the Middle East, it’s going to take much longer to load than for someone who is in the Middle East, closer to the server. So, if you know your target audience is in the United States, for the best performance, you should pick a server that is close to or in the United States.

Sometimes, the reason behind a slow loading website can be uncompressed files. For compressing files, you can use Gzip – it’s an excellent tool for compressing data, but don’t use it for images. For compressing images, try software designed for images like Adobe Photoshop.

How to Check the Website Speed

Although there is no tool you can use to see whether or not the Google Algorithm update in 2018 is going to affect your ranking, there are numerous free tools available online that can test your page speed.

GTmetrix is testing in Vancouver, Canada using Chrome (desktop) with an Unthrottled Connection. The tool is going to grade your website’s performance with a letter grade. Based on the issues a page has, GTmetrix provides a list of possible solutions to a website. If you decide to sign up for free, you can adjust settings, choose the network connection, and check the mobile speed.

Pingdom Website Speed Test allows you to test your page from different countries – Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and Brazil. Just like GTmetrix, Pingdom grades your website’s performance and gives you suggestions on making your page faster.

Page speed is among the main ranking factors for Google, and it is something we should all keep in mind for various reasons. Having a fast website will help with search engines, with voice search, and it will help customers have a better user experience. If you’re struggling to increase your website’s page speed, call your experts at Internet Marketing Geeks! We are here to help you succeed.

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