Site Speed and How it Matters for SEO

It all happened back in April 2010 when an official post on the Google Webmaster Central Blog announced that site speed is going to be, from then onward, a new signal in web search ranking.


The blog post addresses and highlights the following points:

  • Google is obsessed with speed and if your website is fast enough, it could improve your SEO.
  • Faster sites have better user experience and this plays a role in conversion rate.
  • There are free tools that website owners can use to assess their site speed including Page Speed, YSlow and WebPagetest.
  • Site speed, while being a signal in Google’s search ranking algorithms does not carry the same weight as relevance of a page.

The important message here: site speed is a ranking factor in Google’s web search ranking but relevance is more important. In practice, site speed matters most significantly in queries for which the competing pages are both highly relevant and have close link metrics. In such an instance, site speed might come into play. Alternatively, page load time might also harm your SEO efforts if your site is excruciatingly slow.

Site speed and SEO

Page load time became a signal in Google’s search ranking algorithms as of April 2010. Back then and even now, site speed is not a very significant ranking factor. Mostly it means that Google takes into account usability metrics to rank pages on the web. In a way, this Google search algorithm update was a blessing in disguise. Slow websites do deliver a poor user experience and poor customer satisfaction. A good site speed can go a long way in increasing a site’s conversion rate.

According to a post on The Moz Blog, from data collected for 100 different sites, Google uses an equation close to the following to rank websites based on site speed:

y = 122.32e-0.31x

where y is the percentage of pages on the web that are slower than a particular page and x is the time that the page takes to load in seconds.

From the Google Webmaster Tools, a website owner can easily evaluate a page’s load time. This equation can then be used to assess how the page compares with the rest of the web.

As a general rule, if a webpage loads in 0.8 seconds, it is faster than approximately 94% of pages on the web, If the page loads in 5 seconds, it is faster than approximately 25% of pages the web.

How to Improve Your Site Speed

Google’s search ranking algorithms depend on over 200 different signals and even though site speed is one of them, if you really want to improve your website’s search engine optimization, you would do better to focus on things such as relevance and link building. Don’t make the mistake of overestimating the significance of page speed as a ranking factor. Quality should be your primary concern.

Nevertheless, if you want to improve your site speed to improve, in the grander scheme of things, your website’s user experience, here are some things you can do to that end:

1. Browser Caching

Expired headers indicate to a browser whether or not a resource for example a jpeg image on a webpage can be fetched from the browser’s cache or it needs to be requested from the source. When resources are fetched from a browser’s cache, the subsequent time a page is visited, it loads faster.

2. Gzip Compression

Gzip is a compression method that reduces response size by approximately 70%.

Essentially it reduces the size of the HTTP response; it reduces page weight.

3. Optimize Your Images

To decrease your page load time as much as possible, optimize the images you use for the web. If you know your way around Photoshop, this should be fairly simple to do. Just choose “Save for web”. Optimizing your images for the web is all about formatting the images in a smart way, for example eliminating useless colors.

4. Use a Content Delivery Network

A content delivery network is a collection of web servers that users can use to deliver content. If you use a CDN, you can help your website load faster. With services like Amazon CloudFront, content delivery networks are quite affordable now.

5. 301 Redirects

Sometimes to connect the different pages of a site or to indicate the new location of a URL, redirects are used. The issue is that redirects require an extra HTTP request. To increase your site speed, keep redirects to a minimum, for example, never use more than one redirect to guide users to a given resource.

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