Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Site Speed: What Is It And Why Does It Matter?

test-your-site-speed

Site speed (sometimes called page speed or website performance) is a measure of how quickly your website can load content - and make it available for user interaction.

Site speed is important for two main reasons:

Firstly, visitors expect websites to feel fast and responsive. Studies conducted by Akamai and Gomez suggest that 47% of people expect a web page to load in less than 2 seconds. 

The same studies also found that 40% of people will bounce away from a web page that takes more than 3 seconds to load, which means that a slow or sluggish website could cost you almost half of your traffic.

And if that wasn’t enough, Kissmetrics say that approximately 79% of web users would hesitate to return to a site that was slow to load. 

Now, you might think that these figures are a stunning indictment of modern culture and our increasingly selfish ‘me first’ attitudes. 

You might also think that you’d be better off without the kind of people that refuse to spend 3 seconds waiting for a page to load, but there’s no getting away from the fact that most web users are becoming less patient and more demanding.

That’s just the reality that marketing managers, business owners and c-suite executives have to grapple with.

Especially if you’re in a competitive industry, where fast load times are being weaponised by rivals that appreciate the need for speed. 

Gearing Up For A Digital Arms Race

Back in June 2020, Deloitte published a study called Milliseconds Make Millions, where they charted the relationship between site speed and conversion rate for a variety of luxury, travel and lifestyle brands.

They found that a 0.1 ms improvement in overall site speed could increase conversions by 8-10%. But they also found that a lot of major brands - including the likes of Pfizer, BMW and TUI - were well aware of these statistics, and working fast to leverage them by rolling out substantial changes to their websites.

So if you’re in a fast-paced or competitive industry, site speed should definitely be on your radar.

improving-your-site-speed-seo

Site Speed Affects Your SEO Too

Secondly, search engines like Google and Bing use your site’s speed to decide where it should rank in relevant search engine results pages (or SERPs). 

The rationale for this is simple: People prefer fast websites, and people are more likely to use your search engine if it steers them towards websites they like. 

Or in Microsoft’s own words:

slow page load times can lead a visitor to leave your website, potentially before the content has even loaded, to seek information elsewhere. Bing may view this as a poor user experience and an unsatisfactory search result. Faster page loads are always better, but webmasters should balance absolute page load speed with a positive, useful user experience.”

Site Speed Is Rapidly Becoming One Of The Most Important Ranking Factors

Way back in 2010, Google told us that page speed was a “lightweight” or low-priority ranking factor. In a dev blog published on Google Search Central, they said that it was significantly less important than page relevance. 

They also said that the site speed signal was only used when people were searching on a desktop, in english, using google.com.

But Google’s stance is changing. They started using site speed as a ranking signal for mobile sites back in 2018, and they rolled out an update that started measuring your website’s “core web vitals” mid-way through 2020.

This update focused on things like loading times and interactivity and in May 2021, Google will be following up with another UX-focused update that’ll further increase the importance of page and site speed signals. 

In short, Google thinks that site speed is a high priority, and it looks like speed-related signals are going to play an increasingly important role in determining your website’s ranking potential. 

site-speed-test

How Can I Check My Site Speed?

Sadly, you can’t just sit down with a stopwatch and measure your site speed at home. Your page speed differs based on your location, the time of day and a whole host of other variables.

Load times differ from page to page too. Sections of your site that are heavy on rich media content (videos, high-res pictures or interactive elements) may load very slowly, while category or blog pages may load in less than a second.

To build a robust understanding of your website’s page speed, we recommend testing a range of pages, at different times of day. You should also try to test from multiple different locations so that you can build an accurate average for each section of your site.

After all, you can never tell where people are browsing your site from. Especially if you run an international business or target an audience of jet-setters that love to travel.

What Tools Should I Use?

Google provide a couple of (very useful) site speed tools: 

All 3 of these tools are free to use, and you can also use PageSpeed Insights to check the speed for mobile and desktop versions of your website. (See the toggle at the top of the results page).

Pingdom is another useful speed test tool, notable because it allows you to set (and alter) the location you’re measuring from.

But PageSpeed Insights is probably the most accurate and worthwhile choice here. It’s simple to use and it’s designed by Google. 

It also provides a helpful list of recommendations for underperforming pages but we’ll cover that in more detail later.

What Is A Good Site Speed?

Benchmarking site speed is tough. There are lots of variables at play here and standards change depending on industry, audience and device type. 

The research cited above suggests that most web pages should load in less than 2 seconds, but some people think that modern websites need to be even faster. 

Back in 2012, the New York Times reported that people were less likely to visit a site if it was 250 milliseconds slower than a competitor’s website, and some experts now say that desktop sites should aim to load in 1 second or less.

But it’s worth noting that these speeds may not be practical for some sites. Loading images, video or heavy code takes time, and there’s a balance to be struck here: 

You want a fast site, but you don’t want to strip out important functionality (and compromise your UX) for a 3ms boost.

Ultimately, the important thing is to make sure that you’re always trying to boost your speed. Iterative tweaks and changes that lower load times should bring about a measurable uptick in visitor engagement, retention and conversions so try not to get too bogged down chasing the perfect score.

improve-site-speed

What About Mobile?

Some studies suggest that mobile visitors are more patient, waiting (on average) 5-7 seconds before bouncing away. 

But Google’s own benchmarking shows that mobile site speeds are shrinking fast and it’s safe to assume that people will adjust their expectations accordingly.Google also says that mobile websites with a 1-3 second load time perform significantly better than websites with a 1-5 second load time, so it’s worth trying to optimise your mobile site if you can. 

Can I Improve A Low (Or Slow) Site Speed?

It’s possible to speed up a slow or sluggish website, but you need to understand the nuts and bolts of your build. 

Your webmaster or content editor’s hands are probably tied, but a good developer will be able to help you with things like:

  • Minifying your site’s CSS and JS files
  • Concatenating your files
  • Minifying images
  • Removing redundant plug-ins and scripts
  • Deferring JavaScript and other render blocking resources
  • Moving your site to a better server

If you’re worried about your site speed, we offer a comprehensive web management service that includes technical site optimisation. 

We also have a team of developers who are more than happy to talk you through the ins and outs of site speed, audit your site or help you get things running smoothly. 

Discover our website management services here.

 

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