You must take website speed optimization seriously when designing websites. Google and users value speed, and will abandon a website if it loads slowly. A slow loading page provides a poor user experience, and as you know, about 53 percent of mobile users are likely to leave a site and return to the search results if it takes over 3 seconds to load.
On the other hand, high-performance websites get low bounce rates, higher conversions, return visits, higher engagements, provide a better user experience, and rank higher in organic search, which is what your clients want. This article looks at everything you need to know about website speed optimization.
What’s the connection between website speed optimization and SEO?
In simple terms, website speed refers to how fast a website loads for users. When users visit a website, they expect the pages and images to load faster; otherwise, they will leave the site and pick another website from the search results page. In fact, some users are so impatient that a blink of an eye is a very long time to wait.
Statistics show that 47 percent of users expect a website to load in 2 seconds or less. Additionally, 40 percent of consumers will leave a page if it takes 3 or more seconds to load.
And it’s not just users — search engines like Google take website speed seriously and use it to determine what websites to rank on top of search engine result pages (SERPs). If you intend to get that top spot on Google, you should give special attention to website speed, as it plays a vital role in search engine optimization (SEO).
According to Google, site speed is one of the signals its algorithm uses to determine which pages to rank on top of SERPs. In fact, Google rolled out the Core Web Vitals in June 2021, designed to give website visitors a more secure and pleasant page experience.
These signals are now Google ranking signals and rank pages based on factors such as mobile friendliness, interactivity, and visual stability. According to this update, it’s obvious that Google prioritizes websites that provide a better page experience to real users and will favor them when providing results to search queries.
In addition, lower page speed means Googlebot will crawl fewer pages, negatively impacting a website’s indexation.
What is a good site load time?
No goal is open-ended, and website speed optimization is not an exception. Therefore, before we look at the website speed optimization checklist, it’s crucial to first look at what a good page load time is; otherwise, how would you know whether you’ve hit the right spot.
Google says that the best loading time is 3 seconds. However, its recent findings show that most sites don’t meet this requirement.
A Google analysis involving 900,000 mobile ad landing pages found that 70 percent of the pages took about 7 seconds to display the visual content above the fold. To be specific, most of the websites analyzed didn’t come close to Google’s recommendation of 3 seconds.
A mobile landing page takes an average of 22 seconds to load. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, about 53 percent of mobile users abandon a visit if the site takes more than three seconds to load. Additionally, the user bounces rate increases by 123 percent if a page takes 10 seconds to load.
Desktop vs. mobile average load times
Backlinko analyzed 5 million mobile and desktop users to find the average load times on desktop and mobile. They found that the average desktop webpage load time is 10.3 seconds, while that of mobile is 27.3 seconds.
This supports our earlier mention that most sites are nowhere near achieving what Google recommends as the best loading time.
However, on the brighter side, this presents an excellent opportunity for web developers to shine if they put more effort into getting website speed to an acceptable level.
Use Google’s recommendations as guidelines to set your goals and measure your performance when working on your client’s websites. After all, as of now, Google is the largest search engine, and following its recommendations can lead to success.
Website speed optimization checklist
Now that you’ve learned why having a fast-loading site is important, let’s look at our checklist for website speed optimization.
Having a mobile-friendly website isn’t an option today but a necessity. A website not optimized for mobile-friendliness isn’t sustainable and won’t achieve higher traffic and conversions. To optimize a website for speed, you need to check the site’s mobile-friendliness.
When indexing a website, Google prioritizes mobile versions of a site, meaning it makes a lot of sense to build a fast-mobile site. Even if your client has a fast-loading desktop site, they have leaner chances of ranking in search results if they have a slow mobile website version. In turn, this will lead to reduced traffic and fewer conversions.
Here are tools to use to check whether a website is mobile-friendly:
If the website is not mobile-friendly, you need to do some design and development work to have a responsive design.
Everyone wants to have a website that is accessible and usable to all people, including those with impairments, disabilities, and limitation.
Unfortunately, many sites have accessibility barriers and don’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design (ADA). ADA requires all electronic and information technology, including websites, to be accessible to people with disabilities.
Failure to comply with ADA means people with disabilities won’t have access to your website and can lead to lawsuits against such websites for discrimination.
This can lead to huge fines and financial burdens associated with ADA lawsuits.
Accessibility is a crucial factor web developers should consider before they start optimizing website pages for speed. If working on a WordPress website, ADA plugins like Accessibility Suite will come in handy.
Use a content delivery network (CDN)
Investing in a content delivery network (CDN) is another way to improve web page loading time. A CDN hosts the media files across a large network in servers distributed in various parts of the world.
In other words, a CDN provides web content to searchers based on their geographical location.
Ideally, hosting a website on a single server is one of the reasons for slow loading web pages as a single hardware processes all users’ requests. As a result, the time for processing each request increases. Besides that, the page load time will likely increase if the user is far away from the server.
Fortunately, with a CDN, user requests are sent to the nearest server, which reduces the time it takes for the content to be delivered to the user. Of course, you will need to pay extra money to get a CDN, but it’s an effective way for website speed optimization.
Server response time
Reducing server response time should be a primary goal when it comes to website speed optimization.
Server response time is the time it takes between when a user requests a page in a browser and when the server responds to the request. It is measured in time to first byte (TTFB), or how long it takes (in seconds) to receive the first byte of the page after the HTTP request is sent.
A slow response time can damage a business — it reduces the PageSpeed Insights score and leads to a bad user experience.
After all, a slow server time means users must wait longer to see the content of the pages.
Tools that can help check a website’s server response time include PageSpeed Insights and GTmetic, among others. According to Google, you should aim for a TTFB lower than 200 milliseconds to ensure a faster loading speed and a good user experience.
Some issues that can cause a lower server response time include lack of enough memory, slow routing, and slow database queries.
Here are the steps you can take to improve server response time:
- Use a CDN
- Invest in upgraded server hardware to solve memory issues
- Change how the server prioritizes database
- Update server applications logic
- Suggest a better hosting service
- Reduce resource size
While images play a crucial part in a successful website, using large or wrong format files can have a negative effect. As such, you need to ensure that the images on a website are of the right size and format to avoid slowing the website.
Ideally, PNGs are recommended for graphics with fewer colors, while JPEGs are ideal for graphic compression.
Tools like JPEGmini can help compress the images without compromising the quality. However, when compressing the images, you should note the two common types of compression: lossy and lossless.
- Lossy compression — Reduces image size by eliminating redundancies. It reduces the file size but degrades quality. The worst part is that you cannot recover the data lost once the image is compressed. It’s advisable to keep the original copy to prevent data loss.
- Lossless compression — Values quality over image size. It maintains the quality of the image after compression, and you can restore the file.
Caching is another technique you can use for website speed optimization. It involves storing images in a proxy server or browser cache to reduce application requests.
If you choose to cache the images in a proxy server, you need to set up storage for images on several point of presence (PoP) servers. These servers are distributed around the world, and the images are served from the closest servers, reducing the page load time.
Larger image files slow down a website. This is especially true if a visitor uses a mobile device to access the site. As a web developer, you need to find the balance between file size and quality, and resizing the images is a great way to achieve this. If you must display large images, show a thumbnail. Only load the full image on the user’s request.
Delete unnecessary plugins
Plugins are a great way to add new functions to a host program without changing it. However, many unused plugins on a website can lead to serious problems.
The most notable issues are slowing down a website or adding points of vulnerability to a website.
Website owners add plugins to add new functionality to their websites. Ask your client whether they’re using all the plugins on their site to discover any unnecessary plugins. Also, run the performance test to see which plugins are slowing the client’s site.
Besides the number of plugins, their quality can also impact the website speed. The best approach is to avoid plugins that generate numerous database queries. Only keep the necessary plugins and ensure they are updated.
Minimize HTTP requests
When someone surfs the web, many things happen behind the scenes before they can get the results. In fact, a significant percentage of a web page’s load time is spent downloading the various parts of a page like stylesheets, images, and scripts.
Each component is associated with an HTTP request, meaning the more the components, the more the page takes longer to load.
As such, the HTTP request determines how quickly the page loads. More HTTP requests mean a slower loading time, while fewer HTTP requests mean a faster load time.
HTTP requests affect several key functions of a website that determine user experience and how engaged the users are.
To minimize HTTP requests, first, you must determine the number of requests a site makes. Chrome DevTools can help Chrome users see how many HTTP requests the site makes. Once you’ve determined that the site is making many HTTP requests, you can take these steps to reduce them to increase the site speed:
- Delete unnecessary images
- Reduce image size
Depending on the website’s size, keep the number of files between 10 and 30 unless the site is large with lots of content, images, and videos.
Redirects are another thing that can slow down a website. Ideally, when a page redirects to another page, visitors need to wait longer before they can get the results.
The extra waiting means the website loads slower, leading to a bad user experience.
As earlier stated, users leave a site if it takes longer to load. Ideally, 2 to 3 seconds is enough time for visitors to wait before leaving a site. This would mean less traffic and lower conversions.
To reduce redirects, you need first to identify that they exist. Tools like PageSpeed Insights can help scan a client’s website to get a report on all redirects on the website. Remove all unnecessary redirects and leave only the vital ones.
404 errors are not uncommon for people with internet access. It indicates that the requested page cannot be found. Having these errors on a website can damage a brand, negatively affect SEO, and lead to a bad user experience. In fact, users who experience broken links on a certain website are unlikely to return to the web pages again.
Search engines, too, hate broken links and will rank websites with 404 errors lower, which translates into less traffic and lower conversions.
Common causes of broken include deleted pages, incorrect URLs, typing errors, or a page moved to a new address. Tools like Google Search Console and WordPress Plugin (for WordPress websites) can help find a list of URLs with 404 errors.
Once you identify URLs with 404 errors, assess the traffic they generate. If they have some traffic, set redirects for external links and fix the link addresses for the internal links. If the URLs don’t generate traffic, leave them as they are because they don’t consume your server resource.
Dial in your website speed optimization
The benefits of a fast-loading site cannot be overstated. A slow loading means a bad user experience and a lower ranking in search engine results. This shouldn’t be the case, though.
By following the above checklist, you can turn a website into a speed demon, significantly improving their rankings in search results. It will also help build your reputation and lead to more work for you and referrals.