How To Increase Page Speed To Improve SEO Results

How To Increase Page Speed To Improve SEO Results
7 min read

53% of mobile site visitors leave a page that takes longer than 3 seconds to load. (Source)

We’re all serving a generation of people used to super-fast loading websites and the competition out there does not make it easier.

Here’s a comment by Maile Ohye, from Google about Google recommended page load time:

“2 seconds is the threshold for eCommerce website acceptability. At Google, we aim for under a half second.”

Sounds scary, right?

Well, don’t worry because realistically there are very few sites that match this criterion.

The average load time for mobile pages according to this Google study is at 15 seconds. (Source)

Which means even a slight improvement in your load time should go a long way in driving traffic and keeping that bottom line up.

So, what’s step one to improving your page speed?

Know where your current load time is with this free Google tool. Here’s how you can.

As to how important site load speed is as a ranking signal for Google, here’s what they said:

“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. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a slow page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.” (Source)

Below are 9 important steps that you can follow to reduce your average page load time:

#1 – Compress Images

This tip is obvious but for a strong reason.

60% of the average bytes loaded per page is taken up by images.

Compared to assets like scripts, CSS and video, images take a large chunk of the HTTP requests sent.

We all want our sites to look great because it’s the face of a brand. But great user experience is still what Google prefers over a good looking site slowed down by an overload of images.

Here’s what you can do to optimize images for your website:

  • Run all your images through optimization tools like Image optimizer or Compressor. These tools can reduce the size of your image by up to 90% without affecting the image quality. We highly recommend having an image size of not more than 150KB.
  • Do a regular audit of the images on your site. Maybe you don’t need images that purely serve the purpose of making your site look fancy. An interesting study by Google:

“For 70% of the mobile landing pages we analyzed, it took more than five seconds for the visual content above the fold to display on the screen, and it took more than seven seconds to fully load all visual content above and below the fold.” (Source)

  • Since Google has been focused on Mobile first indexing since 2018, it makes even more sense to make your site lighter and faster for the ever-impatient millennial. (Source)
  • Use the right format for different kind of images. SVG for high detail images, JPG for low detail images, PNG for transparent backgrounds and font libraries for icons instead of saving each image separately.
  • Use conditional statements to load only what’s needed. For instance, a desktop site may have more images that don’t make sense on mobile because a mobile site needs to be more compact. Use queries to make sure the browser loads only what’s necessary.

#2 – Compress Everything Else with GZIP

GZIP  is a software application recommended for file compression.

Remember how we compressed files on our systems by creating ZIP folders?

GZIP is exactly the same but for websites.

It works towards reducing your load speed by compressing CSS, HTML and JavaScript files.

GZIP compresses common strings and whitespace. Which can reduce the page size and style sheets by up to 70% bringing a significant change in your load speed. (Source)

You could look at using a plugin that meets your requirement the best or you could do it manually.

While you are looking at compressing everything, also look at minifying your CSS and JavaScript files by putting all the files into one single CSS and JS file. You need to create one file each for CSS and JS. This means that the browser needs to make fewer requests to download both the files.

Again, plugins come to the rescue. Check out WillPeavy which is free and easy to use.

#3 – Optimize Browser Caching

A point to note is that caching only works for repeat visitors and not first-time users.

Caching stores website assets onto a person’s computer locally (temporary storage) for an average time period of a week.

When the same user visits the site again, the browser does not download every single file. It uses what’s stored in the cache to reduce load time for a site by sending fewer HTTP requests the second time around.

Optimizing cache settings can reduce your site load speed from 2.4 to 0.9 seconds for repeat visitors. (Source)

So, how do you leverage this?

When you are working with your web developer ensure that the page is set up for optimal speed performance.

Add Expires Headers to tell the browser which static files need to be stored for long and which ones can be stored for shorter time periods.

Google recommends a minimum cache time of one week and a maximum of one year for static assets, or assets that change infrequently. (Source)

#4 – Get a Server Close to Your User

This tip is especially helpful if your business has clients across borders and your website is big in size.

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a network of multiple servers located around the world to deliver web content to users according to their geographical location. A slightly pricey but a great option to reduce your site load speed.

What it does is that it hosts the static files of your website like CSS, JavaScript, images, videos, and PDFs on multiple servers across borders.

So, if your user happens to be from UAE and your original server is in the USA, then CDN will use the server closest to UAE to serve that request.

Here’s a diagram to show you how it works.
increase page speed
This reduces the number of requests your original server has to process and helps deliver results faster.

It effectively reduces the load your server may encounter in case of multiple requests or high traffic.
Amazon CloudFront could be an option to research.

While you are looking at a faster server consider upgrading your web hosting plan if you started out with a cheap plan with shared hosting. Having a shared server while your website and audience grow can prove to be detrimental to site load speed. If you are a small or medium business or a blogger look into investing in VPS (Virtual Private Servers) which should come with CDN options.

#5 – Keep Your HTTP Alive

When a user visits your website, the browser of that user asks your server permission to download every single file. This takes a lot of bandwidth and processing capacity. Not to mention the all-important time!

What you can do is give the browser bulk permission by using HTTP Keep-Alive.

This code enables a single open connection for multiple file requests to your server.

The server signals to the browser to download multiple files at the same time, thus greatly speeding up your load time.

To implement this, add this code to your .htaccess file:

<IfModule mod_headers.c>
Header set Connection keep-alive

While you are working on this code also remember to combine your CSS, JS scripts and HTML files together using GZIP as mentioned before.

#6 – Reduce Multiple Redirects and Broken Links

These steps should count as part of your website maintenance.

Having multiple redirects can significantly increase load time because of additional request-response time added to the final rendering of a page.

Additionally, broken links in your CSS and JavaScript can make your website sluggish. It creates a 404 error and results in a wasted HTTP request.

The situation can get worse if the broken link is in the JavaScript, since the browser may try to interpret it and create bad script interactions in the process. For this reason, it is advisable to put CSS on top and

JavaScript at the bottom of your HTML files.

You can use this free tool to catch some that you haven’t seen already.

#7 – Clean Your Database

If you rely on a CMS like WordPress this activity can significantly improve your load time because they rely heavily on database usage.

Over time, plugins on your website can collect an enormous amount of user data, stats, and logs. This can make your database heavy which makes it harder to find the right data when a request is made. It can lead to trackbacks, pingbacks, trash and post revisions.

And CMS rely heavily on database usage to operate.

Consider looking into WP-Optimize that works very well with WordPress.

But before you touch your database, be sure to back it up. You definitely don’t want to lose all that precious data.

#8 – Disable Hotlinking

Your server load can increase without you even knowing if someone is using your site’s images and content.

To prevent other sites from hogging your bandwidth and eventually increasing your load time, use this code in your .htaccess file:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)? [NC]
RewriteRule \.(jpg|jpeg|png|gif)$ – [NC,F,L]

If this code doesn’t work, ask your web hosting provider for the right code to stop people from using your content.

#9 – Check Your External Scripts

We know that more individual elements on a site can mean more requests to a server, which leads to slow sites.

External scripts can be external pop-up boxes, external fonts, commenting systems, website analytics services, social media boxes, such as Facebook “like my page” box, and many more.

If you find super slow loading external scripts, which you can find out by using tools like Pingdom, consider eliminating some of them altogether.

Also, when you are embedding videos and other multimedia files from other sites, make sure that it’s a fast and reliable website.

Using slow sites can increase your load time.

We would advise not having too many external links, to begin with.

Before we go…

With AMP and mobile first indexing that I spoke about in a previous blog, consider optimizing your site for all possible screen sizes. Google likes clean, fast, reliable and informative websites.

Tell us your results after following the steps above. We’d be happy to know what worked for your website.

Published on April 10, 2019.

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