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How to SEO your page loading speed

How fast your page loads is critical to SEO. Here I'll cover why and what you can do to bring down those all important milliseconds.

In How to SEO your website design I covered how you can compare different designs or themes to see which are faster at loading like for like but this is just the tip of the iceberg.

What's going on when a website is loading

When you click on a link and a page on a website opens it can all seem pretty quick or for reasons you don't know it can drag and drag, so much so you might give up altogether and hit the back button. So what's happening?

Well you view the internet through a browser like Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, Opera, etc. Here is what occurs underneath the hood:

  1. Your browser requests the page from the server where your website is hosted (known as the Send.
  2. The server says "OK, let me just go and find it" (known as the wait)
  3. The server says "... ah here is is" (known as the receive)
  4. Your browser reads the code of the page line by line
  5. Every so often the code says "I need another file to make this page work" and your browser requests it from the server
  6. The server says "OK, let me just go and find it ... ah here is is"
  7. The browser reads that file as well
  8. Every so often the code says "There is an image here" and your browser says to the server "Can I have that image?"
  9. The server says "OK, let me just go and find it ... ah here is is"

All this sending, waiting and receiving can occur dozens of times and each file request and response slows the page loading. Whats more the bigger each file is the longer it also takes to send it down the line.

Your website code states which files it wants before the page should be displayed ... it wants to look great after all! These files are known as Render Blocking. They stop the page being rendered until they arrive.

If you want to get an idea of how many file requests your pages need try loading one of your URLs in the Pingdom Website Speed Test and then scroll down to the subheading 'File Requests'. This page makes nearly 40 requests and that's pretty good.

If you try it you'll see that loading the font for this text is a key drag on my loading time and in here there is an important point. The best way to get the fastest load time is to remove all formating from your page. It will load super fast but it will look rubbish.

People will assume your content is something out of the nineteen nineties and be off like a shot - that is an SEO factor as well so what you may win on one site you will lose on the other. As such there is a balance to be struck here.

Incidentally Google also offers its own PageSpeed Insights tool but use this with care as it does not actually measure your page loading speed but rather goes through a checklist of things which might affect your page loading speed. I ignore it in favour of Pingdom which is actually the absolute loading speed that the Google crawler considers when sizing you up against your competitors.

Why the speed at which your page loads has an impact on your rankings

The basic principle of search engines is to give users the best possible experience so they don't wander off and start using another search engine.

Giving people excellent, relevant content is one part but giving it to them fast is another. If a search engine comes to the conclusion that two pages on two different websites are broadly similar (both have similar content, similar backlinks, etc.) but one is grindingly slow to load then that snail gets ranked lower.

In reality there are billions of websites out there and thousands competing for various indivdiual topics that you or I might search so slow websites tend to get pushed far down the search results even if their content might be slightly better.

In this day and age we are no longer talking about websites that load in 10 seconds versus those that load in 2. Loading times can be almost invisible to the naked eye but to a search engine crawler they are absolute figures.

How to find out if your pages are slow loaders

There are a number of tools out there where you can compare your site with those of your competitors. I personally use Pingdom's Website Speed Test as it breaks down what the speed at which individual parts of your page load and that can help you identify issues.

You can also sign up for membership which allows you to monitor speed over time, identifying certain days or hours where your site might be suffering. Slightly unrelated but useful, it also monitors to see if your site crashes on a regular basis (another SEO no no) which could be down to poor hosting or coding errors.

How to reduce page loading time

If you see that, compared to your competitors, your loading time is poor then taking action is all part of Search Engine Optimization. So what can you do?

I'd suggest you start with all the options below that are simplest to achieve given your skill set and then retest your pages. Remember you just have to be faster than your competitors and often the low cost, low skills options will deliver this without requiring paid services or technical solutions.

Check your modules and plugins

If you use a platform like WordPress double check that your website is actually using all the plugins or modules that are enabled. Switch off any that aren't in active use as they will be bloating out your code for no reason.

Optimize your images

There shouldn't really be any need for any image on a page to be over 100kb in size but I get clients who are trying to load monster 2MB graphics and then wondering why their rankings are suffering. Small icons might not even reach 1kb.

If you have big images use a graphics package such as Photoshop to reduce the image size while keeping the visual quality.

Photoshop is now available in the cloud for around $10 a month so it costs almost nothing to get it and go through your images. There are plenty of tutorials online (like this one) which will give you the Photoshop how to without you needing to become a graphic designer.

Its not uncommon to halve the load speed time of pages just by sorting out your images.

Check your hosting

Hopefully as covered in Domain name and hosting in SEO you will have chosen a reputable host for your site.

You need to ask them, and totally ignore that you don't know what they mean:

  • Does your site use gzip compression - check it here
  • Does your site use the http/2 protocol - check it here
  • Does your site use cached content - (Nginx, LightSpeed or similar) ask your host and depending on their answer search for a test service to verify their reply

If your host can't offer you these then the server they are hosting your website on is dragging your rankings down by sending out responses much slower than you could achieve elsewhere. Move host.

Cache your content

You can add code to your page which tells browsers what to remember and for how long. This way someone visiting several pages on your site, for example, does not need to reload your logo every time they open a page. If you tell browsers to remember your logo for a week that same person coming back tomorrow will not need to wait while the image is downloaded, it will have been stored in the browser.

There are usually plugins or modules available for most platforms so you should be able to achieve this without needing a techie!

Minifying your code

Minifying is a method by which all those spaces and line breaks in your code are stripped out. Developers need them when they are working on code but they are just extra space for browsers to download. You can minify HTML, CSS, Javascript and JQuery code.

As an example part of a CSS file might look like this:

.colourfultext {
  font-family: Arial;
  font-size: 26px;
  font-weight: bold;
  color: #ad123e;
  text-align:
  left;
  margin-top: 0px;
  background-color: transparent;
}

Minified it looks like this:

.colourfultext{font-family:arial;font-size:26px;font-weight:bold;color:#ad123e;text-align:left;margin-top:0px;background-color:transparent;}

Again minifying plugins may be available for your platform. Fast Velocity is a popular one for WordPress.

Use a CDN service

Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) keep parts of websites (like the images) on superfast servers all over the world so when they are requested they have less distance to travel and response times are kept to a minimum.

Personally I'd recommend:

  • keycdn - super simple setup and you only pay for the server time you use which makes this excellent value for money for small to medium sized websites.
  • StackPath - the $10 per month programme will cover the needs of most small and medium websites and guarantees costs are controlled. There is a one month free trial so you can test how effective it is.
  • Cloudflare - includes a free service with no time limits suitable for small websites.

Optimize your code

You may need techie help on this to go through your code and see what can be stripped out. Calls for files which aren't used are very common on older websites that have evolved over time.

Some files, while still in use, may contain code that was needed for a design from yesteryear but was never properly cleaned out at the time. They need a good spring clean to bring their file size down.

Use Lazy Load

I've saved this one for last because its a double edged sword. Lazy Load is a piece of code which will delay the loading of images further down the page - the part visitors can't see when they first arrive which is known as below the fold. It will then start requesting them as your visitor scrolls down.

OK, sounds like a good idea but search engine crawlers that come to your website don't scroll so there is a chance they will miss some of your images.

I rarely use it unless speeding up page loading is mission critical

Again there is a WordPress plugin for it and modules or plugins exist for many other platforms so you might be able to give it a whirl without getting techie!

I'm Tim Hill, a Search Engine Optimization and Online Marketing specialist. I created this site to help others understand that SEO is not a mysterious black art!.

If your a newbie try the Getting Started in SEO page, otherwise feel free to dig around and learn more.

Find me on Facebook or get in touch if you need help.

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