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Optimizing Your Site for Speed

By Snap Agency April 3, 2017

How fast should your site load? After all, you use the internet yourself. You like a fast loading site. Everybody likes a fast-loading site, right?

What about search engines? They approach page speed a bit differently. Let’s take a look at how your site’s speed can affect your visitor traffic.

The Need for Speed

Behind all the data and technical terms, the basic truth is that speed is good and more speed is better. A fast loading site helps create an overall positive experience for the end user. Search engines, of course, prefer sites which offer great user experiences.

So, how fast should your pages load? Ideally, in just a few seconds. Near the end of last year, Google’s John Mueller tweeted that page load times should be under three seconds.

How is Speed Ranked?

Google first announced that site speed would be a ranking factor back in 2010. Back then, site speed wasn’t nearly as important of a factor as it is today, but it was still considered.

The rationale for why has stayed the same:

“Speeding up websites is important — not just to site owners, but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there. But faster sites don’t just improve user experience; recent data shows that improving site speed also reduces operating costs. Like us, our users place a lot of value in speed — that’s why we’ve decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings. We use a variety of sources to determine the speed of a site relative to other sites.”

Seven years later, and that last sentence is more interesting than ever. Now that site speed is more important in regards to ranking, everybody is trying to figure out exactly what those “various sources” are.

Relative Speed

One factor SEO experts know of for sure is relative speed.

You’d rather be slow alongside slow competition than slow compared to everyone else. Your site is considered normal if every other site which shows up for the same query has similar load times.

You don’t want to be the turtle at the hare race. If your site loads much slower than an average of similar sites, your ranking can be hurt.

Google expert Matt Cutts got specific back in 2013, and the info still stands. Basically, a difference of one second between two competing pages isn’t going to be a big deal. But a difference of 10 seconds will likely result in a ranking demotion.

A lot of business owners and SEO pros will strive to make their site the absolute fastest in their niche. There’s nothing wrong with that and, let’s be honest, it’s a pretty cool goal to strive for.

But the more important issue is making sure your site isn’t the slowest. If every site selling boomerangs loads abysmally, you’re not going to be penalized as long as your loading speed is about the same as everyone else’s. (Those slow loading times don’t seem great for the boomerang industry as a whole… but they’ll turn it back around.)

Improving Site Speed

So, being the fastest kid on the block is great but being in the race at all is the most important. When looking to improve your site speed, we’re going to concentrate on mobile.

Mobile site speed is a bit stricter than desktop. If you understand the basics of optimization for mobile, you’ll have a pretty good handle on desktop, too. Knowing even just a general overview can help you when working alongside SEO pros.

Here’s a general overview of how a mobile site is optimized for speed:

Image optimization. In general, images are slow to load. There are ways to digitally squeeze and adjust pics to make them move faster.

Front-end optimization strategies. This is technical stuff like improved caching and other performance issues.

Follow Google’s guide. Even SEO veterans follow the recommendations outlined in the Mobile Analysis section found in the Google Developers PageSpeed Insights resource.

What to Know for 2017

Google’s official stance for mobile is a load time of one second or less. You can test your mobile pages at Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. You can also test your desktop pages here.

Google’s mobile-first index means rankings will soon be based on a site’s mobile version. So expect to see a lot of optimization for mobile sites. This includes site speed optimization.

How Fast is Your Site?

Page speed will always be important. If you’re the fastest, you might see a bit of a traffic increase. But a focus on being the fastest is the wrong strategy.

Instead, you want to make sure you’re not the slowest. If your site loads well behind the competition, your ranking will drop.

If you have any questions about page speed, contact us today. We’re happy to help you explore potential speed solutions for your site.