The Need for Speed: Why site speed optimisation matters

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In the first of a two-part blog series, Jose Capelo of Caliber outlines the impact site speed can have on even the most sophisticated digital strategy…

Jose Capelo is an SEO account manager at Caliber.

Slow loading websites cost retailers an estimated £1.73 bn in lost sales each year, and a one second delay in page-load can cause 7 per cent loss in customer conversions. Today’s web users expect a site to load under two seconds - when it comes to site speed and revenue, the statistics are telling.

Loading times are known to have a direct relation to page abandonment rates, as slow loading pages almost always have a higher page abandonment rate than fast loading ones. In addition, slow loading time is regularly linked to shopping cart abandonment. 1 out of 5 shoppers will abandon their cart just because the transaction process was too slow. A slow checkout process has also been shown to cause anxiety in the user, harmful for brand perception.

When devising SEO strategies, digital marketers spend lots of time focusing on the relevance and authority of a web page, its external signals, social amplification, and the usefulness of the content. Yet, some still fail to acknowledge the role of site speed.

Why is it important?

The importance of user experience has been highlighted on numerous occasions, particularly since Google released their full search quality rating guidelines for the first time late last year. Site speed directly impacts UX and that is one of the reasons why it is so important.

Search engines inspect user behaviour data closely and thoroughly. Site speed and page load time have a significant impact on key ranking metrics like CTR, so optimising for speed should be an integral element of any digital strategy. The data retrieved by your analytics package should provide actionable insight to establish and to fine tune your strategy.

It’s fair to say that the role of speed on rankings has not been analysed as well as other ranking factors. Despite the big news way back in 2010 about the importance of site speed, it is still not given enough importance in the digital agenda, and often remains low priority.

Site speed is not only related to search results, but has an important bearing on business metrics, such as conversion rates, bounce rates and ultimately revenue. Countless reports have shown that slow loading pages jeopardise user engagement resulting in increased bounce rates. It’s not difficult to grasp: no matter how good your content or product is, if a high number of users start bouncing back off your page, this will have a negative effect in the SERPS.

Site speed as a ranking factor

There are many signals that have weight in the ranking results, more than 200 according to current estimates. While site speed loading time is just one of many signals, it shouldn’t be ignored, especially since mobile sites can be penalised for loading slowly.

In fact, site speed could potentially have more weight as a ranking signal when it comes to the mobile SERPS. Google’s recent launch of accelerated mobile pages is a bit of a giveaway. This update aims to dramatically improve mobile performance, with the aim of giving users webpages that load instantaneously and provide a seamless experience.

Going by Google’s internal tests on user response to page speed, it has been shown that slowing down the search results page by 100 to 400 milliseconds has a measurable impact on the number of searches per user of between -0.2% to -0.6%. That's 0.2% to 0.6% fewer searches for changes under half a second!

Regardless of the fact that Google doesn’t specify what page load times are acceptable, the most important fact concluded by previous research is that the time required for your website to be fully rendered does play an important role for the overall ranking of the site. Fully rendered time is understood to be the time a webpage requires to load and show content, banners and media files.

Page load speed and traffic

The correlation between speed and traffic is built around the fact that page load times can help with the indexation of a page by search engines and save on crawl budget. Because page speed has an impact on indexation, it consequently impacts on traffic and rankings. This is why site speed should be part of your SEO strategy.

Fast loading pages usually mean a better use of the crawl budget. Your crawl budget is the number of pages Google will crawl each time it visits your website. Fast loading pages will boost indexation since a search engine will crawl a fast loading site quickly, indexing more pages and crawling them more often.

In Part Two of this blog, I’ll look in more detail at how to assess site speed and decrease page load time.

Jose Capelo is an SEO account manager at Caliber. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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