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How SEO can stop your website from killing the planet
April 29, 2022
Sustainability and search engine optimization (SEO) are two words that you wouldn’t expect to see in the same sentence. No trees are seemingly cut down every time you Google something or visit a web page; but websites do result in carbon emissions. Internet usage, and its supporting technologies, are responsible for almost 4% of global emissions. That may not seem like a large number, but it’s actually the equivalent to emissions caused by air travel.
The internet consumes a lot of electricity. According to online carbon calculator Website Carbon, the internet consumes 416.2TWh of data per year. To give you some perspective, that’s more than what the entire United Kingdom uses. From data centers to mobile devices, they’re all consuming electricity, which creates carbon emissions. The average web page tested produces 1.76 grams of CO2 per page view. For a website with 10,000 monthly page views, that results in 211 kg of CO2 per year. With over 1.7 billion websites out there, digital content is being published at an exponential rate.
Websites today have a plethora of bells and whistles, from autoplay videos to animations. If you dislike those features, you’re not alone. Not only are they annoying, but they also slow down websites and increase carbon emissions. The faster a website is, the better carbon footprint it will have. Every best practice in SEO contributes to reducing carbon emissions in some small way.
What actions can you take to reduce your website’s carbon emissions? Rob Murgatroyd, Senior SEO Executive at Blue Array, discusses some improvements you can make to your website that will make a significant difference in grams of CO2 per page.
1.) Understand your current emissions
It’s important to know what needs fixing before you start to make changes. A lot of businesses don’t see their digital marketing practices as something that’s polluting the world. Working as an SEO, I’ve realized that a lot of technical SEO practices are already helping to minimize the impacts of climate change. A large part of our focus is on reducing the size of websites, increasing load time efficiency, and reducing unnecessary redirects. These areas help to reduce the strain on servers and ultimately reduce the amount of energy sites require.
To understand your current site performance, you can use tools such as the Lighthouse Chrome extension, which provides a breakdown of some of the key technical issues on your site that may be slowing load times. A tool I’m particularly fond of is called Beacon. It calculates the environmental impact of a web page, shows you a breakdown of page elements that use the most energy, and tells you what measures can be taken to improve your emissions.
2.) Make your website load faster
After obtaining a clearer idea on what elements of your site are causing slow load times, your next step should be to follow best practice guidance to improve your site’s performance. Every site is different, but site speed improvements should always be a key consideration for technical SEO, which is also considered as a key focus for practicing sustainable SEO. Here are some easy actions to help increase your website’s speed:
• Use web-safe fonts, rather than custom fonts. Some font files can be as big as 300kb.
• Include a caching solution on your site. Caching temporarily stores a duplicate of a website’s original content on a user’s device and greatly reduces server energy usage while improving page load times.
• Consider using accelerated mobile pages (AMPs). AMPs are lightweight website pages designed to give mobile users a lightning-fast experience that's easier to digest. This technology makes mobile content load quicker by removing unnecessary code.
3.) Optimize your website’s multimedia content
Over the past few years, trends in website design and function have moved towards high-resolution images, videos and animations being used more widely. While from a design perspective this looks great, from both a user perspective and in the eyes of search engines, this isn’t necessarily a positive trend. The more on-page elements that a site has (i.e. multiple large images, numerous videos, and animations), the more data it requires to load.
Ultimately, the smaller websites are, the faster they’ll be. Compressing images and reducing file sizes on your site can help considerably. It’s recommended to use lossy compression when compressing images, which equates to a big reduction in size, but with little loss in image quality. Decreasing the amount of video on your site can also help, as well as ensuring that video autoplay settings are disabled too.
At Blue Array, highlighting the environmental impacts that your site currently has, and providing detailed technical recommendations on how you can improve, is part of our standard site auditing process. If you’d like to take a climate-positive step and want to see how many carbon emissions are produced from your site hosting, don’t hesitate to contact us here.
Image credit: Pexels - Sanni Sahil