Time to speed up – site speed can effect rankings

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Ah, the digital age, full of ever-increasing ways to get online and shop. A mere decade ago the only way to access the internet was via painfully slow dial-up on an equally sluggish desktop PC. There was no such thing as online banking or Flappy Bird and even email was rudimentary. Now we have laptops, tablets, smartphones and even cameras that connect to Wi-Fi and we can use the internet to do pretty much anything.

The advent of lightning fast broadband and 4G connectivity has made us all a little more impatient however. Google started to acknowledge this back in 2010 when it included site speed as a very minor signal when it came to determining rankings.

The big question: is site speed really a ranking factor?

The answer to this question is yes and no. Technically speaking, Google does take site speed into consideration when working out rankings. However, according to man in the know, Matt Cutts, it actually affects less than 1% of all search queries.

Site speed is an extremely important consideration, but not necessarily for SEO.

A fast-loading website isn’t for the benefit of Google. You’re probably already doing more than enough to keep the big G happy with keywords and meta descriptions and relevancy. No, site speed is for the benefit of all internet users, in particular your customers.

Whether accessing your website via PC or smartphone, users want it to be a fast and seamless experience. Google reports that the average mobile website takes more than 7 seconds to load. Users would prefer it to be less than 4 seconds however. Slow websites often have high bounce rates, so making small improvements can increase customer satisfaction and conversions.

Essentially, if Google sees that you have happy customers buying products and returning time and time again, your rankings will improve. The important takeaway here is that a fast website benefits many areas of your business; it’s not just another SEO exercise.

What affects site speed?

Slow-loading websites are generally caused by too much ‘heavy’ content; high resolution images, Flash animations and interactive page features (scrolling carousels, for example). High traffic and site build shortcuts can also have an impact on speed.

Hosting is another vitally important factor. Choose your hosting service carefully to ensure they provide your site with the fastest possible load speeds. Use a service you can rely on to act quickly if there’s an issue, as just one day of downtime will have a negative impact on your business. Cheap hosting is tempting, but it isn’t always the safest bet as the host’s servers may not be up to the challenge of providing fast load speeds.

How to measure and monitor site speed

Get to know your site speed through vigorous testing. Google’s own Site Performance tool provides useful insight into your site’s speed and how you can improve it.

The most important stats to measure are:

First Byte – a measurement of the time it takes for the servers to show the user the first byte of data on your site.

Render Start – How long it takes for the user to see something on their screen.

Load Time – a measurement of the total time it takes to fully load the requested page.

Further resources for improving the speed of your website are provided by Google.

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