Everyone wants their website to rank #1 on Google. Or at least on the first page. And with good reason. The higher your site ranks, the more people will click through to it – simple as that. It’s all about getting a leg up on your competition. This is what’s know as search engine optimization, or SEO. You’ve probably heard that term at some point. So how do you do it?
It’s not always easy. There are several factors that affect your rankings: on-page copy (text), inbound links, coding elements (title tags, ‘alt’ attributes, text hierarchy, etc.), and more, all with differing degrees of importance. One component that also has some relevance is page speed.
What is Page Speed?
In layman’s (or layperson’s) terms, page speed is simply the time it takes for a web page to fully load into your browser. It’s generally measured in seconds. If yours is measured in minutes, you’re in trouble. 😉
As a rule of thumb, if you don’t notice how long a page you’re visiting takes to load, it’s fast enough. If you’re saying “come on” a lot and/or tapping your screen to help it along, that means there are issues – with the page speed or with your patience! But seriously, if your page doesn’t load within a few seconds – the point at which many people start to get impatient – you may want to investigate and see what can be done to improve its speed.
Does Google care about page speed?
In a word, yes. Back in 2010, Google announced that, indeed, page speed would be considered in its ever-changing ranking algorithm. Soon, everyone was up in arms about doing everything possible to speed up their site and worrying about how fast was fast enough.
Well, it’s been nearly five years since that announcement and I think it’s safe to say that, yes, Google does take page speed into account when ranking the page, but it’s not nearly as big a deal as the doomsday squad believed. There are several tools available to measure page speed, one of which is Google’s own PageSpeed Insights. It really is a useful tool (more about it in a minute), but if you do a search for a certain phrase and then copy/paste the top ranked sites into the URL field in the tool, you’ll find that not all of top sites necessarily get great scores. If 80 and above is considered very good, it may be a bit surprising to see some or the top ranked sites scoring in the 60s or even 50s. So that tells you something. Really, it’s only sites with very low scores (probably 40 and below) that get penalized by Google, and usually for good reason.
What can we learn?
The lesson – as we’ve said with other SEO factors – is to not directly worry about pleasing Google. What you should be doing is focusing on your human audience (or, if you sell cat toys, your feline audience). Just like the content on your page should be written and organized to make it easy for real people (or cats) to read and find the information they’re looking for, your page should load relatively quickly so as to not annoy – and potentially lose – them. For most sites, your pages should load within a few seconds, otherwise people may get frustrated and move on. So think of those poor souls, when speeding up your page, not so much Google. Doing so makes the whole web a better experience for everyone.
So, how do we speed up our sites (if we need to)?
Using a tool like PageSpeed Insights does give us some… well, insight… into how we can improve the load time of our pages. Some suggestions include:
- leveraging browser caching, so that static elements on the page don’t need to load from scratch each time the page is loaded
- compressing the larger files to reduce their size (and download speed)
- “minifying” (or compacting) some of the code files
- and others
These often need to be taken with a grain of salt, though. For example, you might see, in your page’s analysis, that compressing a particular image could reduce its file size by 23%. That sounds like a lot. But then when you look at the details and realize its a difference of bytes – not megabytes or even kilobytes, but bytes – it’s probably not worth the time and potential loss of quality.
There are suggestions and resources, within PageSpeed Insights and other similar tools for taking care of the “critical” elements, if you decide to tackle them yourself. Or have your web developer help you in determining which items are most important for your site and what the cost will be to determine if they’re worth undertaking.
As with anything on the web – or in life – find the balance that works for you (and your target audience) and don’t stress about it too much!