How Fast Should Your Website Load?
Is Page Load Speed A Ranking Factor?
Google has made it very clear that speed is a ranking factor. It may be just a very small element in the overall ranking algorithm, but it could play a bigger part in the future. In particular, Google’s intended switch to mobile-first indexing shows just how important Google considers the mobile market, where page speed is critically important.
However, you should not try to improve your page speed just for ranking – do it for your user experience. There have been numerous studies that clearly demonstrate slower sites impact visitor retention. For example, a study by the Financial Times in 2016 indicated that just a 3 second slower load time resulted in visitors viewing almost 8% fewer articles.
Take a look around. You will find plenty of other studies showing how slow load speed reduces site involvement, while improving speed increases user interaction and retention.
Page Speed Tools
How Fast Is Fast Enough?
This is the tricky question to answer. First of all, we recommend that, when testing load times, you should look at mobile speed. After all, Google plans to rank sites based on their mobile content in the near future. So, it’s sensible to assume that Google will also use mobile speed as the ranking signal within the algorithm.
So, how fast should it be? Google and others talk about half-a-second load time objective, or two seconds as a threshold, or aim for less than five seconds, and so on. The truth is that there is no fixed load time. Sure, if your site is taking 20 seconds to load then you have a real problem that may require a complete site redesign, not just some speed enhancements. However, for most web owners, just carry out simple improvements to make load times as quick as possible. Remember, while it is possible to score 100/100 on Pagespeed Insights, that’s not the goal; just do the best you can.
How To Improve Page Load Speed
- Server: If you are running on a slow, cheap server (especially on shared hosting) then this will certainly have an impact, both on “time to first byte” (Moz.com suggests this is a factor) and overall load speed. There are a couple of ways you can immediately address this. Firstly, speak to your host, or even move to a new host, that provides a better quality server. Or, it may be that they have services that are better optimized for your platform (e.g. WordPress). Secondly, you can make use of services such as Cloudflare (Content Distribution Network) to improve performance.
- Image Optimization: It may seem obvious, but you should ensure that images are optimized for the size that will be displayed on your website. Pay particular attention to image size on mobile devices and, where possible, use different image sizes for desktop versus mobile.
When you’re saving images, choose the best format (e.g. JPG, PNG) for smallest size. If you’re using a tool such as Adobe Photoshop, utilize the File > Save For Web feature. Alternatively, there are optimization tools around such as compressor.io and TinyPNG.
Don’t forget, you can reduce web requests by combining images. This can be particularly useful for small images that are used repeatedly, such as icons and button. Consolidated them into a single file (called an image sprite) and use CSS image sprites to display them.
Finally, don’t forget to load large background images through external CSS so that the browser loads these after the rest of the page.
- Browser Caching: In most cases, standard page information, such as images, stylesheets, scripts, etc. do not change between requests. Browser caching is simply a matter of setting expirations for these elements, typically in the .htaccess file. You can read more about this here.
Do not worry if you cannot leverage browser caching for all of your resources. There are some elements – including Google’s own Analytics script – that can be problematic.
- External Media: If you are going to the trouble of optimizing media on your site, the last thing you want is a request for media from an external site, where you have no control over the speed. Wherever possible, try to host optimized media from your own site and CDN.
This is certainly not a comprehensive list of ways to improve load speeds, but implementing the items listed will almost certainly boost your website into the fast lane.