Updated: 22nd October 2019
If you’re like me you’ve put a great deal of effort into building your website, writing content, formatting images and publishing posts. You may have also worked hard configuring your site and tweaking all your content for SEO. But what if your site is slow? Page load speed is such an important topic nowadays and it deserves discussion now!
There are many reasons why your site should load quickly. Let’s focus on site visitors right now since we should always build our sites for people first rather than for search engines.
If the pages in your site take a long time to render, visitors will not wait around to read your content no matter how good it is.
Do I sit and wait for ten seconds for a page to load when I can simply use a back button and look for another result?
No I don’t! I find slow pages super frustrating so I just go back and look for other ones that run faster.
Page Load Speed and Bounce Rate
Unfortunately for site owners, a back button click shortly after arriving on a page without visiting any other page in the site suggests the visitor didn’t find what they were looking for. It suggests that the page visited from the search results might not have met their expectations so they left. When a visitor leaves a site in this way it’s called a bounce.
Now a high bounce rate is not necessarily a bad thing if you have a one page site.
Some websites only require one page if they are small or populated with factual information that remains the same over time. Also the site could be simply a small portfolio site.
Additionally some blogs are single pages. In this type of blog, perhaps ten or so posts get published in full on the homepage. Further posts might be paginated or not revealed until you’ve scrolled lower down the page.
But for sites that have more than one page, such as informational blogs like SideGains, it’s a disaster!
If someone visits the SideGains homepage and bounces quickly without going further into the site, this potentially means they don’t like what they see. Let’s not forget my homepage is the gateway to the entire blog so it’s an extremely important page and I want people to delve further into my content.
Page Load Speed and SEO
Way back in 2010 Google announced that it used site speed as a factor in ranking pages. This means that slower loading sites will not get as much credit as faster ones. It’s clear then that you should put your house in order before embarking on any off-domain SEO activity.
Why put a huge effort into promoting your site if it’s hindered by slow page load speeds?
Slow pages provide a bad visitor experience. They also tell Google that potentially there are other sites more deserving of higher placement in the results than yours!
There’s more to it than just this though.
After years advising website owners to make sure their sites load quickly, on May 28th 2019 Google announced the following:
Mobile-first indexing will be enabled by default for all new, previously unknown to Google Search, websites starting July 1, 2019.Google Webmaster Central Blog
What does this mean? Well Google again tell us precisely:
Mobile-first indexing means Google predominantly uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking.Google Webmaster Central Blog
To paraphrase, it’s more important than ever for websites to load quickly for mobile device visits.
Speed over a mobile data connection is far slower than a fixed line connection. Because of this website owners must now ensure that page load speed for mobile is a priority.
So how can you find out how quickly your pages load?
Testing Page Load Speed
As you might expect, there are many free tools to test page load speeds, such as:
For today, I will focus on the Google PageSpeed Insights (PSI) tool because it’s easy to use and pretty comprehensive.
What Does Google PageSpeed Insights Do?
PSI is an online tool that can show you how quickly pages in your site load. It also shows the reasons why they might load slowly.
Its a simple tool to use, as you can see from the image above.
You only have to input the URL you want to analyze into the search bar, submit it and wait for the results.
The results take a minute or so until the analysis completes. When it’s ready it gives your page a speed score for mobile and desktop visits. It also details the elements you need to examine to make your page load faster.
The default view shows mobile page performance, presumably because Google focuses now on Mobile First Indexing.
The PageSpeed Insights Report
PSI delivers three sections of information about your site.
The first section shows an overview of the page’s performance by way of a page speed score. This is a score between 0 and 100, which represents an overall summary of the load speed of your page.
There are three groups of scores and each has a color attributed to it accordingly:
- 0 to 49 (slow): Red
- 50 to 89 (average): Orange
- 90 to 100 (fast): Green
The overall score is based upon a series of different measurements reported in the following results analysis section:
- Lab Data
Beneath Lab Data is a series of Audit reports. These provide more detail about things to address to improve the load speed of elements in the Lab Data report.
- Opportunities Audits
- Diagnostics Audits
- Passed Audits
So what do these different aspects of the report advise?
Lab Data displays information about specific tests run against your page. Each element is tested for how long it takes to complete, with results measured in seconds and milliseconds. The performance of these elements are factored into the page speed score and are as follows:
- First Contentful Paint refers to the browser rendering pixels to the screen after a visitor has clicked a link to the page in question. It’s an important measure since it shows how long visitors have to wait before they notice that something is happening.
- First Meaningful Paint assesses the time it takes for hero elements content to render. These are the important visual elements that tell visitors that the page is useful. This might be a logo or a large banner image for example. This is an important signal because if these elements load quickly the visitor may not notice if the rest of the page hasn’t loaded.
- The Speed Index assesses the time it takes for the page content to be visible.
- The First CPU Idle score measures the point at which most visual elements on the page are useful and usable and when the page responds to user input where required.
- Max Potential First Input Delay is the duration between a visitor first interacting with your site to the time the browser responds.
Beneath each Lab Data element is a filmstrip of 10 page screenshots showing what the tool sees at various points during page load. The more complete screenshots there are the better. The fewer there are means the page load speed is slow.
The Opportunities Audits suggests changes you can make to improve your page load speed to increase those depicted in the Lab Data report.
Opportunities improvement suggestions are specific and clear. Each one includes links to other resources that give precise information about the potential load speed impact of each change and how to implement them correctly.
Examples of improvement opportunites are:
- Reduce Server Response Times: This means that the server hosting your page is slow and usually means you need use a faster hosting solution.
- Enable Text Compression: This advice tells you to implement a method for compressing text files for sending across networks, thereby reducing download time.
There are others and they will likely vary on a page by page basis, but I’ll refrain from publishing a definitive list for now.
Diagnostics Audits provide further detail about best practices for your page. As such this section details more elements to improve to increase page load speed. Some examples found most often in this audit are:
- Serve Static Assets with an Efficient Cache Policy: This is about configuring your server to tell browsers requesting page assets to use those that have been cached locally. If such assets do not change frequently (such as images) this prevents a need for the server to send them across the network.
- Minimize Critical Requests Depth: This means reducing the time a browser spends running each step in the series of processes to determine when content is displayed.
Again there are other elements that the tool reports upon but hopefully the above serve as good examples.
Passed Audits shows the page elements that don’t require improvement as the site handles these correctly. The aim should be to have as high a count as possible reported here.
- Fast page load is extremely important for visitors to your site, especially those using a mobile.
- The longer a page takes to load, the more likely it is that visitors will leave your site quickly without exploring other pages.
- Page load speed has a bearing on your position in the search results as Google uses it as a ranking factor.
- If Google explicitly tells you that something is important… it is important. Page load speed is a solid example of this.
- We can use tools to measure page load times to give us an indication of how quickly our pages render in a browser.
- Google PageSpeed Insights is an example of a tool that is easy to use. It provides detailed information about slow page elements along with advice about how to fix them.
- You should remember that results of successive page load speed tests in any tool can vary. Factors such as network performance can mean results fluctuate. The important thing is that these tools indicate the general speed of your page.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading!
Please share your own experiences in the comments section below or feel free to ask me a question.