The best web content in the world will have zero impact if no one sees it.
Site speed is an often-underserved piece of the SEO puzzle – but when you’re doing it right, it can play a huge role in driving consumers to your content. The vast majority of web traffic comes by way of search engine results, rankings determined in part by site speed or the amount of time it takes to fully load your website.
Why? Because site speed impacts user experience more than just about anything else on your site. As technology reaches further and further into consumers’ lives, they have come to expect and rely on immediate answers. Site speed not only plays a huge role in how likely they are to stick around but also how receptive they will be to the content you’ve worked so hard to create or curate.
Slow site speeds don’t just scare marketers and developers seeking to optimize their relationships with clients. One study showed that people waiting for slow sites to load felt the same amount of stress as people watching a horror movie.
Even if the right person manages to find their way to your content, the likelihood that they will stick around to see it drops dramatically as each second of load time stretches on.
Just one of those seconds costs far more than one would expect.
As many as half of your users will abandon their journey to your site if it takes as little as 3 seconds to load, especially if they’re on a mobile device. And just a one-second delay in load time can lead to a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction, meaning those dissatisfied customers are going to be much less likely to return to your carefully crafted site. Just one second.
Site Speed Metrics
Site speed is determined by the efficiency of each step of the process of loading a website. We can use site speed metrics to judge the speediness, and therefore the effectiveness, of your content’s delivery. These metrics are:
- Time to First Byte (TTFB) – This is how long it takes for your device to establish a connection with the site you’re trying to access, or how much time elapses until the first byte of information has been communicated. This should be under 130-200 milliseconds (!) on average.
- First Paint (FP) and First Contentful Paint (FCP) – how long it takes for the first pixels of coloration to populate on your screen. FP and FCP are the same for smaller sites (i.e., sites containing less content to download), but FCP may lag after FP for larger, more complex sites. FP and FCP should ideally load in between 0.2-0.4 seconds.
- Total Page Load Time – how long it takes to download the entire site. The benchmark to shoot for is 0.7 seconds.
- Page Weight – the overall size of the site. Smaller sites (i.e. sites containing less content to download) will, of course, download faster than larger and more complex sites
Does My Browser Have a…Speedometer or…What?
Actually, if you’re using Google Chrome, it does! Chrome DevTools is a built-in feature of Google Chrome that tracks useful site speed data on general performance and performance across different devices and platforms.
Google also offers a tool called PageSpeed Insights that provides a 0-100 score for the speed of your site, allowing you to see from Google itself how well your site performs both on desktop and on mobile platforms.
GTMetrix is another useful tool that offers some of the same site speed information to developers. It also boasts a new feature called First Meaningful Paint that actually captures the time at which content the user finds meaningful first appears before their eyes. Other handy tools include Webpage Test, Test My Site, Pingdom, and Speedcurve.
Use these tools to keep track of your website’s site speed metrics, but be careful not to lose sight of the big picture. No one metric is the magic sword that slays the dastardly dragon that is a less-than-perfect user experience.
You really need to be working to create a great user experience – that’s what Google is looking for, and that’s what will really make a difference for the people engaging with your site.
Revving Up Your Mobile Site Speed
Mobile ain’t just an Alabaman port city! It’s also one of the most important platforms on which consumers will access your content.
In fact, as mobile devices come to dominate technological culture, most users will view your content on mobile at one time or another.
Mobile site speed is becoming more and more important; Google’s July update included mobile site speed as a ranking factor. Some benchmarks for mobile site speed:
- Average Speed Index – less than 3 seconds
- Average Time to First Byte – less than 1.3 seconds.
Google’s Mobile-Friendly test helps you determine how well your site loads on mobile browsers so that you can optimize it to meet the significant demand for mobile accessibility.
Image compression is essential for faster mobile load times. JPG, PNG, and GIF files are preferred over TIFF and BMP for this reason. You can even explore newer image file types like WebP, JPEG-XR, FLIF, and BPG. Image compression tools will help you keep your site looking great without adding crucial milliseconds of load time.
Other kinds of compression are also important for reducing your page weight. GZIP compression reduces file size by up to 70%, which drastically cuts the amount of content that devices have to download from your site.
Other Factors Impacting Site Speed
Browser caching is another way to improve site speed. Client device browsers can cache (temporarily store) site data so that it’s instantly available to be re-displayed.
Don’t forget to reduce HTTP/HTTPS redirects on your site. Eliminating all intermediary page redirects while avoiding 301s and 302s will ensure there’s no sag or lag when your beautiful new site is up to bat.
Even fonts and font sizes on your site can be optimized.
Every minute detail of your site impacts its performance. Be thorough when optimizing your site for speed and users will thank you!