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Google On Speed: Page Speed Becomes a Ranking Factor

The clock is ticking for your website. A short while ago GRIT covered how Google is going to be making the mobile search index the primary of the two indexes, with mobile search rankings impacting the desktop search rankings. But this news is even more important: page speed will now directly impact your website’s ranking in search, especially on mobile.

 

This article will cover several important factors that influence page speeds and some ways to improve them:

  • First and foremost, test your speeds
  • Get fast hosting, optimized for your website platform
  • Optimize your websites for search and speed
  • Optimizing for device types
  • Leverage caching and CDN technologies
  • Restructure code
  • Implement Google AMP

 

Test Your Site Speed

People seem to forget sometimes that Google offers all of the tools – for free – to discover whether or not your website is performing well in search. Yes, often these tools require a very special type of brain to use and analyze the data, but in most cases, Google makes it pretty easy to get some raw numbers and take action.

 

In this case, Google offers both the new Lighthouse audit tool in Chrome and the ever available PageSpeed Insights tool. Other non-Google tools include GTMetrix, which measures page speed and performance through several tools (PageSpeed Insights and YSlow) at the same time, and provides a more clearly understood report with recommendations than is usually available through just the PageSpeed Insights tool or Lighthouse alone.

 

PageSpeed Insights ranks on a scale of 100, and the new ranking factor is set to kick in when a site falls above or below a breakpoint of 80/100.

 

Faster Hosting is Key

Websites are only as fast as the hosting platform on which they run. Traditionally, websites have been run on servers provided by the domain registrars, such as GoDaddy or NameCheap. Beyond them, hosting solutions like InMotion, LiquidWeb, and DreamHost have been the typical “next-level” go-to for hosting when more robust hosting options, like VPS (virtual private servers) offer better performance from shared hosting platforms common to providers like GoDaddy.

 

Just in the past few years, even faster cloud-hosting options like Amazon’s EC2 platform on Amazon AWS (Amazon Web Services) have revolutionized hosting speed and availability for higher horsepower websites that include deep event calendars and ecommerce systems.

 

GRIT offers 3rd party hosting through InMotion, and we have found that the hosting is incredibly reliable, fast, and affordable. If you are running a website that has been built on WordPress, choosing hosting that has an optimized stack for WordPress is ideal, such as what is offered by InMotion.

 

Optimizing is for Search and Speed

For a website to perform well on Google, it needs to respond quickly at the server level, be organized and written with quality content that helps users and moves them to a decision point, and does those things quickly. This is not a one-time project, but something that must be done on an ongoing basis. GRIT typically recommends monthly reviews of site performance and adjustments from both a technical and content perspective.

 

Optimizing a site for search, also known as SEO, is not simple and often not straightforward. There are a lot of factors that go into optimizing a site for search. Better organization of content, better content in general, technical performance, and now site speed are all important.

 

Optimizing a site’s speed can be challenging. For static websites, this may pose a challenge because you will need a firm understanding of the hosting environment (Apache on Linux or IIS from Microsoft are two examples) and how to impact their performance from the server side. Optimizing WordPress for speed can also be frustrating, because adding more plugins to address performance issues can sometimes have a negative impact on other areas of site performance.

 

Ideally, you’ll address the following key site performance areas:

  • Image optimization and scaling for best performance on different devices
  • Server-side performance options and caching
  • Website caching configuration
  • Asynchronous or deferred loading of scripts and styles

 

If a website has those optimizations in place for speed, they can typically achieve the 80/100 Page Speed Insights minimum that will be required for a positive ranking boost from Google. This is something that GRIT does with every website we produce, and we know how to optimize sites on most any CMS systems (content management systems) or static websites on just about any hosting environment.

 

Optimizing for Device Types

Websites should not present all of the same content to all users on all platforms. That means that images or videos that are used as backgrounds on desktop to enhance the user experience shouldn’t necessarily be used on  the mobile experience.

 

A great example of this would be replacing a slider on a homepage with a static image to reduce overall load time on a mobile device. Modern website sliders are generally data-heavy because of loading many images, and the many Javascript and CSS files that it takes to make them look and function properly. This data isn’t an issue on most desktops with a high-speed internet connection, but on a mobile device that might fall back on a 3G tower for data that extra data required could be crippling, and cause a user to “pogo-stick” back to the search results to find a better page.

 

Leveraging Cache and CDN for Faster Performance

GRIT always uses caching, but also recommends the use of a CDN for better site performance. Studies show the average attention span has dropped to below 5 seconds, and that the threshold of patience for digital devices is now less than 3 seconds. This makes page speed and site performance ever more important. Caching helps with these performance metrics, and can be applied in a few different ways:

  • The server and website can cache:
    • Objects like images and other media
    • Static versions of dynamic pages
    • Database queries for dynamic sites like WordPress
  • The server and website can compress and cache files for faster transmission
  • The cache can be scheduled to automatically rebuild itself on a regular schedule

 

When used properly, caching can reduce overall page load times, and when combined with optimized images, it can reduce overall page load speeds as it caches different views of the page in a static file that loads more quickly for a visitor. Ultimately this serves to reduce the overall number of requests being made from the user’s browser to the server, which generally equals a faster page load time.

 

This can all be improved even more by leveraging a CDN (content delivery network) like Amazon S3 or MaxCDN to offload media files like CSS, Javascript, images, and even videos to load them from another source, reducing the number of requests made to your hosting server by loading all of the resources from various locations which can increase your site speed. Quality CDNs are highly-available cloud storage systems that are incredibly fast, which means your media will load very quickly.

 

These options can often be implemented for free or low monthly costs, but will return dividends in site traffic – and revenue if you’re running an ecommerce site.

 

Restructuring Site Code for Performance

This is not an easy undertaking and should absolutely be done by a web design agency, like GRIT. Optimizing and restructuring site code can have a huge impact on page speed performance, especially when you’re running a system like WordPress that may load quite a few Javascript and CSS files in the background to make the site look and work the way you want it to.

 

These optimizations generally involve deferring or asynchronously loading files like Javascript and CSS so that the page begins to visually load and process more quickly. Google refers to scripts and stylesheets that aren’t deferred or loaded asynchronously as “blocking”, meaning that they actually block the page from loading any further until that script or stylesheet has loaded.

 

These delays, while they may not actually be delays, can be perceived by the end user as “slow” and can result in them leaving your site before they’ve even really visited.

 

Once again, you should consult a web design agency like GRIT to make changes like these as they can break a website if not done properly.

 

Implement Google AMP

In just the last couple of years, Google started offering a new type of page to mobile users called “AMP”, or Accelerated Mobile Pages. These AMP pages are a stripped-down version of your standard web page that typically removes things like additional functionality, like sliders and media items that often make loading a page on a mobile device painfully slow.

 

Ideally, these pages are mostly used for blog posts, but can be used on standard website pages. They function on a separate stylesheet than the standard website, and only appear in mobile search results indicated by a little lightning bolt icon.

 

AMP pages load more quickly on mobile, and are far easier to cache on the server side. Google has stated that sites that offer AMP pages for their content would receive favorable ratings as they would load and process more quickly, even if the canonical page loads more slowly on desktop or other mobile devices if the user decides they wish to see the non-AMP version of the page.

 

However, just like regular content, if the AMP experience is slow, the site will be penalized for slow loads which brings us back around to making sure that you have fast hosting and are leveraging server-side caching.

 

Fast Isn’t Easy

Getting your website to perform quickly isn’t easy, and should be done by an expert. Sure, many of these options can be done on WordPress using plugins, but the settings can be tricky and can actually cause you more problems if done wrong.

 

GRIT knows how to make websites load quickly, whether it’s an existing website or a new website build. Talk to us today and make sure that your business doesn’t take a hit in search when this new ranking factor takes effect in July.

 

Contact us today!