This is the first in a series of articles we are going to write covering Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) factors and what you can do to help improve your site.
Google is obsessed with making the search results it serves up as relevant as it can to a user's search term, and it is forever measuring what each user does with those results to determine how good and appropriate they were.
One factor that can seriously damage your website's search engine ranking is its load time, and in this article, we will explorer why.
Why Speed Matters
Let's say a user is looking for the products and services you offer, and your website has all the relevant detail this user is looking for. Google offers your site as a top search result, the user clicks on that link and then finds themselves waiting for your site to load.
Think for a moment, when you are searching the internet for a site, how long do you wait for a website to load?
Studies show that most of us will only tolerate a wait of no more than 3 seconds. After that, most of us will give up waiting, click the back button, and return to Google and the search results page.
This has two negative consequences: the first immediate consequence is you have lost a visitor and potential customer; the second is Google will have noticed what that user has done and will consider it a 'bounce'.
As I said at the start, Google is obsessed with measuring what users do with the search results it serves, and if it sees too many people clicking on your website, then very quickly clicking back, it will conclude that your site is NOT as relevant to the search term as it first thought, and will push your site down the rankings.
The next question is, what could cause a website to load slowly?
Poor quality hosting
Every website needs to be hosted on an appropriate web server, there are a huge number of providers, packages, and price ranges. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for with hosting. If you are on a cheap or even free package, then your site will probably be on a shared server which could well be handling several thousand other websites and not enough resources to handle them all. It may also be the case that your cheap hosting server is on a poor-quality or throttled network, which further slows up your site.
The solution is to switch to another hosting package or provider. (Like us!..see Hosting)
The size of your site
Time to get a bit technical.
Your browser's default behaviour is to go through the initial HTML page and process it line by line. As it hits a line that requests another resource (a style sheet for example), it will go back to the server to get that file and then work through it before going back to the HTML. Although it only takes a fraction of a second for the browser to get and process these resources, each one will add to your site's loading time. So to keep this time to a minimum, you want to keep the number of resources low, and each of those resource files is as small as possible. Images and videos are often large files and can significantly increase the time it takes your site to load.
Options to Improve
Depending on how your site is set up, will dictate how much control you have over these factors.
For us as developers, not only are we able to keep our client's sites lean, we have a huge range of tricks we can include in a website's code to make it perform faster. This includes lazy-loading/defer non-essential elements (or, in other words, telling the browser not to load a particular resource until after the rest of the page has rendered). If you have used a web developer (who writes code!) then hopefully they have used the same tricks and already optimised your site. If it's still on the slow side, it should be easy for them to go back in and improve performance for you.
If you have brought a website template for use with a CMS system such as WordPress or Joomla, then it will depend very much on the developer of that template. If it is performing slowly, a good web developer familiar with your CMS platform should be able to go in and trim the fat for you.
If you have used a website builder service, then I'm afraid your options are limited. Most website building services or any non-code website-design platform will not be frugal when it comes to code, and will often generate dozens of lines of code to achieve the same effect a good web developer can do in one. The lines of code the browser has to process, the more time it will take for your website to load. If you are using such a service, my advice is to keep your layouts as clean and straightforward as possible to prevent the platform from bloating it with code and slowing it down.
A key objective of any website is to attract visitors, but if a site is too fat and slow to load quickly, your site will quickly lose the interest of the search engines, rendering your site worse than useless.