News Flash: Your Slow Site Is Killing Your SEO (Plus 3 Quick Fixes)

May 31, 2015 | SEO | 2 comments

So, did everyone survive MobileGeddon? Great, but guess what? Your slow loading site is still killing your company’s SEO (and, therefore, bottom line).

Google Search rankings (SERPs) are extremely fluid – adapting to the ever and constantly changing content on the web. And we all know that user’s are becoming exponentionally less patient when it comes to load times on websites, especially on mobile! The behind the scenes search algorithm is very fluid and is used to instantly impact your site’s search rankings. Because of this fluid, nearly instantaneous ranking, you can see the impact of some SEO factors within a few days, or even less – page load times included!

That’s why it’s time to finally address your site’s slow load times.

First, How Slow Is Too Slow?

Guess what? Visitors to your website are way less patient than you are. If you make them wait for your content to load there’s a good chance they’ll bounce and head to a competitor’s site. But how slow is “too slow”? Below is a table with page load times and how they rank. Where does your site land?

Your Site Load Time
Top-Tier Load Time Less than 2 seconds
You’re Safe, But Monitor 2 – 4 seconds
Improvement Needed 5 – 15 seconds
Way Too Slow! 16+ seconds

Achieving sub-2 second load times for the average small business website may be challenging. Do what you can to get your load times around 5 seconds, where possible. Below are three very simple tips to improve your page load times a bracket or two.

Slow Site Tip #1 – Remove the ‘Clutter’

I’m going to try to say this with some tact – I’ve seen a number of sites with way too much clutter on them. Badges, counters, awards, links – there’s just way too much ‘stuff’ on them, both from a aesthetic & usability perspective and from a page load time perspective as well. Each and every element on your site’s front page requires a call from your website to where ever the element is located. This even includes elements that are hosted on your site. Your home page is likely the one that gets accessed the most and is also responsible for delivering your “brand’s” first impression to all visitors. I do understand wanting to show off some of those accolades, badges, networking and membership symbols and such, but you should be treating your home page’s real estate for what it is – online gold.

User Experience for All!

Below is a Bade Benchmark table. See how your site stacks up and decide whether you need to do some home page de-cluttering of your own.

Clutter Level # of Elements
Completely Acceptable Less than 15 elements
Slightly Cluttered 16 – 20 elements
Time to tidy up 21 – 25 elements
Borderline Online Hoarder 26+ elements

Everyone’s website design, function and personal preference varies, but if your goal is to improve your user’s experience, improve your website’s traffic and increase your search rankings (and therefore, traffic) I encourage you to take a hard look at your home page and consider an early spring cleaning.

Slow Site Tip# 2 – Optimize Your Site

After you’ve done away with some of the extra ‘stuff’ on your site, it’s time to optimize the elements that remain on your site. Optimizing a site can be done in a number of ways, but at the most basic level involves shrinking the actual files that are served up by your web server to your visitors.

Those of you that HATE MATH can skip this part!

Let’s start with a simple equation to illustrate. Page load times come down to the amount of data that requires loading and the speed (or rate) of the pages being served up. This load rate includes elements on your server’s side as well as on the client (or visitor’s) side, so not everything in this equation is under your control. To calculate a basic load time, you must take your data size / load rate (often in KB/s or MB/s). Let’s say your website has 20 elements on the home page that must load for the user, who has a 256k (net speed) connection – factoring in server load, internet traffic, client machine capabilities, etc. Each of those website elements is .1 megabytes in size, therefore, the total size of your home page would be (elements x size) 20 x .1 = 2 MB. The load time for the user then, is 2 MB / 256k per second = 8 seconds. According to Google, this speed would be below the average load time and will impact your search engine rankings. Don’t believe me? Check out this post (from 2012!).

The goal is to remove waste. If you have an image that’s being displayed on your site as a 150px by 150px image, but the actual file that sits on your site is 640px x 640px then your site must load that full-sized image, shrink it and then display it to the user. If you web host has to do that with dozens of elements on your site that creates a significant and unnecessary burden on your site and slows performance for your visitors. You can optimize your files & images before you upload and publish them (recommended) or you can optimize after and replace the existing over-sized files after the fact. Tools like the Image Optimizer can assist with shrinking file sizes. Just be careful not to break any links to existing files already on your servers!

Slow Site Tip #3 – Install a Caching Plugin

Make no mistake about it – website caching plugins have their benefits and drawbacks. The benefits are often fairly clear-cut: they provide a performance enhancement to your site in potentially a number of ways (more on that in a second). The drawbacks can be a bit more difficult to identify but they’re there.

Caching Plugin Benefits

Automated Optimization – Many caching plugin applications automate the process of optimizing a website. They can shrink file sizes (CSS, HTML, JavaScript, etc) and decrease the amount of data that requires transfer, often with just a few clicks.

Leverage Server-Side and Client-Side Caching – Caching plugin applications also may provide the website owner with the ability to cache elements of the site both on the server as well as in the user’s browser. Caching elements causes the server or browser to ‘remember’ elements so that they can be displayed faster.

Advanced Optimization – Some caching plugin applications go beyond the standard levels of element optimization and caching and can provide features such as database caching, Content Data Network interfaces (CDN) and granular control over all of the cached elements. Most users won’t benefit much from this level of caching & control, but some will and it’s there if needed.

Caching Plugin Drawbacks

Caching Plugins & Site Changes – When a caching application is installed on a website, files are being re-sized and pages and elements are being stored for faster retrieval at a minimum. If a change is required to the site, the caching plugin often requires being disabled while the change is being made or the cache may require emptying in order for it to ‘refresh’ with the updated changes.

Additional Overhead – Just like any other plugin, caching plugins are an application being installed that require server resources. Caching plugins install files, require processing resources, memory and storage space, just like any other application installed in your website environment.

Additional Complexity – Caching programs add a significant layer of complexity to a site. Think about it – if a site has a caching plugin installed, the server is making changes to the site on the fly. Troubleshooting website environments with a caching application installed can be far more difficult if not impossible. If you install a caching application and notice anything out of the ordinary, it very well could be your caching plugin!

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please leave a comment below or feel free to contact me with your thoughts.