Easy fixes to improve site speed – and SEO

Marketing/SEO

Easy fixes to improve site speed – and SEO

In terms of a ranking factor, site speed has been in the cards for a while – officially, since Google announced back in 2010 that it had become a consideration in rankings.

The question is, how much does site speed affect rankings – and how much should you worry about it? As this post will explain, there are plenty more implications to think about with site performance than just improving your rankings.

If you look into what makes a page load faster, you’ll find that what you’re really trying to do is build a ‘clean’ site. The ultimate goal is to provide users fast access to your content. Having a website that’s not laden with messy code and large images helps that happen, and should help crawler access, too. With site speed having a positive effect on usability metrics, it can only help to increase the strength of a website!

If your website takes longer than, say, 4 seconds to load, you’ll probably find that your bounce rate will be quite high and your conversion rate will certainly be suffering. There’s no doubt that this could be affecting your rankings. If that sounds familiar, then site speed should definitely be something to think about. With plenty of talk about usability metrics such as bounce rate, time on site, etc. being used as ranking factors, you start to see how site speed fits into the bigger picture.

That said, if your content’s crap, your page titles are all the same, you’re suffering from widespread duplication and have no backlinks – worry about those things first. If you’re up and running, converting nicely, getting some good traffic yet suffering from slower than average page load times, it might be worth putting your site through a tune up.

site-speed-tuneup

Here are some steps you can take to start reducing your load time right away.

Reduce image sizes

This sounds pretty obvious, but it’s surprising how often this is ignored. It’s also a quick win that just about anyone can do. The common mistake here is uploading the image and then resizing it using your CMS. It’s worth double checking the true size of your images. If they’re bigger than they need to be, edit them to the correct size offline and then upload the correct size. If you can’t afford Photoshop, try free resizing tools like Pixlr.com. If you’re not ‘hands on’ in control of editing content, then make sure you brief the people who are.

Reduce HTTP requests

When a visitor lands on your site, it takes a certain amount of time for the browser to load each separate file. A typical web page might include CSS files, images and JavaScript. Horror of horrors, it might also contain some flash and multiple versions of each file. For example, some sites might have a CSS file for the navigation, the footer, the header and so on. Even though modern browsers can simultaneously load multiple files, you still want to make sure that you’re reducing the browser’s ‘labor’ as much as possible.

The first point of call is to find out how many files need to be loaded on each page, and to see if that number can be reduced. For example, if you have multiple CSS files for different sections of each page, you really should combine them into one file, e.g style.css. You should also try to reduce the number of images. If you have multiple images in the background, could you combine them into one? It might be the same file size but by combining them you’ll reduce the number of files needed to load the page.

webpagetest
Use Webpagetest.org for useful visual comparisons

Choose the right hosting

Getting your hosting right really should happen at the start of a project. Changing hosting on a live site can be a headache, but it’s far from impossible. Consider it if you think your current package could be dragging your site down.

The best solution is to have your own dedicated server with enough bandwidth to cope with expected traffic levels. If your site’s hosting is shared then you’re sharing space and bandwidth with other sites, which will obviously have a negative effect on your site’s performance.

Richard Kershaw from WhoisHostingThis.com explains why hosting is so important:

“Getting the right hosting is important for many reasons; bad hosting can cause problems for security, site speed, downtime and rankings.

Too many people just buy the cheapest shared hosting on offer without thinking about the implications. Spending a little time researching the best option pays dividends.

With site speed becoming a ranking factor for Google, website owners really need to think long and hard about stability and uptime. I’d recommend checking out user reviews of any host you consider – but be wary of hosting review sites with only good reviews, some sites are packed with shill reviews.”

A quick tip: Find some fast websites and run them through their tool to get some inspiration as to what hosting company to choose!

Clean up your code

By now you’re probably getting the message that ‘clean and simple’ is best. It’s a good idea to take a look at your source code and try to find out how much ‘junk’ is in there. By that I mean code that exists but isn’t necessary to make your pages function. Extra tags and lines of code all add up to make things more complicated then they need to be, which creates extra work for browsers.

source-code-check
Whoa there!

Problems with extra code are more common among cheap site templates where you have little or no control over what actually goes into each page. A bit of housekeeping can sometimes make a nice impact to page load times.

Site speed tools

The ideas above are by no means a full list of performance optimization techniques, but they might serve as some food for thought.

Some useful site speed tools you might want to check out:
WebPageTest
YSlow
Firebug

Pit crew photo courtesy twm1340 on Flickr

Jon Quinton runs Go Search Marketing, an SEO consulting business based in Guildford near London. Get in touch with him on Twitter at @jonquinton1.

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