Does PageSpeed Affect My SEO?

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The short answer is that, YES, pagespeed does affect SEO. PageSpeed is a direct ranking factor. However, load times can also affect rankings indirectly, by increasing the bounce rate and reducing dwell time.

The long answer is a lot more complicated as you have to understand what goes into pagespeed and what you can do to improve your overall speed to better user experience.

What is PageSpeed?
PageSpeed is the speed at which an individual page loads on your website. Different pages can have different speeds due to factors found on the page like images, scripts or plugins.

You can track your PageSpeed with Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. This will tell you how well your page ranks from 0-100 according to Google’s recommendations. While this can be a handy tool to see where you can improve your pagespeed, it should be noted that chasing a perfect 100 might not be worth your time but special attention should be paid to metrics that are denoted as Web Vitals by Google. As long as your web pages load in around 3 seconds, you should be fine.

What is SiteSpeed?
Site speed is the speed that your site loads as users navigate through it. Google’s Site Speed report in Analytics shows how quickly users are able to interact and see content on your site.

What Are the Core Web Vitals?

Core Web Vitals are a subset of a larger initiative by Google to provide unified guidance for quality signals that are essential to delivering a great user experience on the web.

The current set of Core Web Vitals for 2020 focuses on three aspects of the user experience—loading, interactivity, and visual stability—and includes the following metrics

Here is a list of some of the metrics that Google considers core to a quality website that provides good user experience:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (FMP – Performance) represents the point at which the user can understand the largest rendered content on the webpage. For example, some readable text or an image displays, instead of just colors and backgrounds. Google recommends that this be within 2.5 seconds of initial load.
  • First Input Delay (FID – Interactivity) a metric that captures a user’s first impression of a site’s interactivity and responsiveness. It measures the time from when a user first interacts with a page to the time when the browser is actually able to respond to that interaction. Google recommends that this vital be less than 100 milliseconds of initial load.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS – Visual Stability) if a webpage shifts positions after initial rendering it is considered a bad user experience and will increase your CLS score. Google recommends that CLS maintain a score of less than 0.1.

These three metrics makeup the Core Web Vitals that are supposed to help machines recognize what good user experience looks like.

Other PageSpeed/Web Vitals Metrics

In addition to the Core Web Vitals there are many other metrics that you can take into account when considering how well a page loads for users. Here are a few more:

  • First Contentful Paint (FCP) represents the moment when the user first sees rendered content on your web page for the first time.
  • Total Blocking Time is the sum of all time periods between FCP and Time to Interactive, when task length exceeded 50ms, expressed in milliseconds
  • Time to Interactive is the next level, the one at which the website is fully interactive. This means that everything has loaded and is now ready to be used.
  • Speed Index measures how quickly elements on your website are visibly populated.

These metrics change names every so often but they are normally changed to clarify actual meaning. Paying attention to them can help your ranking significantly and using the Google PageSpeed Insights tool can help your overall site speed significantly.

What Can I Do to Decrease My PageSpeed Loading Time?

Now that you understand what metrics go into PageSpeed you will need to know what you can do to improve your website’s performance. Below are a few ways you can decrease page speed loading time and increase your Core Web Vitals score for Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.

Leverage browser caching

When a user visits your website, the resources will be fetched over the network which can involve multiple roundtrips between the client and server. This delays processing, which may block the rendering of the page’s content.

Instead, save time by specifying a specific caching policy for all server responses (resources). The caching policies should include:

  • if the resource can be cached
  • who can cache it
  • how long it should be cached for
  • if it can be re-validated when the cache expires

By doing so, the client knows when it can reuse a previously-fetched response. That means your visitors can download your site’s data from their cache rather than from the network, thus saving time. The general recommendation on cache times by Google is at least one week and up to a year for static assets or those that don’t change often.

Avoid landing page redirects

A landing page redirect happens when you have more than one redirect from the URL to the final landing page. This often occurs when a website has a redirect to its mobile site (which responsive design can eliminate).

The result is a delay in page rendering because an additional HTTP request-response cycle is required. It’s best to eliminate unnecessary redirects by implementing a fully-responsive website.

Minify Resources

You can and should reduce the size of your CSS, HTML, and JavaScript resources through the process of minification. Minification removes any redundant or unnecessary data (formatting, coding comments, etc.) but it does not affect how the resource is processed by the browser.

Here are some minification tools that can help:

Minifying your code can have dramatic and immediate results to your overall site speed.

Enable compression

Another way to reduce the time it takes for a website visitor to download your resources is to enable gzip compression support on your web server. Doing so can offer a 90% reduction in the size of a transferred response.

Check the recommended server settings for most popular servers here.

Optimize Images

We all know images are important to a website’s visual appeal. However, they often account for the majority of a page’s downloaded bytes so it’s important to optimize them.

How do you do that? Well, it can be tricky. You will need to analyze an image’s importance, quality, type of encoded data, pixel dimension, format capabilities, and more. The ultimate goal is to reduce the file size as much as possible without significantly compromising the quality.

You can use third-party tools (like this one) to help you automate image optimization or can do it manually if you have the know-how.

Reduce Server Response Time

Next up, the server response time measures the amount of time it takes to load the HTML required to render your webpage. It does not include the network latency between your server and Google.

Your server response time should be below 200 ms and it shouldn’t vary largely between one test and the next. If it is above 200 or is varying greatly, you will need to analyze your existing performance and data to figure out the root problem. It could be a variety of causes such as slow database queries, memory starvation, slow routing, slow application logic, etc.

Once you identify and fix the problem, check your server response time regularly to ensure it stays on track.

Prioritize Visible Content

When a user is trying to view a website, you can improve their experience by ensuring the above-the-fold content loads in the initial congestion window. When that content doesn’t load first, it requires additional round trips, which make the user wait.

You can do this by structuring your HTML to load the critical part of your page first and the rest after.

Optimize CSS and JavaScript Delivery

Lastly, do you have external CSS or JavaScript resources on your page? If so, your page will not render until these items download and processed which will delay your page load time.

Optimize your resource delivery by inlining small resources and deferring larger resources to render after the above-the-fold content.

User experience and pagespeed is intrinsically connected to SEO and definitely connected to overall rankings. If you need help with your SEO you can start right here with a free website analysis where we take into account many of the things that we talk about here and put it into practice.

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