It’s common knowledge that the faster a website loads, the happier its users will be. That happiness manifests itself as more time spent on our pages and more revenue, so keeping page load-times down is definitely in our best interest.
Google and Bing also take keeping their users happy very seriously. For the search engine companies that means giving preferential treatment in the SERPs to faster sites. Of course, site speed is only one factor (or a cluster of factors) out of the couple of hundred that Google and its siblings use to rank sites, but, all else being equal, having a faster site than a competitor can furnish a distinct advantage.
How Does Google Know How Fast My Site Is?
Search engines have a number of ways, both direct and indirect, of determining whether the speed of a site is likely to provide a pleasant experience for the users it refers.
Google, Bing, and other search engines regularly crawl your site with their bots to gather data for indexing and ranking. If your site is consistently slow to respond Googlebot, that will be recorded. Google also receives site load time data from users of the Google Toolbar. It’s also possible that it gets load time statistics from Google Chrome, but that’s not clear.
Indirectly, Google can gauge how well users respond to a site by its bounce rate. If users enter a query in Google and follow one of the links to a site, only to immediately return to the results page, Google knows they weren’t happy with what they found and will push the site down the list for that query. Page load-times have been shown to have a significant impact on bounce rates.
How Can I Tell How Fast My Site Is?
If you’re going to work on improving your site’s speed, the first thing you need is data. There are a number of free tools available to tell you how quickly pages on your site load. One of the best is from Pingdom. The Pingdom Website Speed Test will show you a “waterfall” graphic, displaying how long the various components of each site take to load and generate an overall score so you can see how well a site compares to the online average.
Decreasing A Page’s Load-Time
There are dozens of ways that a load-times can be improved, from switching DNS `nd web hosts to implementing caching.
Google provides a useful tool for determining some of the actions that can be taken to speed up a site. PageSpeed Insights will take a look at a site and suggest a long list of improvements.
In addition to the advice provided by PageSpeed Insights, there are two strategies that will almost certainly produce considerable improvements in load-times, particularly if you’re using a content management system to run your site.
Much of the load-time on dynamic sites is taken up with PHP processing and MySQL database queries as pages are built. Implementing caching, using, for example, W3 Total Cache on WordPress, saves the data from previous page loads, making it unnecessary to re-run the page building process. Caching can reduce load-times by as much as 80% for some sites.
Another large component of load-times is round-trip times: the time it takes data to travel from the browser to the server and back again. Content distribution networks (CDNs) like CloudFlare or Amazon’s Cloudfront can slash round-trip times. Together caching and CDNs can make even a site running on a relatively slow platform like WordPress very fast, and that’s great for SEO.
The faster a site loads, the better the overall user experience is. Good user experiences encourage search engines to rank sites well compared to their slower alternatives, so site speed should be at the top of every webmaster’s list of optimization strategies.
Daniel Page is Vice President of Customer Relations at AHosting. Since 2002, AHosting has established one of the web’s premier solutions for reseller web hosting, multiple IP hosting, dedicated servers, and VPS hosting. For more information, visit http://www.aseohosting.com.