September 17, 2014

How Site Load Time Affects Your SEO

If you’ve been involved in search engine marketing for at least the past 3-4 years, you know that Google places high importance on site load timeWhile it was an unexpected decision for the company to make, in 2010 it announced that site load time would factor heavily into rankings. Just which part of site speed (yes, there are several) has the most power was not specified.

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Talk of site speed and SEO has gently resided above and underground the digital community for the past several years, but new talk has surfaced with the latest findings published by Search Metrics last week. The company provided an insightful graph breaking down the five different categories of SEO: 1) user signals, 2) social, 3) back links, 4) on-page (technical), and 5) on-page (content).

While it has once again been made clear that on-page content is the strongest factor in SEO—and will only get stronger—a good amount of the findings were devoted to the technical side of on-page optimization. And among those technical factors, site speed is the most important and highest ranked of the bunch.

Even if your site loads just fine…

Site speed usually can’t be gauged through your immediate observations alone. Google looks at sitespeed down to the millisecond, and being too slow by a seemingly insignificant amount can affect your rankings and user signals.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can improve your site speed, and most of them are processes that can be performed within a day. As Search Metrics suggests, however, the relationship between factors and rankings is correlative, not causal. Making these changes alone does not guarantee improvements in your rankings, but it can play a role.

1. Remove or defer render-blocking javascript

Using a content management system like WordPress to manage your site certainly makes things easier, but one of the darker sides of WordPress, in terms of site speed, is the amount of extra code that has to be read by any selected browser. One big culprit that can negatively affect sitespeed is the presence of render-blocking javascript.

Above and below the foldRender means loading, so render-blocking javascript keeps your page from loading. Javascript files such as jQuery—which are large, and which your site is probably using—affect load times of “above-the-fold” content on sites. Think of above-the-fold as the portion of any website visible in your browser window when the site first loads.

When you’re using render-blocking javascript, the parser in your browser has to wait for each script to load before it can continue with the HTML—slowing down site load times.

Understanding your site, the requests its making, and how this affects user time is a necessity. Use Google’s Page Speed Insights to first determine whether or not render-blocking javascript is present in your site. If it is, removing or deferring it is suggested. Learn more about how to do this at Feed the Bot.

2. Consider image compression

While you might assume that image optimization means including alt text in all images on your site, that’s not exactly what we’re talking about when discussing site speed. The world of image optimization is somewhat tricky, since there’s really no “right” or “wrong” way to go about the process.

That being said, one measure that can be taken by many site owners is the compression of any images being used. Images account for a lot of information—information that has to be rendered by browsers for loading. If an image is large, lossless compression can reduce the size of the image without sacrificing quality.

Depending on how media-heavy your website is, using a compression tool can be a big help in improving site speed. How do you get started? Numerous compression plugins are available through WordPress.

Speaking of images and site speed, be mindful of how many images you are employing on any given page. Media-rich posts are well-received, but you might experience a high bounce rate if numerous images are causing your page to load too slowly. Keep in mind that user signals such as bounce rate showed strong correlation in this year’s Search Metrics findings.

3. Get rid of tracking/plugins you don’t need or useplugins

You might have caught yourself downloading and placing a digital galaxy of plugins, widgets, and tracking codes into your site. While many plugins serve a great purpose, having too many active at one time will play a large role in slowing down site speed.

Take thirty minutes and review what plugins and widgets you are currently employing, and ask yourself: “Do I need this right now?”

Each plugin adds more to the rendering process, so choose what you want and need wisely, and say goodbye to the rest.



  • image compression, plugins, render-blocking javascript, SEO, site load speed, widgets,


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