The Importance of PageSpeed

Remember the days of dial up? Those were simpler times, when folks had the patience to wait upwards of 120 seconds for a website to load. Those days are long gone.

These days, if your page doesn’t load within three seconds, approximately 40% of people will abandon your site. A slow site will not be tolerated, and it’s not just site visitors you have to worry about.

Slow site speed can also affect your search engine optimization (SEO). Google isn’t interested in promoting slow websites and will penalize a slow loading site by burying it in the search results. If you want to rank well in search engines and reach as many potential customers as you can, you must make site speed a priority. In fact, your site must be mobile-friendly and lightning fast.

Mission impossible?

Fortunately, it is possible to improve your site speed. In this post, we’ll look at several ways to do so. Let’s get started by understanding what PageSpeed means in the first place.

How is PageSpeed Calculated?

PageSpeed is calculated by measuring how long it takes a webpage to load all its elements and render. Bloated CSS and excessive JavaScript can contribute to a poor PageSpeed ranking.

You may be asking yourself, “What does it mean to be fast? Who decides what a fast loading speed is?”

The answer is Google. Although other search engines are important, Google is the most popular search engine on the Internet and gets to define optimum site loading speed. According to Google, a fast site loads within 4 seconds on a desktop and 3 seconds on a mobile device with a 3G connection.

As we mentioned above, loading speed is directly tied to SEO ranking. Your PageSpeed is one of the factors that Google uses to determine where your site ranks on a search engine results page. If you depend on incoming organic search engine traffic for your business, you must meet the minimum speed requirements enforced by Google.

So why does Google care about PageSpeed? Because its users care. Google wants to provide the best possible user experience, and that extends to the web pages it returns in the search results. If your site takes too long to load, it becomes an unpleasant experience for the user. Slow site speeds . Once you lose their attention, you also drastically reduce your ability to convert.

Google PageSpeed insights screenshot
Image courtesy of Google

How Fast is Your Site?

Not sure how your site measures up in terms of speed? Here’s a quick and easy way to test your various pages’ speeds, but make sure to test more than just your homepage. Different users may land on different pages so it’s important that these are optimized as well.

Ideally, your results should be green. Green indicates that your site is optimized for a fast loading experience. If your site comes up yellow, don’t fret. There are a few things you can do right away to improve your results. We’ll dive into these tips in the next section.

Remember that your PageSpeed test isn’t a one-and-done assessment. You should commit yourself to checking your site speed every quarter to make sure that everything is still loading quickly on both desktop and mobile devices. Don’t forget to test pages outside of your homepage also. Not every visitor arrives via your homepage. They may arrive on your services page or a popular blog post. These pages should also load quickly.

Tips for Increasing PageSpeed

Now that you know how fast (or slow) your site is, let’s discuss how to increase your PageSpeed.

Choose the Right Hosting Plan

Did you know that your hosting plan can affect your PageSpeed? To explain why, let’s take a look at the three most popular types of web hosting plans available: Shared, Virtual Private Server (VPS), and Dedicated.

Most users opt for Shared hosting because it’s usually the cheapest option. If you have Shared hosting, you’ll share space on a single server with other users, sometimes thousands of them. Because you share resources with all of the other users, your site is directly impacted by them. If another site that’s located on your server gets a lot of traffic, your own site may slow down as the server tries to accommodate the influx of traffic.

A VPS is a definite upgrade from a Shared hosting solution. While a VPS server is still shared, the amount of other sites to contend with are fewer. On one server, you may only have nine other users. A VPS server is split into semi-dedicated portions. You won’t be affected if another site “goes viral” and threatens to suck up the server’s resources. Each user is allotted a specific amount.

Finally, there’s Dedicated hosting, which is the most expensive option. You secure your own server. This option is great for businesses with a huge amount of site visitors (over 100,000 per month), but is likely overkill for a small to medium size business.

Shared hosting equals shared resources and shared response times. Because you’ll likely only spend a few dollars extra per month, it’s often the smarter choice to upgrade to a VPS plan.

Utilize Plugins

If you use WordPress (and chances are likely that you do), there are several plugins that can increase your PageSpeed.

Use a Cache Plugin

Cache plugins work by creating a static copy of your page. When a user calls up your page in their browser, the plugin loads the static version of the page. Cache plugins reduce load times because the server doesn’t have to process as much. In addition to site cache, there’s also browser cache and server cache. You need your site to utilize all of the different caches for maximum speed.

The most popular WordPress cache plugins are:

You can also make pages faster by only loading the essential information first.

Optimize Your Site Images

Large images can slow your site speed to a screeching halt. Compress your images without degrading quality with a plugin. Installing an image compression plugin can also ensure that all future images you upload are optimized for speed. By doing so, you’ll improve your load times.

A few of the better-known image optimization plugins are:

Also, if you plan to have multiple videos on your site, consider using a video host. Hosted video providers will hold the load of the video until it is asked for. They will also deliver the best format based on the user’s operating system. Also make sure to never have your videos set to autoplay.

A couple video hosting sites include:

Use a CDN to Load Cached Content Faster

One of the best ways to improve your load time is to opt for a CDN.

CDN is short for Content Delivery Network. Basically, a CDN is a group of geographically distributed servers. Instead of site visitors having to access your website from a single server that may be located on the opposite side of the world, a CDN delivers content to the user from the server that’s closest to them geographically.  It cuts down wait time, making your page load times faster.

A few websites that offer CDN are:

Design Your Site for How People Will Access It

Finally, consider which devices your site visitors will use to access your site. Desktop isn’t the most important consideration these days. Over half of Internet traffic comes from mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. Does your site load fast for mobile visitors?

Go here to test your site for mobile friendliness. To provide a satisfactory mobile experience, your site should include the following:
  • Links and buttons that are big enough to tap and interact with on the phone
  • Letters that are big enough to read
  • A clickable phone number for easy contact access

You will probably rank differently in search engines on mobile than on desktop, so make sure the mobile experience is friendly to real people.

Final Thoughts

Improving your site speed requires three tasks: Test your current site speed, make changes to optimize your site for page visitors on mobile and desktop devices, and continue to monitor your speed every quarter. Use the above tips to improve both speed and user experience on your site.

Heidi Stanclift

At Paragon, Heidi blends her skills in website development and project management to bring Paragon’s web projects from vision to reality. She has produced hundreds of sites for clients from around from the world — who depend on the WordPress, Drupal and Joomla platforms to manage their online business needs.

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