One factor our agency pays close attention to is page load times and overall website performance. Not all brands are sure why this matters, or if they should work to improve page load speeds if resources could be spent elsewhere.
However, page loading times directly affect SEO rankings, and are becoming an increasingly important factor in today’s high-speed internet world. Here’s why it can make such a difference, and why no website today can overlook speed when making improvements.
Google and Others Are Always Analyzing Loading Times
The Google Search Engine algorithm is a mystery to many – on purpose, since Google keeps the 200-odd factors behind its ranking system hidden from direct examination. But there are clues to how they work, and sometimes the company drops big hints when the algorithm is being changed in a specific direction. Back in 2018, one of those hints announced that Google rankings would start using mobile page speed as a factor to rank sites, making it an official part of SEO.
The page speed analysis applies equally to all sites, no matter how the site is built or hosted. In theory it’s designed to only “punish” the very slowest websites, but the last thing brands want is for their sites to suffer as a result.
Speed Is About to Affect Ranking More Directly
Google took an additional step in 2020 to expand page speed and similar metrics to apply to all websites on any devices, which will directly impact ranking. The updated algorithm, set to go into effect in May 2021, will look at overall load times, website responsiveness, and visual stability as new factors to judge user experience. In other words, it’s never been more important to review your website speeds and fix any problems!
Page Speed Impacts Visitor Behavior – Immediately
One study has found that the average on site speed is about 8.8 seconds on desktops. That’s astoundingly poor, especially for retail shops: Around 1 in 4 visitors will leave a site that takes more than four seconds to load, and 46% of visitors won’t go back to a site they feel performs poorly. Website bounce rates start at an average of 7% or so with a load time of one second, and by the time loading times reach eight seconds, bounce rates have shot up to around 60%. That’s a lot of missed opportunity and shows why Google has taken such an interest in loading speeds.
Results are Even More Dramatic on Mobile
Online visitors are impatient and will often abandon a website if speeds don’t match their expectations. That can be a problem, especially for older websites or sites that were designed years ago and haven’t been updated since. But the problem is even more intensified in this mobile first world.
First, keep in mind that that mobile load times tend to be much worse than desktop load times because of a lack of mobile optimization: The average webpage takes more than 87% longer to load on mobile vs. on desktop. However, mobile has surpassed desktop as the most popular way to browse the internet and make buying decisions, so it’s arguably even more important to a brand than desktop performance.
Even worse, user expectations on mobile are much higher than on desktop – people use their mobile devices to save time, and they generally expect lightning-fast loading times as a result. Google’s research has found that if a mobile page takes three seconds to load, you’ve already lost nearly a third of mobile visitors. By the time a mobile page reaches five seconds to load, 90% of the visitors have already left.
Page Speed Expectations are Constantly Shifting
There are a lot of studies on speed metrics and user expectations, but Google warns that expectations change over time due to new Internet speeds. Back when the internet connections were slower, people were more willing to forgive a few seconds here and there for site load times. But as the internet has grown speedier and more accessible, user expectations have shifted – and will continue to shift – towards shorter load times and faster response.
Loading Speed Isn’t Just About the First Page
For online retailers in particular, load speeds matter throughout the website. A visitor shopping for a variety of products may look past a slower load time if they can immediately get to product listings and start adding items to their shopping cart. But when every product page and tool is slow to load, it’s much more likely that potential buyers will leave out of frustration and never return. That means it’s not enough to have your home page load quickly – page loading times need to be optimized on all parts of the website.
Keep in mind that you can check your loading speeds on any web page by using Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool.
Final Word: Optimizing for Page Speed
The good news is that there are many ways to optimized website speeds and avoid SEO problems, from changing code or website elements to cutting down on data-heavy content and choosing more streamlined web designs. If you’d like help with any of these aspects or want to analyze your website performance in greater depth, contact Blue Atlas Marketing today to start this important conversation!