Remember the last time you heard the sound of a dial-up modem? It may seem nostalgic now, but in reality, it was probably followed by two minutes of not-so-patiently waiting for AOL's homepage to load. Today, users' patience for slow loading times is even less forgiving, making it imperative for modern sites to have the best page speed possible.
But what is page speed exactly, and does it really matter for SEO? The answer is an unequivocal "yes." Ahead, learn precisely what page speed entails and why it's so critical to SEO success.
What Is Page Speed?
The concept of page speed might sound straightforward enough, and in truth, it is: The faster a site's page loads, the better its speed. This includes all the page's elements, from the hero image at the top to the footer at the bottom.
In more technical (read: nerdier) terms, page speed is measured by the time that elapses between two events:
- The user's browser requesting the page from the server
- The browser fully loading and rendering the content
Things start to get more complex when considering the factors that affect page speed. For instance, these can include:
- Image and video size
- Browser- and server-side caching
- Page redirects
- The server's physical location in relation to the user
- The page's loading style
Note that page speed is entirely separate from site speed. What is site speed, then? It's simply the average loading speed of the entire site as a whole. On the other hand, page speed applies only to one specific page. So in other words, while a site's overall speed may be great, one of its individual pages can still be unacceptably slow.
Why Page Speed Matters for SEO
From a user's perspective, it's clear why page speed is important. When a page is too slow, it's inconvenient, wears down your patience, and makes you more likely to click the "back" button and try another site instead.
As it turns out, those are the exact same reasons why page speed matters for SEO, too. After all, Google's self-proclaimed goal is to "present the most helpful information in response to [a user's] query," and one of its largest recent updates focused on rewarding sites that give users the best page experience.
In short, the user experience is a big deal to Google (and all other major search engines), and page speed is a huge part of the user experience. When a page loads quickly, users get what they're looking for quickly. When it loads slowly, they get impatient and frustrated. It's that straightforward.
You don't have to take our word for it, either: Google has officially stated that page speed is a ranking factor for both desktop and mobile searches, so there's nothing up for interpretation.
Thus, page speed needs to be more than an afterthought in your SEO strategy. Instead, it needs to be a core component that's constantly being improved and monitored for the sake of both rankings and the user experience.
Page Speed Optimization: The Fundamentals
If you want to ensure that your page speed is the absolute best it can be, then you need to start implementing page speed optimization. Fortunately, it's a lot less complicated than it sounds. All you need to do to generate concrete page speed improvements is stitch together a few best practices.
To start, measure your page speed using a free tool like PageSpeed Insights — just paste in your page's URL and click the "analyze" button. You'll instantly see whether the page passed Google's Core Web Vitals assessment and receive a performance score (sorry, Twitter, looks like you have some work to do):
Next, you're ready to start creating an effective page speed optimization strategy by using tactics tailored to strengthen your site's weak spots. For example, you can:
- Utilize compression: High-resolution images and videos can have a negative impact on loading times, so be sure to reduce their size using lossless compression. Also, use lightweight file formats such as PNG or JPG, and remember to specify the dimensions of each image and video.
- Embrace caching: Both browser- and server-side caching can boost page speed by eliminating the need for users' browsers to load everything from scratch each time they visit your site. If your site is built with WordPress, you can do so easily using plugins like W3 Total Cache.
- Reduce redirects: When a user has to be redirected between several different pages before finally loading the one they originally wanted to see, page speed can be severely decreased. To avoid this, be sure to eliminate any unnecessary redirects on your site.
- Use a CDN: A content delivery network (CDN) uses multiple servers to distribute content to users across a larger geographic area. In this way, a CDN can mitigate the problem of users experiencing slow loading times due to the physical distance between them and your site's server.
- Adopt asynchronous loading: When a page loads synchronously, each of its elements are forced to load in a particular order. But when a page loads asynchronously, its elements are free to load simultaneously as they become available. So, asynchronous loading can go a long way toward improving page speed.
Those aren't all the ways you can improve your site's page speed, but they are some of the most reliable and straightforward. The more you implement, the quicker your pages will load.
And if you want your SEO efforts to pay off, then you'll also want to pursue those faster load times. Trust us — your rankings (and your users) will thank you.