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The need for speed in SEO

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012 by Steve Masters tagged ,

Fast trainSpeeding up your website may be the best thing you can do right now. All the effort you are putting into your SEO to get yourself a higher result in Google is probably great – you are writing content, achieving some nice links from other sites, being visible on social media etc. But, what if your website is slower than all your competitors’ sites? Why would Google and Bing push you high up the results?

Here’s the problem for search engines. Their job is to help us find what we are looking for very fast. If we click through to their top recommendations and those websites take ages to load, we will hit the back button to find another result. Ultimately, if the sites recommended by the search engine are all too slow, we may stop using the search engine. This is why site speed is a major factor in whether your site appears high up in results.

How do search engines measure site speed?

Google and Bing can take a number of factors into consideration when measuring site speed. Whether they do consider all of these factors or not I don’t know, but all of these pieces of information are available to the engines if they want to regard them.

  • How often do users bounce back to the search results after clicking on a link? If one website attracts clicks from search results but users routinely hit the back button, that’s a bad sign.
  • The quality of the code can be seen by the search engine spider while it is crawling the pages to index the site. Too much JavaScript and too many calls to external files, non-optimised images etc – all provide signals of a site that is inefficient.
  • File sizes – each web file has a physical size. The smaller the better.
  • Can the pages be spidered? If the search engine spider encounters problems getting through the code, this is a bad sign.

Five quick ways to speed up your site to boost SEO

Here are five things you can do to ensure your site runs faster. The more of this you can do, the better.

  1. Look for raw JavaScript code in your page source. Is the full script embedded in the source of the page? Copy it to an external file and call it in as an include. This will reduce file size.
  2. Look for cascading stylesheet (CSS) code embedded in the source of the page. This should also be in an external file and called in using an include.
  3. Get rid of any external scripts you do not need. Do you have a little widget on your site that adds no real commercial value but that does require a lot of JavaScript? Get rid of it. Keep the number of includes to a minimum – consolidate scripts into one if you can. The more external includes you have, the more your page load time slows. Also, make sure you aren’t making the browser access too many different domains to call in those includes.
  4. Optimise your image usage – set width and height dimensons in the code with your images. If the browser is told how big an image is going to be before it loads, the browser is able to render the page faster. Also, compress images for web resolution and to the right size before you upload them. Why upload a 1200-pixel photo when you are only going to display it at 400 pixels wide?
  5. Leverage browser caching – this piece of advice may be the most urgent one you see in any site speed test. Browser caching is some instructive meta data for search engines and browser programs that says how often something has to be checked for a new version. Images and scripts don’t change much, so you can include code that says, “This content can be cached and not checked for a new version for a week/month.” The more a browser can load from its own cache, the faster a page loads.

There are some other things you can do to improve site speed. Use Google’s Page Speed Insights tool to test your site and review the tips it gives you.

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About the author

Steve Masters

Steve Masters

Steve is Head of Services for Vertical Leap and its sister brands. He started professional life as a magazine journalist, working on music magazines and women's titles before becoming a web editor in 1997, then joining MSN to work purely in online publishing. Since 1999 he has worked for and consulted to a broad range of businesses about their online marketing. Follow on Google Plus and Twitter