Organic Search SEO

The Page Speed Gospel According To Google

Friday, August 16th, 2013 by Sam Osborne

It is without doubt that page load speeds can – and do – affect rankings. This has been discussed, reviewed and written up many times, but is rarely considered a top priority. At the time of the page speed algorithm launch back in April 2010, Google stated that fewer than 1% of search queries would see any impact, since then it has grown and can now make or break a website.

Page Speed Tools

At the most basic level, page speed can be improved with good housekeeping, a site with thousands of redirects can easily be affected, especially those with redirect chains. Large websites that are hosted on shared servers can also be affected so ensuring your server is suitable for your website can be key.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common errors identified when optimising page speed.

Enabling Compression

Compressing resources across the website can minimise the number of bytes that are sent to the user. This effectively means that less data has to be sent from the server and can be uncompressed at the users end quicker than sending all the data uncompressed.

Leverage Browser Caching

A web page is made up of multiple files, not all of which will require downloading every time a user visits that website. Using cache expiry dates allows for the file to be downloaded once and used multiple times upon repeat visits.

Minify JavaScript

This is something that is seen frequently among digital marketers, minifying it can save only bytes of data but this speeds up the time it takes to not only download but parse and execute the file.

Minify HTML & CSS Files

Although these are often identified separately by Google they can both be minified in a similar way. Ensuring that your HTML files are as basic and efficient as they can and that all of your styling is included in the CSS file helps make sure that the minification process is as perfect as possible.

Note: If there are two distinct sections of a website, breaking out CSS for unique areas can often ensure that on a blog post page the CSS styles for the contact form, homepage banners, tabbed documents, etc are not download. This can again speed up a website as a whole but requires a bit of quality HTML development to work correctly.

Optimise Images

This does not mean using gzip to send the image files over the network, this can sometimes increase the image file size! It instead means, upon exporting your image from the image processing software, do so at the lowest quality possible whilst retaining the images visual aesthetics.

Serve Scaled Images

Another useful piece of optimisation for images is to ensure that when you upload them to the website they are the right size for the job, uploading a 500kB image for a thumbnail is not efficient, instead scale the image so that it is the correct size and use this where required. It can often mean the difference of thousands of Bytes.

More Advanced Speed Optimisation

Smashing Mag - Phone Desktop

There are more and more complex items that are appearing as the web design becomes cleverer. Responsive websites now allow for a single site to display on multiple devices, which can lead to additional page load speed issues now that Google treats mobile load speeds as a unique ranking factor.

Eliminate external render-blocking Javascript and CSS in above-the-fold content

This can be a tricky one to get just right and ties in nicely with the deferring of JavaScript message that used to be provided. The way that most browser work means that resources, especially JavaScript, will hold open the connection to the server until the file being downloaded has executed. For CSS and HTML this is rarely and issue but for JavaScript that may take a few seconds to execute it stops the browser downloading any more required resources to correctly display the website hence increasing load speed.

Prioritize visible content

This is a fairly new item that is being included in the revised version of the Google Page Speed Insights. It identifies issues with visual loading to ensure that content above the folder is immediately available long before the remainder of the web page.

The issue can be resolved by developing a website with the above the fold content first and reducing the amount of resources required to do so, including third party widgets which on social media heavy sites can be a significant burden. For example, use jquery to load banner images rather than a clunky JavaScript file or defer the loading of social media scripts so that they are placed just before the closing </body> tag.

Improve Server Response Time

The final item that I will be including the the advanced page speed optimisation section is to do with the hardware that a website runs on. Google would prefer a server to respond to any request in less than 200ms (milliseconds) however anything over 1 second will be marked with a red flag.

This can be a tough area to identify the specific issue with as there may be an issue with databases, the application itself or slow CPUs within the server. The best course of action is to first inspect the performance data of the server, many hosting companies can provide you with this data but if not you can use an external program to get the data. Secondly, identify where the issues lay and fix the highest priorities, this may mean moving to a new hosting company or paying more for your hosting to ensure your hardware / software is upgraded. Finally, continue to monitor the servers performance following the changes being made, you may find that a simple software upgrade solves the problem.

Closing Notes

Although there are far more page speed optimisation techniques out there the above are what I have frequently been exposed too over the last year in one guise or another. If you have any great stories to tell please do leave a comment and tell the world of your success!


Share this article

About the author

Sam Osborne

Sam Osborne

Sam Osborne has worked in digital marketing for over five years and prior to joining Vertical Leap as a Campaign Delivery Manager worked as head of digital for a digital media agency.