PageSpeed Optimization: Improving your website’s loading times

In 2009, the loading speed, also called PageSpeed, was no direct ranking factor. But a fast website can lead to positive values when it comes to usability.

That way, both the bounce-rate and the return-to-SERP rate can be decreased, the number of page views per user increases, you can extend the time a visitor spends on your site and a more positive user experience can be created.

Higher click rates on the search result pages will be achieved as a result, which means that the loading time has already been an indirect ranking factor, in the past.

In addition, the PageSpeed is an increasingly important quality criteria for a website, which Google takes into consideration. Google started to analyse the page speed for websites in December of 2009 and shows this information to every webmaster in the Google Search Console.

By now, Google has officially declared the loading speed, also called website speed and PageSpeed, to be a ranking factor. That means that, now, there are no excuses anymore to keep ignoring your website’s loading speed.

Is speed more important than relevance?

Since we’re hearing a lot of talk about the implications of Page Speed, I wonder if Google still cares as much about relevancy? Or are recentness and page load time more important?

How do I optimise my website’s loading times and increase the page loading speed?

You can often gain a positive and lasting effect and increase in the website’s page loading speed by taking the following issues into account and optimising for them:

  • decrease/shorten HTTP Requests: If fewer HTTP-requests have to take place then your website will be delivered faster and completely displayed to the user. You should lower the number of external sources, such as scripts, stylesheets, and pictures that have to be loaded.
  • Only use one CSS-stylesheet: Combine all existing stylesheets into one CSS file and link to it from within the <head> area of the HTML document. Keep in mind to not use any inline styles within your HTML document anymore. This allows the caching of the CSS file, which then speeds up the delivery of your website even more.
  • Do not use inline styles as well as Java-Script: Java-Script documents and code within an HTML document should be loaded externally, just as described with the CSS stylesheets above.
  • Use CSS sprites: every time you can. This technique combines multiple pictures into one and thereby decreases the amount of HTTP requests needed for the page.
  • Optimise all pictures: Make sure that your pictures are optimised for the web. If you use Photoshop, you can simply select the dialogue “save for the web” (below the “save” dialogue). This option reduces the pictures to their optimal size.
  • Use server-side caching: This technique creates a so-called “plain HTML file” for every URL to prevent dynamic pages from having to be completely rendered again, each time the same URL is requested. Or, to put it differently: dynamic pages are parsed as a static HTML document and saved on the webserver. This can significantly reduce the loading time for that page.
  • Use the Gzip compression: This technique significantly compresses the size of your pages, which are send to the web browser. In most cases, this can save up to 70% or more of the file size.
  • Use a CDN (Content Delivery Network): A CDN enables users to download data in parallel, which, in turn, helps your website to get delivered faster. A cost-effective CDN, for example, is Amazon CloudFront or Google App Engine. Whether a free content delivery network offers acceptable speeds and service should be checked individually.
  • Reduce 301-Redirects: If possible, do not use 301-Redirects. Above all, do not point a 301-redirect to another 301-redirect (and so forth). A 301-redirect forces the web browser to access a new URL. On this new URL, the browser has to wait again until the HTTP request is received. In addition to that, the Google-Bot only follows three redirects.
  • Use a dedicated server: Most servers nowadays are located on shared hosting platforms. This means that the website is hosted on a single physical machine at your internet service provider next to a hundred (or more) other websites. This can certainly have a negative impact on the loading speed of your website. By using a dedicated server and correctly configuring your hardware settings for the traffic on the website, you can score a few performance advantages.
  • Optimise your web server: The most widely used web server worldwide is Apache. Here, it is advisable to adapt the Apache worker processes, as well as their child processes to the particular user volume and the function of the website (online shop, download site, forum, and so on).

Rate the PageSpeed

Google will measures the PageSpeed using a metric from 0 (bad) to 100 (optimal) points. To see how many points your website scores and whether there is still the need for improvement, you can use the PageSpeed Insights from Google.

Additional reasons for having fast loading times

Websites like Google, Amazon, and Yahoo have tested the influence of PageSpeed on the user behaviour in great detail:

100 ms of extra load time caused a 1% drop in sales.

– Greg Linden, Amazon

500 ms of extra load time caused 20% fewer searches.

– Marrissa Mayer, Google

trimming page size by 30% resulted in 30% more map requests.

– Marrissa Mayer, Google

400 ms of extra load time caused a 5 to 9% increase in the number of people that clicked “back” before the page even loaded.

– Nicole Sullivan, Yahoo!

It can also be observed that faster websites will, on average, receive better rankings.

Video explanation by Matt Cutts / Google on the subject

Is page speed a more important factor for mobile sites?

Is load speed a more important factor for mobile? Is it really something that can change your rankings, all the things being equal?

Presentation by Steve Souders on website speed

Steve Souders, Head Performance Engineer at Google, speaks about the website speed. Tools, evaluation, and recommendations.

Startup lab workshop: Web front-end latency

If your site is slow, you’ll see lower usage, faster bounces, and users who won’t come back. Web performance expert Steve Souders will show you tools to measure site performance, identify bottlenecks, demonstrate automated site acceleration technologies, and review best practices for making your site scream.

Further information on the subject: