Slow page loading is something no website owner ever wants to deal with.
We’re often told patience is a virtue, but in the digital world, patience is a rare (or arguably, non-existent) commodity: today’s website users simply aren’t willing to wait around for content to load. And why should they?
There are all sorts of statistics which highlight the importance of speedy loading (a one-second delay in page loading causes page views to drop by 11%, for example), and as a website owner you simply can’t afford to keep your users waiting any longer than they’re prepared to.
But while the importance of page speed is clear, are you aware of the impact slow page loading can have on your traffic?
When we talk about SEO, we tend to focus on the importance of engaging, highly-relevant content, but we often overlook fundamental factors relating to the customer experience — which very much include page speed.
In fact, search engines like Google scrutinize a page’s average loading speeds when determining its search rank, so a slowly-loading page has a direct SEO impact, threatening to slash your traffic if you fail to diagnose or fix the issue in good time.
Why are my pages loading slowly?
Before we delve into how sluggishly-loading pages impact SEO, we ought to first understand why your pages might be struggling to meet the loading time requirements of search engines and your users.
Slow page loading is rarely the result of a singular issue, so it’s likely there are several factors impacting your load speeds.
Here are just some of the reasons your content might be loading at the pace of an especially nonchalant snail.
Website visitors rarely read web content in its entirety (most scan looking for key pieces of information, taking in roughly 20% of the page’s content) so images and videos provide vital visual cues: they draw the eye, convey information concisely, and add character and consistency.
In fact, investing in video can be one of the best things you can do to stand out in competitive niches (video production is particularly valuable in the Amazon world).
But if your website is stocked full of bulky, high-resolution images, videos and media files, this can significantly slow down the loading time of your pages.
Too many plugins
Popular website platforms like WordPress and Shopify allow their users access to thousands of plugins which can augment the functionality of their sites without the need for a developer.
Using these plugins can be a great way of quickly adding new features and functions to your site, but too many can increase the overall load on your pages — plus, some plugins may even interfere with caching.
Multiple HTTP requests
This can be compounded by having too many ads on your website; while this is a great revenue-boosting tactic, it’s likely to increase the number of HTTP requests and further decelerate your pages.
It’s an area that’s often overlooked, but how (and where) you host your website has a significant impact on its speed and performance.
A common issue with shared hosting (where several websites are hosted on the same server) is that traffic surges elsewhere can impact the speed and availability of your own site, whereas with a cloud hosting provider (Cloudways et al.), the load is spread over multiple, geographically-diverse servers, meaning latency is less likely to be an issue.
Another common contributor to slow page loading is unclean backend code; if you have a particularly lazy or unskilled developer, this can lead to unnecessary elements (excessive white space, inline CSS, empty new lines etc.) appearing in your website code, causing the stylesheet to bloat in size and your loading times to dramatically increase.
How does slow page loading impact SEO?
When search engines like Google assess your pages to determine their rank for particular search queries, they’re not just looking for valuable, relevant content (though this is of course an important factor); they’re also measuring the page’s overall user experience.
Many website owners overlook this, not realizing the importance of the interactivity, stability and loading speed of a page when it comes to ranking in the upper reaches of search engine results pages (SERPs) for targeted keywords.
A key component of Google’s search ranking algorithm, for instance, is Core Web Vitals, a collection of user-focused metrics aimed at providing a smooth and frictionless user experience (UX).
Core Web Vitals
Core Web Vitals measure each page’s “health” based on 3 key metrics pages that score poorly in any of these areas are unlikely to rank highly, while those with solid CWV scores will have a much better chance of appearing prominently among Google’s SERP.
The 3 areas that make up Core Web Vitals are:
- Cumulative layout shift (CLS): this metric measures the visual stability of a page; ‘unexpected’ shifts in layout create a poor user experience, and therefore will be penalized by Google
- Largest contentful paint (LCP): LCP measures the time it takes for the largest content element on a user’s screen to load; anything under 2.5 seconds is considered good, while anything over 4 seconds is cause for concern
- First input delay (FID): this metric measures the speed at which a user’s browser responds after first interacting with a page (e.g. clicking on a link), and hence is a measure of a page’s interactivity; an optimum response speed is 100ms or less
The data which feeds Core Web Vitals comes from something called the CrUX report, which gathers anonymized data about the performance of your site from the users who visit your URL.
How Does Google Use This Data?
Using this data, Google will measure each of the above elements and assign your page one of three labels based on predetermined performance thresholds:
- Needs Improvement, or
These are self-explanatory, and it’s clear that any page in the latter category will find it difficult to rank, even if its content is keyword-rich and highly optimized.
While all the elements that make up Core Web Vitals are essential ranking factors, the latter two are indisputably linked to page speed — highlighting the direct impact slow page loading can have on your site’s organic traffic.
But there’s also an indirect impact of drawn-out loading times when it comes to SEO.
For instance, dwell time (the time a user spends looking at a page before clicking back to the search results) is thought to be a ranking factor.
And any page which fails to load quickly is likely to have users clicking the back button in a hurry, leading to a shorter-than-recommended dwell time and a greater difficulty ranking your page.
How can I speed up slow page loading?
So, we’ve determined what might be causing your pages to load slowly, and how this can have a direct (and indirect) impact on your site’s ability to rank among the SERPs or Google and other search engines.
But what can you do to boost your site’s speed and, as a result, drive more organic traffic through SEO?
Run a speed test
The first step in diagnosing a slow-running page is running the URL through a speed testing tool, which will help identify the factors that are contributing to its sluggishness.
Google’s PageSpeed Insights is a good place to start, since it will not only assign your URL an overall performance score, but it’ll also pinpoint the main areas of concern.
What’s more, the tool will provide guidance on how to shave precious seconds off your loading times.
Use a CDN
CDN stands for content delivery network, and it comprises a group of geographically-dispersed servers that combine to speed up content delivery over the web.
Since speed of delivery is often linked to the geographical location of a server, a CDN boosts transfer speed and reduces latency by ensuring the shortest possible distance between a user and the website they’re visiting.
And by caching content such as images and HTML so it can be fetched as and when needed, it can deliver that content instantaneously.
As we’ve identified, oversized images are one of the most common culprits when it comes to slow page loading.
Ideally you shouldn’t be including any image files on your site that are 1MB or above, so always check the file size of your images before uploading them.
You should try to stick to JPEG files, too, rather than file types like PNG or GIF. There are plenty of tools available that can help you compress and optimize images for upload.
Upgrade your hosting
If your website host isn’t delivering fast loading speeds and reliable performance, then it might be time to ditch them and look for a new provider.
If you’re using a shared hosting solution, consider upgrading to cloud or VPS hosting.
These solutions can usually guarantee faster speeds, while they’re typically scalable — meaning you can scale resources on demand and ensure you maintain fast speeds even during periods of high traffic.
Minify your code
This will also ensure your site isn’t having to make excessive HTTP requests, which is another factor that can contribute to lagging speeds.
Scan for malware and viruses
If you’ve exhausted several angles and your pages are still running slow, there might be an underlying security issue that’s causing your site to perform poorly.
Running your site through a malware-scanning tool will help identify if this is the case, while installing robust security defenses such as firewalls and DDoS mitigation tools (many of these are offered by hosting and CDN providers) will ensure your site is protected against security threats.
By now, we hope you’ve got a better understanding of some of the reasons for slow page loading on a website, and also how this can have an impact on a site’s ability to grow organic traffic through SEO — both directly and indirectly.
If your site is suffering from sluggishly-loading pages and this is hampering its ability to rank within the SERPs of Google and other search engines, ensure you follow the steps above so you can identify and address the factors responsible — and give your website’s loading speed a much-needed boost.
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