By Ben Dahl
In 2010, Google announced that site speed would be considered in their ranking factors, but did they even need to say it? Site speed was affecting page rank and site performance long before Google gave it weight.
Think about a hypothetical site that ranks in the top three spots on Google but isn’t optimized for site speed. The content is relevant and applicable to the search, but is sluggish to load. This will direct users elsewhere. Would you wait ten seconds for a page to load? Would you even wait five?
We tested sites that rank in the top 10 positions for terms like “personal injury attorney Cincinnati” and “federal lawyer.” What we found is that, of the pages we tested, the average load time for a law firm’s website in the top 10 positions on Google is about 4.5 seconds, far slower than the 2 second attention span of the average lead. To give an extreme example, one site in a top position consistently took over 90 seconds to load. While users may not always experience the full delay and results can depend on your personal connection, it is important to remember that the Google crawlers indexing your site affect your rank as well.
So if site speed is so important, what slows pages down?
We identified a clear correlation between the number of requests a page made while being generated and load time. Requests hinder load time because they pull information that is not immediately available on the page from external sources. On the sites we tested, we found that image dimensions, file locations, page structure, and other style requests were some of the most common. These requests significantly increase load time because text and other page elements can’t render until the fixed items do.
You can imagine that crawlers are people who want to buy a product from you. The longer it takes to provide them with what they want, the less they buy. That’s because for every request a page has to make crawlers are stalling, and users are twiddling their thumbs looking at a blank or disorganized screen. The goal is to make information as accessible as possible to both users and crawlers. For example, if your website is image heavy, you should specify the image dimensions in the code or on the file. This saves a basic request and allows non-fixed page elements and the image itself to render simultaneously.
Knowing all of this, we at GNGF have been and continue to constantly research and implement solutions for our clients. You can’t remove images and text and important plugins from a site, but there are ways to improve site speed. We are currently working on implementing useful plugins and tools that can consolidate page requests and load a page in segments instead of all at once. As we continue to look for better and better solutions, it is important to note that faster technologies and a growing internet will continue to raise standards. That critical load time of two seconds will become shorter as we progress, so it is important to stay ahead of the curve now.