For a new comer, SEO can be a very difficult subject to understand. There are so many intricacies involved that one can easily get lost. There is a term that we use in SEO called information overload. This is a term that is a reference to the fact that too much information can actually be detrimental to your SEO efforts.
So much complex information can actually intimidate a newbie from pursuing this field further. Furthermore, you find most of the blog regurgitating the same information over and over. While most SEO focused on On-Site and Off-Site SEO, they tend to forget there is an equally important subject called technical SEO.
Technical SEO is all about improving your site so that search engine can easily crawl your site. Quicksprout.com defines this as technical SEO “…is focused on how well search engine spiders can crawl your site and index your content.”
It is a well understood and well-approved idea that the success of a technical SEO lies in the website speed. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that you factor in improving your website speed in your ongoing SEO efforts.
The important of Site Speed
It is a fact that speed is a Google ranking factor. Ever since 2010, Google has gradually been factoring in the site speed as an indicator of the quality of the website.
A faster website speed can help you out in two ways:
- As mentioned earlier, it is a ranking factor. So it can give you a competitive edge in SERPs.
- Also, its real importance lies in retaining your visitors. It is a well-known fact that about 40% of the people exit the website if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.
Always think of internet traffic as very impatient. If they cannot find what they are looking for in a matter of seconds, they can easily close your website and go to your competitors. This is a huge loss for your conversion.
The longer your site takes too long, the higher is the exit and bounce rate. This is because, if your website fails to load, then exciting is the only viable option for the traffic. Many SEO is of the opinion that a higher bounce and exit rate can affect your ranking as well. It is an indicator to Google that your website is lacking in quality.
How to Diagnose your Site Speed?
Fortunately, there are plenty of tools available that can give you a detailed report about your site speed. Here are a few popular ones:
- Google Page Insights
I personally rely on two tools: Google Page Insights and GTMetrix. Google Page Insights is a tool from Google and it is the best way to gauge how Google sees your website. However, be advised that getting a perfect result on Google Page Insights is very tough.
The issue with Google Page Insights is that it is very picky. For instance, it can lower your grade even if one out of a thousand images on your website are not optimized.
GTMetrix is a tool that I use extensively. It has the widest array of metrics that it tests your website for. Here is the example of websites tested with GTMetrix.
This is what horrible website looks like in terms of site speed:
I recently improved the speed of my website Gaming Gearoid and was able to achieve the following results.
Among many other things, the following are the most important factors to take into consideration:
Page Size: The larger the page size, the longer it will take your website to load. Also, the more complex the coding your theme, the higher will be your page size.
Requests: This shows a number of external requests that your website has to make like HTTP requests. Having many plugins, for example, can lead to a higher number of requests. A complex theme can also lead to higher number of requests, which in turn can damage the site speed.
Fully Loaded Time: This is what it all boils down to. This is not just a function of how optimized your images are and how well the coding of your website is done. There is a lot more to it such TTFB (Time to First Byte).
TTFB: This is the amount of time it takes for your website to transfer the first byte of information to the user. In fact, this is one aspect that has the highest correlation in improving your ranking. You can also think of this as the server response time i.e the amount of time it took your host (Bluehost, HostGator etc) to receive the request from the user (traffic), do the calculation, and then send the first byte of information. According to Google’s guidelines for TTFB, it should be less than 200ms. This is directly related to the host that you are using.
You can find the TTFB of your website using either Pingdom or GTMetrix. Just navigate to “Waterfall” tab and look at the first request. The TTFB for my website looks something like this.
As you can see here, it is taking 155 ms for the first byte to transfer (this is much lower than 200 ms according to Google Guidelines).
How to Improve Your Site Speed
So now you know the importance of site speed, some of the terminologies that are used in understanding the site speed, and how to check it.
Now let us have a look at what you can do in order to improve your site speed.
Change Your Host
If you think improving your site speed won’t have you cost a dime, then think again. As mentioned earlier TTFB is directly related to the quality of your host. A much delayed TTFB means you are on a low-quality server on your host.
If you are serious about improving your site speed, then you have to move away from shared hosting packages. You need to consider getting something like a VPS hosting or a dedicated hosting. Yes, they can be expensive, but it is an expense that you should be willing to bear for your business.
All conventional shared hosting packages like from Hostgator, Bluehost, Godaddy, can never meet the Google TTFB guidelines (less than 200ms) for an averagely sized website. In fact, the average TTFB from shared hosting is about 500 ms this is especially true if you install an SSL certificate.
Changing your Theme
You have no idea the wonders an optimized theme can bring to your site speed. If you head over to GTMetrix you will notice a few metrics that govern the site speed.
- Leverage Browser Caching
- Inline Small CSS
- Minify CSS
- Minify HTML
- Remove query strings from static resources
- Make fewer HTTP requests
And much more. These are the recommendations that GTMetrix provides in order to improve the site speed. The fact is that these recommendations are all governed by how well the theme is made.
Therefore, getting the most complex theme is not always the way to go. Sometimes, simpler themes can also work best for you.
What If you do not want to invest in a new theme?
Well, these issues can also be resolved by adding a few plugins. However, there is a significant pitfall here. Adding more plugins, in turn, can slow your website down even further. As a rule of thumb, do not have more than 10 plugins active at a time. It increases the complexity of the website.
Therefore, I would not recommend this course of action.
There was a time when I used to utilize full-size images like 1500 x 1500 pixels and then resize them to 300×300 to fit the article. This was a huge mistake as I came to realize later on.
Images are by the far the most taxing in terms of the page size. So try to note these few pointers.
For starters, define the sizes of a thumbnail, medium, and large size images from media options in WordPress settings. Do not use a large image in a post where a medium image would suffice. You can save up a lot of kilobytes just by doing this.
Featured images should be optimized. If your site featured area is 600×400, do not post an image that is 1500 x 1200.
All of the images on your website should be compressed. You can do this with image editing software like Photoshop. I usually use Photoshop to save jpeg images with the lowest possible quality.
Finally, you must always perform lossy compression to compress the image size as much as possible. There are plugins available in WordPress for doing this job for you.
If you have sufficient money to spend on technical SEO, then you must definitely look into establishing a CDN (Content Delivery Network) for your website. Some example of excellent CDN providers include MaxCDN and this is the one that I use for my website.
CDN basically make an image of your website in various servers all across the world. This way a user only has to hop to the closest geographical server in order to receive your site. This can significantly improve the speed.
There is absolutely no doubt that technical SEO should be a significant part of your overall ranking efforts. While On-page and off-page SEO is highly important, technical SEO and improving site speed can give you great benefit in the long run.