What SEO's Need to Know About Page Speed

by Stephanie Woods January 28th, 2010 

There has been chatter lately about Google making page load speed an important part of their algorithm. For most of you, this shouldn’t be a huge concern. Or is it? After all, it’s nothing new. Usability studies have shown time and again that web users like speed. Not the kind that is a poor lifestyle choice, but the kind that gets information to the brain as quickly as possible.

Is your site slow? Do you even know? If you’re not a 100% sure, now is a good time to check.

Why Is Page Speed Important?

From a usability point-of-view: If your pages take a long time to load, there is a good chance your site visitor will hit the back button on their browser, and click on the next relevant search result. People have a diminishing amount of patience for pages that take a long time to load these days.

From a search engine spider’s point-of-view: There is a whole lotta code for spiders to read on a web page. Reducing unnecessary chunks of code makes search engine spiders’ jobs much easier. For the sake of efficiency, it makes sense for Google to have this factor carry more weight.

Now thats a fast spider: The Ferrari Scuderia Spider 16M

Now that's a fast spider: The Ferrari Scuderia Spider 16M

Speed Check … 1… 2 …

Now back to the burning question, is your site fast enough?

To help you answer that question check out the following tools. They are all free, so you pretty much have to try at least one of them.

Google Page Speed Tool

The Google Page Speed Tool is one of the reasons there is talk lately about Google factoring page speed more seriously into the algorithm. The Google Page Speed Tool was announced on Google’s Code Blog in June 2009.

The Google Page Speed Tool is an open-source Firefox extension that gives you feedback on what is slowing down your page speed time. For the most part it’s pretty techy, so if you don’t speak fluent tech then hand the list of results to the web dev team you work with. Together you will find ways to implement the results. It’s actually a pretty sweet tool, so I recommend you give it a try.

Google Site Performance

This addition to Google Webmaster Tools is the other reason you’re seeing talk about page speed recently. Like the Google Page Speed Tool, the Google Site Performance Tool provides suggestions on how to make your site faster. According to Google, they are working “Towards the goal of making very webpage load as fast as flipping the pages of a magazine”. It also tells you how your site compares to other sites on the Internet.

When you are logged into Google Webmaster Tools, you will find the Site Performance Tool under the "Labs" tab.

YSlow

Yahoo’s Firefox plugin, YSlow, was introduced before Google’s Page Speed tool. With the future of Yahoo! being uncertain, you might not want to get too attached. In the meantime, it’s worth your time checking it out. YSlow filters results in logical chunks of information, so it is easy to read and understand.

Web Page Analyzer

This tool is really kickin' it back old school. It’s the first (and only) page speed tool I’ve used until Google and Yahoo! recently introduced their tools. The site doesn’t look like much, but it contains a lot of useful information.

What Else Can You Do?

From a web developer’s point-of-view there are a lot of things that can be done. As an SEO who specializes in marketing (and not writing code) it is up to you to provide your web development team with knowledge and information on how to implement these changes.

There have been some pretty epic teams throughout history

Go team!

It's not all completely technical though. There are things that can be done without having to have an extensive knowledge of code.

Be wary of using embedded media. Limit your use of any types of video, animation, audio or other media displayed within a web page. Say goodbye to that crazy Flash intro that nobody wants to watch anyways.

Install Google Analytics Asynchronous Tracking Code. The Google Analytics Blog announced the release of the beta version of the Asynchronous Tracking Code on December 1, 2009. The code is still in Beta, but claims to reduce webpage load time. You can simply replace your old code with the new code and keep the same Analytics account that you currently have. Make sure you read where to place the code because it goes in a different spot (top of the head section) than it currently resides (the footer).

SMBs consider changing your DNS to a Google Public DNS. Announced by Google on December 3, 2009, Google Public DNS was released as part of Google’s efforts to increase the speed of the internet. This might be a good option for sites that don’t have their own internal company server. This is still a new tactic and people are on both sides of the fencein response to this so far.

Find reliable hosting. This means spending more money for (and finding) a quality hosting provider. This is a sore spot for some people as it potentially means that large companies who can afford to pay for expensive hosting have an unfair advantage.

Lots of technical stuff with your code. I considered listing all of the steps for the technologically advanced, but realized I don’t know even enough to even fake it. Instead here’s an excellent list of articles from people who know what they are talking about:

    Google Code Blog: Web Performance (Speed) Best Practices
    Page Speed Coming to a Ranking Algorithm Near You
    SEO for Google Caffeine
    Use Google Page Speed Tool to Speed Up Your Site
    Tools to Speed Up Your Site

No matter what, having your site run smoothly, efficiently and quickly is in your best interest if you use your website to increase revenue.

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Stephanie Woods is an internet marketer living in Kelowna, BC. You can find her at her internet marketing blog or on Twitter. When she’s not helping clients achieve their online goals, you’ll find her riding her beloved snowboard any time she can.

Stephanie Woods

Stephanie Woods is a Search Specialist at Blast Radius in Vancouver, BC.

Steph Woods SEO

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9 Responses to “What SEO's Need to Know About Page Speed”

  1. Good to see such a well rounded article on this Steph. When the issue first came to light a couple months ago, I did some checking on some of my client's sites – sites that I'd previously complained to the developers about due to over-use, abuse and mis-use of all sorts of scripts and page-load drag. That's when I found pingdom and began generating reports that I now give to those developers.

    Of course they're reluctant to go back to existing sites and resolve issues, which infuriates me, but for the most part they're at least thinking about it and experimenting with new methods on new sites they're working on.
    .-= Alan Bleiweiss recently posted: Google AdWords Contact Forms – A Bad Idea =-.

    • Thanks Alan. I find that getting developers to do what an internet marketer recommends is half the battle sometimes! People want their rankings to improve, but don't want to do anything to their site to fix it. They just want you, the SEO, to wave your magical SEO wand and have them rank. But like you said, at least you're getting them to think about these things for future sites they are working on. I find that a lot of developers try to keep up with SEO, but as you know, it's a lot to keep up with sometimes.
      .-= Stephanie Woods recently posted: Stress = Productivity? =-.

  2. Nick Bentley says:

    Hey Stephanie,
    It's definitely a good idea, and I wish flash would die already. Still, the biggest corporations still use it a lot to their own peril. I use an old shareware version of Lview, and what it can do is batch compress jpeg files down quite well.
    Before making a site or doing anything I'll drag and drop all the images (with a backed up copy) and then go through the template to see if anything is looking obviously degraded. You can typically chop 30-40 percent off the size, and that's pretty noticeable. I also use as little JavaScript as possible. Usually the slowest sites are newbies who load up on free hit counters, java applets, and the like.
    I still won't skimp on photos though, they really help keep interest, especially in a long blog post to break up the text. The Google DNS service is a good idea, I ran a local DNS program which cached and it was a big speed boost for loading pages. The faster your DNS the better.
    Probably the worst offender is basic $5 a month hosting. They pack so many sites on those machines to be able to make a profit it's unreal sometimes. I really like virtual hosting, it's about 25 percent of the cost of a dedicated host, and as long as your sites aren't heavy duty MySQL monsters, it's more than enough to load 10-20 domains with good performance.

    Nick
    .-= Nick Bentley recently posted: A review of the top affiliate marketing companies. =-.

    • Thanks for the great tips Nick!

      Oh man I wish that some companies would get over their obsession with Flash as well. Some companies spend so much money on their fancy Flash animation in the first place, they are reluctant to change it.

      Good to hear your feedback on Google DNS as there isn't heaps of info on it out there yet. You should write a blog post. :)

  3. Gary says:

    It's great that Google is releasing the mod_pagespeed Apache module. At least a number of factors that can improve Website load performance will be taken care of by the new module!
    .-= Gary recently posted: Google Speed Module to help WordPress =-.

  4. Jon Wade says:

    Just viewed Marissa Meyers presentation "Seattle Conference on Scalability: Scaling Google for…" on YouTube today, and she provides an example of Google testing that possibly led to the whole page speed issue.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LT1UFZSbcxE

    About halfway in I think. Basically they provided users with more results, as that is what users said they wanted. But the response was that 20% of users left. Analysis showed page load time increased from 0.4s to 0.9s. They concluded that providing faster pages was more important to users than giving the users what they actually thought they wanted.

    I am now thinking about all those images I have added to make my site nicer for users – maybe these are in fact making it worse!
    .-= Jon Wade recently posted: Excell Communications Go Into Administration =-.

    • Ruud Hein says:

      Valid concern. Without having read/seen/heard the data and its analysis I'm still pretty sure it doesn't stand alone, doesn't act in a vacuum. Other elements are at play. Like, users who do get to do what they want on a site perceive its load time as being faster then when they don't succeed. So experience of success causes a perception of swift speed. Second, images help people establish rapport with content; if the rapport helps them connect and feel satisfied about their page visit, maybe they would describe the page as having loaded very fast?

    • I can understand where you're coming from, but there are other factors that come into play when it comes to the Google algorithm. For example, having videos embedded on your site can cause it to slow down (by not much if done properly), however, giving people the opportunity to interact with your site can increase pageview time and the number of pages viewed. Plus having images and videos rank in the search engines can help you own the SERPs for terms outside of only having your site listed. Because of Universal Search Results besides just your website listing, you could have an image, video, shopping listing, and a news article all listed on a page for a term.