Website loading speed at one point was predominately server specs, basic code tweaks and using things like sprites, now this particular tactic is morphing into its own science. Breaking website loading speed down into categories such as First Contentful Paint, Time to Interactive, Speed Index, Total Blocking Time, Largest Contentful Paint and Cumulative Layout Shift often means that your website can feel fast but is inefficient.
These inefficiencies are often the core areas that catch businesses out, the viewpoints of loading speed are not relative to using the site, it’s graded against its potential, very different indeed.
I can see this section of SEO growing considerably and one of the ways I’ve tried to keep abreast with the changes is to focus on this site. For many pages, I’ve managed to achieve a 100/100 score and it hasn’t been easy: often at the cost of functionality or aesthetics such as Google Fonts.
How do I identify if my website speed is impacting SEO?
This is how many SEO experts trip up, they look at this as what needs to happen in order to improve rankings; instead, consider looking at what technology can be adopted to make your website faster. Reactiveness to website loading speed is always second to driving the best and most efficient code and methods as possible – such as the early adoption of WebP.
You can assess the current state of your website by running Google Page Speed tests, Lighthouse or third-party sites which can generate waterfalls for anything which may be problematic. You can also run crawling audits on the site but unfortunately, they often take a snapshot of some pages but can be useful for identifying things like missing elements which can impact loading speed.
How do I improve website loading speed for SEO?
Fixing loading speed is dynamic but here is a brain dump essentially of what I typically do. The first port of call is always the server, for example, this site is running high-performance spec, PHP 8.1 (the latest version at the time of writing this), and all modules and features to improve loading speed are active. If you have a dedicated server you can run the risk of having outdated hardware, providers like Digital Ocean provide scalable latest tech along with AWS.
Server location can also be key, make sure it at least sits in the country you are trying to target, having a server in Spain might not be good for UK clients.
The next port of call is always the on-site code, ensuring new technology like WebP is used, lazy loading is used, minification of assets, ensuring no files are broken or missing, deferring scripts, ensuring the minimum amount of cross-domain lookups and assessing development costs vs. reward for the Google Page / Lighthouse scoring.
I also see a vast amount of opportunity with many sites that use excessive marketing tags, especially legacy code, I’d always recommend looking at both Google Tag Manager and hardcoded tags too. The easiest way to start website loading speed is to assess what is currently running inefficiently and work on that, when you reach the milestone of having a high score, work on driving it harder with new technology. I urge all website managers and owners to not stand still when it comes to website loading speed.
How do I prevent my website from going slow?
Periodic assessments are key here, there is often new technology being introduced all the time, new versions of software and languages such as PHP. At the core of most updates is performance enhancements or stability; two key metrics for a better user experience. Alongside periodic assessment of how your website performs, I’d also consider spending time assessing what is available – if new providers or technology can be more efficient.
The last one is to regularly assess your standing with Lighthouse scores, this can be found in Google Search Console too under Page Experience, which breaks down additional areas which can influence this. This is a really hard question to nail down purely because you are being asked how do I keep up with the latest technology? You also need to contend with if a new technology is going to last the test of time. This is where you often need an expert such as myself, that can make that assessment for you.
Additional notes when it comes to loading speed for SEO
- If you are increasing the PHP version (or any other framework/language) ensure the native code you use on the site supports it. Again, sites like WordPress will often have a version update for core files which does help albeit you do have the risk of theme or hardcoded elements using legacy code.
- When it comes to images – this is a big battleground, using webp if you haven’t, I’m confident this will be the norm over the years and early adoptions will help you.
- Server logs can also show signs of an ageing site, such as 500 server errors.
- You can also get creative with videos, such as adding thumbnails with a play button, once clicked you can render the video.
- Lazy loading is your friend here too – above the fold elements to be loaded first and then the rest is optional based on scrolling behaviour, it doesn’t make sense to load all elements if all users don’t scroll.
- You can often use sites like Cloudflare (CDN) as a quick win for some elements, such as webp transition but can come at a cost. I also like their Argo service, which is very quick indeed.
- Take it easy on Google fonts and third-party software when you don’t need it.
- Also don’t underestimate the impact broken schema can have on your website loading speed too, it can also cause crawling issues; if you’re unsure what it is, here is my guide on broken schema markup.