As far as SEO terms go, Site Speed and Page Speed are some of the easiest to understand. They refer to how quickly your website loads: Site Speed focuses on the site as a whole, while Page Speed analyses individual pages.
Both factors are used by Google to rank sites and slow speeds can negatively affect your position. A slow site may also mean that search engines can crawl fewer pages, so they won’t even show up in search results and don’t count towards Google’s overall ranking of your site.
Search rankings aside, an unoptimised site can put customers off and prevent you making sales or gaining clients. Studies have found that more than half of internet users expect a page to load within two seconds and will leave (or bounce) if it doesn’t load within three. So an extra second of loading time may not sound like much in itself, but it could be the difference between keeping and losing a user.
Check Your Speed
The first thing you should do is check how your website is currently scoring using PageSpeed Insights. There are other tools out there, but this is Google’s own tool and so a good place to start.
Simply enter your URL, click Analyze, and wait a minute or two for your results to show. You’ll be shown your mobile score and you can switch to desktop to compare. These two results can be drastically different, as seen for the site below, with mobile often scoring lower. As Google is now wholly mobile-first, you should focus on improving this score above desktop (though many changes will affect both).
PageSpeed Insights will also give you a look at how your site is performing for Core Web Vitals, which can provide an overall indication of where improvements are needed. There will be a list of ‘opportunities’ for increasing your score, which you will probably need to pass onto your developer to implement. However, there are a various optimisations that you can do yourself.
Remember that, while you want as high a score as possible, you’re unlikely to get a score of 100. So don’t pull your hair out trying to get that perfect 100%.
SEO Optimisation for Page and Site Speed
1. Use a Fast Host
It’s tempting to go with cheap hosting, but it can play havoc with your site speed. Most cheap hosting uses shared servers, which means lots of different sites are making use of the same server. When there’s a lot of traffic to any of those sites, you can get hit with slower site speeds, particularly during high-traffic periods. Effectively, you’re risking slower speeds and downtime that coincides with when most people are trying to visit your site.
By paying a little more, you can find hosting that’s not on a shared server, can reduce your speeds, and are more likely to make sales.
2. Optimise Images
The heavier an image file, the longer it takes to load and the slower it makes your site. Fortunately, web images don’t need to be that heavy, and you can compress file sizes quite considerably without losing any visible quality.
It’s best to optimise images before you load them onto your site using a image editing programme such as Photoshop, Lightroom, or Krita (which is free). Pick the right file type for your requirements, minimise the weight of the file as much as possible, and reduce the size of the image.
If you already have a lot of images on your site, a plugin like Smush can be used to bulk compress and optimise.
For more information on this, read my top SEO tips for optimising images on your website.
3. Remove Unnecessary & Outdated Plugins
If you’re using a WordPress site, you may find that you have lots of plugins to do all sorts of tasks. While using plugins can help with customisation, provide great features for your website, and even improve site speed, they can also be detrimental. Not only can they take up a lot of load time, they can have compatibility issues with other plugins and your theme and can cause security issues.
The more plugins you have, the more at risk you are from related issues.
Take some time to do an in-depth audit of your plugins. Find out which ones aren’t being used and remove them. Then consider which of the remaining ones you are using but could maybe do without. For example, do you have two plugins that do similar but slightly different tasks? Consider picking the one that’s most useful and removing the other.
Plugins that are no longer supported, ones with low ratings, and ones that haven’t been tested with your current version of WordPress are all ones that should either be removed completely or replaced with something more up-to-date and better reviewed.
Remember to backup your website before removing plugins, particularly if you’re not 100% sure what they do.
A regular audit will help you keep on top of defunct and problematic plugins and keep your site speed up.
4. Make Use of Plugins
On the flip side, plugins can be very handy for improving site speed. I’ve already mentioned Smush for optimising images, but there are others that are very useful. A caching plugin can help reduce load speed for repeat visitors while compressions plugins will decrease file sizes.
Your developer should be able to make suggestions for reputable and effective plugins. If you don’t have a developer, do your own research and testing to see what works for your site. But always keep in mind the above information about unnecessary plugins.
5. Reduce Widgets on the Homepage
Widgets are another feature of WordPress that can be extremely useful but are also often overused. On your homepage it’s especially important to reduce how many widgets you’re using, because that’s the page that the majority of people will first land on, and therefore plays a bigger part in Google’s calculations.
While it can be tempting to have all the bells and whistles that widgets allow, consider carefully the positives and negatives for user experience, then get rid of what’s doing more harm than good.
While there are a number of steps you can take yourself to optimise your website speed, there are as many, if not more, changes that will most likely require support from your developer. Many of these require direct changes to the code of your website and, if you don’t fully know what you’re doing, you could end up ruining your site and paying above and beyond for someone to fix it for you.
The PageSpeed Insights report that you did at the start of all this can be passed onto your developer to give them an idea of what improvements are required. In particular, they should be looking at:
- Reducing redirects
- Making use of browser caching
- Using content distributing networks (CDNs)
- Analysing and improving server response time
- Optimising your database
There are a number of things that you can do yourself to make improvements to the speed of your site, but you will probably need the support of a developer to get a high PageSpeed Insights score.
Like any kind of optimisation, improving Page Speed and Site Speed is about providing a good user experience above all else. If you’re aiming for a first-page ranking on Google, improve your user experience, and you’re already heading in the right direction.