These days, it is imperative to have a small business website. But, simply having a website is not enough- you have to carefully design your site and maintain it regularly in order for it to be effective in gaining the attention and business of your target audience.
Last week, as part of our 10 part series, we discussed the number one characteristic of a successful small business website, having an easy to use menu.
The second most important factor in the success of a small business website is quick page load speed.
Page speed has been a ranking factor for a couple of years now and every year the importance to your site’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP) positions are only growing.
Pages that load faster, deliver content quicker and satisfy the user’s needs faster.
The metric used to determine how quickly a person will see the content has turned into a substantial indicator of the site’s overall user experience.
Lets discuss what page speed is, why it matters and theories behind page speed metrics.
What is Page Speed?
Page speed is the amount of time it takes for a web page to fully load. Measured in seconds, it’s one of the indicators of a web page’s performance, and a slow one can hurt user engagement and, consequently, business performance.
Page load time is calculated from the time you click on a link or type in a URL to the moment when all the elements of the page are displayed. To make this happen, the browser and server go through the following cycle:
- The user sends a server request through the browser. This can be clicking on a URL or a link to load a new page.
- The server processes the browser’s request.
- The browser receives data/info from the server of the requested page.
- The page’s content is processed, loaded, and displayed by the browser. At this point, the requested page is fully loaded.
Many factors come in to play when determining the web page load time of a website. Website owners/servers affect roughly 70% of these, but others such as user location, device, browser and internet connection that are beyond their control, still affect the page load time. The same web page can load differently on different browsers (e.g., Safari, Chrome) and devices (e.g., desktop vs. mobile), and in different locations.
Why Page Speed Matters
As a user, page speed matters because, faster pages are more efficient. The average attention span today is around eight seconds. If a page takes longer than three seconds to load, more than 25% of visitors are likely to revert back to their original search and try a competitor.
Page load speed also affects conversions. Amazon tested this theory and calculated that they would lose $1.6 billion annually if their site slowed down by just one second.
Search engines also place a huge emphasis on page load speed. In 2010, Google announced that it would be using page load times as a ranking factor.In 2017, it announced it would be giving page speed even more attention.
Page Speed Metrics
Page speed is a complex factor tied to website performance. To overcome issues related to it, it pays to understand how it is measured.
The Core Web Vitals are metrics that affect or relate to page speed. Let’s examine these factors,
- Largest Contentful Paint: Marks the time at which the largest text or image is painted.
- First Contentful Paint: Marks the time at which the first text or image is painted.
- Cumulative Layout Shift: Measures the movement of visible elements within the viewport.
- Speed Index: Shows how quickly the contents of a page are visibly populated.
- Total Blocking Time: Sum of all time periods between FCP and Time to Interactive, when task length exceeded 50ms, expressed in milliseconds.
Here’s a visual from Google that shows how the Core Web Vitals combine with other site factors to create the Page Experience signal:
Factors that Slow Pages Down
With these persuasive statistics, you certainly want to make sure your site is loading quickly. Take into consideration a few ways your site might slow down.
First, a heavy image page, especially on sites with responsive or high DPI images, can load slowly. Optimizing images can make your website more lightweight; so can distributing them through a content delivery network (CDN) to render those files from location closer to where the user is.
Another problem occurs if your web page has too many large files that must be downloaded.
Does your site leverage server caching of your pages. This stores copies of your web pages from a week to up to a year for less frequently updated page and can lower your TTFB (Time to First Byte).
Unused code, be it CSS, JS or other scripts left over in the page’s HTML will also increase the page load time.
Another severe problem is rendering scripts too early or too late. Often, webmasters design their pages to be consumed only after the entire content has been loaded.
However, for most users, seeing the above the fold content first is enough to start enjoying the page. This gives the browser time to load the rest of the page (all below the fold elements,) without keeping a user waiting.
Analyzing Page Speed
If you do not analyze page speed, you might not know how users are interacting with your website.
Google Lighthouse is a free, open-source extension that you can add to Google Chrome that quickly audits page performance and accessibility. This is a great tool to use for looking at core performance issues and identifying if your site’s progressive apps meet qualifications.
It’s one of the many available page speed tools available and it’s simple to run on any website.
Optimizing your page speed is an absolute necessity for your website now, and for the future. As Google continues to reward mobile-friendly and sites with a positive page experience, your page speed should be one of your primary SEO focus points. Of course, as always we can help. Just contact us today for a website audit.