Google includes something called “Page speed” in their ranking algorithm. Many are aware of this fact, but few have taken any action to find out what it means for their business or actively worked on improving their website’s response times. Today we’ll find out how an improved page load speed can improve your online business in two positive ways.
Most of the efforts around your online presence are aimed at either increasing your traffic OR improving your conversion rate.
The beauty of improving website load times is that it actually does both! You increase visitor numbers AND you improve the Conversion rate.
Since page speed is a factor in Google’s algorithm, excellent load times will improve your ranking => you get more organic traffic.
Secondly, improved page speed will give your visitors a better user experience, make them more prone to stay on your site and finish what they came for => improved conversion rates.
Often quoted research on this subject includes an Amazon study that showed a 1% decrease in sales for every 0.1s decrease in response times.
(Kohavi and Longbotham 2007)
To see how Google perceives your load times, look in Webmasters tools under the section call “Labs”. Here’s a screenshot of the results for my own site, Conversionista.com.
As you can see, Google seems to think that above 1.5 second is slow (red) and below is fast (green). I’ve been working hard lately to improve my speed, and as you can see it recently paid off.
Improving Your Website Load Times – Web Performance 101
To kick things off, start monitoring your response times using a free web site monitoring tool. I use one from a company called Apica. There are plenty of other tools; you can just Google any of the keyword phrases in this article. Whatever tool you are using, it should help you pinpoint the weakest link in your performance chain.
Many tools, such as Google’s own tool, are code and content focused. This means they will try to find components on your pages which slow down delivery. That’s a good starting point, but understand that these components might not be the most important performance factors for your site.
In my own case, the problem was something completely different. I run a pretty standard WordPress site and monitoring the data showed a seesaw pattern with big fluctuations in response times, even though the content was the same and visitor numbers very modest.
Problems of this type usually come from uneven quality in the services of the hosting provider. If you share a hosting environment with many others, your performance depends on how overall performance is handled and distributed. Since all the hosting providers have more or less the same offer on paper, there was only one way of finding out – I started to move around.
After my fifth move I finally arrived at a company where response times went down and the pattern flattened out.
The graphic shows what happened after this last move. What’s important to note here is that we’re talking about the exact same WordPress installation, yet response times are totally different.
Monitor your most important pages and functions
From your web metrics practices you know that you should focus on your most important pages, such as transactional areas like carts, checkouts and registration forms – the same goes for web performance monitoring. Make sure that your critical user experience pathways never go down or go into “hour-glassing mode”. When you’re selecting a monitoring service or tool, make sure it has the right granularity to allow you to drill down to these vital components.
Don’t suffer from widget “slowverload” (editor’s note: I’m taking credit for that new word)
Web 2.0 technologies have made it easy to share and embed. Great – But do you know how that affects your response times? Make sure you don’t embed scripts and snippets that slow down or make your site hang. It’s super easy to get carried away with blogging software like WordPress and kill your page load speed by including too many plugins.
Go pro – load test
If you’re really serious about web performance you should load test your site. This means you’ll put your site under the pressure of thousands of simultaneous users, in order to see where it breaks. A load test will pinpoint your bottlenecks and help you fix them before they cause problems for your real users.
So what now?
If you haven’t been paying attention to your Page speed, here’s a quick checklist to jumpstart your web performance efforts:
- Check Google’s take on your page speed in the Webmaster tools (“Labs” section, remember).
- Download Google’s page speed tool and install with Firefox. This will help you find problems in your code and content.
- Set up continuous monitoring of critical pages and components in order to spot problems that come and go.
- Never go to sleep. Excellent web performance is a moving target and you can’t afford to lose users to your competitors just because your site is slower.
Start monitoring today and you’ll uncover ways to improve both visitor and conversion metrics.