Gavin Hirst - Wednesday 17th June 2015

How important is page load speed for SEO?

Over the next few weeks we are going to be taking a more in depth look at the top ten things we learnt at SMX Sydney 2015 and delving a little deeper into some of the areas you should be focussing your SEO efforts on this year.

The first of those is page load speed and the impact this has on your rankings on Google. AT SMX, we heard from some big players in the SEO world and there was a lot of chat over the 3 days about page load speed. Gary Illyes from Google was quick to point out that although page load speed is not currently factored in to the new mobile friendly algorithm, it soon will be so we thought we would look at the benefits of speeding up your page load speed and some of the tools you can use to check and refine what you are doing.

Here’s why you need to make the improvements:

User Experience

First and foremost and perhaps something that should be at the top of your list of reasons as to why you need to improve your page load speed is user experience. If someone has come through to your site from a Google search, the last thing they want is to be waiting for the content they are clearly interested in to load. It’s really annoying and will more than likely lead to a bounce back to the SERP and a potential click for your competitor.

An interesting stat doing the rounds is that 47%* of users expect a page to load within 2 seconds and 57% will abandon if the load time is 3 seconds or more. Scary stuff and certainly worth checking how quickly your pages are loading.
Tweet: 47% of users expect a page to load within 2 secs & 57% will abandon after 3 secs via @digitalhothouse


Desktop and (coming soon) mobile rankings

We know that page load speed is definitely a factor in Google’s ranking algorithm for desktop and Gary Illyes confirmed that it soon will be for mobile. So why wouldn’t you look at improving things? There are many things that you can do to improve your page load speed. The most common thing we see are issues with images. Loading images places a huge demand on the server and the use of lots of large sized images on your site will have a huge impact on the page load speed. There are things you can be doing and tools you can use to combat this though.

And here’s what you can be doing to track and monitor improvements:

Compressing images

Compressing images is the first step you should take and you can use Google’s Developer tools to find out more about their image re-writer. Once the images are compressed, you can look to use image sprites to combine images on a page, essentially pooling the resources and presenting less content that needs to be loaded. You can add up to 10 images to CSS sprite which massively reduces the assets that are needed to load on a page. You can also use browser caching to store various resources that don’t need to load every time a user requests a page. Putting expiry dates on images that you know will come off the site on a specific date is another way of tapping into image caching.

If your site is built using something like WordPress, there are also some really great plugins that you can use to help compress your images, helping to increase page load speed like Smush which uses advanced lossless compression techniques similar to those used by the Google image re-writer.


There are a number of tools to help you check and monitor the speed of your web pages but we have found the best one of there to be Pingdom.  You do have to take the results with a slight pinch of salt as a lot of the testing is done from the US so there may be some natural lag as the request comes across to a server in NZ, however it is a pretty accurate guide. Below you can see a screenshot showing the overview for Google NZ:

Image of a screenshot from PIngdom showing page load speed

We can see that the Google landing page loads in 1.4 seconds and was tested from New York. It is faster than 82% of all websites tested but surprisingly falls outside the 1 second load time recommended by Google – this could be due to the test coming from the States. Below you can see the more detailed analysis showing the elements on the page that take the longest time to load and where they are called from. You can also see how many elements the page is calling (i.e. number of images, CSS files, Javascript etc).

Image of analysis from Pingdom showing Page Load Speed data

Google Page Speed Test

To check how Google sees your page and to get recommendations of where improvements can be made on both mobile and desktop, head to Google’s PageSpeed Insights where you can plug in any website and you will get a rating from 1-100. The recommendations are categorised into ‘Should fix’ and ‘Consider fixing’ allowing you to prioritise the work that you need to carry out. The most common things we see in here include: Reduce server response time, eliminate render-blocking JavaScript and CSS above the fold, optimise images and minify HTML but there are of course other suggestions.

So, we know how important page load speed is to rankings so if you want to talk to us about your site and where improvements can be made, drop us a line today.

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