I have an 8-year-old, and if you’re a parent, you probably know the game “Would you rather.” Here’s how I play “Would you rather” with our clients: I ask them, “Would you rather have a fast website or sell stuff?”
As a marketing and branding agency that offers website development services, we often make choices about website features that help companies sell better but go against a lot of what you may read about page speed on the internet. In my experience, page speed isn’t necessarily as important as some SEO firms say it is.
Here’s how page speed affects Google mobile search rankings, straight from the folks at Google:
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“The ‘Speed Update,’ as we’re calling it, will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and will only affect a small percentage of queries. It applies the same standard to all pages, regardless of the technology used to build the page. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a slow page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.”
What holds true for mobile sites is by default true for desktop sites as well.
No matter what you read online, Google is the one that makes the rules, so listen carefully to what the company says and how it applies to your business.
Page Speed Vs. Content That Converts
There are many factors that can contribute to a slow website. They include hosting, the theme you choose and the number of plug-ins you use. Some of the factors, such as image size and whether you have streaming video, ads and social feeds on your site, can slow down your website but help increase your conversion rates. Think about the websites you like best — I bet that they all have a big banner image or video.
Faster is almost always better, of course, but before you make a decision about changing your site, understand that there’s a balance to find between speed and great content, and often companies choose conversion over page speed. If you plug some big-name websites into Google PageSpeed Insights, a tool developers use to gauge page speed, you may notice that many of them have lower scores (both on their mobile and desktop versions). A site that scores under 50 is considered slow, while 50-89 is considered average and a site that scores over 90 is considered fast.
Increasing Page Speed
If you do want to speed up your site, here’s what we recommend: Have your developer pull reports from tools like Google PageSpeed Insights and GTmetrix to establish a baseline for your site speed. They’ll assign your site a score and identify opportunities to increase page speed. Some of these fixes are expensive, and some are simple and cheap. Then, have your developer focus on these six areas in order of effectiveness and cost, and after each stage, pull another report to see where you are.
1. Server/Hosting Configuration
Make sure you’re on a speedy host — one that uses the latest software, hardware and solid-state drives (SSDs). Some hosts say they use SSDs for caching, but don’t let this fool you; you may need a host that uses SSD for everything. Also, make sure that your plug-ins are configured to get as much benefit as possible out of their infrastructure. Your developer or host can help you with this.
2. Image Optimization
Optimize the images on your site so that they have the best possible ratio of size to quality. Since big images sell better, this means that you may want to compress them. Most of the time, this compression isn’t even noticeable to the average person. We’ve found that images that are 1400 pixels on the largest side and about 100 to 200 kilobytes are the sweet spot. There are inexpensive plug-ins that can do this for you.
3. Page, Browser And Server Caching
This creates a static HTML page from the dynamic code that’s generated by popular content management systems like WordPress, Shopify and Magento. This code is saved and loads very fast, which leads to faster and better performance of your website. There are plug-ins that do this too.
4. CDN Integration
A content delivery network (CDN) basically increases page speed by hosting images and video on a separate server, which takes the load off your hosting resources. Many hosts have partnerships with leading content delivery networks that you can use for free, and I recommend starting there. If needed, you can upgrade to paid services later.
These last two steps are potentially expensive, so I recommend taking them only if needed:
5. Plug-in Cleanup
You likely chose plug-ins because you needed them. So if you have a lot of plug-ins, increase your server resources first. Ask your host whether they have more robust plans. In general, hosting is cheap, and going this route can save you a lot on development costs. That said, often plug-ins have overlapping functionality. If you’re still experiencing problems, assess and remove redundant plug-ins and install one or two alternatives.
6. Theme Modifications
Your theme (this is what determines how a website looks and functions when using a content management system) may be loading unnecessary assets, which can increase the number of requests made when loading a page and slow it down. Ask your developer to manually eliminate code or libraries that are used to do simple tasks and to manually write efficient alternatives. This can require a skilled developer and take a long time, which can be expensive.
Next time an SEO company tells you that you have serious problems with the speed of your website, don’t panic or jump immediately to expensive fixes. First, look at your sales and check whether you’ve had any complaints from customers. Compare your website to others and see whether it really is slow. Online tools that gauge page speed are just that — tools. They’re not people, and people buy your products and services.