What is Page Speed Optimization?

Businesses often put page speed optimizations on the back burner, assuming that their site speed represents their entire website performance.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.

There is a crucial difference between site speed and page speed, and it can be a deciding factor in your bounce rate and organic rank.

So what is that difference?

Site speed is the average of a sample of load times of a few pages on your site, and therefore not a very in-depth way of determining your site’s true performance.

Page speed is the loading time of a specific page on your website, or how long your content and images take to show up. Testing for each page, or particularly for your most important pages, can reveal critical weaknesses and flaws in your site’s performance.

Page speed (probably) constitutes an important ranking factor in Google’s algorithm. Not only does it play a role in ranking, it plays a role is user experience (Google might argue that “experience” and “rank” should be inextricably linked). Pages that take a long time to load can increase your bounce rate and lower the average session duration, resulting in fewer interactions and decreased conversions.

That’s why it’s very important to identify what is causing pages on your site to load slowly and to use effective tools and methods to optimize your page speed. Implementing those optimizations can improve your rankings and, through better user experience, the oh-so-important conversion rate.

Before we get into how to do that and what tools are most helpful, let’s go over the benefits.

The Payoff

Benefit #1

There are many benefits to individually optimizing each page’s speed, although one of the most obvious is for better user experience.

If you’ve clicked on a site before and it seems to take forever to load, your patience wears thin, and you’ll leave to look for a site that actually loads the answers you need. When someone immediately clicks the “back” button to leave the site, that’s a bounce, and you certainly don’t want your visitors doing that. When the bounce rate is higher, it also means people don’t spend as much time on your site, and the shorter they stay, the less likely it is that they’ll convert.

More simply put by SEO expert Neil Patel:

“The faster your site loads, the lower the bounce rate. If your site is fast, you have a better chance of ranking on Google over slow sites that drive high bounce rates.”

All of this means that a well-optimized page can lower your bounce rate, as fewer people will leave your site out of impatience. We all having our breaking points when waiting for a site to load, and according to Google, most people’s patience breaks around 2 seconds, and encourage sites to aim for “under a half second.”

Even 250 milliseconds can make the difference between leaving or staying:

“People will visit a Web site less often if it is slower than a close competitor by more than 250 milliseconds (a millisecond is a thousandth of a second).”

Kissmetrics has reported that 47% of people have an expectation of a loading time of 2 seconds or less, and 40% of people will leave if the website takes more than 3 seconds to load. In short, a website page that loads in 2 seconds can potentially keep those 40% of people who leave after 3 seconds. It’s a race against time.

When fewer people leave, they’ll spend more time on your site, and when people spend more time on your page, they’ll engage more, interact more, and view more pages. These are all (probably) ranking signals for Google, which brings us to the next benefit of page speed optimization: increased rankings.

Benefit #2

Increased page speed means an increase in the number of pages Google can crawl and index. The more pages that are indexed, the higher the chance that you will have that individual page rank.

How does that work? Google has set a bandwidth for how much they will crawl on your site in correlation with your page speeds. Longer load times reduce this bandwidth, and that decreases the number of pages Google will crawl.

What next?

Both of these benefits are interrelated. If Google can crawl and index more of your site, you have a better chance of ranking and lesser chance of a penalty, and therefore a better chance of attracting visitors. Once you attract those visitors, optimized pages serve to keep them there.

Knowing this, you’ll want to start the process of optimizing page speeds on your site. But there’s just one problem: In the process of page speed optimization, you can make simple mistakes that actually negatively affect your page speed instead of helping it.

Awareness of these common mistakes can help you avoid them, and assist you in optimizing your pages to perfection.

Common Mistakes

What are these common mistakes? There’s more than a few.

  • Image optimizations: optimizing your images isn’t a one-size-fits-all method that’s the same for every site. It can be an in-depth process that involves analysis and assessment considering different aspects, not excluding quality, pixels, encoded data and your format capabilities. One particular big no-no is text-in-images – it’s not conducive to a good user experience because you can’t select the text, zoom in on it, search it, etc.
  • Redirects: Redirects almost never look good, and usually when you have to, you use 301s. Unfortunately, although these redirects are much better than temporary redirects, if done improperly they can create multiple round-trip times, increasing the loading time of your HTML doc even before it can load your other content. When it comes to redirects—be careful. Don’t go overboard.
  • Browser Cache Leveraging: Unlike redirects, you don’t want to avoid leveraging your browser cache. Google itself advises this, as “the ability to cache and reuse previously fetched resources is a critical aspect of optimizing for performance.” Not doing this make more round trips between your server and the user, causing delays and causing data costs for your visitors, which no one likes. You can avoid that by implementing a HTTP cache, or a technique that involves storing copies of previously requested sources so that it doesn’t have to re-download from your server. Instead, it fetches the copy.
  • Hotlinks: Having Hotlinks is not a mistake, but not having them can be. Hotlinks are a form of protection to prevent the theft of your images. Hotlink protection tools are available to stop other sites linking to both pictures and files on your site. When other sites steal your images, it takes away from your bandwidth—which as we know is needed for Google to crawl as many pages on your site as possible. Having hotlink protection preserves your bandwidth.
  • Web Fonts: Web fonts are an attractive way to enhance your web design; it adds to the aesthetic and can make it easier for users to read. The problem? People often forget to optimize their web font. Unoptimized web font are render-blocking and slow down your site speed. However, when optimized, custom web fonts can actually boost your rendering.
  • Common Errors: Regardless of page speed optimizations, common errors such as 404 errors should be closely monitored and fixed as soon as found. 404 errors are a deadweight on your server and look bad to Google.
  • Forgetting to Act: Unfortunately, it’s all too common for businesses to identify page speed flaws using speeding testing tools, but forgetting or neglecting to implement the changes needed to fix those flaw. That’s only detrimental to your online success further down the line. Make Page Speed Optimization a priority, not a “nice-to-have.”

Each of these is unique to each website. Using a one-size-fits-all approach can lead to any of these common mistakes and negatively impact your page speeds and overall site performance.

The Magnificent Eight of Best Practices

It’s not enough to know about common mistakes, in order to successfully optimize your pages for optimal performance, you also need to know what you need to do and the best way to do it.

The process can be broken down into 8 target areas:

  1. Enable Compression: File compression is a crucial step in achieving good page loading speeds. Using applications like Gzip can help you compress your files, intended to reduce the size of HTML, JavaScript and CSS files larger than 150 bytes. However, be wary. Don’t use tools like Gzip on images. You need to compress those in image applications such as Photoshop because it allows you to control image quality.
  2. Minify CSS, HTML, and JavaScript: First, what exactly is minifying? Minifying means clearing away superfluous data that is unnecessary in you code—all the while not affecting how browsers process your resources. Minifying CSS, HTML, and JavaScript just means removing unneeded characters that are cluttering up your data. Doing this can noticeably increase page speeds.
  3. Reduce Redirects: Simply put, the more redirects you have, the slower your page is going to load. That means while the visitor is sitting there staring at a blank screen, your URL is redirecting, then redirecting…and hopefully not redirecting a third time. At all costs, reduce redirects and help your pages load that much faster.
  4. Remove Render-Blocking JavaScript: JavaScript can be tricky. First, you’re minifying it, then you have to remove all JavaScript that is possibly stopping your page from rendering. If you have render-blocking JavaScript, your browser has to stop and perform the script before continuing, wasting valuable time.
  5. Leverage Browser Caching: Caching involves essentially saving a bunch of data so that when someone visits your site, the browser isn’t overloaded by having to reload the entire page. Having a long-term and not short-term cache expiration date is beneficial in this aspect. A reasonable expiration date for any site that isn’t constantly changing is one year.
  6. Server Response Time: First, you need to know that in a perfect world, your server response time should be under 200s. After considering that, take into account your page resources, traffic, hosting, and server software. If you see a bottleneck in any one of those, take note and fix. Checking each source individually can help you identify the problem.
  7. Using a Content Distribution Network: Content Distribution Networks (or CDNs) are networks comprised of servers intended to evenly distribute the delivery of content. That means that your site is stored in copies kept at multiple data centers to load content faster and more reliably for your users. Using a CDN can improve your speed and user experience.
  8. Image Optimization: As referenced under common mistakes, image optimization is a big hangup for many which seems very simple at first. To simplify, don’t make your image larger than it absolutely has to be and make sure it is in the correct format. If you’re looking photographs, go JPEG – they can be compressed more easily for the web. CSS is good for template image creations and they save you load time because visitors don’t have to wait for multiple images to load.

At first all of that can seem overwhelming, but addressing the process by looking at it step by step and breaking it into tasks can save time and stress. Here is some good advice to follow from experts at crazyegg.com:

“Spend some time looking through your site’s speed test results and look for the issues that have the greatest impact on your load times. Focus on those high-impact factors and take the necessary steps to get them into shape.”

With that in mind, starting with high priorities can make the process easier and more efficient.

Get Optimizing!

Now that you know what mistakes to avoid and understand the most important elements of page speed optimization, you can get to work! Following these best practices not only results in a faster website, but a better user experience for visitors and favor from Google. Remember, each site is unique and needs to be optimized accordingly. With these benefits in mind, it’s worth making time for page speed optimizations.

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