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August 22nd, 2018
John Millington
Performance Director

Why is page speed important? It’s simple – customer reach.

As marketeers we look at all the channels available to us to see how we can be maximising reaching the right customers as well as building up brand awareness.

When it comes to Google there are critical technical considerations that will help us reaching customers. You’ve probably seen posts and articles around page speed and how this impacts both usability and ranking.

You can actually break this down into three facets, each is important as the other but it’s important to understand the implications of each one.

By breaking these down you can understand the impacts, which are not just around ranking across mobile and desktop.

Throughout the piece we’ve referenced Google but other search engines are available but obviously, the majority of search traffic runs through the Google engine.

When referring to ranking metrics, these are the changes and signals that Google uses to determine what score it will assign for a specific action.

Google’s ranking algorithm is a complex beast considering 1000’s of elements when deciding where you will appear for a specific keyword or phrase, in this article we focus in on page speed but these are only a small part of the overall mix, with domain authority, customer interaction, citations and technical SEO also playing a key part.

We break them down into the following areas:

Perceived

This refers to the user experience side of things, as it straddles both search ranking implications and user experience is arguably the most important to consider.

Perceived is how the page loads and which elements load in first – progressive page load. This point is really important as you can have quite a weighty page with lots of rich content but as long as when a customer first hits your page on mobile or desktop they see essential content above the fold (in their field of vision) load quickly or ideally is perceived as instant.

Google are calling this the “First Contentful Paint (FCP)” and are actively measuring when a user sees a visual response from the page.

There are a various stats around dropouts, bounce and exit rates, especially on mobile due to waiting for something to appear and not just seeing a white screen while content is being pulled together by the web application.

So how do we address this?

We look at which elements of a web page are loaded first, is it the formatting of the page? Or is it the colours, blocks or styles holding core content like headings and images such as logos or hero images?

The hierarchy of what is loaded in first should be considered as this can then be implemented post build if required. The rest of the content can load away in the background and the customer is unaware as from their perception the page has loaded instantly.

This will certainly help with customer experience in general and the perceived instant load will help improve drop out which is a core ranking metric.

Google’s core objective is to deliver content that you want if Google sees a high bounce rate it will be considered that either the customer experience is poor or the content is not relevant – both of these will massively impact your visibility on both mobile and desktop.

Scored

This is the actual score that Google applies to your webpage, this was first introduced several years ago and the scoring metrics are always in flux as Google refines this on an ongoing basis.

Test your own page right now and find out your own score: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/

This is Google’s barometer to determine how well optimised your page is to ensure your customers have the best experience possible – this has very little do do with the overall page weight and size in Megabytes of the page, it’s more about what you have done to mitigate this.

There is a bit of a dilemma here as the scoring metrics are here to help rather than hinder in that customer experience and page speed are opposing forces.

For the ultimate page speed scores the less rich media and design the better – a raw page of content would be the best for page score and weight but the customer’s experience would be anodyne.

So these scores help focus what you need to optimise – Google actually road maps what you should do to optimise your page, some of this work is very technical but get it right and your rankings will benefit as part of your overall search strategy.

Google gives you scores for both desktop and mobile so you can monitor this respectively. Depending on what you read this can impact your ability to rank by up to 10% for a good vs. bad score.

It’s important you do not ignore any recommendations given, it’s also not about reaching a specific score as the architecture of your build will impact what can be achieved and it’s more about being aware of this and doing what you can to influence this score.

Weight

This refers to the actual physical size of your page and the issue with holding this as a core metric is that for good customer experience a customer will expect a rich experience that more than likely includes video, movement and intuitive menus – most of these come with an overhead of physically having to be loaded in.

As long as you consider perceived and scored you will mitigate the weight. Using video as an example – don’t load the whole thing into the page then play, use a streaming service like YouTube and embed your video so that way as soon as the customer downloads enough of a buffer the video will play, it comes back to that experience perceived load gives users.

While we don’t want pages to be bloated we want to ensure a rich experience for your customers. Customers that are engaged are much more likely to spend longer on your site, they’ll become returning visitors and you’ll have a lower bounce rates – all of which are positive ranking metrics.

Also considering what is right for which platform – mobile, desktop and tablet and then only loading in the element which suits the specific environment.

Summary

Ultimately it’s all about customer reach. By playing the long game you ensure customer reach and mitigate against Google penalties.

There is no doubting that page speed is a core ranking factor but if you consider the based on perceived speed, scored speed and then overall page weight in that order and ensure you optimise the experience without compromising this.

By just working on the page weight is a mistake that many people fall into, you will be best placed to take advantage of the benefits awarded by Google’s algorithm tweaks both now and in the future.

Our recommendations are don’t try to spoof Google by using Grey/Blackhat search tackSEO, at some point your rankings will be impacted by this, it’s a risk – consider organic search as a long game, understand why Google is leveraging it’s position to ensure your content reaches the right customers by being visible and you give them best on page experience possible.

Keep in mind Google’s own objectives, to deliver the best results possible – keeping the masses using their search product, it’s there in the mission statement: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Google don’t want to send visitors to websites which don’t deliver good customer experience, part of that experience is page speed, you will be rewarded with better organic brand visibility.