Google’s recent algorithm updates have largely focused on gaining a better understanding and insight into the queries that search users make, and as an extension, the content that best serves these users’ needs.
While high-quality content marketing and SEO strategies are a top priority for brands for this reason, it is important not to forget about the technical aspects of a website that can help to convert hot prospects and drive better returns from existing organic audiences.
Google’s recent launch of a new ranking signal addressed the balance somewhat, reminding webmasters that its Core Web Vitals and basic mobile-friendliness and safe browsing should be taken seriously.
The Core Web Vitals are directly linked to the technical quality of a website. The ‘Largest Contentful Paint’ factor, for example, determines how long it takes for the main content on a page to load. Google says that anything above 2.5 seconds “needs improvement”, while four seconds or more is “poor”.
While page speed is not a like-for-like metric for this core web vital, improving it will stand you in good stead ahead of the 2021 launch of the new ranking signal. It will also make an impact in the here and now.
A recent study by Moz found that conversion rates take a hit when page load speeds fail to live up to users’ expectations. Pages that were usable in less than one second delivered a much higher conversion rate compared to those that took five seconds or more to load. The average conversion rate for between 0 and one second was 31.79% compared to just 9.68% at five seconds.
It is easy to view this as a case between fast and slow speeds, but this is not the case.
Brands that are able to optimise their pages with “very fast” speeds of less than one second saw a 2x hike in conversions compared to pages that were merely “fast” at around two seconds. Marginal gains in speed can lead to a big uptick in meaningful metrics.
With small “wins” potentially making a big difference, you can start with basic, low-difficulty tweaks before moving on to changes that may take more effort and resources to implement.
Unoptimised images are commonly flagged as an issue when running a website audit. This is because webmasters often rely on content management systems to resize an image for a page even though this process just changes the image size and does not compress it accordingly.
Files processed in this way can still be around 30% larger than images that have been compressed before being uploaded.
Fortunately, all it takes is a simple WordPress plugin install to automatically optimise images and video before they are uploaded into an article or blog.
You can use dedicated software for this. Compressing and resizing images correctly will reduce the weight of your pages and support better page load times.
Remove unnecessary characters from code
Minification is defined as the process of making source code more efficient by stripping out the spaces within it without changing its functionality.
This will allow it to load as and when it is needed without it having a detrimental impact on the speed and functionality of your webpages. Tag managers such as Google Tag Manager are simple to operate for general staff.
The previous fixes can be quickly adjusted at the micro level. You can also broaden the scope of your page speed optimisation by making changes to your IT systems and settings.
You will probably need to consult with a professional web developer and a cloud provider, so these are definitely more of a medium to advanced difficulty level in terms of implementation.
Reduce redirects and use browser caching
Redirects can delay page rendering by triggering more HTTP request response cycles than are necessary. Google’s own ‘PageSpeed Insights’ explicitly urge webmasters to “avoid” landing page redirects as part of guidance to “make the web faster”.
You can also leverage browser caching if website resources are generally static and don’t change much over time. A third medium-difficulty tactic that you can deploy is enabling compression in Apache, though this does require server access.
Improve server response
These two final changes are the most difficult to implement but will have a high impact on your page speed times. You can improve server response time by switching to a better web hosting service and optimising databases that act as a foundation for your site functionality.
Like enabling compression, this falls into the realm of IT and will require decision-making outside of the marketing department.
Page speed is a technical factor that you should keep a close eye on even if you are publishing a regular stream of excellent content and copy on your webpages.
As Google notes: “The page experience signal measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page. Optimizing for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces, and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile.”
Faster speeds will enable you to convert in an environment where users are demanding the very best user experiences.
With the adoption of 5G and ultrafast broadband, you will need a fully optimised web infrastructure that will serve content immediately, exactly when visitors want it.