Sept. 29, 2020, 7:20 a.m.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a complex process. For the past decade, businesses are going tooth and nail to grab a spot on the first page of the search results. But when it comes to SEO, many companies focus on broad factors, like CTR, domain authority, keyword usage, and backlinking. Though these factors are essential, they take time to implement.
One often-overlooked SEO metric is page load speed. How fast your website loads has a significant impact on your site's bounce back and engagement rate. A Google study showed that every 1-5 seconds of delay in website load speed could increase the probability of bounce by 90%.
However, how exactly does page load speed affect site conversion is not clearly discussed. Therefore, we conducted in-depth research to examine the following points:
How page load speed affects website performance, like CTR, bounce rate, and conversions?
How has site speed increased over the past few years?
What factors affect the page load speed?
How to achieve the ideal load time for better conversions?
What are the best tools for optimizing site speed?
We began our research with a list of 1,500 random search queries. We selected a few representative samples of queries with high-traffic keywords from different niches, like "lose weight," "make money online," and "technology." We then extracted the top 20 ranked results from each search query, accounting for a total of 20,000 pages to evaluate.
We used the Google Chrome browser for our test and the WebAnalyzer tool for analyzing website metrics. WebAnalyzer is a free website page speed and performance testing tool that tests more than 25 different performance measurements across 15 locations.
For reference, we also considered websites like Mobify and COOK that had recently worked on their website speed.
Below, we summarize our findings on how page speed affects website performance.
Our in-depth research suggested that the top-ranking pages had a server response time of 0.1-0.4 seconds, but their page load time varied between 0.5 seconds to 3.45 seconds. Therefore, page load speed did not seem to influence the search rankings.
These findings were apparent as Google has made it clear that the quality of content remains the primary ranking factor.
However, further analysis indicated that website speed and performance significantly impacted other performance indicators, like click-through rate, traffic, and conversions.
Here's a detailed look into the research findings.
Though no statistical evidence was available on the effect of page speed on CTR, several studies conducted before have suggested an inverse association between load speed and CTR.
Our analysis on reference websites found that:
COOK reduced its average page load time by 0.850 seconds, which alleviated its bounce-back rates by 10% and reduced pages per session by 10%. It also increased conversions by 7%.
Mobify discovered a 1.11% increase in session-based conversions with every 100 ms decrease in homepage load speed.
We found that 47% of consumers expect a page to load in 2 seconds or less. Furthermore, 47% of consumers will leave a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. Therefore, page load speed had a pivotal impact on page session time and bounce-back rate.
Of all the metrics we analyzed, page load speed had the most prominent impact on website conversions. We monitored the conversion rates of the websites included in the study. The outcomes were as follows:
Pages loading in 0-2.4 seconds had a conversation rate of 1.9%.
Pages loading in 2.5-3.3 seconds had a conversion rate of 1.5%.
Pages loading in 3.4-4.2 seconds had a conversion rate of less than 1.0%.
Pages loading in more than 4.2 seconds had a conversion rate of less than 0.6%.
Hence, it can be concluded that every 2 seconds delay in your page load speed can reduce your site conversion by 1.0%. And with 2.5% being the average landing page conversion rate, a 1.0% loss is significant.
One of the biggest reasons why Google considers website speed as a major SEO metric is because of the rising standards. The site speed has increased over the last decade, mainly over the previous five years. In 2014-2015, more than 50% of websites on the web had a load time of more than 5 seconds. Now, though the average page load time remains to be around 5 seconds, 78% of website pages have a load time of 5 seconds or less.
Page speed on mobile has also decreased dramatically on mobile devices. The average page load time for mobile devices was around 26 seconds in 2015, which has reduced to 11.4 seconds on mobile devices.
These increasing standards for website load speed, along with rising user expectations, have made page load time a crucial metric for SEO.
In general, it's good to target a page load speed time of fewer than 5 seconds. But if you want to improve goal conversions on your website, try reducing your page load time to 0-4 seconds. If you rely on transaction conversions, your website should load even quicker. For transaction conversions, 0-2 seconds is an ideal target.
After conducting a thorough analysis, we discovered a few factors that can have a drastic impact on a website's load speed.
These factors include:
Your hosting company and server can have a significant impact on your website's page load speed. If you opt for a low-quality hosting, both you and your visitors are likely to suffer. The reputation of website hosts can give you a vague idea of the performance of websites hosted on their servers.
Poorly coded websites are becoming increasingly common as content management systems allow people to create websites without coding. But these websites often end up with a massive chunk of code that offers minimal functionality. As a result, the website becomes poorly coded and loads slowly.
Using too many plugins and widgets can hurt your website's load time. Website builders like WordPress offer a myriad of plugins and widget options. Many new website owners tend to overuse these features, which leads to a slower website load speed.
Hotlinking occurs when some other website hosted on a different server uses a URL from your website. The linking website uses your servers' resources, which might slow down your page load speed. So, be sure to prevent hotlinking by adding the necessary code to your .htaccess file.
Heavy multimedia elements on your webpage increase the page weight. And heavier pages can adversely affect page load times.
The loading of a web page includes various components that collectively determine the overall page load time. Let's discuss these elements in brief.
Page load time refers to two measurements: "document complete-time" and "fully rendered time." Document complete time is the time taken before a visitor can start clicking and entering data. The latter refers to the time taken before all the elements on the page, including all images and analytic trackers, are loaded. Our research found the average document-complete time to be 4-6 seconds and fully rendered time to be 7-8 seconds.
TTFB refers to the time taken by a browser to obtain the first byte of the response from a web server. This metric includes network latency of the server and the time spent by the server to generate a response. We found a clear inverse association between search rankings and median TTFB.
The page size refers to the total number of bytes required to fully render a page. It was a surprising metric on the list, but we found it significantly correlated with the search rank position. Website pages ranking higher had a smaller page size compared with lower-ranking pages.
As the multimedia size directly influences the overall page size, we analyzed image size separately. Even though heavy image content negatively impacted the page load time, it didn't seem to affect the search rankings.
As discussed, page speed may not directly influence search rankings, but it plays a vital role in user experience and website conversions. Therefore, it's essential to deploy the necessary practices to improve page load speed.
Follow these tips to achieve faster load time and better conversions:
When a page redirects to another page, the visitor waits for additional time. Make sure you eliminate any unnecessary redirects that hurt your website's browsing speed.
Server response time plays a vital role in your website's performance. Several factors affect server response time, such as traffic, resources per page, and the hosting provider. You can improve your server response time by looking for performance bottlenecks, like lack of memory and slow routing.
Several website analyzer tools are available that allow you to get insights into your website's speed and performance. Let's take a look at some of the best tools available right now.
1. Web Analyzer (Highly recommended): We highly recommended Web Analyzer. Why? First, it has a free version that offers all the necessary functionality. Second, it's powered by AI for the best results. Web Analyzer uses powerful predictive analytics and 15 testing server location to identify and fix issues on your website. It generates automated reports and alerts to make sure you stay on top of your website performance.
2. Page Speed Insights: Page Speed Insights is the original website performance analysis tool from Google. It provides you data on basic strategies that you can implement to reduce server calls and improve page load speed.
3. Pingdom: Pingdom is another page speed tool that's been out for a while. It works similarly to Page Speed Insights but providers a lot more insight into the issues and fixes.
4. GTmetrix: GTmetrix is an advanced website analysis tool that provides detailed insights into how your site is performing. It also offers automatic alerts to help you identify potential pitfalls in your website promptly.
The research conducted by Esferasoft on 60 search listings and more than 20,000 web pages reached the following conclusions:
Website page load speed doesn't directly impact search engine rankings. But it affects business KPIs like CTR, traffic, bounce rate, and conversion rate.
The average website load time has decreased from 10 seconds in 2015 to 5 seconds in 2020. Also, more than 78% of websites have a page load time of fewer than 5 seconds.
Poor and heavy coding, bad hosting, heavy multimedia usage, and hotlinking are common factors that affect website page load time.
Website owners can improve page load time by compressing website elements, optimizing code, reducing redirects, and using browser caching.
Tools like WebAnalyzer and Page Speed Insights can play a crucial role in helping website owners analyze and improve their website performance.