The Truth About PageSpeed For SEO

By:
Karr Fager
Published:
October 20, 2020
Updated:
October 21, 2020
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Do you need fast page speed to rank on Google?

  1. The Claim: You Need Fast Page Speed to Rank on Google
  2. Page Speed: Origins
  3. Looking at the Evidence
  4. The Truth: Page Speed Generally Won't Affect Your Rankings
  5. Is Page Speed an Indirect Ranking Factor?
  6. Why You Should Have Quick Page Speed
  7. Why It's Okay to Budge on Page Speed
  8. How to Speed Up Load Times
  9. What You Should Aim For in Page Speed
  10. The Future of Page Speed

The Claim: You Need Fast Page Speed to Rank on Google

Have you heard someone say that having a slow loading website is hurting your SEO?


It’s not uncommon to hear this. Maybe you heard this from an SEO professional who is trying to sell you on his services.


Or maybe you’ve recently dropped in the rankings, and you saw a suggestion in an SEO forum that your bad page speed is the reason you are losing website visits from Google.

Page Speed "Your Rankings Dropped"


However you heard about it, or if you’re new to the topic, I’m going to tell you the truth about page speed right here and right now.

Page Speed: Origins

What is page speed?


Page speed is a metric that determines a webpage’s loading time performance.


The page speed metric has been around for years. In fact, the metric started to gain high popularity around 2013.


There are tools available to find out how fast your website is loading. The most common tool used is Google Page Speed Insights, but there are also others like GTMetrix, and Pingdom.

Google Page Speed Insights Screenshot


It looks at metrics like how quickly the loading process takes to start, how long it takes to load 100% of your page, and how long it takes for the content to be read.


Now, let’s briefly take a step back.


Google has lots of different ranking factors that determine which websites deserve to rank high and which should not. Some people in the SEO community claim that page speed is an important ranking factor.


If this were true, it would mean that having a slow loading website will put your website at risk of not showing up high in the search results.


Is this true?


Let’s take a look at each side’s defense, and then we can come to a verdict.

Looking at the Evidence


We’ll start with what Google has to say about the issue of page speed and how it affects websites’ rankings.


John and Martin of Google answered the question of site speed in this video:

 


Question: What is the ideal page speed of any content for better ranking on SERP (search engine results page)?

martin splitt
Martin Splitt
Google Webmaster Trends Analyst
“So basically we are categorizing pages more or less as really good and pretty bad. So there’s not really a threshold in between, we are more or less, roughly categorizing the speed experience for users...But basically the recommendation I would say is make sites fast for users.”

john mueller
John Mueller
Google Webmaster Trends Analyst
“So we mostly get data from two places. On the one hand, we try to calculate a theoretical speed of a page using lab data, and then we also use real field data from users who actually tried to use those pages. And that field data is similar to the Chrome User Experience Report data.”


So if we read between the lines…


Google has basically just told us that they probably won’t downrank a website unless it has really bad site speed.


Brain Dean, founder of Backlinko, also asked the same question.

brian dean
Brian Dean
Founder of Backlinko
“Does site speed actually affect your Google rankings? …[W]e needed to take a page that was running super slowly and make it load lightning fast. ...[We] created a version of our page that was stripped down to the bare basics…[T]he actual content was 100% the same...After two weeks (of testing) the ranking for that page for my target keyword was exactly the same.”


You can see the full video here:

The Truth: Page Speed Generally Won't Affect Your Rankings

As we have just discussed, having a slow page speed can directly affect your rankings, but generally it does not unless your speed is terribly low. 

Now, if you do have a really slow loading website, it absolutely could hurt your rankings.

So that’s it, we’ve discovered the truth that page speed doesn’t matter?

Not so fast.

Up until this point, we have discussed page speed as a direct ranking signal.

There are two questions that remain:

  • Is page speed an indirect ranking factor?
  • Are there other reasons to have a fast loading website?

Is Page Speed an Indirect Ranking Factor?

There is much confusion among the SEO community about which ranking factors are most important.

The reason for this, I believe, is because of direct vs. indirect signals.

An indirect signal is a chain of events:

Event A happens, which causes Event B to happen, which causes Event C to happen. So even though Event A does not directly cause Event C, it does indirectly cause it to happen through the chain of events.

Indirect Ranking Factor Chain

Page speed is one of those indirect ranking factors.

Here’s what I mean…

Google likes it when users spend lots of time on websites. If Google notices that users are spending lots of time on your website, Google is more likely to rank your website higher.

This means that if users enter your website, and then leave right away, your website could lower in the rankings.

If your site speed is low, then users may not want to sit around and wait for it to load.

Think about it.

Have you ever entered a website and got frustrated that it wasn’t loading fast enough, so you left?

We all have!

And this is the reason why page speed is an indirect ranking factor.

Having a slow website may not directly cause your rankings to lower. However, because your website is slow, that causes users to leave your website right away, which then causes you to lose your rankings.

Why You Should Have Quick Page Speed

With the information we just covered, we know that page speed is important.

There are two reasons you should have quick page speed:

  • It makes users happy
  • Better rankings

Even if site speed had nothing to do with your rankings, you would still want to improve it.

Why?

It’s common sense. You want your customers to be happy, right?

I can’t think of anything more frustrating on websites than waiting around all day to let it load. It’s awful.

Having a quick page speed keeps your users happy.

And, as we discussed in the last section, it will help your rankings out.

Why It's Okay to Budge on Page Speed

The goal is to have a high quality website with quick page speed.


However, sometimes having a high quality webpage means adding pictures, videos, and code to it.

The issue is...

Images, videos, and code will slow down your website. There’s really no way around it.

So our only two options now are:

  • Lessen the quality of the web page by removing the media and code.
  • Worsen the page speed by keeping the media and code.

In lots of circumstances, it may be okay to substitute site speed for overall quality.

Here’s an example:

When I was building my website, I had a decision to make. I could either add animations to it and risk decreasing the page speed. Or I could leave the animations out and keep my page speed super high.

In this case, the most important point to get across to potential clients is that I can make great looking websites.

So it makes sense that I’d be willing to have a little lower page speed while substituting a smidge of page speed.

Let’s look at another example.

If you were a bowling ball seller, and you created a “List of the Best Bowling Balls on the Market”, you’d probably have a lot of pictures in the guide, right?

You’d also add a few videos showing how the bowling balls perform in different oil conditions (sorry, I have a bowling background).

Naturally, these things will slow down the page. That’s okay as long as users can still smoothly navigate the article!


How to Speed Up Load Times

With that being said, we always want to keep page speed in mind.


Here are some ways you can speed up load times:

  • Compress images


There are lots of tools available to compress images.


In my opinion, the best way to compress images is using Adobe Photoshop. It has an option to save images for the web.


You can also use an online compressor like this one.


WordPress also has plugins that can compress images after uploading, although I’d rather have full control of this, so I compress before uploading.

  • Remove unneeded redirect chains


If you have internal links on your website that point to old web pages, you can redirect them to get rid of the “redirect chain”.

  • Lazy load images


Most CMS platforms should have this feature by now. Lazy loading allows the images to wait until you scroll down to them to load, so the images lower down on the page don’t slow down the initial loading of the top of the page.

  • Purchase better hosting


You can use a CDN or just straight up use a better hosting service to speed up your load times.

  • Minimize CSS and Javascript


Minimizing these files can reduce unnecessary portions of your code and cut down on loading times.

  • Migrate your website to Webflow (sorry, I had to put that in there)


If you currently use WordPress, unfortunately, you are at a disadvantage when it comes to page speed. WordPress has a lot of code that can hurt page speed. It’s as simple as that. Webflow has cleaner code.


What You Should Aim For in Page Speed


What should our goal be for page speed? Should we aim for 75/100? 50/100? 100/100?

Page Speed Results from Pingdom


Each website is different, but here are two things you should do:


Test out your website. Yes, seriously, just test it out.


Is it slow? Do you have to sit and wait a few seconds for it to load? Try it on your phone. Have your friends or business partners test it out. Ask you customers.


Who cares what a computer says if your customers say something different.


Next...


Look and see what your competitors have for page speed. Unless you are way below them, you should be just fine.


Google can’t downrank everybody, right!


Remember, a quicker page speed is not always better. In fact, it could even hurt your rankings if it means you have to reduce the media on your page.


The Future of Page Speed

Coming in 2021 are new metrics called Core Web Vitals.

Core Web Vitals
Core Web Vitals Graphic From Backlinko


You can see how your web pages are stacking up to these metrics right now by looking in Google Search Console.


Simply put, these metrics are measuring how your website performs while loading. Once they officially go live, these metrics will be used as ranking factors. The question is, how big of a ranking factor will they be.


Google has been using page speed as a ranking signal for “some time” (Google’s words, not mine).


They have rolled out several updates in the past telling webmasters to speed up their websites. And what has happened?


Not much.


I’m not saying that this new update won’t have any impact, because I’m sure it will.


What I am saying is that, as long as your website has decent page speed, you should not see your rankings drop.


I won’t give a threshold or target number you should aim for, because, again, this depends on your competition and the current SERP status.

About the Author:
Karr Fager
Karr is the owner and digital marketer of Digital Red Panther, providing sleek online marketing services for small business.
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