Improve your website speed and experience SEO benefits

Are you wondering if you should invest resources in improving your website speed?    If you answered Yes, then stay tuned.  We will explain why your Google PageSpeed is an essential tool in your SEO toolbox, and what you need to use to improve the speed of your website. As a bonus, WordPress users that read the full article will get a list of best plugins to optimize your site for speed and performance. Hence you will have all you need to make your website improve its performance and PageSpeed score.

2019 is the year for website speed,  performance and lower bounce rates.

What happened in 2018 that changed the way we code websites? In summary, we can thank Google for using website speed (AKA PageSpeed) as a ranking factor in 2018 for mobile search results! Unless your business could get by without getting traffic and new business from Google search results you have already optimized your website for speed. If you have not started already, today is an excellent time to plan changes to your site with a focus on website speed and performance.

Developers and website owners are making website speed a priority!

According to Search Engine Journal, programmers ran over a billion PageSpeed Insights audits in 2018 testing over 200 million unique URLs. You can run an audit on your URLs with the same tool as well, visit Google PageSpeed Insights.    The test results are specific enough to get an estimate from a developer who can then fix your website speed issues.

Without any further ado, let’s begin!

The July 2018 website speed algorithm update from Google completely changed the landscape.

Google has made it clear; website speed and performance is a crucial element in its mobile-first index. This Google update puts to rest any remaining doubts regarding investing time and resources into making your website mobile-friendly, fast, and accessible. In conclusion, the investment is worth it, and you better start today as website speed and performance is impacting search results.

We’ve seen several warning signs for the past couple of years.

Several SEO experts have been trying to get our attention to the way things are moving. Too many webmasters decided not to listen because the SEO results of website speed did not show it 100% of the time. Google’s primary focus has been on quality content, and many significant publishers had not yet invested in performance but still ranked. However, with Google’s recent announcement, plus the fact that around 50% of web traffic in general now comes from smart devices, it would be foolish not to act quickly on the knowledge.

It’s not only about the search engine rankings: user experience is another reason to improve website speed and page loading times.

This research data suggests that an average mobile landing page takes 22 seconds to load. Now, compare it with the fact that most visitors are only willing to wait for as little as 3 seconds before navigating elsewhere. We can immediately notice a glaring problem: there is an enormous discrepancy between the average loading times and the typical user’s attention span.

Even if we completely put aside the SEO aspects. The user experience, and lower bounce rate benefits from optimizing your website speed for mobile devices are a huge deal. After all, user experience correlates with achieving a higher conversion rate, which is critical for all online business owners.

Additionally, lowering the bounce rate (which is another benefit of doing this) will make sure that a higher percentage of your visitors get to stick around long enough actually to see what you have to offer.

Page Performance, Website Speed and Optimization tools for the beginner

Fortunately, you don’t need to be a web designer or have a technical background to see what is wrong and test your website. Google provides two significant testing and automation tools that you can use to evaluate and improve website speed.

PageSpeed Insights

PageSpeed Insights analyzes the content and structure of a web page using industry standards of web design. It then makes suggestions to help make that page faster.

PageSpeed Insights is a great way to determine where you stand not only in terms of page speed but other elements of on-site SEO as well. It’s like having a top-notch SEO expert create an in-depth report for you, completely free of charge. What’s better than that? Moreover, the generated report will also directly tell you what to do to achieve a better score in the eyes of the search engines.

Check where you’re at right now. Visit Google’s page speed insights tool now and get started.

Google Lighthouse

Google Lighthouse is a suite of open-source, automated tools that are designed to help programmers improve the quality of web pages.

Lighthouse also comes as a Chrome Extension to helps make it easy to test the page you are on.

Lighthouse is proof of the importance of optimizing for website speed and performance. Google even went so far as to package its PageSpeed audit with other SEO testing tools in Chrome’s Lighthouse extension. Also though these features are rather basic, they should give you a good idea of what you should be working on to improve the on-site SEO elements of your website. And – as you might have guessed – mobile website speed is one of the things upon which the report touches.

The impact of website speed on Google’s mobile-first index is here.

Page speed is now a significant ranking factor in Google’s mobile-first index – the leading people at Google have said so themselves. The technical details of the forthcoming update are still rather much a mystery, but the conclusion pretty much draws itself: the time to start adapting is now.

Don’t get caught in the middle of website speed chaos.

Consciously deciding to be passive about it merely calls for trouble. Not only will your search engine rankings suffer because of it, but SEO service providers will also raise their prices due to a massive spike in demand in mobile-optimization for websites when the time comes. By taking an active stance and tackling the issue head-on while there’s still time to sort it all out in peace, you will achieve the following three things:

  1. receive web development services at a lower price (which is something you’re going to have to invest in at some point anyway.
  2. prevent loss in revenue due to lower rankings.
  3. enjoy peace of mind (unlike those who share a passive mentality about it)

With that out of the way, let’s focus on what you can do to improve the loading speed of your website.   Make sure your website isn’t bloated.  In technical terms, you should:

  • Optimize and minify your code.
  • Get rid of excessive javascript dependence
  • Combine the .css files into a single file (if you have more than one).
  • And aim for smaller image file sizes in general.

These changes should significantly improve the page loading times of your website.

Implement AMP on your websites (or a suitable alternative)

One of the most significant benefits of activating AMP on your website is the immediate speed boost you get from it. Couple this with the fact that most webmasters find it easy to implement, and you’re onto a surefire winner. If you prefer to use another mobile technology, feel free to do so, as there are plenty of suitable alternatives.

Switch to PHP7+

Older versions of PHP (5.2 and 5.3, in particular) are not only slower than the most recent release, but also a bit lackluster in the security department. Just by switching over to the newest version of PHP, the speed of your website should reflect it right away. A PHP upgrade is especially beneficial if you’re using WordPress as your CMS of choice.

Install and Use Performance and PageSpeed Tools for WordPress

If you’re a WordPress user like the majority of webmasters out there, there is a myriad of plugins to choose from, both free and paid. Performance and page speed testing plugins are no exception. There is an abundance of performance and page speed testing tools available. You need to pick the one you’re most comfortable working with, and upon the initial configuration, you should see an immediate effect on your website.

Getting Started with WordPress Performance and Website Speed Tools.

Before you get started, there are several critical steps that you need to take before you begin installing WordPress plugins.

  1. Back up your website first. Installing new plugins will always risk making your website crash.
  2. Create a separate staging site so you can test the changes and transactional features of your website before you roll out updates to production.
  3. Do an audit of the plugins that you already have. Many plugins have duplicate elements and can create code conflicts that will end up taking your website down. Furthermore having two plugins that perform the same function will slow down your site and make it bloated.
  4. Take a minimalist approach to install WordPress Plugins. Remove any unused, duplicate and inactive plugins.

Too many plugins can hurt your website speed and performance

Many web designers go crazy experimenting with free plugins before they settle on what they need to accomplish the functionality of the website. Many are installed, abandoned and never removed. These extra plugins will slow down and make your website bloated. Therefore you will help speed your website up by taking some time to remove all but what is required.

Start evaluating WordPress Plugins for improving your PageSpeed

Some plugins offer a comprehensive all-in-one approach.  Most plugins fall into six major categories: PageSpeed Testing, Caching Plugins, Script Optimization, Image Optimization, Content Distribution Networks / Firewalls, WordPress AMP plugins.

WordPress PageSpeed Testing Plugins

Why test your page URLs one page at a time when you can configure Google Pagespeed Insights for WordPress to automatically check all the pages on your site on a Daily, Weekly, Bi-Monthly, or Monthly basis. With each scan, the plugin discovers new pages or posts updating your reports to reflect Pagespeed recommendations and the changes made to your website.

Google PageSpeed testing plugins include only one: WordPress Plugin for Google PageSpeed Insights

WordPress Caching Plugins

WordPress uses PHP and Mysql to dynamically create pages each time a visitor comes to your website. This method is not ideal for the performance of your website because this takes a lot of RAM and CPU. To improve performance cache plugins generates static HTML files from your dynamic WordPress blog. Then when a visitor comes to your site, they see a fast loading static page.

When you make updates or create a new page or post most cache plugin recreates the static HTML. Therefore your website continues to be dynamic and changing and provide a fast loading cache of static HTML pages.

Cache plugins include: WP Super Cache plugin, WP Super Cache, Cache Enabler – WordPress Cache

WordPress Script Optimization Plugins

Most plugins in this category concatenate, minify and compress scripts and styles. They cache and expire headers, and move CSS to the page head, and scripts to the footer.

Script Optimization Plugins include: Autoptimize for WordPress, WP Performance Score Booster

WordPress Image Optimization Plugins

Images are usually the most burdensome assets weighing down the performance of a website. Plugins for image optimization can increase your  website speed resulting in better search engine rankings, free storage space, and bandwidth for your server. Image Optimization Plugins can automatically optimize new pictures that you upload as well as the images that you have already uploaded to make and keep your page load speeds down and your user engagement up.

Image Optimization Plugins include: EWWW Image Optimizer, Smush Image Compression and Optimization, Image optimization service by Optimole, ShortPixel Image Optimizer

WordPress Content Delivery Network Integration Plugins (CDN)

These plugins assist in integrating WordPress with content delivery networks like Amazon Web Services (AWS). A (CDN) stores most of your data and provides caching to reduce the load on your website. The result improves the user experience by delivering a local copy of the content from a nearby cache edge, or Point of Presence (PoP). The main benefits of a CDN are scalability, reliability, and performance. CDN Integration plugin helps you to quickly and easily integrate a CDN with WordPress. Most CDN plugins are created by and compatible with specific CDN providers. They require a CDN service and results in additional service costs.

WordPress CDN Plugins Include: Cloudflare, W3 Total Cache, CDN Enabler – WordPress CDN Plugin, Amazon AWS CDN

WordPress AMP Plugins

Several WordPress plugins automate the creation of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). AMP is a Google sponsored an open-source HTML framework that provides a method to create web pages that are fast, smooth-loading and prioritize the user experience.

WordPress AMP plugins include: Better AMP – WordPress Complete AMP, AMP for WP – Accelerated Mobile Pages, AMP

Which mobile technology are the best?

Whether you choose AMP, CDN (Cloudflare and similar), responsive web design; advice on the best approach will depend on who you ask. John Mueller, a Google web trends analyst, is careful not to endorse specific mobile technologies. It seems that all of them will not only help improve your website’s performance but also make it easier for Google to index your content.

Insight on what made 2018 the year of PageSpeed is in the February Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout video.

Google hangouts are where webmasters from all around the world get together with the leading people at Google to discuss industry trends and everything that impacts your website including page speed changes. Paying attention to what the prominent people at Google have to say on the matter also reveals a great deal on what they’re trying to accomplish. This knowledge also answers specific questions that seem to be popping up regarding mobile technologies and their implementation. Webmasters from all around the world got an opportunity to get in touch with the leading personnel at Google to discuss various SEO matters and ask them questions directly.

A lot of things they were asking had something to do with mobile technologies, speed, and performance. All of which are reliable indicators suggesting that industry professionals are paying much more attention to these SEO elements than before.

The replay is available here:

A summary of Google Webmaster Central (February 2018)

Here are takeaways from the meeting, so you don’t have to watch the entire video:

  • Using a CDN is treated the same way as hosting.  There is no harm in terms of SEO.  You’re free to use whichever provider you want for CDN.
  • If AMP is canonical, then everything is based on that.
  • In case you’re using the AMP version of a specific page. Google indexes the regular page (Non-AMP) for content needs, and the mobile version for measuring the speed (this is a crucial point to keep in mind).
  • If you’re working with limited resources, focusing on AMP is a good idea. However, it’s not the only option, and the alternatives are just as good. However, some of them may demand a more significant portion of your time than others.  With dynamic surveying, for example, you need to test that the images are there, the structured data is not missing, etc. No need to worry about this with responsive design, though.
  • You can apply AMP to the whole website or just individual pages.
  •  There’s no need to use a separate sitemap for AMP pages.

General SEO Tips from the event.

Some general points they discussed that aren’t related to the Google algorithm changes. Feel free to skip these if you’ve come here for page speed algorithm changes only.:

  • Using third-party storage for images (CDN) on your website is not problematic at all.
  • Posts are treated the same way as pages (WordPress).
  • Posting up-to-date and relevant content regularly helps build domain authority.  However you must do it all the time to keep being viewed as an authority by the search engines.
  • Having multiple domains or pages with the same content translated in other languages is usually fine.
  • Operating an active Youtube channel does not directly affect the rankings of your website. They are separate entities.
  • Organic and paid search results are treated as separate entities as well, and one has zero effect on the other.
  • Keyword density didn’t matter as much in 2018. Just make sure you mention the keyword at least once. Try your best to include the keywords that are related to that specific topic.

Conclusion: Website Speed is now an important marketing and SEO tool.

Page speed and performance now plays a more significant role in search engine ranking for Google. Have you done your best to prepare for the upcoming changes? Letting a passive attitude will risk losing the search engine rankings you’ve fought so hard to attain.

As always our team of developers, SEO, and WordPress experts are here to help. Call us at 978-851-9077 or contact us with this form.

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