Site Speed as a Competitive Advantage

Site Speed as a Competitive Advantage

Site speed is becoming a critical factor in the success of a business marketing website. It has become the most important ranking factor for SEO, is strongly correlated to bounce rate, and is one of the most important user experience factors on mobile devices.

In this article I will discuss the importance of page speed, and how digital marketing is becoming an increasingly technical challenge.

Site Speed and Mobile

According to industry benchmarks published by Google, 53% of mobile site visits leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. That’s bad news because the average page load time on a mobile device is about 15 seconds.

Considering that half of overall web traffic comes from mobile there is room to grab a lot of digital attention from competitors with slow loading websites. Investment in page load speed has a positive outlook to pay dividends in current digital conditions, but when you consider that mobile traffic has been growing steadily as a percentage of overall web traffic over time, it becomes a clear choice.

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Site Speed and Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Ok, so I lied. The most important factor for search engine success is the age of your domain, but you have no control over that; which makes site speed the most important factor for search engine optimization. Your site and each page on it should load completely in under 3 seconds in order to be competitive with other top of page keywords.

The great news is that many high value keywords exist in local markets that you can rank significantly higher for just by having a fast page load time. Remember, the average mobile load time is 15 seconds. Faster is better, but under 3 seconds on average is the goal.

People are visual creatures, many of us will drive ourselves bananas over making sure our websites have top notch visual appeal, it’s easy to forget that search engines are completely blind! In fact, when Google crawls your site this is what it reads.

source code of website search engines are blind
Source code of this blog post

If you had to choose the best of 3 websites by only reading the source code above how would you be able to tell which one is better?

This is exactly the sort of question Google has to ask itself as it develops it’s search engine algorithm(s) over time and it’s why load speed is a significant factor in ranking preference given to a web page.

The Effect of Business Grade Hosting

When I first registered the Tortoise and Hare Software domain I was still working in my full time job as corporate programmer. I originally chose Go Daddy’s very common shared hosting offering. Go Daddy is known in the developer community for it’s performance problems. When my hosting contract expired this year I was able to move the website over to a business grade hosting provider. The same one that is incorporated in our web development packages. I migrated the site on January 19 of this year and there has already been a substantial uptick in search impressions and clicks due to the ranking increase from faster page loads times as illustrated below.

Business grade hosting's impact on page speed and SEO.
Business grade hosting’s impact on page speed and SEO.

Technical Optimizations For Site Speed

The are many technical optimizations that can be made to reduce the load time of web page. Most of these are invisible so you would never know whether they are in place when looking at the visual elements of a website. However, they all play a part in reducing page load time which translates to more traffic and more sales or leads over time and the ability to outrank your competitors in search engine results and mobile experience.

Bundling and Minification

There many 3rd party scripts, styles, libraries, frameworks, and yada yada yada that go into a completed website. By default these are all included as needed and individually on a web page. What this results in is a web server having to make 15, 20 and sometimes more calls to retrieve all these bits and bytes. This is a not a page speed friendly approach.

To the extent feasible you want to combine all your 3rd components into as few files as possible (bundling) and as small of files as possible (minification). This reduces the load on your web server and makes your pages load faster!

Cache to Load Faster

Caching, pronounced cash-ing refers to storing something. Think a weapons cache, or a cache of stolen goods. Well you can store certain assets such as images or even entire web pages in various quick to retrieve places so that you reduce or eliminate the need to request it from your website server and wait for them to send it back to you.

Caching is a very deep topic that can get technical pretty quickly. Just know that caching is the act of storing a component of a web page somewhere that it’s easier to send to you and show you the end web page quickly. It’s an important part of using page speed as a competitive advantage.

hare represents concept of speed on the web

Lazy Loading

Web pages are tall these days. There is a lot of content several mouse scrolls down the page that a user may not even see because they clicked on a link to go to another page. Why load it if they are never going to see it? This is the concept behind Lazy Loading and it’s a terrific way to reduce your page load times. This is especially true for sites that have high resolution images sprinkled within their content or at the bottom of their site’s pages.

Image Optimization

Most creative agencies know about the importance of choosing the right size image where it’s being displayed, but fail to consider that you can structure your code such that a different size image is shown depending on the size of the device viewing the web page!

Minimalist Design

Ever notice that market leading technology companies (who happen to be market leaders of the U.S. economy) such as Google, Apple, and Facebook extensively leverage minimalist design? Full page images on landing pages are visually appealing but make your web page very heavy in terms of size, and reduced size equals faster load times.

White or light space, with color accents and minimal images and graphics is still a recipe for success in marketing and helps tremendously with technical performance.

The Load Speed Competitive Advantage

In business it’s important to look at the competitive landscape and ask what are my points of parity, and what are my points of differentiation? Right now major search engines are making a push to serve their searchers with curated mobile friendly content that loads as fast as possible. This shift has created opportunity to seize digital market share of search engine traffic and grow your business with inbound leads.

Use the fresh attention to site speed and it’s context in a mobile friendly experience as a point of digital differentiation in your quest to connect with customers online.

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