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Six Tips for Web Performance and SEO

There’s been a lot of buzz about new and upcoming search engine optimization rules over the past couple of weeks. It seems that Google has taken a stand and made user experience and site speed a factor in how your site is ranked.

To some it may seem like a bad thing but the reality is that these new rules are going to make the user happier and give them the content they want at lightning speeds, which is what really matters.

Mobile Friendliness and Page Speed

In terms of user experience, Google announced on April 21 that they consider mobile friendliness as a ranking signal. This impacted “mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in search results.” Meaning that your site needs to be responsive.

This is having such a huge impact on some sites that are not mobile-friendly that their pages aren’t even showing in mobile search results. To help you determine what action you should take, Google has provided a mobile-friendly tool to test your website.

You Don’t Want a Slow Tag

Google is also making a stand when it comes to site speed. In February of 2015, Google was caught testing the use of a “slow label” on their search results. While Google has said that this is only in a test phase, we know that they have been taking site speed very seriously with the page speed tool they released to help pinpoint speed errors. Not to mention that the mobile friendly label began testing just a little over a year ago and is now being fully implemented.

The “slow tag” will have a huge impact on how a user chooses which site to view and will most likely have an impact on the overall ranking of your website. This really comes as a packaged deal when you start to see the logic. In 2014, we began to see that majority of surfers used mobile devices rather than PCs. Unfortunately, page sizes are still increasing as the months go on and are about to hit 2 MB for one page.

The Economics of Speed

Facebook has recently released a report where they reveal that the sweet spot for population affordability is 100 MB data plans for mobile devices. If web pages are 2 MB that means users are only able to view roughly 50 pages on the web before they start paying overage charges. We have to also keep in mind that making a page request on a 3G connection can take several seconds just to get the first byte of data back to the user’s device and that up to 40% of users will abandon a request if it doesn’t load within 3 seconds.

Add in that our page sizes are becoming close to 2 MB per page and we’ve got a big speed problem on our hands! All of this begs the question: what does Google consider “slow”? No one knows the answer, but there has been a correlation that Time to First Byte is a possible answer.

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At this point, you may have resolved to give up on ever having a high rank on Google’s search results, but fear not! There are practices we can put in place to make sure that you stand out above the rest:

  1. Use new image formats like WebP to decrease image sizes.
  2. Embrace new HTML elements such as the <picture> to responsively load a smaller image for smaller devices.
  3. Use SVGs for logos and icons when available.
  4. If SVGs aren’t a possibility move all the small logos and icons into 1 image file and use CSS to display them on the page.
  5. Make few page requests by combining multiple CSS or Javascript files in one file.
  6. Set a performance budget:
    • What is the load time? (3 seconds is a good place to start)
    • What is the page size? (1 MB means most people can view ~100 pages a month on a 100 MB/month data plan. It’s a good place to start but should likely be smaller.)
    • In that total page size how much of that will be allocated for images, fonts, javascript, CSS, etc?

There are many techniques, old and new, that we can use to decrease the site speed and create a better user experience. Remember that these type of rules for SEO are only going to increase as the Internet ages because companies like Google want to make sure that their users are getting the content they need while having a great user experience, which should also be our goal.

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About the Author
Matt Shull

Matt Shull

Matt is the Director of Labs at Aristotle and is instrumental in Aristotle’s culture of web performance. Contact him at mshull@aristotleweb.com

Matt Shull
Matt is the Director of Labs at Aristotle and is instrumental in Aristotle’s culture of web performance. Contact him at mshull@aristotleweb.com
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