SEO is a varied field, with it sometimes seeming like there’s hundreds of things for webmasters to consider and take care of when it comes to making sure their website ranks well in search engine results pages (SERPs). Yet one of Google’s most recent updates has sought to prioritise user experience (UX) over just a pure content focus, shifting attention from what it is people publish online to how they publish it.
Website load speed is just one of the on-page factors that those managing a domain need to consider; and it is important. If you haven’t yet invested time and effort into monitoring and improving load speed on your business’ website, now is the time.
What is Website Load Speed?
Website load speed is the speed at which a web page’s content takes to load wholly on a user’s device. In technical terms, it refers to the time in which each page’s content is downloaded from its hosting server and displayed in a user’s web browser.
Generally speaking, ‘heavier’ content such as high-definition photos and videos take longer to download and so add to this time, lessening the site load speed. However, there are also other factors at play and the coding behind a site’s aesthetics can also impact heavily on this efficiency.
Why is Website Load Speed Important?
Just as offline, users prefer a fast online experience to a lagging one. Websites that take a long time to load are likely to be abandoned by the user and its conversion rate to be lower, as they instead look to find content elsewhere online that’s more efficient for them to use.
There’s lots of good examples of load speed impacting on business success. Salesforce company Mobify found that decreasing their homepage’s load time by just 100 milliseconds resulted in a 1.11% improvement in session-based conversion. Supermarket giant Walmart improved their page load time by one second and experienced a 2% increase in conversions, and retailer AutoAnything found a 13% sales increase by cutting their page load time in half.
A poor website load speed can therefore impact heavily on a business’ competitive advantage, and bottom line performance.
How Does Website Load Speed Affect SEO?
Since 2018, Google has prioritised site load speed as a factor that contributes to SEO performance. Through an update that introduced on-page components known as Core Web Vitals, it has become a critical component of SEO effort.
There are three Core Web Vitals that Google sets standards for to rank well on SERPs. These are:
- LCP (Largest Contentful Paint); the loading performance of the page’s main or ‘heaviest’ content. This should be less than 2.5 seconds
- FID (First Input Delay); a measure of interactivity. This is the time that it takes before a user can provide input to the site and should be less than 100 milliseconds
- CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift); visual stability. This indicates that the layout should be visually stable and should rank at less than 0.1 shift.
All of these elements impact site load speed – and the longer the time it takes to load, the poorer the Core Web Vitals will perform. This makes site load speed a more critical component of SEO than ever.
How Does Site Load Speed Affect UX?
The way in which website load speed impacts UX should seem fairly obvious, as the concept is basic. The faster a website loads, the better the UX will be as the more satisfied the user is likely to be with their involvement on it.
A user is more likely to search around a website that loads quickly to find exactly what they’re looking for, and to convert as a result. If a user can’t load a page, they won’t be able to navigate the site and are likely to click off and go elsewhere for what they want.
How to Easily Check Website Load Speed
The easiest way to check website load speed is to access it from a range of different devices and browsers and see how quickly you perceive it to be. If it feels inefficient to you, it likely does to all users, and improvements should be sought to be made.
There are a variety of load speed checking tools online that can give exact speed figures, but it can be difficult from these to judge what the benchmark for the site is and what the speed should be.
What Should Website Load Speed Be?
There is no one set figure that all websites should abide by, and although Google provide guidance for the LCP, they don’t set standards for everything; or at least, not that are publicly provided.
According to Portent, who carried out a website load speed study in 2019, a 0-4 second load time is the best for conversion rates; with the first five seconds having the highest impact on conversion rates.
Generally speaking, the faster a website loads, the better.
How to Increase Website Load Speed
There’s a variety of actions businesses can take to improve their website load speed, without compromising on the quality it provides for users. It is advisable to consult with an SEO specialist to understand how best to do this – and not just to pay for server upgrades and downgrade picture quality that may make minimal improvements or end up costing more than the value they provide.
The Difference Between Mobile and Desktop Site Load Speed
Load speed varies between devices and on mobiles can take longer if a website isn’t mobile responsive.
Where a site is mobile responsive, it will adapt its formatting to the browser on which it’s being viewed; providing a great UX even on smaller screens. It is imperative that businesses invest in an improved website load speed for both their mobile and desktop sites in order to provide great service for all users.