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Is Site Speed Affecting Your Rankings?

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When we talk about website optimization, a lot of people tend to focus on a site’s content, meta data, and other traditional on-page SEO factors. But for some time now there’s been something else that’s just as important: site speed. That’s how fast your site loads and responds to the user. Google announced in 2010 that site speed would be a factor they take into consideration for ranking purposes:

We’re including a new signal in our search ranking algorithms: site speed. Site speed reflects how quickly a website responds to web requests.

So if you want to stay competitive online, site speed is something you have to pay attention to. If you look into the nitty-gritty about the things that affect your site’s download and response time, you’ll realize that it’s basically all about creating a “clean” site.

You want to have a site that’s not riddled with messy code and images that aren’t optimized. What can you do to ensure your site is performing fast enough? Here is a quick outline of some of the easier things you can do.

Image Formats

Images and graphics are an important part of every site. If you have a well-designed site with the right amount of images, then a user tends to stick around longer. But there are only a few types of image formats you should use online: JPG, GIF, and PNG.

The Importance of Image Optimization

Whenever you’re loading images to your site, you often need to change their size to appear how you want them to appear. But just changing an image’s size once it’s already been uploaded to your site — say, from 1,200 pixels to 350 pixels in width — only changes the way it appears. Your computer still has to load the full image before it displays it differently.

So when you change your image sizes, do it offline, in a graphics program, and THEN upload it to your site. You should also reduce the DPI (easily done in most graphic programs, even the cheap and free ones like GIMP). You can even find online tools to do this, like Pixlr.

Don’t Go Plugin-Crazy

There are thousands of plugins available, both free and paid. They can be very helpful for managing your site or for your visitors. But you don’t want to overrun your site with every shiny new plugin you come across. Not only can using an abundance of plugins slow down your site, but it’s common for plugins to have compatibility conflicts with other plugins.

Minimize HTTP Requests

This might sound like gibberish to a non-SEO person/non-coder. But it’s not hard to grasp. When a user visits your site, his or her computer has to load multiple files in order to display it. These files might be CSS files, images, flash, etc. The more files a computer has to load, the longer your website’s load time will be. So minimizing the number of files to load is important. You’d be surprised how often it’s ignored.

One common problem that’s pretty easily fixed is multiple CSS files. Do you have different CSS files for your main page, header, and other sections? If so, try consolidating them into a single CSS file that will cover everything. Put this CSS file in the head of your code to increase your site’s performance. Google talks about that here.

Broken links: They’re bound to collect over time, and if you test your site, you’re likely to find you already have some. Broken links that result in 404 errors can slow down your site, because the browser runs these pointless requests. You can use this online broken link checker to find any broken links on your site. Note: This happens a lot with images.

Is Your Hosting Good for You?

Let’s hope you took into consideration your site needs when you chose your hosting company. For instance, if you get a lot of traffic or sometimes experience huge traffic spikes, then you should be on a dedicated server.

If you simply chose the cheapest hosting available when you built and uploaded your site, then you’re probably on shared hosting. That means you’re sharing bandwidth with other sites. If you get heavy traffic, then your hosting may not keep up and this will delay your site’s speed.

But Should Site Speed be a Priority Right Now?

If your site takes more than a few seconds to load, then your rankings, your bounce rate, and more may be adversely affected. But should that be your main focus right now? While site speed is something you should pay attention to, it may not be the top priority at the moment.

If you have poor content (or barely any content at all), if your site isn’t optimized in the first place, if it doesn’t have a well-organized navigation structure, if you have poor (or no) backlinks, or if you have an abundance of pages with duplicate content … then these issues probably take precedence. Bounce rate and performance will not be telling you the true story unless you start with a well-designed site that’s optimized.

Below are some more sources to help you get your site speed optimized:

Google PageSpeed Browser Plugin

Google Webmaster Tools

SEOmoz Browser Toolbar

Web Page Test

Yslow (Yahoo’s Tool)

Conclusion

If your site is up to par and converting decently, but loading is slow and your ranking is not what you’d like it to be, then going through the above is a good start toward fixing it.

If you need help with this, we’re always here. We’ll spruce up your site, optimize it, and get you high ranking. Just contact us to get started.

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Veronica

Veronica has been writing online since 2007. She enjoys helping clients with copywriting and content needs, as well helping with SEO campaigns. Her experience ranges from helping small websites succeed with SEO and internet marketing campaigns to writing for Planet Green (Discovery Channel).

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