It's no secret that in order to rank high on Google, your website needs to be quick and responsive. But with the increasing popularity of slow websites, some people are beginning to wonder if slower sites are actually penalized by Google. People often try to scrape a highly unoptimized website in order to improve their own search ranking. Doing this, people surrender optimization in favor of bloated keywords and other black hat SEO tactics.
So the question remains: Do search engines like Google really penalize slow websites? Although the answer is complicated, the quick answer is yes.
Website Ranking Factors
Google does not explicitly state that website speed is a ranking factor, but there are numerous studies that show it does play a role. In fact, website speed is part of Google's PageSpeed Insights tool, which is used to help website owners improve their website's performance.
Google uses various signals to determine website speed, they are:
- Largest Colorful Paint (LCP) - The loading time of the largest image on the website. Aim for your LCP to load in under 2.5 seconds. Google relies on this metric for loading performance.
- First Input Delay (FID) - The time when an interaction is made to when the browser can process events in response to the interaction (clicks, buttons, etc). Aim for this to be under 100ms. Google relies on this metric for interactivity.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) - You should really try to ensure content doens't move around as the website loads. CLS is a way to measure how often this happens. A score of less than 0.1 is ideal, and anything above 0.25 is really bad. The number isn't anything objective, like in milliseconds, rather a unit Google will assign based on it's testing. Google relies on this metric for visual stability.
- Mobile-friendliness - Did you know mobile traffic accounts for over half of all website traffic? Google recognizes this and gives mobile-friendly websites a ranking boost.
- HTTPS Encryption - HTTPS is a more secure version of HTTP (the protocol website use to transfer data). Google prefers websites that use HTTPS as it is more difficult for hackers to interfere with the website.
- Accessibility - You may not think about it, but website accessibility is important for ranking. Websites that are accessible to people with disabilities tend to rank higher in Google. Although the ADA does not explicitly enforce website compliance, a website owners can be sued for not being accessible. A really handy free website to check for some accessibility errors is the WAVE accessibility checker.
Fortunately for ranking on Google, they provide Google PageSpeed Insights to help website owners improve website speed and performance. If you are using Google Chrome, right click on the page you are trying to analyze, click "Inspect", and then click on the "Lighthouse" tab. This will open up a new window with website performance information. Make sure to test on both mobile and desktop versions!
Identifying a Slow Website
A website's loading speed can be determined by various factors, both on the client (the website itself) and server (what is hosting the website) end. Here are some things to look for:
- Server response time - This is the time it takes for a web server to respond to a request from a browser. The average server response time is 200ms. Anything above 500ms is considered slow. We recommend this site to check your server response time (you can also adjust for different regions)
- Number of HTTP requests - Each time a website is accessed, the browser sends an HTTP request to the server. The more requests a website has, the longer it will take to load. You can use GTMetrix's waterfall viewer to see everything loading on your website
Improving a Slow Website
Speeding up your site takes a lot of work and there is no silver bullet solution. However, here are some common ways to improve website speed:
- Reduce the size of images - This can be done by using an image compression plugin if you're using a CMS like WordPress. If you are creating your website in another way, ensure your files are compressed with a third party service before uploading them to your website.
- Enable caching - Caching allows users to store website data locally on their computer so that it doesn't have to be re-loaded each time they visit the website. Caching can be done on the server-side or client-side. You can use a plugin like WPRocket if on WordPress, or see if your hosting provider offers automatic caching services.
- Upgrade your hosting server - If you're serious about ranking and optimizing your website speed, you should not be using cheap website hosting. Cheap website hosting is often slow, unreliable, and doesn't have great customer service. We use Cloudways to host our website and we highly recommend them.
- Upgrade to HTTPS - You have to either purchase an SSL certificate or use one if it comes with your hosting to enable HTTPS on your website.
- Use a content delivery network (CDN) - A CDN stores website data in multiple locations around the world. This allows users to load website data from a location that is closer to them, which can improve website speed. CloudFlare is a popular CDN that also offers website security features. We use Bunny.net for Gold Penguin since it's fast, reliable, and affordable.
LCP, FID, CLS are really important metrics in determining page speed (more specifically for Google!). If this sounds overwhelming, aim to focus on improving your website loading performance, interactivity performance, and visual stability performance. These are all things that website users will notice and appreciate. Additionally, there are website speed tools like Google PageSpeed Insights and GTmetrix that can help you determine what needs to be improved on your website. Finally, don't forget that website speed is just one ranking factor for search engines. While it's important, there are other things you can do to improve your website's ranking like creating great content, building backlinks, and optimizing your website for mobile devices. Thanks for reading and we hope this was helpful!
If you would like a free website speed diagnostic, contact Gold Penguin today! We would be happy to help you improve your website speed and search engine ranking.