Increase a website’s loading speed: the new challenge launched by Google

Speed has always been the Achille’s heel of every web campaign and the obstacle that can turn even a perfect project into failure. The page experience is now also measured by Google and is destined to play an even greater role in ranking. Let's take a look at what factors affect loading speed and how we can improve them. 

Speeding up your website: time really is money

Now more than ever speed has become the business driver, and one of such aspects was rather underestimated until a few years ago: the corporate website’s loading times. If until 2010 having a slow site was normal and did little damage, if not to the visitor’s patience and the user experience, today it has to be avoided at all costs, especially for a company focusing on e-commerce (which does not only means managing an e-store).

Page Experience is everything, especially on mobile

In fact, in the last ten years, with the growing importance of browsing from mobile devices, page loading speed has become increasingly important, becoming one of the key factors for ranking in the search results. A role that has been confirmed by the new challenge launched by Google with the algorithms introduced in May 2021 by the Google Page Experience update, making loading times and reactivity the key parameters against which it is necessary to measure.

Underestimating them and neglecting to improve website speed, especially from mobile, can potentially have devastating effects on the effectiveness of even the most refined marketing strategy, with direct impacts, as well as turnover, on:

  1. the positioning in the SERP, whose key factor is indeed speed, a focal point as well for SEO;
  2. users’ abandon rate;
  3. conversions and the cart’s final value in case of web purchase.

Speed and conversions: how are they related?

The loading speed of a website is really important for a good user experience. And it is so important that every millisecond plays a crucial role.

A few numbers would help to understand. A Google study (Google/SOASTA Research, 2017) clearly shows that there is a close relationship between loading times and bounce rate, i.e. the percentage of users who abandon the site after visiting a single page:

  • load time of 1 to 3 seconds: average bounce rate of 32%
  • loading time of 1 to 6 seconds: average bounce rate of 106%

This reality reflects ruthlessly on the quality of the user experience and as a direct consequence on the conversion rate, whatever the conversion objective of the site (sales, lead generation, etc.). Can you imagine the number of visits and conversions that could be lost for a few extra seconds of loading time? Another study by Big G tells us that:

A one-tenth of a second increase in speed translates into up to 10% more conversions and a 10% increase in cart value.

Boosting Speed and quality of your website

It is therefore clear that optimising website performance is a competitive element that can no longer be neglected and must always be kept under control with the many tools available on the Internet. But be careful: it is not enough to have a fast site, it must always be the fastest to gain positions in the SERP or not to lose the current one and better respond to the needs of visitors and therefore customers.

This does not mean that quality and accuracy of the content provided, whether articles or media, are not important. As always “content is the king”, but if the content is unreachable or not very usable it is in fact of little use if not useless. Every effective web marketing strategy and every successful SEO plan must take both aspects into consideration.

Best online tools to test website speed

Online there are several tools to perform a website’s performance test and understand if and to what extent it is necessary to intervene to reduce the loading time. Here are the main ones:

  • Google PagespeedIt is the reference tool to analyse a website speed, as it is very attentive to the parameters privileged by one of the largest, if not the main, search engines in the world. It allows you to differentiate the results between desktop and mobile browsing, and also provides recommendations for optimising the page. The speed metric is based on two values. The first one is the First Contentful Paint which essentially measures the page loading time and it is the first of the three new Core Web Vitals introduced by the Google Page Experience update. The other parameter is the DOM Content Loaded which evaluates the time needed to analyse the HTML code;
  • GTmetrix . It is a more complete tool than the previous one and allows for broader analyses, also extended to other search engines and a considerable level of technical depth. It allows you to vary the geo-localisation, or to test the performance in different countries, to compare the loading of different pages and the performance of the site on multiple browsers. At the end, it also provides a report with all the information on the assessed page. Among the various parameters considered there are some interesting and functional ones such as the Fully Loaded Time, that is the seconds needed for complete loading of the page, the Total Page Size, which evaluates the weight of the tested page, Requests, that is how many requests to the server were directed during the page load;
  • Pingdom. It does not differ much from the previous one in terms of functionality, except that it is equipped with an interface full of practical tables, effective and pleasant, increasing its usability and making it immediate and simple.

How to speed up a website

And what if the these tools would tells us that the site has problems in response times and in the loading process, in short, it is slow? …or maybe it shows improvement margins? Below you will find a short guide to optimise performance.

Let us see in detail the solutions that can help improve website speed:

  1. Choose suitable hosting services and servers
    It seems like a trivial choice and in fact many people start from the last part of the route, optimising content, overlooking the fact that the speed of transfer of a site is decided even before the hosting. Therefore, choose a provider and a quality service, considering whether to opt for a cheaper solution based on a shared server, or invest a little more in a dedicated server. There are many options and ancillary services that providers are able to offer, so take the information and time necessary to make this first important choice or consider changing.

Optimize the size of the images
Images are usually the type of content that has the greatest impact on loading times, both because of their specific weight in terms of bytes and because of their number, which is often high (e.g. e-commerce or sites with large photo galleries).

So what can be done to reduce the impact of image loading?

    1. Use images of the appropriate size, avoiding uploading images that are larger than necessary.
    2. Use formats with a good level of compression: Jpeg, png, gif or the recent Webp
    3. Providing customised images according to the device requesting them (desktop and mobile of different sizes)

3. Compress resources
Compress resources such as on-page text, CSS files, and images. Compression allows you to reduce weight and thus increase loading speed. There are many methods for doing this, one of the most popular being Gzip, a free and easy-to-use software.

4. Activate browser caching
Activating caching for browsers for those elements that are repeated on several pages saves a lot of bandwidth. The reference file remains on the user’s computer and does not have to be reloaded each time with new requests to the server, making page loading smoother.

5. Minimize CSS and JavaScript files

Minification is the process of removing all non-essential elements, such as spaces and new lines, from the code. Particularly on large JS and CSS files, this operation makes it possible to lighten their weight considerably.

6. Eliminate redirects and broken links
Drastically reducing redirects from internal links and any other resources, as well as avoiding links that do not point to any pages, lightens the load on the server and also has positive effects on SEO.

7. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
This is one of the decisive points in a strategy for optimising site speed. The CDN, an acronym that stands for Content Delivery Network, consists of a system of networked server computers that store the static elements of the site pages in a cache memory, making them available at a shorter distance than a request to the original server. In short, the CDN shortens the distance between the server and the user, and the site being consulted, reducing latency and loading times. The CDN is particularly useful for distributing larger and heavier media such as videos and other multimedia files. For sites with a large amount of content to be distributed and perhaps with an international user base, it is an indispensable tool.

Once these interventions have been carried out, it is good to check the result and later test the site. Site updates with new content could in fact significantly affect performance and require new interventions.

                          The speed of the site is not something acquired once and for all, but it must be taken care of and implemented continuously and carefully.

If speed has always been important, it is now a key competitive factor. For an online company, ignoring it does not mean becoming slow, it means being out of the game.