Making page load speeds sexy
Page load speed is one such unsexy SEO issue which is starting to gain wider attention. Only last week on the bigmouth blog, Blair Walker wrote about the importance of optimising page load speeds and looked at the great Site Speed tools available in Google Analytics, while back in November 2011 my tech team colleague Gerry wrote on the same subject, partly in response to Alex Graves’ post Google Page Speed Optimisation is a Waste of Time.
While it’s great to see this issue getting the attention it deserves, Alex Graves’ point of view (the essence which is that “dedicating huge amounts of time to battle against the statistics […] is time that could be better spent elsewhere”) is probably common to a lot of website owners. So just how do you make a convincing case for a potentially expensive list of seemingly pedantic tweaks?
I’m alright, Jack
In my opinion, the first hurdle is to dispense with the “it looks all right to me” fallacy. It’s true that for most, if not all of the websites I regularly work on which have speed issues, clicking around a few pages on the site would seem to contradict the information coming from Google Webmaster Tools. But for most large commercial websites, it simply isn’t possible to get a meaningful sense of typical user experiences by simply following a few likely user journeys.
It’s not about rank
Every self-respecting SEO nerd now knows that Google use page speed as a ranking factor, but they also know that the “site speed signal” is at best a minor ranking factor for a tiny fraction of sites. But working towards snappy page load times isn’t principally about ranking, it’s about creating a pleasing user experience which, assuming the rest of your SEO ducks an in a row, can have far reaching results.
Show me the money
All well and good so far, but we still haven’t quite arrived at that “compelling business case” I was lamenting the absence of. Blair’s article last week referenced one of the better known pieces of research (from Akamai) on what site speed means to a site’s users, but as one client pointed out to me, impassioned pleas for faster sites from a company that earns its crust selling speed solutions for websites have to be regarded with a degree of circumspection.
Lucky for us, then, that Shopzilla’s VP of Engineering, Phil Dixon, was kind enough to share some detailed insight into his mission to get his site’s page speed under control.
Phil presented data showing that having reduced page load times from an average of 4-6 seconds to 1.5 seconds, conversion rates increased by between 7 and 12% (depending on product), page views increased by 25%, and SEM performance for the UK rocketed by 120%. Not only that, but costs related to serving their content was also reduced as a result of improved performance.
Granted, what Shopzilla did was a big undertaking and, as Phil Dixon concedes, it can be hard to retrofit an existing site to perform like a site built from scratch with speed high on the priority list. But what Shopzilla’s work shows is that speed most definitely makes a measurable difference to all manner of important metrics, and with ever more crowded and competitive markets, it’s fair to suppose that any effort spent on faster pages is far from wasted.
Have you got any speed related success stories? Do you plan to slap some go-faster stripes on your site? Or do you think the speed thing is an expensive SEO cul-de-sac? Let us know what you think!