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6 Critical SEO Tips Which You Might Have Missed

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critical seo tips

User experience is an increasingly important factor in search engine rankings, and one of the top causes of page abandonment is slow loading times. Nothing frustrates searchers more than having a page that loads slowly, Sahil Kakkar wrote in an earlier post. “If it takes 5 seconds, you click back and go to another website.”

“Google has indicated site speed (and as a result, page speed) is one of the signals used by its algorithm to rank pages,” the SEO experts wrote. “And research has shown that Google might be specifically measuring time to the first byte as when it considers page speed.” Simply put, “No matter how you measure it, a faster page speed is better. Many people have found that faster pages both rank and convert better.”

There’s a balance that must be reached between making websites rich in features and fast. In an interview with Search Engine Journal, Raven Tools co-founder Jon Henshaw said, “We’ve reached a point where people are making such slow sites that it’s ruining the web experience for a lot of us. Unless you’re on broadband, and even if you are on broadband, it might take a little while to load. You have things popping up in front of you. You’ve got videos loading and auto-playing. It’s just incredibly annoying as an end user.”

Most marketers like to focus their SEO efforts on the perceived high-value stuff. Write great content. Find the sleeper keywords that will make the phone ring. Create great titles and meta descriptions that lure visitors to their websites. That’s the fun stuff.

There are some simple, important things you can do to accelerate loading times. But they ain’t sexy. No one will notice them except you and Google. Page speed is influenced by a bunch of unsexy factors like mobile optimization, image size, code complexity, and caching technology.

Measuring Page Speed

An easy way to find out if Google thinks your page is fast or slow is to use the Google PageSpeed Insights tool. You just enter your URL and you get an immediate assessment of your page speed, what (if anything) is slowing it down, and how to fix any problems.

measure page speed

Below is an example of what you’ll see when the tool has assessed your website. Three of the unsexy fixes we’ll talk about here are among the most common reasons for slow loading times: mobile optimization, image optimization, code minification, and browser caching. We’ll explain each one and show you how to address them.

page speed

Amping Up Mobile Search

The Accelerated Mobile Pages Project (AMP) is an online publishing format, originally created by Google as an alternative to Facebook’s Instant Articles. It’s a way to optimize web pages for mobile browsing using a special code–AMP-HTML. AMP allows pages to load much faster on mobile devices by stripping out excess code and storing pages in a special AMP cache that allows the pages to be served faster. You can see pages that are using AMP in the search engine results pages (SERPS) on your phone or tablet.

According to Google, “The AMP Project is an open-source initiative aiming to make the web better for all. The project enables the creation of websites and ads that are consistently fast, beautiful and high-performing across devices and distribution platforms.”

Because search engines rank content based in part on page loading times, and because they weigh mobile experience more than the desktop experience, it is a good idea to use AMP. To do so, however, requires coding knowledge, as the way to “AMP” your pages requires that you create a separate version of the page using AMP-HTML that makes the page lightweight and that allows the page to be stored in the Google AMP cache.

Image Optimization for SEO

Great images make a website pop, giving it visual appeal and making the message more understandable. Images can improve your SEO by engaging readers and by using Alt tags to help explain what the image and page are about. Images can also hurt you if they are too large and slow down your loading times.

You can use a WordPress plugin, SmushPro, to bulk compress images. It’s an easy way to ensure that all of your photos and graphics are properly compressed. It will automatically go through all of your media files, optimize all of your images for you, “smush” them, and continue to compress images as you add new web pages.

image optimization for seo

There are other image compression tools available. Some only compress certain file types (jpeg, png, etc). WPSmush compresses everything.

Code Minification for SEO

Code is an often overlooked factor in page speed. Most coders write for humans, with lots of formatting and instructions so that others who might work on the website will understand the intent of the programmer. All those extra characters, including line breaks and spaces, are eventually processed by crawlers and browsers as they explore a page.

Code minification removes all extra characters and spaces to speed up the process. It’s still readable by browsers and crawlers–it can just be read easier and faster to speed up performance. Autoptimize is a WordPress plugin that will automatically minify CSS, HTML, and JavaScript. It will also restore the unminified version if you need it later.

Code Minification for SEO

Browser Caching for SEO

When a browser opens a page, a massive data transfer takes place, with the browsers requesting tons of information, and the website sending the information requested. That back-and-forth can be sped up by enabling browser caching.

Browser caching speeds up pages by downloading fixed website elements like HTML, CSS, JavaScripts, and images into the end user’s local browser cache. This way it doesn’t have to retrieve them on every page load. Web servers aren’t always configured correctly to enable browser caching, however, which in webspeak means the server has the incorrect headers, or that the server is set to let caching expire too soon.

Enabling browser caching is a little harder than code minification and image compression. You have to edit the HTML headers to make sure that they are set to the maximum “expiry date” possible. This means that the browser will save and store static assets as long as the browser allows. When the cache expires quickly, the next request for the page will reload all assets, including static assets extending the loading time.

In most cases, the best practice for website performance is to use browser caching as aggressively as possible–i.e., cache as much as you can for as long as you can. Exceptions might include sensitive data that needs to be kept private for compliance or security reasons. Pages that have dynamic content that changes frequently may also require more nuanced caching configurations.

Speed Things Up

Page speed is important for search engines because it is important to users. Google tells us, “2 seconds is the threshold for e-commerce website acceptability. At Google, we aim for under a half second.”

Fast pages are also good for business. When Walmart learned that its ecommerce site was slower than Amazon or eBay, the company dug into the data. The company found that:

  • For every 1 second of improvement they experienced up to a 2 percent increase in conversions.
  • For every 100 ms of improvement, they grew incremental revenue by up to 1 percent.

The first step in improving page speed is to measure it. Then you can use the tools described here to speed things up to get more visitors and more business.

CONCLUSION

User experience is becoming a larger and larger factor in how search engines decide what results to display. Page speed is a critical user experience metric for desktop and mobile users. Fast sites are rewarded by search engines and by customers. “It is not a secret that a positive user experience often leads to better conversions,” and “pagespeed should be your top priority as a bad one could cost you a lot.” Using AMP, minifying code, compressing images, and enabling browser caching are the sexiest SEO best practices, but they are among the most effective at improving page speed.

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Bill Peatman
Bill is a senior content strategist at Alaniz Marketing. He understands corporate marketing communications from the inside out, having served as a marcom manager and director for successful startups and large corporations in technology (Cisco Systems) and professional services (Brown and Caldwell). He understands the need for marketing initiatives to be in-sync with sales teams, providing measurable results in the form of a closed loop between the cost of marketing and the revenue generated.
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