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SEO – A study by Akamai in 2009 showed that 40 per cent of users will abandon a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load

Why is Website Loading Speed Important for SEO?

There are many things to consider when you are trying to optimise your site for a high ranking on the search results pages for Google and Co. From where to use graphics and when, through to keyword analysis and bags of fresh, well-optimised content, website owners have their work cut out to get and maintain a top spot when a customer searches for a related term.

One issue that is often overlooked by many businesses, however, is the simple speed at which the website loads. This is obviously something that will affect the way their customer perceives them, and could be detrimental to trade from that point of view, but does it really affect SEO? And if so, how?

Google says: ‘Speed matters’

Google have always maintained that the speed at which results are returned and pages loaded is important to web users. After conducting a series of experiments in 2009, they discovered just how important it was.

Google discovered that by slowing down their search results page by 100 – 400 miliseconds, the number of searches decreased by around 0.2 – 0.6 per cent. This may not sound like much, but in terms of lost revenue to Google, this was substantial. At more than 500 milliseconds delay, they could expect to reduce the number of searches by around 25 per cent.

As well as using this information to improve the performance of their own services, Google have also used speed as a measure of the quality of sites they are returning in the search engine results pages (SERPs). In 2010, Google built the issue of loading speed into the algorithm they use to organise search results, meaning that a slow site could be penalised with lower rankings.

How does Google measure load times?

There are a number of ways Google is keeping an eye on website performance to help organise its SERPs. These include:

•          Google Toolbar

•          Their browser, Google Chrome

•          Response times recorded by their crawler, the Googlebot

•          Various other, undisclosed sources

Google stated that the introduction of speed as a measure of site quality would only affect around 1 in 100 websites in total. Through research they have developed an average-loading time for websites in various countries around the world, and only if your site is significantly worse than the average will your rankings be affected.

The ‘bounce-back’ factor

A study by Akamai in 2009 showed that 40 per cent of users will abandon a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. For many users who are getting to your site via Google, this will mean a quick click of the ‘back’ button to return to the SERPs and select another result. This rapid return to Google’s SERPs is called a ‘bounce-back’, and is a major influencing factor in their ranking algorithm.

Bounce-back indicates that your site was irrelevant, not working or just plain wrong in terms of what the customer was looking for. Or in the case of slow loading, it just didn’t perform as expected. As Google strives to offer customers the very best results for their searches, frequent bounce-backs will result in your rankings being affected – and not in a good way.

The take-home messages

In the great scheme of SEO practice, there is no need to dwell for too long on the speed of your site. However, when you take into account the potential for a slow site to be penalised by Google or by your customers for loading too slowly, there is a strong case for dedicating a little of your SEO time and budget to getting this right. Aside of your SEO rankings, research shows slower sites lose revenue hand over fist, so spending a little time optimising your websites performance will be time and money well spent.

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