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How Much Does Page Speed Matter for SEO?

Page speed is factored into search results and rankings, but there’s no exact indicated weight it’s given in the full score.

Page speed is definitely a part of SEO ranking—but in relation to other SEO tactics, how important is it, really? For more than 10 years, Google search results have used page speed as a ranking factor in SEO. While you might have more questions than answers in regards to page speed and SEO, it’s important to keep in mind that you can’t rank by page speed alone, but you also can’t rank well in SERPs without it.

What is page speed and how important is it?

Page speed is essentially the time it takes to load a webpage. Google has an official “Page Speed” but otherwise it’s generally the time from clicking a link to the page showing up. Ideally, page speed should be three seconds or less. For different websites or different industries, this can vary. Check your speed by comparing apples to apples—compare yourself to your competitors in the SERPs.

Let’s repeat that together – compare your page speed to other websites showing up along with you in the SERP. No matter if you are faster (or slower) than the majority of websites, Google really only needs to rank you above or below the other relevant listings that show along with you so a focus on your industry average rather than a larger, more general goal, will better serve your overall ranking goals.

Page speed is factored into search results and rankings, but there’s no exact indicated weight it’s given in the full score. It’s worth remembering though, that having slow page speed with a longer loading time will have users bouncing from your site before they see any content—that’s certainly not the ideal result for any organization.

How do I measure and optimize my website speed?

For the purposes of improving page speed: You can view yours on core web vitals, which can be found on Google’s PageSpeed Insights; it offers scoring with a number, as well as color-coded scoring: green, yellow and red. The page speed score is the numerical value (0-100) offered that shows how your core web vitals are. Under 50 is red, 50-89 is yellow, and 90-100 is green; each metric is shown in timing.

The following pieces (among a few others) make up core web vitals:

  1. Largest Contentful Paint – this is the time it takes from link click to the web’s main page content load, showing the user that the site is actively working
  2. First Input Delay – this is the time from the page load to the ability for the website to respond to a user’s click/request
  3. Cumulative Layout Shift – this is a measurement of how often the screen shifts while users are on the web page—a site full of ads, for instance, may shift the webpage content as the ads load

To make it more complicated, the speed that needs to be met in order to benefit from this ranking signal is always changing. Right now, it can be met by achieving Google’s minimum thresholds for Core Web Vitals. Along with these measurements for Core Web Vitals, Google also provides corresponding advice on what actions you should take to improve your website speed. Some additional changes you can make have to do with:

Javascript: This is the primary “killer” of page speed—it takes more time to load a page with javascript because of multiple added steps in the markup. The system must download the code, parse it, allocate memory, then run the java. Consider whether you really need to use it, or find other ways to mitigate the speed slow-down caused by this application.

Images: If your images are not “actual size” but rather being shrunk down for display, the huge files will slow down your page’s speed.

Hosting: The biggest factor to having a fast website is your host. Using the right host can improve your website speed and boost your performance.

Page Speed Vs. Other SEO Ranking Factors

Should you focus on relevance to a query? High-quality content? Keyword optimization? Backlinks? Page Speed? Short answer: Yes. There are a lot of ranking factors. We always suggest prioritizing content and user experience and then make sure your page speed is good enough.

As stated above: the amount of effort you put into your website page speed depends on what industry you’re in—if you’re going for page views, a decent effort will be enough, and then focus on content quality. E-commerce websites, however, tend to be very fast loading (every second you can save could turn into money). If you need to make sales, focusing on page speed is important, but the content should still be helping to rank the page in SERPs. 

In general, you can spend at least some amount of time working on your page speed, but at the point where you are competitive against others in the SERP, your time would be better served in improving page quality through your content. Page speed doesn’t carry as much weight as the relevance of the page—Google is still focused on delivering pages that are helpful to users—not just the fastest loading ones. If you feel your content is top notch and updated, then you can experiment more with your page speed for improvement. 

Page Speed: Final Thoughts

Page speed is only a single factor affecting SEO ranking. In our Digital Marketing program, we encourage clients to look at effort and impact. High effort items with low impact aren’t worth prioritizing and page speed efforts can easily cross the line of diminishing returns. Sure, page speed is important for users, but don’t let “perfect” be the enemy of “good.” Get your site to a place where you’re in line with your industry and competitors. Check back often and make necessary changes and updates, but always balance it out with other SEO ranking factors. In the end, Google’s goal is to show the most relevant information to searchers—if you miss the target on relevancy, even the fastest site won’t make up for it.

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