How big of an impact can site speed have on search rankings, and what effect can this have on business (particularly for a B2B site)?
As part of a larger look into a B2B client’s extremely slow website load time, I contacted several experts to get their opinions. I am printing this one particularly detailed response in its entirety due to its value for readers.
The client’s website in this example had a fairly strong backlink profile and domain authority in the mid-70s, high enough that the site should have been ranking for non-branded terms alongside major competitors.
After creating a non-branded keyword universe, fixing faulty meta content and addressing some minor technical issues, it appeared that the major SEO problems had been solved. The client started to see significant movement in non-branded keyword rankings, moving onto page two and three of Google SERPs.
Unfortunately, after a few months, the movement of keywords to page one of Google SERPs stalled, with most non-branded keywords stuck on page two and three of Google.
In short, the keyword rankings had gotten as high as they were going to get. This was much better than the brand was performing previous to launching an SEO program, but was not what I would consider to be a success.
That’s when I started looking for other culprits, with the most likely suspect being site speed. This site’s speed is particularly egregious, with a load time of more than 10 seconds. It is established that site speed is a factor in Google’s search rankings, but would poor speed be enough to tank an entire site’s ratings?
As part of that larger research, here is my Q&A with Penni Pickering from Kabo Creative. Pickering is a CIM qualified marketer turned website developer, who was gracious enough to answer a few questions about this client and the bigger issue of site speed.
How likely is it that a site that loads this slowly is actually being impacted by negative ranking factors due to the load speed?
I won’t pretend I can reveal the secrets of the almighty Google algorithm, but we can make some educated statements on the impact of page load speed.
Way back in 2010, the Google Webmasters blog stated “we’re including a new signal in our search ranking algorithms: site speed”. The piece went on to explain that it was a minor ranking signal, and secondary to the much more important aspect of content relevancy to search request.
Fast forward to 2018, and Google has recently announced that mobile search will now also be taking load speed into account with the new Speed Update. Again, the announcement refers to content relevancy still being a more important factor and they have made clear that only the slowest loading sites will be affected.
Taking a look at the load speed of over 10 seconds for the example website on a non-mobile device, I’d suggest that if this website were not currently being negatively affected by its speed then the Speed Update could begin to do so.
Backlinko carried out a study of 1 million Google search results to attempt to demystify the Google algorithm and make reasonable assumptions as to what actually affects a website’s ability to rank. It must be noted, that due to the sheer complexity of the algorithm, the study finds correlations and makes assumptions based on them. It can’t be taken as gospel.
As explained by Backlinko themselves, this could just mean that website owners who optimise for speed are also working hard to optimise for SEO. It’s not definite, but either way the top 10 ranking sites typically have a load speed of under three seconds. The example site having a load speed of over 10 seconds isn’t going to help rankings.
The example website is a B2B company. How would you state the impact of speed on B2B sites, where more of the impact is top and mid-funnel?
Site speed is a challenge for B2C and B2B sites alike, but I’d argue the impact is different. For a B2C site, sales cycles are much shorter. If a consumer hits on a search result in SERPs and it doesn’t load fast enough, there’s a bounce. They’ll probably go to a competitor site, and especially if it is a low price point item, purchase elsewhere.
With B2B, typically sales cycles are a much longer process. Often at the early funnel stages it is blog and case study content that a new prospect will be trying to access. A smooth experience here is essential to have a chance of building that brand relationship.
We, as people, make quick judgements. Have you ever tried to read a blog post when on a mobile device and the thing just won’t load? Frustrated, you go back to the search results, pick another and if that loads then that’s the post you’ll read.
Your competitor just had the opportunity to answer that user’s query. There’s the beginning of brand association, and it isn’t for your carefully curated blog post, it’s for your competitor’s.
Have that negative slow loading experience three times, and I’ll bet you avoid clicking on their website whenever it appears in search results in the future. That’s a long-term impact. How long until that prospect is likely to come in to the sales cycle again? Five years? 10 years?
Could you summarize your thoughts on how site speed will impact SEO rankings and conversion moving forward? How much has the impact of site speed changed recently and how much do you see it changing moving forward?
With the ever increasing focus on mobile—and even voice—search, an educated guess suggests site speed will continue to be influential on search ranking. With the Speed Update coming into effect this year, that’s a strong signal from Google themselves that speed matters.
The Google-backed AMP project is another clear signal that, at least in Google’s eyes, mobile page loading times matter. AMP pages typically load in under one second, and the project is widely supported and heavily promoted with major CMS and publishers jumping on board.
It is close to impossible to tell just how large a ranking factor site speed is, but we can tell that it’s importance is mentioned and referred to regularly. So, from a smart SEO perspective, it’s worth speeding up your website and considering hopping on the AMP bandwagon.
How about the effect on conversion? Well, according to the AMP project themselves:
“Conversions fall by 12 percent for every extra second a web page takes to load” AMP Project
Reducing the time it takes for your website to load will decrease your bounce rate. Take a look at this graph from the well established Shaun Anderson at Hobo Web:
Over on the Kabo blog, our number one tip to grow your website traffic is to get a website that works. And what’s right up at the top of that chapter? Website loading times.
We’ve suggested that websites should load in under three seconds. And not just for rankings. Having a site that loads in an acceptable amount of time is crucial to keep website visitors from bouncing and never seeing your brilliant content in the first place.
If people can’t or won’t wait for your website to load, they’ll never convert. And worse still, bounce rate is known to be one of the myriad things that affects your position in search. The worse your bounce rate, the less likely Google will think your content is serving users, and the less likely it will be shown for future search queries. Meaning less people will see your site to click through and convert.
It is a downward spiral. Optimise your site for users first, and SEO benefits will follow. For that reason alone, aiming for a site to load in under three seconds on ANY device is a solid aim that all website owners should be able to achieve.
You hear lip service paid to site speed when talking about ranking and SEO factors, but there is very little focus on it when diagnosing SEO issues. Why do you think that is? Has its importance grown as time has passed?
I’d disagree. I think the general noise in the SEO community is increasing around website speed, especially since the launch of the AMP project and the recent Speed Update.
What makes it tricky is the SEO – website owner – developer relationship. Often a developer will be managing the structural and code based changes to a site, an SEO will be optimizing it and the website owner will be in the middle.
An SEO contract lives and breathes on results. Anything that is measurable or can have a relatively quick result is a winner. Site speed is a complex and technical game. And Google likes to change the rules.
In order for an SEO to get the required site speed changes through they’d need to:
- Identify the issues
- Relate these to the website owner and convince them it is worth the costly development time to improve them
- Have the website owner pass this information on to the developer
- Wait, potentially for the long game, to see if the changes have taken effect
This broken chain of SEO – website owner – developer makes this conversation difficult. Ideally website owners that engage SEO’s should plan a budget for development time and put the SEO and developer in direct contact. If there is trust and a budget, it’s a win-win for everybody.
Penni Pickering is one half of the two-woman website design and web marketing services company, Kabo Creative. Penni is a CIM qualified marketer turned website developer, who is just as happy manipulating CSS as she is writing conversion-based marketing content. Find Kabo Creative on Twitter, or Penni on LinkedIn.