Page load speed is, as the name suggests, the time it takes for a page to load – that is, to display the contents of your page for visitors to see.

Why is page load speed important?

In 2010, Google announced that page load speed is part of the algorithm it uses to rank pages. This means the faster your page load speeds are, the better chance you have of ranking higher in Google search results.

This is also makes sense regarding user experience – as a rule of thumb the faster a website loads, the better the experience is for the visitor. Statistics show that 40% of visitors will leave a page if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load, so shaving what seems like ‘mere’ seconds or milliseconds off of your page load speed can make a world of difference. The quicker a visitor is able to see what your page is about and explore it, and the quicker advertisers are able to get their content shown to visitors, the better the experience is for visitors and advertisers you work with – and by extension, the better it is for you too!

On top of this, having slow page load speeds means that search engine crawlers may need to take more time to crawl your pages – time that may not be within the crawling budget allocated to your website. This could affect the indexing of your pages, which is also going to work against your website’s ranking.

How to check your page load speed:

So now we’ve established what page load speed is and how important it is, you’re probably wondering how to check your pages. The good news is that it’s pretty straightforward, thanks to the host of free tools available online.

One of the most popular is Google’s own Page Speed Insights tool. With this, you simply input your page’s URL into the search bar at the top, and then Google will assess your page speed. Giving you a score out of 100, it will give you an indication of your page’s performance – green signalling good health, orange requiring improvement, and red indicating poor page load speed performance. What’s also helpful is that the tool also gives you a breakdown on the different factors affecting your page load speed below, and how you can go about fixing them.

screenshot of google's pagespeed insight tool to analyse page load speed
Top box: the area to input the URL of the webpage you want to analyse.
Second box: Google’s assessment of the page, colour-coded (in this case, red for ‘poor’).

Google also has a separate page listing and detailing the factors they use to assess page load speed, but we have covered the essential ones for you below.

Factors affecting page load speed:

1.Image Optimisation:

This is one of the biggest areas for quick wins, which is why we’re putting it at the top of our list. We have whole articles dedicated to this topic if you want to get a thorough understanding of how image optimisation works, but essentially large image file sizes are often one of the biggest contributing to factors to slow page speeds. Whilst big, high quality pictures look beautiful they take long to load. Normally small compromises on quality can have a big effect on image file size, which is well worth it in the long run. There’s no point having beautiful pictures if no one sticks around to see them!

Generally it’s ideal to keep pictures at 100kb or below, but any significant reductions will help make a difference. If you want to do a really thorough file shrinking job we have a step by step guide on how to use Photoshop to achieve this. But if you don’t have Photoshop, Google’s Pagespeed Insights tool helpfully provides you with optimised versions of images on your page which hit pretty close to the mark.

In this example, the original image from the website we put into Pagespeed Insights above had lots of big images. If we take one of those original images, the size is 1.3MB – but when we open the optimised version from Google, we find it’s been reduced to 177kb. This may be above 100kb, but it is still a big difference, and with all the other images, could have a significant positive effect on your page load speeds!

using pingdom to determine images to optimise
After putting your URL into the search bar on Pingdom’s website, you can scroll down to ‘File Requests’ as shown here. You can then sort images by file size to see which images are slowing your page load speed the most – in this case, 1.3MB.

2. Improving server response time:

Server Response Time is the time it takes for a web browser to respond to a browser request. We cover this topic in more depth in another post, but if you want a quick overview, a key way to improve your server response time is to consider moving to a better web server software.

3. Enable Compression:

If you compress your files – whether they are CSS, JavaScript, or HTML – then your visitors will have smaller files to download when loading your pages, which will make the process quicker. Using something like Gzip to compress your files makes the process easy to do – just make sure not to use it to compress your images (that should be done with the method shown above).

4. Make use of browser caching:

Your browser has a temporary storage location where it can keep HTML, CSS, JavaScript files and more downloaded by your browser to display a website. This is helpful because if there is a resource a visitor has previously downloaded needed to load a web page, they don’t need to re-download it to load the page, which saves time. Some of your resources may not currently be cached, or may not be cached for long periods of time, so this is an area you can make changes to improve page load speeds.

5. Minify your CSS and JavaScript:

Minifying is, essentially, getting rid of all of the unnecessary whitespace and characters in your code to decrease the time it takes to load, thereby improving your page load speed. Whilst it may originally have been left in to be easier for humans to read, when it comes to being processed by a browser it makes no difference – except for loading faster!

6. Using a content distribution network/content delivery network:

These are a network of servers that are spread out either across the world or across a country. They work by storing copies of your web page’s static content so that when a visitor from a different geographic region tries to access your page the CDN can provide a copy of the content from one of their servers that is physically closest to the visitor. This makes the file travel time shorter, and thus the page speed faster. It isn’t often the first step in a page load speed optimisation plan, but is still worth looking into, so check out our CDN guide if you want to find out more on the topic.

 
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