Laundry. After a weekend of knocking out chores, running errands, and cleaning the house, it always seems to be the last thing left on my to-do list. Why? Because I hate doing it. Similarly, when we work with local business owners to improve their online presence, we notice they tend to have something in common at the bottom of their to-do lists as well…and that’s tackling search engine optimization (SEO) on their business websites.

Why does SEO seem so insurmountable? Probably because it’s a bit mysterious. So much time and effort goes into optimizing your website for search engines, and they change the rules of the game every single day. But there are some rules search engines like Google have put in place that are here to stay, and they may be killing your SEO.

The Silent SEO Killer: How Site Speed Affects SEO

Is the time it takes users to load your website really a silent SEO killer? We partnered with our friends and SEO experts over at WooRank to dig deeper into how site speed affects SEO. According to their sources, 50% of web users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less. So if you thought 3 seconds was an acceptable load time, think again. That longer wait is likely to cause a higher bounce rate and lower conversion.

WooRank’s not alone in calling out site speed as a leading user experience issue on the web. Google has been using site speed as a ranking signal since 2010. When your page speed is slow, search engine spiders are only able to crawl a few pages. And when they don’t make it very far, they send out a smoke signal so search engines know they’re getting stuck.

Don’t Get Silenced by Slow Site Speed

Here are some inside tips on how you can adjust your site load time and speed to ultimately improve your SEO.

Benchmark against the Competition

Leading sites like load in under half a second. In fact, they calculated that a page load slowdown of just one second could cost them $1.6 billion in sales each year.

Some more page speed and site load time stats:

  • As your page speed decreases from 1 second to 3 seconds, you can expect about a 32% decrease in conversions.
  • 47% of consumers expect pages to load in 2 seconds or less.
  • 64% of mobile users expect websites to load in under four seconds.

So, if you’re able to improve your site, you have a high chance of beating out the slower competition.

When users leave competitors’ sites, make yours seem like the place they’ll want to visit and stay awhile.

Check Your Site Speed

There are tons of tools out there that will run checks of your website’s speed and friendliness.

  • PageSpeed Insights by Google gives you a detailed analysis of your site’s speed.
  • Pingdom, though it could get a bit technical here, is another tool you can use.
  • WebPageTest is another popular site.

If your site is loading in under 2 seconds, give yourself a pat on the back! If it isn’t, we’ve got some fixes.

3 Steps to Turn that Tortoise of a Site into a Hare

1. Implement gzip compression.

The first thing you can do is reduce the size of your HTML, JavaScript and CSS files that are larger than 150 bytes – this is called compression. (Ever tried to email large, high definition, sharp photos to grandma? You may have had to “zip” — compress — the files into a smaller-sized folder to get them to send. This is like that.)

Top search sites like Google and Yahoo use what’s called gzip compression. By using gzip, you can reduce file size by up to 70% with no reduction in site quality. Confirm with your web hosting provider if their servers use gzip compression.

2. Choose your images wisely.

With high-resolution images, focus on using the right format, and take a step back from choosing any photos that are of such high quality they significantly reduce your site load speed. That said, they do need to be large enough to be visible across multiple devices, or else Google will slap your hand for anything too pixelated or blurry. Do not use gzip on images, though.

Pro tip: Ideally, you’ll want to use PNGs for graphics that have fewer than 16 colors. And JPEGs for photographs. Make sure that they are also compressed for the web.

You can use CSS sprites to create a template for frequently used images. What this does is combine them into a large image that will load at once, so there will be fewer HTTP requests. Only the sections that the user needs will be displayed. The rest of your site’s images will wait to load until they’re called upon.

3. Don’t expect results overnight.

Remember, site speed affects SEO, but good SEO takes time. So it’s important to be patient and continue making improvements as you go. Find out what your load time and speed is, and you can begin to work towards better ranks, conversions, and a winning user experience.

Editors Note: Updated 10/21/19