Page speed has always been a priority to maintain search visibility, but before Google’s latest Speed update, this was something predominantly associated with desktop sites.
Now that mobile sites are also being ranked on their page loading times, it is no surprise that websites need to be up to speed to avoid decreasing search ranking.
In today’s competitive, ever-changing marketplaces, establishing a great online presence is clearly of utmost importance. However, our report recently found that 87% of the UK’s top online retail brands alone are risking a significant drop in their visibility by neglecting mobile site performance; rating as ‘poor’ in terms of mobile site speed. Google’s own research supports this by revealing the average site takes five times longer than the ideal 3-second timeframe to load.
These slower sites notoriously see increases in bounce rates, as well as lower online visibility and search engine ranking.
So what can you do to rectify this issue and bolster a websites SEO?
Research suggests the key to addressing the above issues and adhering to the latest speed update, is by focusing specifically on the mobile site user journey and eliminating any potential pitfalls. By eradicating unnecessary desktop elements on mobile sites and specifically focusing on adapting material for smart phones, you can expect to boost page speed, online visibility and meet Google’s revised website requirements.
With this in mind, let’s explore how you can adapt to Google’s most recent speed update.
A quick and effective way to improve page speed is by adopting ‘lazy loading’. By only showing images ‘below the page fold’ when a user scrolls to view them, as opposed to fetching and loading everything when a user lands on a page (regardless of whether they’re going to scroll down or not), a website’s efficiency is instantly increased.
Online brands that have adopted this format are already experiencing the benefits by enabling pages to be displayed on mobiles and tablets in a shorter timeframe. Eating up less mobile data is another advantage of this technique.
Unsplash is a prime example of a brand doing really well in this space. As an image dominated site, lazy loading has played a key role in maintaining its quick page speed.
However, this tactic alone is not enough to sufficiently decrease loading times and maintain search engine visibility.
With images making up 65% of web content, it is widely recognized that high-resolution pictures are one of the main culprits for slow loading times.
To address this issue, you need to reduce file sizes and ensure that only the right images are shown to users based on the device they’re using. Adding image compression functionality to a site’s admin system achieves this by ensuring that uploaded files aren’t larger than necessary (without compromising quality).
In addition, you should work to ensure that size-appropriate image files will be served to mobile visitors and retina displays (where retina images are available).
Websites without optimized images run the risk of being penalized by Google for poor practice. This could clearly cause a drop in page visits due to reduced search engine ranking.
Removing hidden content
As space is limited on mobile devices, it has always been common practice to create a scaled down version of the desktop site when building a mobile version. However, the key to improving speed is to implement server-side mobile detection. By preventing the site in question from attempting to fetch and then hide desktop-only images and/or features, its perceptual speed to users will be improved.
By stripping away these unnecessary elements, space is freed up to incorporate mobile-enhancing features without detracting from page speed. One example of this is location awareness. Enabling brands to send relevant content, specific to a user’s surroundings using Geo-location API technology, helps sites stand out from competitors.
Typography is typically an important element of design, however bloated font files can really slow a site down, so it’s important to strike a balance between aesthetic and performance.
You should switch to using WOFF2 web compression format for fonts (within applicable browsers), as it notably offers a significant reduction in file size.
Leading online marketplace Etsy has proven this does not detract from a website’s aesthetics. Despite opting for compressed font formatting, this site has achieved faster page loading while maintaining high-quality text.
As with all site modifications, after carrying out the above changes you need to check that they are having the desired effect. For this reason, tools such as PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse are invaluable for tracking webpage performance.
These platforms allow you to easily detect both well-performing and ill-performing aspects of webpages. By closely analyzing these figures, you will be in much better stead to rectify any inefficient website elements. This will also enable you to rectify issues before issues begin to negatively impact SEO.
What happens next?
By adhering to the above tactics, research shows that websites can expect a 68% reduction on perceptual load times, a 64% reduction in homepage weight (which reduces bandwidth costs), a 43% overall load time improvement on 3G speeds and a 39% improvement in ‘first interactive’ (when a page is minimally interactive for users).
However, it is important to remember that site improvements should be actioned on an ongoing basis. By doing so, you are set to truly maximize search engine ranking, boost sales and future-proof excellent user experience.
Gavin Lowther, head of digital at ecommerce digital marketing agency, Visualsoft.
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