Does Page Load Time Really Matter?
Yes, page load time and site speed matter a lot. We believe that of all the things that are important to consider when building a website, having fast- loading pages should be one of the highest priorities. Having fast-loading pages is just as important as having attractive, well-designed pages.
This prioritization of fast-loading pages may sound extreme but hang with us, and you may find that by the end of this post, you’ll share this “extreme” stance too.
Why Is Site Speed So Important?
First and foremost, site speed is the single metric that has the largest impact on SEO. Google is not fully transparent about what metrics have the biggest impact on SEO, so this assertion comes from our own informed conclusions.
Here’s what we do know:
- Page load time itself is a signal used by Google’s ranking algorithm
- Bounce rate, another important metric Google uses to determine the quality of content on a webpage is significantly impacted by site speed.
- Fast loading pages put users in better moods and increase their trust in the site. Trusted sites are more likely to be shared and linked back to, and backlinks are another crucial factor in site ranking.
- The faster your pages load, the easier they are to crawl for Google’s bots. Easier to crawl means they will be crawled more frequently, and more frequent crawlings give you a better chance to perform well with the new and important freshness signal that Google is using to rank pages.
These insights tell us that page load time plays a significant factor in four of the five key factors that Google names as important in their ranking algorithm.
With site speed being so important for SEO, it is clear that fast-loading pages will help draw in more visitors to your site by way of organic search traffic. Having visitors is foundational to any website, and without them, your site is unlikely to achieve your desired results.
Maybe you’re set on visitors, and you don’t care about your ranking on Google, should you still care about how fast your pages load? If you want users to take certain actions on your site like buy something, schedule an appointment, or even view another post, the answer is a resounding yes.
Site Speed Affects Your Conversion Rates
According to Shopify Studies, when a site’s page speed improves from 8 to 2 seconds, “conversion rate could increase by 74%”.
This is accompanied by other insights like:
“79% of customers “dissatisfied” with a site’s performance are less likely to buy from them again.”
“64% of smartphone users expect a website to load in four seconds or less.”
“47% of online shoppers expect web pages to load in two seconds or less.”
Some people may feel that the expectations from web users are unreasonable, and they may be. The expectations are what they are though, and they are informed by a precedent set by the most popular sites on the internet. This means that to best compete, these are expectations that your website must meet.
To further this point, crazyegg analyzed the impact of each second a page takes to load, and the insights from Shopify Studies were re-inforced. They discovered that speeding up a page by just 1 second can increase sales by 7%.
For example, if an online store makes $100,000 per day and can decrease its page load time by 1 second, it will see a $7,000 increase in daily sales. The opposite is also true. If that store’s pages started loading one second slower, they would see a $7,000 decline in daily sales.
E-commerce is an easy example because daily sales is an easily quantifiable conversion metric. But most sites are trying to convert visitors into customers in some way. While these conversions may be harder to quantify, they are all affected by site speed.
What Can I Do to Improve My Page Load Time?
You are probably asking yourself this question right about now. You get it, it’s important, but what can you do? Fortunately, there are lots of things you can do! Before you can make any improvements, it is essential to know how fast your pages are loading today. This will allow you to know where you have room to improve your pages and also, when you do improve them, how far you’ve come!
To test page speed, Google offers a tool called Pagespeed Insights that allows you to test pages on your site to see how fast they are. The tool also shows you what you can do to improve your load time and by how much. We encourage you to start by testing your pages.
Optimize Your Images
Often, the quickest win can come from installing an image optimization plugin. Images make up the majority of web pages these days, at least in terms of file size. By optimizing images, you can easily reduce the file size of your webpage, making it load faster. Our favorite image optimization is called Smush. Here’s why it’s our favorite:
- Powerful free version
- An easy win to improve page load times
- Compress images without loss in quality
- Good lazy loading
- Incorrect image size detection
- Automatic optimization on image upload
If you’re sold, go install Smush! You have so much to gain and nothing to lose. If you don’t want to install Smush, just make sure you’re doing something to optimize your images.
Cache Site Files
A good metaphor for caching is to think about your website like a bakery, but instead of serving loaves of bread, you’re serving pages. A website with a cache is like a bakery with pre-baked loaves. When people visit your site, the pages are all ready to go, and you can serve them quickly. A website without a cache is like a bakery with unbaked dough that bakes a fresh loaf for every customer who wants one.
Bakeries don’t operate this way for a reason. It is inefficient, and many customers will get impatient and leave before the loaf is baked. The same is true with websites. An uncached page has to be prepared fresh for every site visitor, which is unnecessary and slows down the speed of the page. Just like the bakery customers, some visitors will sit around and wait for the page to load, but most will get impatient and leave.
To implement caching on your site, you can either use a host that supports caching or install and configure a caching plugin like Hummingbird, WP Fastest Cache, or WP-Optimize. In our experience, adding proper caching to a site can cut page load times in half. Do be warned though, you will need to ‘clear the cache’ every time you make a change to your site to ensure those changes go live.
Use a Faster Host
This one is another easy win that may cost you a few more dollars per month depending on where you currently host your site, but will likely pay for itself. Kinsta is our recommended host, and they boldly (and accurately) claim that switching to Kinsta can make your site load 200% more quickly.
Another benefit to Kinsta is that they provide built-in server-side caching, so you don’t have to worry about setting up caching yourself. They also have a great CDN built-in, which offers added speed-related benefits.
If you currently host with GoDaddy, Bluehost, SiteGround, HostGator, or another popular and affordable WordPress hosting service, we can almost guarantee that switching to Kinsta will make your site load noticeably faster.
Use a Custom Built Theme
When push comes to shove, your WordPress theme is probably the single most important piece to having a fast loading site. No matter how optimized your images, cache, and hosting are, a slow theme can prevent fast pages from ever becoming a reality. The reason behind this is that most themes are made to be general and flexible. This can be beneficial, but it also means that your site will be loading tons of code onto every page that is not needed. This extra code destroys page load time.
With a custom theme, the only code included is the code essential for your site to function. Reducing unnecessary code, especially when combined with the other techniques that we’ve mentioned, can make pages feel like they load instantly.
Fast loading custom WordPress themes are our specialty here, so we often see first hand how much a custom theme can help. Recently we have been nearing the end of a re-design for a client moving from a generic page builder theme to a custom theme of ours. With the custom theme on a test server and the old theme still live, we thought it would be a good opportunity to run a head-to-head comparison between the two themes.
This comparison uses the same page, housing the same content. The only difference between these two pages is the theme that is styling the content. We also tested the two pages using Google Pagespeed Insights at the same time to try to achieve the most consistent results.
After running the tests, we were excited to discover the results matched the example we gave on Friday exactly. The old generic page builder theme took 8.3 seconds to load. By comparison, our new, custom-built theme took a mere 1.5 seconds to load. The same page load time improvements are present throughout the site. The improvements in page speed signify that, in theory, 74% more site visitors will be reaching out to this client for services after their re-designed site goes live.
Custom themes are certainly more expensive than a generic, free theme, but we find that they pay for themselves in the increased conversions they bring in a matter of months. Want to explore your options? Here are the custom website packages we offer, all of which are built using blazing-fast custom themes.
As you can see, having a blazing fast website is important for both attracting new visitors and then turning those visitors into customers once they are on your site. There are helpful things you can do yourself to make your pages faster, and those steps can be amplified with a custom-built theme. Moreover, without a custom-built theme (or a fast generic theme), your efforts will be stunted.
The good news is that you are already in touch with the people who build the fastest WordPress themes in Asheville, NC! Fill out the form below, and we’ll schedule your free 30-minute consultation to discuss your needs and goals.
Finally, to back up our (not-so) humble brag about building the fastest sites in town. If you can find a web design & development agency in Asheville, NC who scores higher on Google Pagespeed insights than us (on both mobile and desktop), we will give you 10% off of any custom website package we offer.
Good luck optimizing your website, and know that you can always reach out if you need some help!