The SEO Hack You Need To Optimize For, But Aren't
Everyone says they optimize title tags, meta tags, they build links, grow brand queries, but rarely do people focus on their site performance. Of course you can optimize your site speed by modifying the site's source code but hosting deeply impacts your rankings also.
Google now has a mobile-first index. Because they're showing mobile results in a different index, they really look at site speed. It doesn't matter if someone has a LTE phone or 4G or 5G or whatever the next "G" is: the latest and greatest. When speed is negatively impacted on your site, visitors bounce away. This is especially true on mobile devices when a site visitor is in an area that has poor reception and it takes forever to load your site.
With my gallucci.net site being hosted on SquareSpace, and with the large amount of images I have on the homepage of the site, I am negatively impacted by this issue. I don't have access to the server-level control I need to optimize the site at the host level which makes me question whether or not I should move my site to another platform. That won't happen anytime soon as I am working on building up content on the site and the homepage of this site is the only page with a serious performance issue. I'm also a huge fan of the platform and will most likely just live with the knowledge that it's a cost of having all the other benefits I enjoy by being on the platform.
You use a CDN so if someone's looking at your site from India, they're seeing the content in India. If someone's browsing your site from the US, they're seeing your content from a US server. So, not only do you need to make sure that the machine serving up your website, the hosting server is fast, but you also need to make sure that you're using a Content Delivery Network so the network is serving up content fast.
Google PageSpeed Insights
There are plenty of tools you can use to measure your site's performance. The first obvious one is the Google Page Speed Insights tool. PageSpeed Insights reports on the real-world performance of a page for mobile and desktop devices and provides suggestions on how that page may be improved.
PageSpeed Insights incorporates data from the Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX) to display real-world performance data about a page. PSI reports two metrics: First Contentful Paint (FCP) and DOMContentLoaded (DCL). The median value for each metric (FCP or DCL) is compared to all the pages monitored by the CrUX report.
The Page Load Distribution section of the PageSpeed Insights report presents the distribution of this page’s FCP and DCL metrics in the CrUX dataset.
The PageSpeed Insights tool also evaluates how well a page follows common performance best practices and computes a score from 0-100 that estimates its performance headroom. This optimization score estimates the performance headroom of a page. A page with slow speed might have high optimization score because it has a low ratio of render-blocking resources relative to the total resources used by the page. On the other hand, a fast page might have a low optimization score because it has a high number of render-blocking resources relative to its total resources.
The Page Stats section of the PageSpeed Insights report describes the round trips required to load the page, the total bytes used by the page, and how it compares to the median number of round trips and bytes used in the dataset. It can indicate if the page might be faster by modifying the appearance and functionality of the page. There is an additional a list of best practices that might be applied to a page.
GTmetrix is one of the tools I have found myself using more and more to get detailed reports about client site performance. It is a free tool that analyzes your page's speed performance using Google Page Speed and YSlow.
GTmetrix will give you a score on your site that you can share with your website's developers. GTmetrix will show you all the things that are slowing down your website. It will tell you what the key things are that you need to remove from your site. One of the first things you will surely find on your website is that you're probably evaluating your website on a WiFi network. That's understandable, but you should be also be looking at what people see when they are connected at 3G, for example. Not everyone has a good connection on the go all the time. You will probably found that on your website it might take 15-20 seconds, maybe even longer than that, to load on 3G, which is way too slow.
Another common discovery I come across when I run GTmetrix on unsuspecting client sites is that a well meaning SEO specialist might have installed and configured Google Tag Manager on the client site but, because they added too many tags to it, caused a huge slow down on the client's site. So you can start by doing some quantitative analysis, looking at Google Page Speed tool, looking at GTmetrix, and other tools out there to get the ball rolling on this.
Pingdom is based out of Sweden that provides uptime monitoring and web performance management services. They are most well known for is their free website speed test tool. It is one of the most popular performance testing tools on the web. It's a really quick and easy tool. It tells you how long it takes your site to load from many different locations around the world. It's easy and there's a free 14 day trial.
When you run your website through Pingdom it generates a performance grade, a total load time, the total page size, and the number of requests you have on your website. In my example, I am using my personal website, which is hosted on SquareSpace. As you can see I ran my first test and I scored a 75/100 on Pingdom and the total load time is 2.77 seconds. According to Pingdom my website loads faster than 56% of tested sites and it also let me know the total size of the combined assets and the number of requests from the homepage. Let's just say I have LOTS of areas to improve here... but as I mentioned previously, it's not possible to affect many of these necessary changes on SquareSpace.
Servers are something that you shouldn't take for granted. A lot of people do. Here's one last thing to think about, you shouldn't just optimize your server speed and your website speed purely for SEO because while it does help with rankings you also have to consider whether it also helps with conversions. It's two fold. One, higher ranking equals more traffic and two, faster load times equals more conversions. So you can't take that for granted. All the while, don't over optimize for the bots to the detriment of user experience.