Google has made no secret that page speed is on its agenda. The search engine is at the forefront of various initiatives to help website owners improve the load times of their pages, particularly on mobile, and it is strongly pushing the narrative that page speed is a ranking factor.
Poor page speed doesn’t only cost brands rankings and visibility, it costs money too. Google estimates that just a one second delay in page load time costs it around two million searches per year, whilst Amazon estimates the cost of a similar delay at $1.6bn in lost sales. In short, page speed matters.
And research from Google released last month suggests just how much time you have to reach the audiences that you are trying to attract – and it’s probably less than you think.
The research suggests that 53% of mobile site visitors will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. Despite that, the average load time of a mobile page is a staggering 22 seconds – that’s a big discrepancy. And it gets worse depending on the sector that you’re in, with automotive, technology and retail brand websites performing particularly poorly.
Why speed matters
Your audiences are impatient at the best of times, but they are particularly speed-conscious when it comes to mobile. Your audiences are likely to be on the move, browsing the internet in between other activities. They are also likely to be using a slower and less reliable 3G or 4G connection, rather than a more reliable high-speed home or office broadband connection, so the chances that they are enjoying (or enduring) a slower web experience are already heightened.
Our SEO guide, Redefining SEO: What your agency should be telling you in 2017, discusses how user experience is a key factor in search results and the reality is that Google doesn’t want to be delivering search results that frustrate its users. The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) initiative is perhaps the most prominent scheme to address this issue, and more and more brands are adopting the platform, but Google is also pushing a range of best practice standards to improve mobile page speed and wider user experience.
And with Google’s mobile-first algorithm on the horizon, failing to tackle this issue has implications for your visibility on desktop and mobile devices, so it is crucial that you look to address the problem.
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
In early 2016, Google introduced what it called ‘Accelerated Mobile Pages’ (AMP) - the result of an open source, initiative which came from discussions between major digital publishers and technology companies about the need to improve the mobile web experience for the masses. With 40% of visitors abandoning a web page if it hasn’t loaded within three seconds.
AMP pages boast a load speed up to four times faster than an equivalent non-accelerated mobile page, and use 10 times less data over 3G & 4G networks, as most of the content is cached by Google, and unnecessary elements can be loaded last, or not loaded at all.
The initiative was originally launched with publishing networks but, in the summer of 2016, Google started emailing e-commerce website owners encouraging them to adopt AMP to “be shown in Google Search”.
The wording of those emails was somewhat foreboding, inferring that not adopting AMP would result in a loss of ranking. Whilst Google refuted that AMP was a ranking signal at the time, its attempts to further the project, and faster mobile page speed in general, suggests that AMP could become a ranking factor as the widely anticipated mobile SERP develops. This is certainly a development that you and your agency should be mindful of.
Send your mobile website on a diet
One of the key reasons behind the poor page load times is the bloated nature of many websites. More than 70% of the pages analysed by Google in their research were found to be over 1MB, over a third (36%) were over 2MB, and 12% were over 4MB. As a benchmark, 1.49MB takes around seven seconds to load over a strong 3G connection.
Ensuring that your site is as lean as possible is therefore a key area to focus on, and Google believes that around one third of the pages that it looked at could save more than 250KB simply by compressing the images and text on the page. By doing this, the page content consumes less bandwidth, and the pages can load more quickly.
Deliver the best possible experience
The onus is on brands to deliver the best possible experience that they can, and in the era where a mobile-first algorithm is determining search rankings, it is vital that brands look at how their brand experience translates to mobile.
While there are many ways to deliver a mobile-friendly site, Google prefers responsive design that responds to a user’s behaviour and their environment (typically meaning their devices’ screen size, platform and orientation). For usability you should aim to make menus and call to actions easy to use and easy for users to find.
Most organisations have adapted to the growth of mobile, and have a web presence that generally translates well on mobile devices. However, many organisations still fall short of the best practice promoted by Google, and many are still to really put a coherent mobile engagement strategy in place. This doesn’t just cover issues such as technical proficiency and design, but a full review of the customer journey.
The keywords that your audiences may be using on mobile are likely to differ to what they use on desktop (typically, mobile searches tend to use shorter, easier to type searches), so you need to factor this into your keyword strategy. Mobile users are more likely to be irritated by pop-ups and interstitials (and this practice is actively discouraged), and inputting data to complete a purchase is also harder, so look at how easy you are making it for your users to be able to complete any conversion process.