We have discussed how writing bad code can damage a website’s ranking in the search engines. But can a website that loads slowly hurt rankings as well?
I spent a Sunday afternoon examining this question, which led me on an Internet voyage that discussed such geeky subjects as web page headers, HTTP 1.1 specifications, and the various types of caches that a typical user may encounter everyday in the travels online.
This article will examine ways to speed up your website and why it is beneficial to the traffic flowing to your website.
My Sunday journey started when Carl, from Web Courses Bangkok, left a comment relating to page load times in our last post about bad coding and search engine ranking. He provided the following link in his comment that revealed some very interesting information and taught me something.
At the bottom of that post is a link for FireFox users to install a plug-in called “Page Speed“. So I did.
This plug-in showed me many of the problems in a specific web page that was causing my site to be slow. But I didn’t realize my site was slow until I went to Google’s Web Master Tools (WMT). At Siam Communications, we make it a habit to setup this tool for all of our customers to track the effectiveness of their website.
In the WMT Dashboard, Google has added a section called Labs. When you expand the Labs section, their is a Speed Test section. This Speed Test section shows how fast (or slow) a website loaded on average over time. I was shocked to learn that our page had received a designation of “Slow”.
I was horrified!
So I returned to my browser tab with our home page on it and began to examine again the list of problems identified by the newly installed “Page Speed” plug-in. As I looked at the suggestions offered, I began to consider how I would accomplish each of the tasks to improve the speed at which the web page was loading. Most of the critical suggestions were related to what was being cached and when the content being cached was going to expire or not expire at all.
I was familiar with a “browser cache”. This is the cache of files my web browser (FireFox or IE) saves to the hard drive of my computer when I visit a website. I learned that there are other types of caches that effect the visitors experience. The thing that bothered me about this was that, unlike the browser cache, I didn’t know if I could effect any control over the other types of caches out there.
How could I control which files, being loaded by my website, were being cached and when they expired?
With a few good search terms on Google I found my answer. Modify the HTACCESS file on my web server. I had used this file in the past to help search engines better understand the content of my site. I used the file to rename those long, dynamic website addresses (URLs) into human readable titles. This was better for the search engines and my visitors.
In our Online SEO Course, the configuration of a website is an important part of optimizing a web site. Using an HTACCESS file is a common way to assist with this. It pleases me when a website optimization task, such as using the HTACCESS file, improves the visitor experience. I was equally pleased to find the following post I suggest all Webmasters read if you are not already familiar with controlling the cache of a websites content using this file:
This is written with the very technical web person in mind. If you’re new to this or not very technical, you may want to get help from a web site person.
As I was writing this, and thinking back on the whole experience, I wondered why a Speed Test was something that Google was testing in their Web Masters Tools Dashboard. Could this be a factor that will contribute to Search engine rankings in the future?
Will making a website load quicker improve your rankings today? Probably not.
But one thing is certain. Optimizing a website shouldn’t be done with only a search engine in mind. The visitor experience is an important factor when optimizing a website. If a visitor has to wait for your website to load before they can begin viewing the content, chances are they will click away and go to a competitors site instead.
Search Engine Optimization is about ranking well in the search engines.
Website Optimization is providing quick, trouble free content that is valuable and beneficial to the visitor, and the Internet as a whole.