In January, Google announced that it will be changing its SEO parameters for mobile web searches. While factors such as content, backlinks, usability, and many other criteria will remain important for mobile sites’ SEO, pages that have particularly slow loading speeds will rank below those that are better optimised, thanks to what Google is referring to as the “Speed Update”.
Google published a blog explaining their reasons, saying, “studies have shown that people really care about the speed of a page. Although speed has been used in ranking for some time, that signal was focused on desktop searches.” The studies they are referring to (among others) have discovered that the average time for a mobile webpage to load completely is 22 seconds, but 53% of mobile page visits are abandoned if a page takes longer than three seconds to load. Of those, 61% of mobile users never come back to a site that is too slow to load.
The Speed Update is meant to encourage developers to give greater consideration to optimising their websites to load quickly on mobile devices. There is no tool to measure how or if a site will be affected by the update, but there are steps you can take to avoid slow load times affecting your Search Engine Results Page (SERP) ranking. If you’re concerned that your website might be affected, here are the key areas you should ask your developer to optimise.
Websites can look fairly bare and impersonal without images, so it’s understandable why web designers choose to include them, often using several per page.. But those images contain a lot of information to be loaded onto the page, which takes time. 90% of websites have their load times hindered because of their images. There are ways to optimise your images so they maintain most of their image quality while reducing the amount of information they contain – we wrote a blog about image optimisation and you can read all about it here – but you should also be smart about how you use images. Mobile devices have much smaller screens so multiple images will clutter the screen space and actually worsen the user experience, in addition to slowing down the page load speed.
Even if your site is responsive, it’s important to design a website that isn’t just mobile compatible but mobile friendly. That means compressing images and designing desktop sites while keeping in mind how they will look on a mobile device. There’s very little point in forcing a mobile user to download an image with a resolution of 1800×1024 when even the retina screen on the iPhone X will display it at 1125×640 and an iPhone 8 at only 750×444.
A request happens when either the HTML or the CSS files need to reference elements and have to ‘request’ them to be loaded by the browser. These elements include things like images, scripts, or stylesheets, and the more requests a site needs to make, the longer the load time. HTTP requests are one of the biggest factors that impact website loading speed.
Take control of the elements on your webpage to help speed up load times. Try to keep designs relatively simple and efficient, so make sure that all unnecessary features are removed and there aren’t too many links in the main navigation. Or you could put scripts that you don’t want to remove at the bottom of the page so the HTML content is loaded first. That way, users won’t have to wait until the page has completely finished loading before accessing its content.
HTTPS and HTTP/2
HTTPS represents an HTTP with a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate. It means users of a website can browse with much more confidence in the safety of their connection, because information is encrypted as it travels. You can read more about it in our blog about cyber security. However, HTTPS is known for actually slowing down performance, so why should your site use it to help speed up mobile loading speeds?
The answer is that HTTPS leads to HTTP/2, and HTTP/2 means not only does a site have better security, but also better performance. It was built by Google as an experiment (known then as SPDY) but later became the official HTTP protocol. HTTP/2 allows for multiplexing, meaning a browser can request and download multiple assets at the same time. HTTP/1.1 can’t offer this kind of speed, which you can see from this video comparing the loading times between HTTP/2 and HTTP/1.1.
If images contain too much information for a website, then surely videos can’t be included, right? Well, that’s why we embed videos rather than have them loaded up with the rest of the page. Even with the most aggressive compression settings, a video at reasonable quality is still around 5MB for just a few seconds.
However, even embedded videos can add to the loading speeds, because the video player itself needs to be loaded. However, you can defer loading both the video player and the video. A user’s patience for loading times is much higher when they have consciously clicked on a video and are waiting for it to load, so only make them wait for a video when they have chosen to click on it. To do this, you can upload an image of the video from the YouTube Application Programming Interface (API) that, when clicked on, loads up the video player and the embedded video.
Accelerated Mobile Pages
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs) have been around for some time, now. In fact, we talked about them in detail in one of our blogs. Essentially, AMPs are pages that have significantly less information to load up. They are relatively basic and bare-boned, but they load quickly and can find themselves above the traditional Google results in their ‘Top Stories’ section.
AMP isn’t actually a ranking factor, so it won’t affect your SEO, but it is an excellent way to ensure a smoother experience for your audience. It’s not even especially difficult to build one and only requires some basic HTML skills to grasp. The AMP Project have an easy-to-follow guide to help you build an AMP page in no time.
These are some great first steps to take in making your mobile site faster. Even if your site won’t be affected by Google’s Speed Update, optimising your site for speed improves the user experience and puts you in a position to take customers from competitors whose mobile site gives users trouble gaining access. 40% of mobile users go to a competitor if they have trouble accessing a site. Wouldn’t you rather be the company they turn to, rather than the company they abandon?
Image by Jason Chen