Page Speed, Google, Ranking and WordPress

Author Benjamin Denis
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Page Speed, Google, Ranking and WordPress

It is generally agreed that users do not like to wait for pages to load and even with the fastest internet connections, some pages can still be too slow. On average 25 % of users abandon a page if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load. Slow pages reduce conversion rates too. Amazon famously found that every 100ms of latency cost them 1% in sales and therefore one second extra load time on every page would cost them $1.6 billion a year in lost revenues.

Importantly for SEO, though, Google does not like slow web pages either and for several years they have used page speed as a ranking factor. Fast pages can be ranked higher than slow ones. This is to be reinforced by the introduction of the Page Experience ranking factor in June 2021 that includes page speed metrics recorded by real users.

What causes pages to be slow?

A user’s internet connection can make a page load slowly. Do not assume that all the visitors to your WordPress site are on the fastest fiber connections. This is normally not your problem, but real time page speed measured by real visitors to your website does play a part in ranking.

The amount of data your page contains (text, images, HTML code, Javascript code, etc.), increases the time it takes for the page to travel the internet and download to the user’s device (computer, phone or tablet). Having lots of large files (such as lots of large images) may make your page load slowly. Some themes will load a lot of files they don’t even need.

The distance that a user is from your web server could also slow down page speed. Data having to travel across the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans may be delayed by the reduced bandwidth of intercontinental networks for example. There are cases where physical distances are not great but the interconnections between internet providers make the journey a long, and slow, one.

Your hosting company, web server and web software play an important role in page speeds too. Delays can occur when a web server has too many connections to handle. The content of WordPress sites is stored in a database on your web server. The response of this database needs to be rapid too or it will slow down overall response time.

Server response time is experienced as the time it takes for a new page to start to load when you click on a link to it. Users hate it when links and buttons do not respond to being clicked on and it is often recommended that this delay should be no longer that 200ms.

Why is Page Speed important for Google?

As far back as 2009, Google said it was on a mission to make the web faster because they recognized that people prefer faster, more responsive apps.

There was, however, a more important motivation for Google. To keep its index up to date, Google must crawl and download data from billions of web pages every day. The speed of the web has a direct impact on the cost of completing that crawl. If websites are slow, then Google needs more computer power to complete the crawl and computer power costs money.

From 2009 they published a series of resources on http://code.google.com/speed/ dedicated to making the web faster. These resources included Page Speed which later became available online as PageSpeed Insights and also as a report in WordPress from SEOPress PRO.

Page Speed as a Ranking Factor

Google incentivized improving page speed by making it a ranking factor in 2010 although insisting that it would only have a small impact on search results compared to other ranking factors. It improved and extended the page speed signals in the 2018 Speed Update. The details of this update indicated that the slowest pages loose ranking in search results.

Up to this point, it was not clear how page speed was measured by Google, nor which indicator was used to determine ranking. Google did say it measured page speeds from their own servers and tried to factor out the latency caused by distance and internet connections.

In May 2020, Google announced that a new Page experience signal would be introduced to its ranking algorithm including Core Web Vitals scores measured using real user data collected by Chrome. You can find more details on this update in our article Core Web Vitals and WordPress SEO.

The first important change this update will bring is using real user data to measure page speed. The second is that it made it very clear which two indicators it would use in determining if a page were fast or slow:

  • First Input Delay (FID): measures interactivity, meaning the time a user had to wait for the site to respond after clicking on a link or button. This is synonymous with server response time discussed above. To provide a good user experience, pages should have a FID of less than 100 milliseconds. Over 300 milliseconds is considered poor.
  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): measures loading performance up to the point where the page is sufficiently visible. To provide a good user experience, LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading. Over 4 seconds is considered poor.

A third Core Web Vital score measures visual stability of the page as it loads. It is not a page speed indicator, but it is used to measure whether the page provides a good user experience. Core Web Vitals take into account your best results only, ignoring 25 % of the poorest page speeds collected.

Is Your WordPress Fast Enough?

Using SEOPress PRO you can run a PageSpeed Insights analysis from within WordPress. Go to SEO > PRO and click on the PageSpeed Insights tab. Click on ANALYSE HOMEPAGE WITH PAGESPEED INSIGHTS to get a report for your homepage.

A PageSpeed Insights report from within WordPress
A PageSpeed Insights report from within WordPress

The first thing you will want to check is the overall page speed score that Google calculates for your page. On a scale to 100, anything below 50 is considered “slow”. Above 90 is “fast”. Seventeen percent is not great!

PageSpeed Insights will fetch Field Data available from the Chrome User Experience Report. This is the data that Google will use as part of the Page experience ranking factor. It also provides Lab Data which are page speed scores calculated in real time by an emulated visit from Google.

For pages that do not score 100 on this analysis, Google will provide hints on improving page speed, but be warned: these hints may get very technical very quickly. We also recommend trying the independent quality and performance report by Dareboost for a more insightful audit of your page speed and better organized priorities for making your pages faster.

To improve your page speeds, check out our 10 tips to boost your page speed on WordPress. You will note that there are many areas where you can improve page speed including changing web hosting, optimizing images, adding caching, changing your WordPress theme and keeping WordPress and plugins up to date. The truth is that getting the best page speed will be achieved by lots of small incremental improvements and some improvements will be easier to implement than others.

Be ready to accept that you may need the help of experts to implement and maintain fast pages in WordPress.

By Benjamin Denis

CEO of SEOPress. 12 years of experience with WordPress. Founder of WP Admin UI & WP Cloudy plugins. Co-organizer of WP BootCamp.

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