Website Speed Optimisation
Maile Ohye: Hi, my name is Maile Ohye. I work at Google as a Developer Programs Tech Lead and I manage our webmaster central blog. I’d like to help you better understand how Google approaches site performance and also to help you feel more comfortable in taking those first steps to making your site faster. In today’s agenda we’ll first cover the need for speed and why we at Google thing speed is of primary importance.
Next, faster on the front end for little or no money down. It turns out that you can make a lot of improvements to your site without investing thousands of dollars in new architecture, but just by some simple tweaks to your HTML. Then we’ll look at the available tools. These are things like site performance and webmaster tools as well as page speed. Next, frequently asked questions. And then recapping the three steps to success. And then we’ll summarize by looking ahead and talking about the importance of performance and how it can apply to the SEO industry as a whole.
So let’s get into the need for speed. Speed increases conversions. In side by side testing of an optimized vs. the original version, the only thing that was different was that the optimized site was faster, but all the content was the same. Shopzilla and Firefox had some interesting findings. At Shopzilla, they found a 7-12% increase in conversions just by making their site faster. At Firefox, they had a 15.4% increase in downloads. They estimate this means sixty million extra downloads from these minor tweaks to landing pages. What are these minor tweaks? Firefox said that it comes down to one factor — speed.
The next need for speed is that a faster site increases user satisfaction. Google and Microsoft ran a test where they actually gave some users delayed results. They found that the more delay, the more unhappy the user. And you can see this in these user satisfaction numbers. At 500 milliseconds or a half second delay, satisfaction was decreased almost one percent. When you get up to two seconds, you’re nearing four percent. In fact, these users were so dissatisfied that Microsoft actually ended the experiment fairly quickly.
The last case I wanted to cover about why site performance is so important is that a slow site actually has lasting negative effects. Google and Microsoft ran another experiment where they only implemented less than half a second delay, or 400 milliseconds. They found that for those users that they gave these delayed results to, they actually saw a decrease in query volume. So that continued to trend for about seven weeks.
At seven weeks, they totally removed the experiment, but it turns out that while the query volume went up for those users, it still never reached the level, even at week eleven of where they were prior to the experiment starting. So, a fast site increases conversions. It helps you have user satisfaction. And know that a slow site causes not only dissatisfaction, but lasting effects. Because speed is so important and because we aim to give users the best search experience possible, site performance is now a factor in Google rankings.
Ranking is a nuanced process. And there’s over two hundred signals, but now speed is one of them. Know that content and relevance are still primary, but making your site faster can also help. The good news is, you can have a much faster website on a low budget.
Steve Souders, who is my colleague at Google, and who wrote the books <i>High Performance Websites</i> and <i>Even Faster Websites</i>, calls this the Performance Golden Rule. Steve says that 80 to 90 percent of the end user response time is spent on the front end. Start there. I found this particularly interesting, because I would have thought it was on optimizing your database or making sure that you scaled your architecture. But it turns out that so much can be done on the front end.
And to prove this, I have a waterfall view of my website taken from webpagetest.org. Here you can actually see the different requests that were made just to retrieve my home page. So at under one second is when the content from my website was returned to the browser. At just over one second, the browser actually started to render my content. But then it had to make all these different requests for different images. So, the final page didn’t load until after seven seconds. So there’s a lot of improvements to be made there. So, let’s talk about some of the tools that Google offers that can help make your site faster. First we have webmaster tools.
There is a feature called “site performance.” So, for your verified site and webmaster tools, inside “site performance” can give you a pretty good gauge of how your site performs, will tell you the average load time, as well as how your site’s speed compares to other sites on the web. So, if your site is, faster than, say, 95% of the websites on the web, then you might know that you can then start to prioritize just building out content. However, if your site’s on the slower end of site’s that are on the web, then you really know that you should make speed a priority. In addition to site performance and webmaster tools, we also have Page Speed. Page Speed is a Firebug plugin that you can use on any URL. So, I went ahead and did it on my own site.
I ran Page Speed, and I was given an average score, which was 75 out of 100, which is essentially my being a C student. What Page Speed did was also tell me in priority some of the things I should work on, and it gave me specific recommendations under the general ideas. So let’s take a look at the first one — leverage browser caching. So, browser caching is the idea of and subsequent visits to a website, that they don’t have to retrieve the content again because it’s actually stored in the cache. So, I went to my hosting site and looked up, “how would I make this work?” So, I looked up, “increased caching.” There, on the support pages of my hoster, I see “how can I increase the time that web browsers cache my files for?” So I went ahead and clicked that.
I used to work on web servers a long time ago, but not so much any more, so much of this stuff is kind of refreshing to me. So, it actually told me about setting a longer cache time. At my hoster, and perhaps likely on yours, it’ll actually give you the syntax that you can add to your HT access file. And this is going to help your web server to read it for configurations on how to actually implement caching. So, I saw this here, “expires by type,” and it gave some syntax. I just looked that up a little bit more, because I don’t want to make it just one month, but I wanted to make it for years. Found the syntax here. So that’s great. So, now we can pretty much just put this in a notepad. Adjust it. And I can log into my own website through SSH. I copy over my old HT access file just so that I have it as a backup. And then I edit it, adding this new syntax to have “now expires” in caching. Terrific. Now, when I rerun Page Speed with these caching improvements, I can see that my overall score has improved. I went from a C student to 80 out of 100, which is a borderline B student.
This makes me extremely happy. This caching improvement can be seen again when I go back to webpagetest.org and actually refetch my website. Before, on the second request for my page, it still required over seven seconds to load, but now with caching implemented, it’s 1.3 seconds. Thus far, we’ve covered why speed is important and the available tools that Google and others have available to make your site faster.
Now let’s cover some frequently asked questions: “Is it possible to check my server response time from different areas around the world?” Definitely. Thankfully, webpagetest.org allows you to actually test retrievals from different parts of the United States like East Coast or West Coast, as well as United Kingdom, China, and New Zealand. My next question is, “What’s a good response time to aim for?” Well, first keep in mind that if your competition is fast, then they might be providing a better user experience for your same audience, so it’s always good to know what others are offering. After that, there have been studies by Akamai, who found that 2 seconds is actually the threshold for e-commerce site acceptability, meaning that that’s what users like to shop with. At Google, we aim for under a half second.
The last question is, “Does progressive rendering help users?” Definitely. Progressive rendering is when the browser displays whatever content it has available as soon as possible so it can display in increments. And, you can oppose this to the idea of a browser waiting for seconds and then displaying everything at once. Progressive rendering is important because it provides users with that visual feedback and helps them to feel more in control. Microsoft Bing actually tested this. They sent the visual header, being the logo and the search box first, and then the ads and the search results as they were calculated. Microsoft found a 0.7 increase in satisfaction with progressive rendering.
They said this was compared to a full feature roll out, but again, this just had to do with progressive rendering, not an actual feature. So how can you implement progressive rendering on your own site? Put style sheets at the top of the page. This allows a browser to start displaying content ASAP. We’ve covered a lot of material here, so let’s just recap three steps to a faster site.
First, check out site performance in Webmaster Tools. There, you’ll get a good gauge of how your site performs in relation to the rest of the web. From it, you can really determine whether performance should be a priority, or whether you can actually start working on other features. Next, install Page Speed. While “site performance” has recommendations on how to make your site faster, Page Speed is much more comprehensive. And third, just explore. Check out tools like YSlow, Webpagetest.org, or hang out in the “Make the Web Faster” forum.
Let’s summarize by taking a look ahead at how performance can actually impact the SEO industry. If a faster site has now been proven to increase conversions, page views, and time on site, meanwhile lowering bounce rate and operating costs, in fact, Shopzilla found that by just speeding up their site, it decreased their operating costs by 50%. So this is why I personally find performance so important. Because, not only is it great for users, but it actually helps provide measurable SEO value. Thanks so much for your time today.
For more information, visit code.google.com/speed.