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Could a slow website affect your search rankings?

Published on July 27, 2012
Tags: SEO

There are plenty of factors that have an impact on our search rankings. How well the website is optimised, for instance, or how good the content is. But could a slow website also affect our search rankings? One thing is for certain: we all want to make our websites as quick and efficient as possible. It isn’t just SEO specialists who are interested in this; arguably, web designers have just as much if not more of an interest in making sure our websites are fast and responsive. Here are some of the main reasons why it matters.

Web users don’t like slow sites
It is a truth widely acknowledged in the world of web design that web users tend not to like slow websites. While users naturally have varying degrees of patience when faced with a slow-loading site, many will walk away if it takes too long to load a page. According to some research, if a site takes more than four seconds to load, 1 in 4 people will abandon the site.

One of our main roles as web designers is to give the people who use our websites the best possible experience. How long it takes the page to load might be only one of the factors that influence this, but it certainly doesn’t get us off to a good start when they are stuck waiting for something to load – and it could cost us their attention altogether.

Growing smartphone usage
We have looked before on this blog at issues of growing smartphone usage and why we need to take account of it in web design, but the speed of websites is definitely one of the key issues to consider. Even though there have been massive improvements in recent years in terms of how long it takes mobile websites to load, we cannot deny that they are usually still significantly slower to load than desktop sites.

With this in mind, if a website were to take five seconds to load on a desktop, how much longer would that same site take to load on a mobile device? The difference can be considerable, and research from America suggests that if a mobile site doesn’t load within 10 seconds, half of users will abandon that site.

This is one of the reasons why web design techniques such as responsive design are becoming more popular; it helps to make mobile sites more reactive and efficient, as well as providing a better visual display and practical experience to web users.

Search rankings could be affected
Another reason to care about a slow-loading webpage is that it could end up having an impact on your search engine results. According to Google, only 1 per cent of searches are impacted by the load time of websites, but we shouldn’t assume that our own websites are safe and so it makes sense to ensure they’re as efficient as possible so we don’t get penalised.

This means that even though other issues such as the relevance and quality of the site have more impact on how well your website does in search results, the speed can also have an effect.

It could identify other issues

Also, if your website is loading slowly, it could be a sign that there are other issues you need to address in order to help it run properly. For example, has the site been properly optimised? Could the size of the graphics perhaps be slowing the site down? Are there any bugs that you might have missed that need to be fixed to speed it up? Is there anything you could do to reduce the size of your style sheets? Can you reduce the size of the webpage in any other way to help it load faster?

If we want our websites to run as efficiently as possible, we need to make sure we have analysed it properly and perfected the design so there is nothing on the site that could possibly lead to it being slower than it should be. If we do this, it won’t just be the speed of the load time that improves; the overall quality and experience of the site should improve too, so it is definitely an issue that deserves our attention whenever we are worried that a site isn’t loading quickly enough.

By Chelsey Evans

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