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The hubbub surrounding page load times continues to build. Google have been stoking rumours that it will soon (or is perhaps already) a ranking factor [see: Could Page Load Time Become a Ranking Factor on Google?], not least with the recent addition of site speed statistics to their Webmaster Tools application.
With Google mobilising such tools, whilst discussing the importance of page load time so openly it’s time to start taking your site’s speed seriously.
Firstly, you may well be wondering why it is that page load time could become a ranking factor? Well, Google and the other search engines continuously monitor user activity. If people are entering a website at the top of their listings but are leaving soon afterwards, they need to work out why. Is it irrelevant? Is it ranking too high? Or, perhaps, it is being ruined by page load times.
Internet users don’t want to be left hanging around while an overly complex flash presentation loads. They also don’t want to have to wait for a standard page to load or encounter 404 pages continuously due to server problems at your end. It’s not good form, and Google have clearly recognised this.
So what can you do?
Well, first you need to test your own site speed. There are a number of applications out there to help you do this; these include the aforementioned Google Webmaster Tools statistics and a Firefox plug-in, again supplied by Google Code.
Whilst these will give you precise statistics that you can monitor over time, problematic pages are often visible to the human eye. So if your website is taking a few seconds to load up, you may need to start investigating the issues behind it. If you’re not sure, take a look at some of your closest competitors’ sites and compare them; if yours is noticeably slower you may well have identified the problem.
How to fix a slow website
As with most website issues, there’s no single comprehensive answer to this particular conundrum; however, there are some things that you can check.
First of all you need to check your hosting server. If you haven’t got your own unique server, maybe even if you have, you should ensure that it is performing optimally for your site. If it isn’t, you might want to consider locating a new host.
Remove any extraneous images, videos and flash files that may be unnecessarily slowing your pages. Don’t ruin the aesthetic of your site, just remove anything that isn’t adding a great deal to your overall message.
Clean up any HTML coding issues. Removing superfluous code and ensuring that everything is as it should be, particularly for older websites that have undergone numerous changes over the years, could well help your pages load a little quicker. For an automatic HTML test, you might want to consider a program like NetMechanic.
Why should you bother?
Well, it’s a question of rankings. If your site is slow to load, Google are suggesting that they may well – in the future – punish it. If and when site speed becomes a ranking factor it will join a long list of similar parts of this broader algorithm jigsaw. If you’re serious about SEO, then you need to get serious about site speed.