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004 – How website page speed affects your organization, and what you can do to fix it

Audio recording

In this episode David discusses the affects of slow loading websites and some quick wins to speed it up.

Some quick highlights:

  • In 2021 Google is changing their algorithm and will likely show a visual indicator of slow sites
  • Your SERP is directly tied to page speed and bounce rate
  • Some useful insights and statistics from 3rd party analysis
  • Website hosts
  • Caching and CDN, what are they?
  • Image optimization
  • And more…
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Caching Modules and Plugins:

Online image optimizers:

CMS image optimizer plugins:

Episode Transcription

Google is making some changes in 2021 to their algorithm which is going to affect search results based on page speed. So how does this affect you? Do you feel that your website is a little bit slow or sluggish when it loads? In this episode I’m going to give you all the tips and tricks to help you increase your page speed.

Welcome, you’re listening to the Non-profit Digital Success Podcast. I’m your host David, from Wow Digital.

Page speed, what is it? Why does it make a difference? Well, have you ever gone to a website and it just takes forever to load? I mean, it doesn’t actually take forever, but it takes a long time or what feels like a long time. And what do you do? You leave the site, you go back to Google, or Bing, or Yahoo, or wherever you were searching or whatever site you were looking at previously, and you continue reading whatever article or looking at other search results that you were looking at.

You’re not alone, the people that are trying to get to your website, the people that are trying to access your information, they feel the same way.

If your site takes more than several seconds to load, then you’re doing a disservice to your audience and they don’t particularly care why it was slow, they just know that the information they’re looking for is either not available or not trustworthy.

This is especially true when users on a mobile have a slow experience, are much less likely to find what they’re looking for, or come back to visit your website in the future. For any site, this is a huge missed opportunity, especially when more than half of visitors abandon if a mobile page takes over even three seconds to load. In 2018, Google search and ad teams announced two new speed initiatives to help improve user experience. Both recommend that site owners and developers pay extra attention to User-centric Performance Metrics and use tools such as their page speed insights to diagnose and improve user experience.

In May of 2020, Google announced that they’re going to be including user experience as part of their Google ranking factor. They said that it wasn’t going to be live then, but it will be at some point in 2021. We now know that this is going to be live in May of 2021, we also have some details about what this actually means. They’re going to be including Core Web Vitals, and that’s broken down into three categories. Essentially, what it means is the loading performance, the interactivity, and the visual stability of the page as it loads.

In the past, Google search algorithm changes have impacted search results by anywhere from 10 to 12%, so when Google makes an announcement about changes to their algorithm, it’s really important that everybody who manages websites pays attention to what they’re talking about. In this case, Google has said that it is going to test a variety of ways to display “a visual indicator in the search results that will let people know if the website that they’re going to click through to will have a great experience”

I’m going to quote Google right now and what they’ve said is this:

“We believed that providing information about the quality of a web page’s experience can be helpful to users in choosing the search result that they want to visit”. They then said, “on results, the snippet or image preview helps provide topical contacts for users who know what information a page can provide. Visual indicators on the results are another way to do the same, and we are working on one that identifies pages that have met all of the page experience criteria”

Quite often when somebody talks about their website being slow, it’s often very much anecdotal, they don’t have any real hard data. Sometimes people look at a clock and they try to figure out how long it takes for a website to load, but that doesn’t actually give any real concrete information. If you go to google.com and you search for page speed insights, click through to the developer tool for that, you don’t need an account to access it. What you do is you put in your URL, you click the analyze button and within about 30 seconds or thereabouts, you’ll end up with a report, and it’ll give you a ranking from zero to a hundred.

One thing to note is on the left side in the blue bar you’ll see a mobile and desktop report, and switching between those will actually give you different results based on whether it was tested against their mobile or their desktop criteria. You’ll get a little screenshot of what the page looks like and you’ll be able to identify where the slow timing is happening with your website.

Further down the page, there will be a listing for opportunities to improve and diagnostics, and you can expand those and get all kinds of great information. If you don’t manage your website yourself, what I would suggest is you run the page speed insight test, get some information about what’s happening, and have a conversation with whoever your developer or digital agency is, and talk with them about how you can better optimize the website.

But David, what does this mean in real life? Well, if your website isn’t on par with the top 10 organic pages, you’re not going to rank on the first page of results, and the vast majority of search engine users just won’t click through to the second page.

So focusing on page speed is absolutely critical to having a successful website that converts people and provides your community with the information they’re looking for.

There’s a company called Backlinko, and they recently conducted a study that analyzed over a million search engine result pages on Google, and they want to figure out what factors were the most common among the websites that ranked in the top 10 results. It was evident that the average page load speed for any website was a huge factor in ranking higher. The top-ranking positions had the same thing in common, they had fast pages on their website, and on top of that, they also had low bounce rates when compared to results even on the second or third pages. So this was a big correlation between fast websites and low bounce rates, and that was recently backed up and supported by Google’s page speed industry benchmarks.

They found that as the page load time goes up, the chance of somebody bouncing from your website increases dramatically. Going from 1 to 3 seconds, the probability of being bounced is about 30%, going from 1 to 5 seconds, it increases to 90%, and then going to 6 seconds is 106%. And basically what that means is that if your website takes over 10 seconds to load, the chance of somebody leaving your website before it even loads completely is essentially a guarantee.

So let’s talk about what actually causes a page to load slowly, sometimes it has to do with the actual technology and the physical hardware at the end of the day that is running your website. Some really inexpensive web hosting companies have hundreds or thousands of websites running on the same hardware, and that can cause a strain on the speed of the site. Going with the cheapest solution is not always the best option, even if you’re just in start-up mode as a new nonprofit organization.

Having said that, there are ways that you can still increase your website if you’re in a really cheap, inexpensive, shared hosting environment. It’s called caching, every time you visit a website your computer, your mobile, your tablet, has something built-in called the cache, and what that does is it saves a local copy of the webpage, the graphics, the styles, the coding, the JavaScript, everything that is happening behind the scenes, on your computer or device so that the page will load faster the next time.

However, there are some tricks that you can do to change the time at which the cache expires, and that is something nonprofits can take advantage of because they’re not making drastic changes to the way the pages look and feel. Caching is also something that could be employed on the server-side, so it doesn’t matter if the user coming to your website has disabled caching or not.

Most content management systems are driven by a database on the back end and then they have templates, and then there’s the content images and videos that are overlaid into the templates. So essentially, what happens is when somebody comes to the webpage it generates the pages every time that somebody goes there, so every time somebody comes it’ll access the database, grab the information, the content, grab the images, grab the template components, build the template, and then send it to the user to see in their browser. All of this usually happens in several milliseconds and it’s done and it’s out and it’s complete. But if you take advantage of server-side caching, it actually builds a cache on the server so it doesn’t have to go and access the database, go and access all the different template components and then build the page, render it, and send it to the user. It’ll sit there until there’s been an edit or an update to some piece of content on that page that will force the server to generate a new copy of the cache. Check out the show notes and I’ll have some links to page caching plugins for popular content management systems.

Something else you can do is deploy a content distribution network, it’s also called a CDN, and that is a network of servers that are used to distribute the load of your content. Essentially, copies of your site are stored in geographically diverse data centers across the globe so that users have faster and more reliable access to your site because they’re geographically located closer to the people who are looking at your website.

Very often what causes speed issues is the size of the images, you need to make sure that the images are optimized properly for the web, that they’re the right type of file format, whether it’s a JPEG, a PNG, or GIF, and making sure that they’re sized appropriately. If you go out with a digital camera or your cell phone, and you take a picture of a service or a program area or the building, and you just take it from the device and put it right up on the website, it’s not properly optimized to be displayed on the website. You’re likely putting an 8 or 9 or 10 MB image on the website when if you sized it properly and scaled it down, that image would maybe be two or three hundred KB, just a small fraction of what the original file size is.

So it’s really important that you scale down your images to the size that it will be at maximum display throughout your website. What that means is let’s say you have an image for a news release, that image might be displayed in a small thumbnail on the homepage, but when you actually click through to the news release page on your site it displays in a larger format, and so what you want to do is scale down the image to be displayed on the maximum size, which is what it would be showing as on the actual news release page.

There are many ways to optimize your images, you can do it with your photo editing software such as Photoshop, there are online websites that you can go to. I’ll leave a link to one or two in the show notes on my website and you can upload your image to there and it will resize it for you, as well as there are plugins for very popular content management systems that will automatically optimize the images on your behalf without any intervention. I’ll leave some links for some image optimization plugins for content management systems in the show notes as well.

When you’ve spent countless days, weeks, and months planning and building a new website, you want it to be perfect. Every image, element, and icon needs to be top-notch, but that very often leaves you with a website that is slower than the best practices Google has set out, and Google’s all about creating and providing an amazing and great user experience, so if your site is too slow and Google sees people bouncing from your site, they will lower you in your SERPs.

A faster website means better engagement and connection with your community, it’s just that simple. If you want to be able to compete online against the other organizations that are trying to get donor dollars and attention, you need to fix your website performance.

That’s the end of this episode about how page speed is such a critical function of your website and how it impacts your search engine ranking. I hope that I didn’t get too technical and too deep into the functionality and jargon that typically this kind of conversation would end up including, and that you have some information, a little bit more knowledge, that you can go and update your website and make it run a bit faster, or speak with your web developer, designer, department, IT team, digital agency, partners, etcetera, to get them to help you improve your website speed and take advantage of all Google enhancements that are coming down the road.

So I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode and I’m looking forward to having you listen to the next ones that we’ve got coming up. If you’ve enjoyed this episode please leave feedback on iTunes or wherever you listen to this podcast, I’d love to hear your feedback and it would also help others find the show.

Be sure to check out the show notes for the episode, head over to wowdigital.com, click on podcast, and search for this episode number and you’ll find all the links, details, and other information that has been discussed in this episode.

Are there any other topics that you would like to hear about? Just send an email to [email protected]. Thanks for listening to the Non-profit Digital Success Podcast!

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  1. The fundamentals of a good website - […] hosting service provider that doesn’t compromise the speed and the security of your website. The loading speed of your…

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