Technical SEO & The Speed Issue
By Peter Prestipino
The technical health of your website is as important to your brand’s search engine optimization success as its content development, link acquisition and marketing distribution efforts.
Few digital enterprises, however, spend much time on what may ultimately matter most – the technical issues that can often prevent an optimal interaction from occurring for the search engines and the users they refer.
Fortunately, surmounting the most common barriers is easy when you know what you’re looking for – and in this edition of Website Magazine’s Mastering Search, one of the most important technical SEO matters - SPEED – is the focus. If your site suffers from low (or no) rankings, commit to finding ways to accelerate page rendering and your brand will likely be on the fast track to digital success.
Google – which accounts for upward of 70 percent of all referred search engine traffic - has long been a proponent of fast-loading websites (just like conversion optimization and user experience specialists are) as the experience that results for website visitors is simply far better than the alternative (60 percent of respondents in Limelight’s recent State of the User Experience report were not willing to wait more than 5 seconds for a Web page to load). So what is responsible for slowing down your website? While there are many opportunities for optimization in this regard, it often starts with the number of requests that are made between the user and the server.
MINIMIZE THE NUMBER OF HTTP REQUESTS:
Most end-user response time occurs on the front-end, downloading images, scripts, etc. If you can reduce the number of these HTTP requests, the resulting experience will be faster. To do that, consider combining files (a single stylesheet for example), avoiding plugins when possible, and/or using CSS Sprites (which combine background images into a single image and use the CSS background-image and background-position properties to display the appropriate image segment).
ADD AN EXPIRES, or CACHE-CONTROL HEADER:
First-time visitors to a Web page are forced to make several HTTP requests, but by using the Expires header, those components become cacheable, which avoids making unnecessary requests on any page views that follow. Expires headers can be used on any component including images, scripts and stylesheets. SEOs with an eye on user experience could implement a “never expire” policy for static components, and for dynamic components, use an appropriate Cache-Control header to help with conditional requests.
Search Security in Focus
Speed, of course, is far from the only variable in your website’s technical success. Most recently, the importance of security has taken center stage as Google indicated that sites using SSL would receive a rankings boost. Read more at wsm.co/searchsecurity
GZIP WEBSITE COMPONENTS:
Many variables come into play in relation to total site speed, but compression is a powerful method to reduce response times as it reduces the actual size of the HTTP response. Gzip is arguably the most popular method and it can reduce response size dramatically (often between 70 and 90 percent).
The aforementioned issues are far from the only ones likely slowing down your website and negatively influencing the user experience and your brand’s search result positions (discover what else might be preventing your digital brand from achieving a faster loading website at wsm.co/cdnblame). Address these issues first however and your enterprise will likely see notable gains in position and provide a better experience for users along the way.