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Webpages that take too long to load provide a poor user experience. And it’s something that Google takes very seriously. So much so, that they’re going to rank slow sites lower.

Back in January, Google announced that page speed will be factored into its search rankings. Starting this July, page speed will be taken into consideration when ranking both mobile and desktop websites. And that goes for ecommerce sites too. So, sluggish sites will likely be pushed further down the search engine results page.

Keep reading to find out more about the changes, how they will impact your ecommerce business and what you can do about it.

How will a slow site impact you?

We’ve all been there. You click on a website you like the look of, only to be waiting what seems like forever for the home page to load – never mind the rest of the site. So, you give up and look elsewhere. In fact, 40% of consumers will abandon a page that takes more than 3 seconds to load.

The result? A rival business with a faster site gains the customer and potentially the sale. A slow website will put off potential visitors and customers itself, without the poor search ranking.

In the competitive online marketplace, ecommerce sites depend on users visiting their pages and returning time and time again. Not only will a faster site improve your Google ranking, it will lead to more visitors spending more time on your site.

What is Google measuring?

The first question on most people’s minds is what exactly Google is looking for with its new algorithm. Unfortunately, the tech giants are being intentionally vague about which particular aspects of site speed will impact search rankings.

However, a study by Moz into speed-related rankings found no correlation between front-end performance metrics – such as screen rendering, application response times, app crashes –  and search rankings.

Instead, Moz’s study found that sites with back-end infrastructure that could quickly deliver web content had a higher search ranking than those that were slower. So, back-end performance and TTFB (Time to First Byte) appear to be the biggest influencer on speed-related search rankings at present.

Back-end performance

But what are back-end performance metrics?

Back-end performance includes TTFB, as well as number of HTTP calls and TCP connection times. TTFB is the total time taken for the first byte of data to be sent from the remote server after a user requests the page. So, it doesn’t matter how long your site takes to fully render. Instead, it’s about how quickly it can send the first data byte.

How to evaluate the speed of your site

The new addition won’t be an issue for most websites, with many already fast enough. According to Google, your website’s TTFB should be 200 milliseconds or less, and around 100 milliseconds for static content.

Fortunately, there are a number of free tools online that will test the speed of your site and let you know if you need improvements:

  • Pingdom – This tool monitors the speed of your site and can test from various global locations, giving you a waterfall chart view of your results.
  • Yslow – Yahoo!’s tool suggests ways to boost site speed.
  • Webmaster Tools – Using Labs > Site Performance shows you the speed of your site as experienced by users around the world.

So, you’ve checked your speed and you are over Google’s recommended TTFB. What next?

The causes of slow TTFB

Identifying what is causing your website to run so slowly is the first step to improving your speed. Generally, the four main reasons for slow TTFB are:

  • Dynamic content
  • Server configuration
  • Network problems
  • High website traffic

Not much can be done about high website traffic and network problems, as they are out of your control. In fact, a slow site due to high traffic is probably one of the best problems you could have. Focus instead on dynamic content and server configuration, which can be optimised to reduce TTFB.

Dynamic web pages are put together from content stored in a database and template files, which are kept on the web server’s hard disk. Static pages, on the other hand, are fixed, so they can be delivered quickly to the user.

So why does dynamic content slow your TTFB? The server has to build the web pages from stored content before sending any response to the user. This can mean hundreds or even thousands of interactions just to build one page, which is bound to take some time.

How can you optimise your site speed?

Reducing TTFB and improving back-end performance can boost your site speed. Here are just some of the ways you can do exactly that without having to start from scratch:

  • Introduce a caching system – By introducing a caching system to your site pages, you can deliver them quicker. If it has been visited recently, the page will be delivered directly from the cache rather than the server. This will save time and relieve the server from extra traffic.
  • Reduce image sizes – Smaller images will decrease the ‘fully rendered’ time. This won’t boost your Google rankings based on speed alone. But a faster site means more people are likely to stay on the site for longer, which will increase your rankings in the long run.
  • Change your web server – If you’re using a slow server, your website will suffer. Avoid using underpowered web hosting and make sure your server is compatible with all the technology you use.

Of course, reducing your dynamic content and increasing static pages will boost your speed, but this might cause your site to be less relevant and of a lower quality – which will affect your rankings too. Getting the balance right is crucial. Remember, the relevance and quality of your content still trumps speed in Google’s eyes.

Speed up your ecommerce site with expert help

Have you discovered your site isn’t running as quickly as it could? Or, even worse, have you noticed a dip in your search engine rankings? Don’t panic! Bing Digital is here to help. With an expert team of ecommerce specialists, we’re fully equipped to design and develop fast, attractive websites.

Whether you’re looking for a brand new, top of the range website or you just need to give your current ecommerce site a boost to keep up with Google’s every-changing algorithms, we’re on hand to provide specialised support and advice.

Get in touch with us today to talk to an ecommerce expert.

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