Does performance matter for SEO?

Website performance has always been an important part of building and running a website. If the site is too slow, it will generate a poor user experience and may decide they no longer want to visit the site. But what about search engines, does performance matter for SEO? Will a slow website cause your search rankings to go down?

Site speed and its impact on Google ranks is something that is debated quite a bit. There is definitely confirmation that a website that has a slow loading time, will perform poorly in organic search results, but how much? This is the part that people debate quite a lot and there doesn’t appear to be any substantial answer to it.

I have a page load speed plugin in Chrome and it tells me the load time of every site I visit. Quite often I’ll click a link that is #1 for a Google search and the page takes 20 seconds before it fully loads and all the annoying pop ups have appeared. Somehow, this site got to the top rank position even with an incredibly slow page speed.

Like all things SEO, content is what gets you into the index for ranking. If you have the best content, you will more than likely do well through this alone. Even if your competitor has a faster website, you will do better if your content is better, but that doesn’t mean speed isn’t important. Don’t let your competition sneak up on you!

What is a good page load time?

According to Google, an acceptable load time is around 2-3 seconds, but in reality, you need to be aiming for faster. Bounce rate will decrease when your website loads faster. Google may not care if your site takes 3-4 seconds to load, but the end users will. If you are dealing with an online store, the conversion rate is something you will be aiming to improve. A faster website gives a better user experience and will often lead to more sales.

What is Time to First Byte?

This term will appear on a lot of web page speed tests. The answer is a technical one. When you visit a url, a request is sent to the web server of the website. The request will be processed and the server will return the HTML for that specific page. The time to first byte is a measurement of the amount of time it takes from your initial request to the server, to the first byte that it returns back to you.

Think of it like a morse code message. You send a message across the line. The other end deciphers it and then responds. The first beep you get back is the equivalent of the first byte that a web server sends back. The faster the response, the better. This alone isn’t everything though, what about the last byte?

Just because the first byte is quick, does not mean the website is quick. The first byte can return and then remaining bytes to make up the complete message could take several seconds. This far worse than a first byte as it makes the site appear sluggish and bloated. Would you rather wait 3 seconds and get the entire page load at once or would you rather wait 1 second for the site to half appear and wait a further 10 seconds before you can scroll.