The simple answer is yes, page speed does affect SEO and it’s definitely an area we recommend tackling as part of your SEO strategy.
As with many technical SEO tactics, improving your speed and Core Web Vitals should be viewed as a way to give pages the best chance to rank well and convert, but those pages need to be full of high quality, relevant content for searchers to begin with. This means that having a full SEO strategy which includes content, tech and digital PR is key to winning.
Below we’ve answered a couple of need-to-knows before we dive into how speed affects SEO and what you can do about it.
- What are Core Web Vitals (CWV)?
- Is page speed a ranking factor?
- Here’s how page speed impacts SEO
a) User experience
b) Engagement rate (formerly bounce rate)
c) Mobile-First indexing
d) Crawl budget
- So, how do you improve your page speed?
What are Core Web Vitals (CWV)?
Core Web Vitals are a set of metrics introduced by Google to measure the overall user experience of a page and should be one of the first places you look when investigating speed issues. You can find the CWV reports in your website’s Search Console profile.
These metrics are related to both speed and usability and include:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
- First Input Delay (FID)
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
We won’t go into the full details on what these metrics mean here, but your SEO agency should be able to explain exactly what they are and why they need to be examined in detail.
Is page speed a ranking factor?
So is it actually a ranking factor? As with all things related to the mystery shrouded Google ranking factors, we can’t be totally sure. However, Google does have a focus on providing searchers with the best user experience and delivering better search results. They have said themselves that “Google’s core ranking systems look to reward content that provides a good page experience.”
Ultimately, achieving good page speed and CWVs needs to be considered as part of a more holistic SEO and UX strategy which includes incredible content, a technically sound site and strong off-site signals such as backlinks. Google themselves have summed it up nicely below:
“We highly recommend site owners achieve good Core Web Vitals for success with Search and to ensure a great user experience generally. However, great page experience involves more than Core Web Vitals. Good stats within the Core Web Vitals report in Search Console or third-party Core Web Vitals reports don’t guarantee good rankings.” (https://developers.google.com/search/docs/appearance/page-experience)
Here’s how page speed impacts SEO
Although we can’t be totally sure of page speed’s place as a direct ranking factor, it has a huge impact on page and user experience, as well as how your website is crawled by search engines. The below areas all play a part in getting users to your website through appearing in search results, keeping them there and ultimately giving them a great user journey throughout your site.
To put it simply; faster-loading pages provide a better user experience. When a website loads quickly, visitors are more likely to stay on the site, interact with the content, and ultimately convert. Positive user experience signals to search engines that the website is relevant and valuable to users, which can boost its rankings.
Speed auditing and reviewing your Core Web Vitals are important to spot where you might have some user experience issues. For example; one of those CWV metrics, Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) is something we find during many audits. This often signals that part of the page is shifting around, making the site frustrating to use and delivering a poor user experience.
Engagement rate (formerly bounce rate)
Talking of sites being frustrating to use, engagement rate is also influenced by speed and usability. Engagement rate is the percentage of users who stay on your website and interact with it. A low engagement rate can negatively impact SEO rankings and can be a sign of poor user experience in the eyes of a search engine. You can see your website’s engagement under the Acquisition section of Google Analytics 4.
Slow-loading pages or those with Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) issues tend to have lower engagement rates because users may become impatient and leave before the content appears or becomes interactive. Addressing these speed and CWV issues can help to improve overall engagement rate, alongside other SEO and content focused improvements.
With Google’s Mobile-First Indexing, the search engine primarily uses the mobile version of a page for ranking and indexing. That’s why when we review page speed and CWVs, we also ensure mobile is front of mind. However, if your audience is primarily made up of desktop users, then this should play a part in where you focus your optimisation efforts.
Page speed becomes even more critical for mobile devices since they often have slower internet connections compared to desktops, so it’s essential to have pages run as smoothly as possible on mobile.
If you have a large website you may want to consider how speed could impact your crawl budget. Crawl budget refers to the number of pages that a search engine’s web crawler is willing to and able to crawl on a website within a specific timeframe. Ultimately, you want Google to be able to crawl and index as many of your pages as possible to give you the best chance at a page being eligible to show in search results. We won’t go into the technical specifics here, but Google’s own developer documentation suggests ensuring your pages load efficiently as they might be able to read more content from your site.
So, how do you improve your page speed?
The first step to improving page speed is identifying the issues present. At NORTH we conduct full speed audits for our clients to spot where improvements can be made at both a sitewide and sometimes page level.
This is done using auditing and measurement tools like:
From there it’s a case of working with developers or plugins to rectify these issues to get a website up to speed.
If you have concerns about how your website speed could be impacting SEO, get in touch with a member of our team today. We offer many SEO services from auditing through to strategising.