Starting from July 2018, Google will roll out an algorithm update targeting mobile page speed. Site speed is also expected to become an increased weighted direct ranking factor in Google’s core algorithm, which means poor loading times could see your site drop in mobile rankings. This comes as Google is gradually rolling out mobile-first indexing, which means mobile pages are served ahead of desktop versions (as the preferred default website type), making mobile page speed even more important.
In other words, now is the time to make sure your website is loading fast for mobile users and it’s safe to say a lot of websites don’t fall into this category. If you’re worried your site could be hit once mobile page speed becomes a ranking factor, here’s what you need to do ASAP.
Upgrade your hosting package
One of the most decisive factors in loading times is the quality of your hosting package and upgrading could make a big difference – especially if you’re currently on a shared server (generally not recommended for business use).
Aside from initial page speed, look for a hosting package that allows enough monthly visitors to access your site, provides enough disk space for your resources and sufficient bandwidth for users to interact with your site simultaneously.
Reduce the number of HTTP requests
Every time one of your pages loads, code resources, media files and various other items are downloaded in order to render your page in the user’s browser. Each of these resources takes time to download and contributes to slower loading times. While many of these files are necessary, chances are you’ll find some that aren’t and you might be surprised by how many unnecessary server requests are being made every time someone visits one of your pages.
It does not only call to your own server that you want to minimize, either. If you’re using plugins, APIs, analytics codes or other third-party resources, you’ll be adding HTTP requests to external servers and these will also add to your loading times. Again, you may decide any or all of these are necessary but it’s worth analyzing the server requests your pages are making and asking how important each of them really are.
Compress your images and other files
Once you’re happy that your site is only making necessary server requests, your next move should be to reduce the size of the files being downloaded. You should also make sure files are saved in the correct format and optimized for performance on mobile. Here’s a summary of what you need to do:
- Compress your code files: HTML, CSS, JS, etc.
- In your HTML files, place CSS and JS calls between the footer and closing HTML tag.
- Use the smallest image sizes possible while maintaining acceptable quality – this is always a balancing act you have to deal with.
- Use the correct image format – jpg, png, etc.
- Use the correct format for videos – HTML5, mp4, etc.
Aside from compressing all of your files, it’s also a good idea to optimize your code for the best performance. This might be difficult if you don’t’ have programmers available or you’re using WordPress and other resources coded by third-party developers. In this case, it might be worth calling in a skilled developer to audit your code files and fix any issues that are hurting mobile page speeds.
Consider content delivery types
Other considerations when it comes to site speed and mobile speed specifically is content delivery. This is about providing the content in alternative ways relevant to the user needs and in a fashion that expedites the expected end results (quicker access to information based on the means of creating and delivering the content).
There are a few ways to deliver content including:
- Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs) (stripped down content versions of media pages to help faster content digestion)
- Mobile Apps (for access to lots of targeted information often offline as well as online)
- Responsive website design (the preferred mobile way to deliver website content)
- Separate mobile sites (example – m.example-domain.com)
Here is an example of App content delivery from a customer I work with (WorldFirst), by modifying content delivery to suit audience needs, not only can you facilitate faster mobile search but also (like in the case of Apps) remove the need for search altogether as everything is self-contained in the App itself.
Get on top of page redirects and website health
Page redirects are always frustrating for website owners, even more so now that Google has made HTTPS a ranking factor. Migrating your site over to HTTPS means redirecting every page and this is hardly ideal from an SEO or page speed perspective. All you can do is minimize the negative impact by keeping on top of your redirects and making sure they function correctly.
Run audits to make sure all of your redirects are pointing to the right pages, stick to 301 redirects for HTTPS pages and avoid redirect chains where users are redirected to multiple URLs before reaching the desired page.
404s (broken content/pages) are important for site speed, and there are many other technical considerations needed to support a fast loading site and a site that appears to be technically healthy.
At Vertical Leap (the company I work for) we run many intelligent algorithms over the ever-changing data sets in order to identify, prioritize and act on (fix) the technical barriers to site speed and general website maintenance and good health.
Here is an example of a few of the site health areas which you could also factor into your mobile performance and speed project:
Revise your list of plugins and third-party tools
Every time you add a plugin to your site – whether it be a WordPress plugin, a JS library plugin or any other kind – you’re adding third-party code to your website that impacts page speed. If you stick to reputable plugins and tools, you should be OK but every addition increases the risk of:
- Adding inefficient code to your site
- Clashes between your website and third-party code
- Increasing the number of server requests
- Calling in resources that don’t meet your optimization standards
In most cases, using plugins and third-party tools will be fine but there’s always a certain level of risk and the more of them you use, the larger this risk becomes. Don’t be afraid of using plugins or the tools you need that consider best practice to only use the ones you need and ditch those that aren’t necessary.
Get these issues in order by July and you shouldn’t have anything to worry about when mobile loading times become a ranking factor. If nothing else, use this as an opportunity to improve the performance of your site and remember that loading times are even more important to your users than Google, even after they become a ranking factor.
It is also important to factor in the broader user and mobile areas that people and search engines expect. This includes items like:
- Mobile friendliness
- Website health and technical performance
- Easy access to information
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