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Performing an SEO audit: Part 3

February 13, 2020

Website speed is becoming increasingly more important, as more and more web visitors are using their mobiles to find information, find places near them, and begin their journey with your brand.

It’s essential to know how users use their mobile devices and their desktop devices to gather information and purchase products/services before we consider why the speed of your website is so important. If you think about how you use your mobile device, you might use it as a navigational tool, say you’re looking for a specific shop. You might type that shops name into a Search Engine to find the nearest one to you and then get directions. You might also be looking for a specific product they sell to see if they have it in stock, or even if they sell it at all. Mobile is far more for the “here & now” types of search. Desktop/laptop & tablet users, however, tend to be more for research. They’re browsing to find information about services or products before they make their decision.

Website speed is not the be-all and end-all of ranking factors, and in some industries/verticals, it may not be a factor at all. No matter what though, website speed is an important User Experience interaction. Nobody wants to wait 10 seconds for a web page to load. For information about how load time impacts your websites conversion rate please see this handy article by Cloudflare. As a site gets slower, it’s conversion rate gets worse. That’s important to know.

Best practice website loading is 3 seconds and under.

So how do you test your website speed? Well, I have my own methodology I use to test load times. Usually, I will test each page on a website three times, once on a 4G connection, once on a cable connection and a third time on a 3G connection. This will show you how your website performs for different users and provide takeaways on what needs improving for each type.

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This will highlight page-specific load issues like huge unoptimised images, but will also paint a picture of overall site issues such as bloated CSS files & tracking scripts.

GTMetrix is one of many tools you can use to get an idea of your websites speed. Enter your homepage URL into the bar and hit Test Your Site. You might notice that the test server location is anywhere around the world, mine was in Vancouver, Canada – but nobody from Canada would be interested in our make-believe Window Experts website since they’re based in Hampshire.

But here’s how the website scored on the GTMetrix load test.

load test

While the full load time is 9.2 seconds, that doesn’t mean the website is slow. There are several different stages of website loading, and it’s a simple process. I’m going to explain the most important stages or metrics.

First Paint

The first paint is the point at which the page starts to appear for a user.

First Interactive Paint

First Interactive Paint, is the point at which the user can interact with your website, such as clicking links or images or navigating around.

Fully Loaded

The point at which the website load is complete.

I find the best tool to give you a breakdown of how the website performs is WebPageTest.

Enter the URL of your website, for test location, select the location nearest to you. For Window Experts, it would be maidenhead. For now, you don’t need to change anything else. Hit ‘Start Test’. The tool will run the test 3 times to get an average result. Depending on your site speed, it could anywhere from 30 seconds to well, as long as it takes to load your website three times! If it’s taking longer than a couple of minutes, then you already know something isn’t good.

testing speed

What you’ll see is something like this:

first byte

You will see Load Time, First Byte, First Contentful Paint & Fully Loaded Time. These are the key things to look at.

First Byte is how long it takes your server or hosting to provide a response to load the website, so the time between the browser asking for the website and the host providing the resources to build to the site. This should be under 0.3s. If it’s over, you should discuss with your hosting provider what can be done to improve it. It some cases, it may mean paying for better hosting. But, that may not be necessary if your website full load is under 3 seconds anyway. It will just mean it gets a little faster.

First Contentful Paint, is as I mentioned just above, the time at which the page starts to appear on the device.

Load Time is when the web page is complete, and fully loaded is when everything, including tracking scripts, and additional resources like Google Analytics is loaded.

The actual optimisation of speed is a very technical process, and on some self-hosted platforms you are limited as to what you can do, this is things like Wix.com or a WordPress.com (not to be confused with WordPress.org!) website. WordPress websites (that are not hosted on wordpress.com) have hundreds of plugins that can help. If you’re interested in learning how to optimise your speed, get in touch to ask us to write a blog on it!

Run the speed tests on every page of your website to know how you stand on load times. There are of course so many other ways to know about your load times, including real-world data from Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools and Lighthouse, but there’s only so much I can cover in one blog.

The next article will be about auditing your business ‘entity’ throughout the web.

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