Improving site speed – talk about the business benefit

by on 12th April 2010

For many months now, webmasters have been responding to signals from Google that page speed would soon become a ranking factor. Very recently, Google confirmed that for a limited set of queries, (US) results are influenced by page load times (around 1% of queries). Although you shouldn’t panic about this announcement, it may be wise to be prepared for a wider implementation of the change across Google’s search results.

Thing is, if you haven’t been optimising your site performance for improved speed until now, you may have missed a trick (or a conversion, email registration, repeat visit or some other valuable metric).

The business impact of performance changes to a site

At Velocity 09, Eric Schurman and Jake Brutlag presented “Performance Related Changes and their User Impact”. Their presentation was based on groups of site performance experiments carried out at Google and Microsoft. Microsoft introduced delays on their servers and slowed down the delivery of their search results, slowing page load or testing progressive rendering on their pages. Their objective was to collect data to help the organisations decide how important page load performance actually was to a business-driven outcome.

Microsoft concluded that server-side delays above around 200ms introduced strong negative impacts on the following metrics:

  • Repeat usage
  • Revenue (A revenue drop per user as much as 4%)
  • User engagement
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Time to first click (as much as twice as long compared to the delay introduced)

It was extremely fascinating to learn that one of Google’s methodologies to introduce a lag in their search results was as simple as setting a delay to respond to the very first server header request received from the user. Google were also able to respond with a server header response before they’d actually generated the search results themselves and test variations of ads rendered before organic results and vice versa.

Google similarly concluded that a linear relationship exists between increasing server side delays and user satisfaction metrics, abandonment and declining repeat searches.

What things can we do to improve our page load times?

If you’re lucky enough to have the development skills necessary to implement performance changes on your site, then you might want to review Google’s recommendations for site performance tools or read this post on improving your site speed written last year on Builtvisible.

I have no direct control over my site performance

You might have no direct control over your website’s page load times. Most SEOs don’t directly influence the site technology platform, hosting solution, content delivery network choice or proxy caching solution for their (large scale) site infrastructures, but that’s not to say they can’t offer advice, share research or evangelise in their organisation.

14% will start shopping at a different site if page loads are slow, 23% will stop shopping or even walk away from their computer.

Spread the word

Make your technology team aware of the Google announcements and draw their attention to the tools made available in the labs section of Google Webmaster tools. Fact is, most technology teams have superior site monitoring capabilities to Google’s labs based performance tools but introducing the idea that site performance can impact SEO and user engagement is a great way to capture interest.

A presentation, an email or a face to face conversation can really help. In my last in-house SEO role, I would get together with the technology team to discuss SEO on a monthly basis and they were always really interested in what developments were happening in the SEO community. New issues in the SEO community, in particular, got them interested!

Distribute research available that suggests the relationship between site performance and user engagement metrics. The video embedded in this post can be found here and the presentation on Scribd, here.

Data is very difficult to come by (and I suspect the outcome of this type of work will depend very much on the market, keyword, page layout / design) but experiments on page weight were being carried out a long time before Google began their performance campaign – so it must be pretty important, right? Facebook published a summary of the impact of page load on user engagement on August 28th 2009, concluding that metrics such as page views per session improved as server response time and page load times were reduced.

This excellent study on Royal Pingdom (found via SEOmoz) concluded that user expectations on site performance have changed significantly since 2006, stating:

  • 47% expect a web page to load in two seconds or less.
  • 40% will abandon a web page if it takes more than three seconds to load.
  • 52% of online shoppers claim that quick page loads are important for their loyalty to a site.
  • 14% will start shopping at a different site if page loads are slow, 23% will stop shopping or even walk away from their computer.
  • 64% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with their site visit will go somewhere else to shop next time.

That’s amazing! Improving or resolving these factors could yield how much % increase in ROI for your business?

You could also suggest alternatives to big hosting upgrades, such as the implementation of a remote proxy cache that serves content in the geolocation you’re actually targeting.

Google’s announcement really brings a much older conversation back into play – what are the business benefits of implementing a faster, more efficient website?

Suddenly a mysterious and highly difficult to predict potential ROI from 1% of US searches becomes measurable and highly actionable, with potential for a big impact on ROI. In my opinion, a site speed audit should be an integral step in your technical SEO strategy.


  1. Nice follow up to the change, there has been a lot of press about this over the weekend but i have been struggling with tracking down any stats. The presentation makes it pretty clear if your site is slow you are missing out on some revenue and giving your users a poor experience. The webmaster tools even give suggestions to where things might be slow.

    **Warning bit if palm reader thought**

    You could also take a long leap and say this could have a direct impact on the mobile space, it has to be one of the fastest growing areas of internet interaction at the moment. With not all sites having a mobile optimised site yet having a full site which loads fast on a less than broadband connection will help to keep everyone happy.

    • That’s an interesting thought Matt – certain platforms would be more sensitive to page weight – so the serps for those platforms may favour the faster page loads in a higher proportion to the standard (desktop based) results. Smart comment!

  2. Great post, great car! ;)

  3. This is a great post Rich – here’s another fascinating link that I regularly reference with regards the benefit of improving load speed:


  4. “According to eMarketer research 16% of people leave the page if it loads longer than 10
    seconds and only every second person will wait more than 15 seconds.”

    You might find this post by Marketing Experiments which dates back to 2005 useful and remains topical till today. It lists most effective ways to reduce your page weight to improve speed:

    – Get rid of all inessential page elements;
    – Clean up your CSS;
    – Get rid of frames;
    – Compress your images;
    – Clean up your HTML, etc

    Site Speed has always been an important factor for most e-commerce site which improves their conversion rate, now that Google has integrated them as one of their many factors for ranking. I am sure we can look forward for clean & fast loading sites!

    Nice post Rich :)

    • Hi Vinay,

      Yeah that article was referenced and linked to in the sentence: “experiments on page weight were being carried out a long time before Google began their performance campaign”

      The numbers for 30+ second page load were astounding! And, in some cases I think there are still sites out there that performa (almost) as badly…

  5. Great post mate.

    I wondered how long it will be before one of the big server companies starts claiming they can improve your Google rankings if you use their servers? :-)

    Thinking more and more about moving my more important sites away from cheap hosting in the U.S – not for rankings but for user experience and abandonment rates.

  6. This all illustrates just how far we’ve come. Clicking off if a page hasn’t loaded in 2 seconds or less? Think back ten years, and we’d all be amazed if a site loaded in less than an hour!

    On a serious note though, those numbers are terrifying. I never thought sites could be shedding so many readers.

  7. i though with the increasing speed of the internet connections perhaps the site loading time will become a much less factor, but looks like its going the other way round.

    lets see some of the things that are responsible for slow site loads:

    1) Stat counters and analytics – any stat counting code mainly javascript based slows site loads, and i have personally seen that the site loadings have improved a lot if the counter script is removed, even contextual clicks have improved which means that certain number of the visitors actually run away from slow loading sites…

    2) Facebook/friendconnect/social bookmarks buttons/vote it digg-twitter buttons – These things dose take away too much of precious site loading times and removing them has helped though at a cost of less social votes and finally resulting in traffic loss…

    3) contextual ads – adsense/infolinks/kontera/adbrite/bidvertiser – yes all this increase loading time and removing them has improved my “time on site” and even helped “bounce rate” but at a cost of money which i can’t afford to lose :P

    i guess we should just leave the site loading time as is and go on with more important things, personally i feel as more and more people will get hold of broadband connections and other superfast internet connections this, “site loading”, 1 out of 200 google algo factor will only lose more value in future :)

  8. Excellent post Richard! Brings up the old conversation that we had a while ago about international sites and the viability of proxy servers.

    In order to get a good idea of page speed though, I’m thinking that engines will need to have localised crawlers. Transatlantic crawling of a European site on a European server is going to introduce delays. But pure page weight and number of additional http requests isn’t going to give a good idea of site speed. A light page on a bad server is still going to be slow. But how to correctly gauge the server speed if you’re doing all your crawling from the US?

    Interesting problem.

  9. Thanks for an excellent (read, interesting and practical) update to your equally useful original post on this subject, Richard. You have a real knack for parsing a complex subject in such a way that it’s readily accessible to less tech-savvy website managers as well as to those who live online. Rare enough, and much appreciated!

  10. Great post and very useful information. This post along with the Website grader has been very helpful in identifying opportunities for SEO. Thanks!

  11. Thanks so much for these statistics. Didn’t know that speed hat SUCH an impact. Will investigate my own site now.

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