You’ve put a lot of effort into getting your nonprofit’s website to rank well in search engines, without the budget for an SEO expert to help. And now Google says your site needs to be fast, as well as “relevant”? Let’s take a quick look at the implications, and what you can or should do about it.
To begin with, how can you know whether your website is fast or slow, by Internet standards? Short of the obvious, of course – if you have time to go for coffee before your website loads completely, that’s a clear issue. But differences in web page loading speed are usually too subtle for us to so easily perceive, and that’s where a (free) speed test tool comes in handy:
Take a Speed Test
A selection of website speed test tools and debuggers is suggested at http://code.google.com/speed, but it’s aimed at tech types and may not be useful for nonprofits without an IT guy on call. I’d skip it in favour of Richard Baxter’s write-up at SEOgadget.co.uk, which explains the need for speed, and runs down a number of tools to speed up your site, or Mike Huck’s excellent Sitepoint article, Practical Web Design - Speed Up Your Site: recommended reading.
No time for all that research, when you’re just trying to get a fundraising appeal sent out before your only intern heads off to Nepal?
For a basic quick do-it-yourself assessment, take WebPageTest.org for a quick spin. Put in the URL of the web page you suspect might be loading a bit slowly, and these tools gives back a nice set of graphics to help identify any page elements that are holding up the load.
Web Page Analyzer is another free online tool, associated with Andrew King’s book Website Optimization: Speed, Search Engine & Conversion Rate Secrets (O’Reilly, 2008). Again, simply submit the URL of any web page you’d like to test, and let the tool do the rest. Web Page Analyzer will calculate the size of individual elements on that page and sum up each type of component. Based on these page characteristics, the script then offers advice on how to improve page load time.
WebSiteOptimiser is a third, similar, speed test tool to consider. Whichever tool you choose to use, do run a couple of different pages for comparison purposes. You’ll soon get a sense of where the hold-up is, if any, and will know better where to go in and tweak your site – or at least, what questions to ask your organization’s tech guru!
Does Website Speed Matter?
To some extent, yes.
Keep a new visitor to your website waiting more than a couple seconds to see your page? They’ll click on out of there before your slideshow has a chance to appear in their browser window – never mind your “Donate Now” button! And if your audience tends to access your site via dial-up – in rural areas, for example – or by mobile, as is increasingly the case for many, then, yes, the amount of data that has to be transferred to render a page will have an impact on your readers’ ability to access it and the quality of their experience.
As well, we’re becoming more and more aware that the ever-growing Internet is pushing the physical limits of its infrastructure; some technical limitations with mobile web surfing mean that all those phones pull a disproportionate amount of resources and will continue to do so; and all of this technology is costing a bundle in energy and environmental terms.
Add to that the possibility of your website taking a hit in the Google SERPS...
While site speed is a new signal, it doesn't carry as much weight as the relevance of a page. Currently, fewer than 1% of search queries are affected by the site speed signal in our implementation and the signal for site speed only applies for visitors searching in English on Google.com at this point. We launched this change a few weeks back after rigorous testing. If you haven't seen much change to your site rankings, then this site speed change possibly did not impact your site.
We encourage you to start looking at your site's speed (the tools above provide a great starting point) — not only to improve your ranking in search engines, but also to improve everyone's experience on the Internet.
Bottom line: There’s no need for us to lose much sleep over Google’s addition of site speed as a factor in its search rank calculations, but when it comes to All Things Web, yes – faster is better.