The load speed of a website is now one of the many factors that influence how the search engines view the quality of the website and consequently how well the site ranks.  That means that fast loading websites have an advantage in the search engine positions over similar websites that are slower.

Websites with large images, lots of smaller images or flash graphics could be losing out to similar sites with smaller or fewer images in the search engine rankings now that the load speed of a website is a factor used to determine at which position a website appears. But it is not only images that slow down a website – there are also many scripts that also affect site speed, paradoxically, Google’s own Analytics script, which has become a vital tool for most website owners and also Google’s Adsense code.

Although site speed is one of 200 factors affecting the perceived quality of a website, every known factor should still be optimised where possible. This obviously doesn’t mean that you can’t use images but it does mean that every image should be reviewed to ensure it is the lowest resolution possible and that the size of the image file is the size of the image being displayed to the user. There are many sites out there that resize images as they are displayed on the site using the HTML “width” and “height” attributes. Eliminating this practise alone could have a considerable effect for sites with a substantial number of images per page.

It is important to recognise that each new factor introduced by the major search engines is designed to promote high-quality sites in preference to low-quality sites. Provided you concentrate on a high-quality site with great, new content that is well-optimised a website should not be adversely affected by any current or new factors used to determine site quality.

Typically it is spam websites, that come and go very quickly, that will not be optimised well and will tend to load more slowly and if these are badly affected by SEO factors then that can only help the cause of the high-quality sites. For genuine websites, Google is, in fact, doing you a favour by forcing you to optimise for site speed because a faster loading website could potentially have a lower bounce rate and an increased conversion rate as fewer visitors lose patience and look elsewhere. Website visitors are notoriously impatient and said to lose interest if they have to wait more than 5 seconds for a page to load. So, irrespective of what the search engines are encouraging us to do to our websites, the page speed factor should be one foremost in our minds if we want to capture and keep the attention of our visitors.

There are, of course, other factors that can contribute to slowing down your website such as too many CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) and JS (JavaScript) files. Keep the number of these files to a minimum for a website – many websites can manage perfectly well with a single CSS and JS file. The reason they slow down a website is because each time one of these external files is required by the source code, it has to be retrieved from the server, which adds to the time taken to display the page to the visitor. The size of the file also affects page loading time so ensure there is no excessive blank space or comments in the files themselves. Blank lines and space, and excessive comments will unnecessarily increase the file size and hence the load speed.

It is possible to test the page load time of all of your website’s pages, as well as those of your competitors for comparison, using one of the free tools available online. Just remember that free tools are not always entirely accurate so use them only as a guide and for comparing your performance with your competitors.

Probably the best tool to use is the web-based Page Speed Online (part of an open-source project started at Google) which enables page analysis in any browser without the need to download a browser extension. It highlights potential speed-related problems and makes suggestions on how to improve load time. Page Speed is also used in tools such as Webpagetest.org and Show Slow.

So don’t lose out to your competition by having a slow loading website – it is both simple and free to improve your Site Speed and keep visitors engaged with your website. Site Speed is only one aspect of search engine optimisation but it focuses purely on the user-experience so that has to be a good thing.