In this blog, Jim Beckham, SEO Director at The B2B Marketing Lab, highlights why website load speed is crucial to SEO, including how it can help content rank for certain keywords and improve the user experience.
Why is improving website speed important for SEO?
Website load speed is just one of the many factors Google and other search engines look at to determine how well content should rank for certain keywords.
And it's becoming more important for a few reasons: 1) Global mobile web traffic first overtook desktop in October 2016, 2) technology like Amazon Echo and Google Home are becoming new sources of mobile searches and 3) Google has been gradually rolling out mobile first indexing in response to more enquiries being made from mobile devices.
So, if your website is not offering a first-rate experience for mobile users, your competitiveness on search engine results pages (SERPS) may be negatively impacted. Worse still, if people are not able to view your site properly on mobile, or it takes ages to load, you may find that your website traffic goes elsewhere.
What is mobile-first indexing?
Mobile-first indexing means that Google indexes and ranks the mobile versions of website pages first. Its implementation has been gradual; it was first rolled out for websites that Google saw as mobile and user-friendly, and now over half of search results are indexed using this method.
Nowadays, sites are more frequently crawled by Googlebot’s mobile crawler. If there are differences between your desktop and mobile website experience, it’ll be the mobile version that appears on Google search results.
Google says this is all in an effort to “better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they're looking for.”
So, make sure to check your Google Search Console account to see if your site is already in the mobile first index. There should be a notification if it is.
Why does website load speed matter?
The best performing websites load fast on mobile, so if your website isn't loading in less than 3 seconds, you’re putting your visitor numbers at risk.
Server speed and the complexities of your website’s code contribute to a slow website, but a really common cause are the images on your website. If they are large (in terms of bytes) or gigantic in size, they'll take ages to load.
Also, what often happens is that whilst an image may appear small on the page itself, it has been uploaded at full print quality and then downsized on the page.
So, even though you only want the image to be small, your browser has to request and load the image from the server at full size and then shrink it down, significantly increasing your load speed.
How large should the images on my website be?
It will depend on the size of the image on the page and what the content of the image is.
We find the best approach is to strike a balance between image file size and quality – in other words, make the image as small as possible without making it blurry or, if there's text, hard to read.
Generally, you should be aiming for the majority of your images to be no more than 100kb, (images larger than this are flagged in our SEO audits).
To help, we’ve put together this four-step guide to compressing images in bulk to improve your HubSpot website load speed.
(We’ve outlined how to do this in HubSpot, because we’re a Diamond HubSpot Partner, but these steps could work on pretty much any other content management system).
Step 1: List and rank your website images by size
To do this you’ll need a crawler tool. Screaming Frog SEO Spider is an amazing tool that every SEO should use. Free for up to 50 pages crawled, or £149 per year, it will pay for itself in no time.
Screaming Frog crawls the pages of your website, follows the links between them and generates reports on what could be impacting your SEO – from broken links and missing meta data, to HREFLANG tag checks and SERP results crawls.
Once you’ve installed Screaming Frog, load it up, type in your website’s address and start the crawl.
(If you want to crawl sub domains as well, set this via Configuration -> Spider, before you start)
Click Bulk Export -> Images -> Images over X KB Inlinks and download the Oversized images report.
Open the report in Excel and sort by Image Size (Bytes) -> Largest to Smallest.
You now have a report showing which images are largest (in Bytes), where they are stored in HubSpot’s file manager (Destination) and what pages they are featured on (Source).
Optional extra: You can use a Pivot Table to find out which images feature on most pages, as this may also help you if you want to prioritise fixing the heaviest images first, or the images featured on most pages.
Step 2: Locating Your Image in HubSpot’s File Manager
Access HubSpot’s file manager via Marketing -> Files and Templates -> Files
Look at the Destination URL of the first image you want to compress. The image's file name should be in the URL.
Copy and paste the image name into the search bar of HubSpot’s file manager.
Click on the image to bring up the File Details
From here you can see where the image is used and confirm its size.
Click More -> Download and save the image to your computer.
Optional extra: This is also your opportunity to further optimise the image file name and alt text so it's more descriptive and/or include a keyword.
Step 3: Compress your website images in bulk
The image in my example is a whopping 10MB, far too large for what’s needed and potentially slowing down the load time of the blog post it’s featured on. What we need is a bulk image compressor.
For image compression, I normally use TinyJPG as it's easy-to-use and can compress images in bulk without making them blurry.
However, TinyJPG has a size limit of 5MB. So, I used CompressJPEG to reduce the file from 10MB to 1.0MB first.
I then used TinyJPG to compress it down to 386.7kb.
However, while I felt there was still an opportunity to make the image smaller as it wasn't below the 100kb target, there’s only so much compression that can be done. As you can see above, re-uploading the image back to TinyJPG only shaved off another 30kb.
But I did not despair - the image was massive in size: 5184 x 3456 pixels, needlessly large for an image that is only going to be used in a blog post.
Using PicResize, I was able to rescale the image size, and the final output of the resized image was 93KB, with very little noticeable difference between image quality.
So, in this extreme example, I was able to take a 10.03MB image down to 93KB without too much difference to the image quality. By using an image editor - i.e. PhotoShop, or its free open-source equivalent, GIMP, you can potentially bring the file size down even further.
There are also online alternatives, such as PicResize, which allow you to specify the image output size (which I set to no more than 100KB).
(Most of the time you would only need to use TinyJPG in this process. You may be wondering: "Why not use PicResize from the beginning?" Truth is, I only found it whilst writing this article, but it’s worth noting that there are several more steps to PicResize’s compression process and it can only do one image at a time. As a result, it can take considerably longer if you’ve got a big batch of images to work on, so I would only recommend it for images over 5MB and use TinyJPG for everything else.)
Step 4: Replacing your compressed images in HubSpot's file manager
The last step is really simple.
Go back to your image in HubSpot’s file manager and click Replace.
Upload your new compressed image and you’re done!
The great thing about HubSpot is that the image is replaced but stays in the same location. This means that all of your content using the image automatically updates with the compressed version, which is a HUGE time-saver. After all, ensuring the content you create for your B2B content marketing strategy is optimised is essential!
Finally, go back to your images report in Excel, get the name of your next image and repeat the steps above. Hopefully, you’ll see your pages load quicker in no time!