In part 1, we talked content. Part 2 got into design. And now it’s time for speed. Google has stated explicitly that when it comes to ranking otherwise equal sites, the fastest ones win. Read on to find out how to improve your SEO with better Performance.

We’ve known for a long time that people view fast websites more favorably. The problem is that people also like sites that are more than just plain text on a gray background. Web designers have been looking for the sweet spot between these competing interests since, well, forever, and the appetite for visual sophistication (or fluff, depending on your point of view) keeps exceeding even the newest and fastest computers and internet connections.

Nevertheless  Google recommends that an eCommerce site page load in 2 seconds or less, and their goal for their own pages is a maximum load time of half a second. So what affects site performance, and what can you do to make your website faster? Hang on, it’s about to get technical in here.

What Google Looks For

You might have heard about Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project and assumed that plain old HTML sites are out of luck. Fortunately that’s not the case.

Google just wants sites to be fast, not to be written in any specific code, and a well-built and well-configured HTML-based website can absolutely get the job done in terms of boosting your small business website speed. Here are three factors you need to pay attention to in order to improve your SEO with better performance:

The First Byte, Where it All Begins

When you click on a link or type in a URL, the first thing that happens is that your computer asks the Internet where that link lives. It sends the question to your cable modem or office router which passes it along to the local switch which sends it to—well, let’s just say that to just find another computer on the internet it can take over a dozen of these relays, or “hops”.

Once your computer finds the computer hosting the website you want, the two computers have to negotiate a connection and start exchanging data. The time it takes from when you click the link to when the first byte, or chunk of data, arrives at your computer can be less than a tenth of a second for a fast connection to a nearby site or several seconds for a computer on the other side of the world.

What can a small business owner do to make her website send the first byte more quickly? In large part it comes down to location.

Host your website on a large, reputable provider because the larger providers have faster connections to the internet backbone (the ultra high speed fiber optic lines that connect major nodes in the internet), and select a host with a datacenter located as close as possible to your customers.

This can get tricky if you have an international audience and in that case it pays to use either multiple hosting companies or use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) that automatically clones your site to many computers all over the world. But for most small businesses a host with a well-connected datacenter near their customers is enough.

Gathering Resources to Put it All Together

After the connection is made and the first byte arrives the rest of the page follows.

Here’s where every single bit counts. You want each page to be made up of as few files as possible, and for those files to be as small as possible. This means combining all your CSS and JavaScript files into single .css and .js files and minifying them (deleting all the comments and whitespace that makes those files easier for humans to read but that computers don’t care about).

It means optimizing your graphics to compress them as much as possible without losing quality, and coding your site so that iPhones don’t get giant images meant for 27” Retina display iMacs.

It means configuring your web server to compress all your text files (HTML, CSS, JavaScript) before it sends them, and to avoid sending the same files to the same computer twice by taking advantage of web browser caching.

And it means not using ad networks that don’t let you cache their ads or have any control over what they send out. Nothing drives visitors away more quickly and undermines your efforts to make your website faster than an unexpected video ad.

The Finish Line: Render Complete

Once all the files that make up your web page get sent to the person viewing it the process isn’t quite finished. The web browser displaying the page needs to put everything together to make it presentable and usable.

At this stage JavaScript is the star player. Much of the sophisticated interactivity seen on today’s websites—animated buttons, menus that slide and fade, image slide shows—is powered by JavaScript. If you have a big, long-running script that has to finish before your page is displayed this can add many seconds to the page’s total loading time.

Overloading your page with fancy effects will also make the page perform sluggishly and will eat up a phone’s battery life like Cookie Monster alone in the Keebler Elfs’ tree.

As you can see, to get the best results speed needs to be a consideration from the very start of a website project. But if you already have a site it’s not too late; you (or someone you hire) will just need to spend some time under the hood of your site to take advantage of every opportunity to shave off some milliseconds and improve your SEO with better performance.

Resources to Help You Improve Your SEO with Better Performance

If you’re a small business owner looking to make your website faster, there are many good resources out there for you. As I’ve said before install Google Analytics if you don’t have it already so you can see what kind of difference performance tweaks have on your site’s traffic. Then, head on over to these websites to get a performance checkout and find out where you should focus your tune up efforts:

Tools to Help You Make Your Website Faster

  • WebPageTest – Choose from multiple locations around the US to test how quickly your website loads, then use the report to see what’s doing the most damage in terms of slowing your site down.
  • Google PageSpeed Insights – Let Google test your page against its own internal standards and tell you what it would like to you to do to make your website faster.
  • GTMetrix – This site covers a lot of the same ground as WebPageTest, but with two important differences: it lets you compare different pages and it measures your site’s performance using two different rating systems, which gives you more data to work with.
  • Google PageSpeed Module – If you have the ability to install software directly on your web server, Google makes a suite of tools that will automatically configure your web server for maximum performance. Most hosting companies won’t let you just throw software up on their servers, but they might have installed it themselves. Ask if they’ve got “mod_pagespeed” installed and see what they have to say.

That brings us to the end of the SEO for Small Business Websites series. Now you know what Google’s looking for in the Content, the Design, and the Performance of your website, and you have a few tools in your back pocket to help you make your site as SEO-friendly as possible.

If you’ve got questions or feel like you’d like some help with some of this, dbdc is ready to be your partner in SEO for your small business. Reserve one of my Office Hours sessions today and spend an hour asking all of your questions about eCommerce SEO, Marketing, and User Experience & User Interface design.