Before deep-diving into Google recommended page load time and other steps to optimize a website for speed and performance, let me give you a throwback on how the concept of speed has evolved over the years.
If you look at history, there has always been an obsession for speed. You would notice that each generation has contributed to making speed enhancements during their time, whether it’s in the field of technology, science, or arts.
Today, however, speed has become a major deciding factor; be it while buying the car you use to commute, while hiring colleagues you work with, or while rating a delivery guy who just handed you a courier. Each one’s performance is judged based on the speed at which they complete a particular task.
When you already know that speed has become all-pervasive in our lives, why disregard the slow Page Load Speed of your website?
How Fast Should a Website Load?
If you analyze some of the top traffic-driving websites on the internet, you may find a similar pattern – they all have a load speed fewer than 4 seconds. If you’re frustrated while driving through slow-moving traffic, you would be even more frustrated when browsing a slow loading website.
Unlike slow-moving traffic, when it comes to the web, you have multiple options. If you end up on a website with poor page load speed, you can always go back to the search engine and choose the immediate competitor.
If this is not the case, you can directly type the address of another website that provides similar services and access it.
If you’re a website owner, put this in perspective of your target audience. If you have a website that takes more than three seconds to load, you may be doing a favor to your competitors by redirecting your target users.
According to a study conducted by AKAMAI in 2018, the traditional Page Load Speed timing has to be revamped as the users’ expectations have grown along with the page complexity. The study says that an average internet user in 2018 expects the web page to be fully interactive as soon as it loads.
It says that the initial reaction of a user who enters a page is to either click on a button or scroll down. Unfortunately, due to the slow Time To Interactivity (TTI), the users end up going through “click rage,” which is nothing but double-clicking multiple times out of frustration.
This is why it’s crucial for website owners to understand how long the webpage takes to load, at what moment does the user first interacts with the page, and above all, whether the user gets an immersive experience.
SEO agencies and webmasters are innovating these aspects, and a lot of improvements can be expected in the coming days across the web to ensure the user experience stays pleasant and engaging.
Google has been at the forefront in making web experiences faster, and it has come up with Lighthouse – an open-source, automated tool for improving the website speed quality.
Lighthouse comes pre-loaded along with the Chrome browser, enabling even a non-technical user to check the page speed of a website.
Without further adieu, let’s dive deep into how to make websites and mobile sites load within the Google recommended page load time. Before that, here are a few terms that may pop up within the content. If you’re a beginner, I recommend that you understand the concepts before reading on.
Here are some important Google Lighthouse terms you should know while optimizing websites for speed.
First Contentful Paint (FCP): First Contentful Paint is the point at which users see the initial text, color, or image that loads from your website.
First Meaningful Paint (FMP): First Meaningful Paint is the point at which the browser displays the most prioritized content to the user. Optimizing the Critical Rendering Path based on the importance will help in achieving faster FMP.
Speed Index (SI): Speed Index determines the time taken by real browsers to visually load your webpage. The lower the Speed Index, the faster your website will load.
First CPU Idle: At this point, the user gets the first interaction with your webpage, and until recently, it was called “First Interactive.” At this level, a few of the interactive elements may become accessible to the users but definitely not all.
Time to Interactive (TTI): Time to Interactive is marked when all the interactive elements within your web page become fully functional. TTI must be considered as a metric to understand whether your site is fully optimized for speed.
There are websites that compromise on TTI and try to load content. This may result in more click rage as the users are stuck on the same page without any scope to interact with it.
Estimated Input Latency (EIL): Estimated Input Latency is a valuation of how long your app takes to respond to a user input, in milliseconds, during the busiest 5-second window of page load. If the latency is more than 50 ms, users may perceive your app as laggy.
According to a recent study conducted by Google, top websites do a performance monitoring after every six months to ensure that their users stay happy with the overall experience. In the recent Google I/O that concluded on May 8th, Google engineers introduced a new term called ‘Performance Budget.’
Performance Budget sets the standards for assessing the performance of your website. The performance budget of a website can be gauged based on different factors. These factors help webmasters identify and fix issues before the users can experience it.
- TTI – You can set the TTI or the Time To Interactive as one of the metrics to understand whether the users are getting a seamless web experience.
- Lighthouse Performance Index – If the site has an overall speed score of 90 above in Lighthouse, it’s generally considered a positive load speed signal.
Many top companies like Walmart and Twitter have already set a performance budget to ensure the final build that goes live to the users is not laggy. If a new page resource affects the performance budget by at least 1%, the resource is sent to the technical team to get fixed.
In addition to this, Google has also announced that the Lighthouse tool will now support the resource quantity budget JSON file that can be uploaded within the Command Line Interface of Lighthouse.
The new LightWallet feature ensures that the performance budget goals set by your developers are meeting the expectations. This new feature is currently available in the CLI version of Lighthouse. This has been specifically built for small businesses to take control of their website’s load speed without much hassle.
A basic budget file created as a JSON script includes resource types, the budget allocated and the overall total requests. If you have trouble creating the budget.json file, you can visit the site Performance Budget Calculator, which can generate a report for your website.
The study also says that the load speed of a page must be considered critical. Other factors, like the ease of finding what the users are looking for, how well the site fits into the screen, the simplicity and attractiveness of the site are all less important than the load speed of a page.
The relationship between the high load speed and bounce rate is a subject that requires no introduction. You already know that if you have a site that takes forever to load, the users landing on the page will bounce off without interaction.
Recent research done by Google has found that a site that loads within 1-3 seconds have a possible 32% increase in bounce rate. Moreover, a site that loads in 1-5 seconds will possibly have a 90% increase in the bounce rate.
On a business perspective, the load speed of your website has a direct impact on the ROI and the success of your business.
Imagine yourselves as the owner of a product-based website that takes 6 seconds to load. If 90% of your visitors bounce off the site due to lack of speed, it can decrease the number of sales and page views, thereby affecting the overall success of your business. Investing time and money to optimize your website for speed will pay off, says Google.
Google recently gave an example during Google I/O about how Pinterest and Tinder increased their ROI by improving the Page Load Speed. It has to be noted that Pinterest and Tinder are official partners of Google.
Case Study of Tinder Website
After implementing the speed improvements, Tinder was able to reduce the TTI to less than 6 seconds on the 3G network, which resulted in a more number of swipes from the website than from mobile devices.
Case Study of Pinterest
Soon after the implementation of the new build, the Time To Interactive decreased by 6 seconds. Above all, the new speed optimized website started providing more ROI to Pinterest, and they saw monthly revenue growth of 44%. The website is now their primary source for more signups.
With all these put together, Google is fundamentally trying to convey to webmasters that its core business, which is search, is using speed as one of the major factors for ranking and displaying websites, Period.
How to calculate the ideal performance budget for your website?
Ways to Achieve Google Recommended Page Load Time
Let’s look at some of the Google recommended ways to ensure that these inevitable components are kept at a modest level so that the user experience stays pleasant, and the website gets more ROI.
Optimizing Images for Speed
Images make up the bulk of the payload that browsers receive. Optimizing the images can crank up the speed and eventually help in providing better user experience.
A well-optimized image is your magic wand to good user experience. You can do this by implementing three different tactics on your website — Lazyload, CDN, and Responsive.
What is Lazy Loading, and how does it impact the page speed?
Let’s say your website is a fashion niche and a bulk of its resources are images. Since you cannot compromise on the image quality, you may end up uploading images at are either 1MB size or over 5 MB.
You have to understand that a majority of the population around the world is still using slow internet. Your website is going to give them a hard time as it takes away their precious internet data, and more importantly, time! Here is where Lazy Load can help you.
By implementing Lazy Load on your website, you can ensure that only a few image resources, typically the on-screen images, are pushed to the browser as it loads initially.
The off-screen images get delivered as and when the user reaches the viewport set in your website’s design. During the initial loading, only the dimensions of the off-screen images are loaded to ensure that the page doesn’t break.
The same capability also comes for iFrames and you can now lazy load iFrames by adding the code <iframe loading=lazy>. According to Google, implementing lazy load on an image-heavy website will result in a 76% decrease in the initial loading of image bytes.
How responsive images help in saving resource budget?
People are accessing websites using multiple devices. This makes it imperative that your images fit into all these screen sizes so that users get an immersive experience. This makes responsive images an important part of website optimization.
What responsive images does is create multiple versions of the same image in sizes that fit the user’s screen. The browser chooses the one that fits the device perfectly. For example, a 200KB image in Desktop reduces to 100KB when browsed through a mobile device as images on desktop and tablets are usually of very high resolution.
It needs to be noted that the retina display, which has the pixel density of 2, is the highest resolution screen available in the market currently. Optimizing images for pixel density 3 and 4 will serve no purpose and could result in higher image size.
You can create responsive images for your website using two methods – based on image width or based on pixel density.
The smaller image width and pixel density, the faster will the image load, which also means an increase in the pixels and width can result in an increase in the image size.
How CDNs help in better optimization of the images?
Unlike the other image optimization techniques that we discussed until now, CDN must be considered as an image optimization service.
Usually, Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a highly sophisticated service offered by a company that is specialized in delivering fast, efficient and secure content to websites and Internet services.
Since companies that offer CDN services use technologically advanced features for image compression, it’s hard for a developer to replicate the same efficiency.
CDN providers equip website owners with the power to manipulate images. CDN services choose the best-optimized version of the image for a website, and this takes away the pain from the website owners to build and maintain a separate software to perform the same action.
CDN services often come with features such as Auto Cropping, Auto Quality, WebP, and Color Channel Tuning that helps websites reduce the total image resource size by 80%.
Most people look at a website and think that it’s static, but if you find an embedded video or any other embedded resources, chances are the page takes time to load despite its static-like appearance. Embeds are notorious when it comes to delaying the TTI of a website. This is something that all webmasters should worry about.
However, there is an easy fix for sites that face slow loading speeds because of embeds. Let’s say your homepage has a promo video describing the services and benefits that you’re providing to the target users.
Since the video is important for your business, throwing it in the trash is not an option that you can consider. But you can definitely think of ways to make the video load only after your website is ready for interactivity.
According to an in-house testing conducted by Google on the homepage of the Chrome browser, a YouTube embed code put along with the static HTML caused the page to load in 13 seconds.
Google found a quick fix to reduce the load speed of the site by using an interactive feature that lazy loaded the video in a pop-up only when the user clicks on the “Watch Video” button. This seemingly improved the website’s performance in Lighthouse by 69%, and the overall load speed reduced to just 3.1 seconds.
More Optimization Techniques to Follow
With continuous advancements in technology, it’s possible to find new ways to improve the load speed of a website.
The future of search will depend heavily on how effectively the websites can deliver intent-based results to the users at the minimum possible time.
The above recommendations are just the tip of the iceberg. We will soon come up with some of the more advanced methods to improve the site load speed to match up with Google recommended page load time. Stay tuned for more!
Frequently Asked Questions on Page Speed
Q. What is the ideal page speed for any content to rank better on SERP?
Ans. Google measures page speed by categorizing pages as really good or pretty bad. As per Google’s Martin Splitt, there’s not much of a threshold between the two extremes as far Google algorithm is concerned. From this statement, it can be presumed that there is no ideal speed that Google is looking for. You just have to make sure that the pages are fast enough to load and whether it will make a visitor stay or leave your website.
Q. If a website’s mobile speed using the Test My Site tool is good and GTmetrix report scores are high, how important are high Google PageSpeed Insights score for SEO?
Ans. Google’s John Mueller recommends using different types of these tools and looking at the data to discover the glitches on your web pages that are slowing the website down. Each of these tools measures slightly different things and presents results in a different way, hence Splitt from Google suggests site owners be mindful about it and choose the best one for their audience.
Q. What is the best metric(s) to look at when deciding if page speed is “good” or not? Why / why not should we focus on metrics like FCP (First Contentful Paint) / FMP (First Meaningful Paint) instead of scores given by tools like PageSpeed Insight?
Ans. It depends. The importance of these metrics depends on what users are doing on your website. If they intend to visit your site to just read content and not interact with anything, then FMP and FCP would be the best metrics to look at. On the other hand, if people are landing on your page and interacting with things immediately, then the best metrics would be TTI and FCI. Splitt and Mueller from Google recommend site owners to look at multiple sets of data and find areas of improvement according to what’s important for the audience.