🥳 You have completed all topics in the Handbook. Click here to claim your certificate!

3. Page performance

Making the web faster is a shared goal for web browsers, for developers, for end users, and for marketing technology vendors. Everybody benefits from a faster experience.

We are an impatient species. If we have the choice between two things that are otherwise apparently equal but one takes less time than the other, it’s probable that we’ll choose the one that is faster.

This applies in particular to the web. As computers, devices, and networks get faster, latency becomes almost inexcusable.

We expect the web services that we use to load fast. If things take a long time, the credibility of the web service diminishes. A form that takes a long time to load or a purchase that takes a long time to complete are often interpreted as signals that something went wrong.

Example

There’s an often quoted finding that for every 100 millisecond increase to Amazon’s page load time, their revenue dropped 1%. Whether this is true or not, or whether it’s relevant today or not, it does seem possible.

Especially in the wild west of online retail, it’s entirely plausible that the page load times of an ecommerce site can make or break the user experience. 

Example

If you are shopping for a new phone, for example, and the search engine result that you clicked takes seconds upon seconds to load, it’s unlikely you’ll wait around for it to complete. It’s just so much easier to hit the browser’s back button and choose another result.

Making the web faster should be a goal of everyone working with the web.

As a technical marketer, many of the tools you work with will deliberately slow down the page. This is due to how things like analytics scripts, conversion tags, structured data snippets, and consent banners are all side effects of the site functionality itself.

It’s your job to minimize the effect these things have on page performance.

This doesn’t just apply to the time it takes to load a page, but also to the speed of the interactive experiences on a page. If it takes a long time for a page to react to your interaction (such as a click or a scroll), or if you see elements jumping around annoyingly as they’re being rendered, it can result in negative sentiment towards the site.

Don’t miss this fact!

While page load time is a popular metric for measuring page performance, you need to consider everything that happens on the page when working to improve page performance. The page load is only the start of the user’s experience on any given page.

Impact on search engine optimization

At its core, SEO is about improving the user experience so that users who do use a search engine can be satisfied with the results shown for their queries.

A site that loads quickly is more likely to elicit a positive response than one that loads slowly.

First, it’s important to note that while page speed is a ranking factor, it’s generally not considered to have too much weight in itself. It’s one signal among many. However, as it’s also an indicative factor of other (possible) problems on a web page, it might have an overall impact on multiple different signals used by search engines to rank the content.

Don’t miss this fact!

While page load times and similar metrics might not have a huge ranking impact on search engine results, they are a strong indicator for many other reasons why visitors might or might not be clicking your search results.

Page speed is more and more important in the age of mobile browsing. A slow site on mobile can dramatically affect mobile rankings, because mobile devices often have less powerful hardware and might be on a slower network compared to desktops.

Slowly loading pages impact how crawlers access the content. If the site is very slow to load, crawlers might not end up indexing all the pages. This is because crawlers use a crawl budget to allocate a certain amount of time for crawling any given site. If your pages take too long to load, the bots might leave before indexing all of them.

Finally, while the actual page experience is more a result of SEO efforts rather than optimization itself, it’s good to remember that a slow site can and will impact conversion rates. If users get frustrated waiting for a page to load, they might leave before making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, or taking some other desired action.

Remember that when you optimize for search engines, you optimize for your visitors, too. And vice versa.

Page performance and load times

There are many different possible bottlenecks when it comes to the activity of loading a web page in a browser.

The initial request can take a long time to generate because of slowly running scripts on the page.

The web server might be sluggish or unresponsive.

The HTML source code might be sprawling and convoluted, slowing down the render process.

The linked resources such as images and scripts might take a long time to load and execute.

The user’s device might be old and slow.

The user’s network might be slow due to being in an area of poor coverage.

All of these factors contribute to the overall page performance experience. Luckily, many of them can be mitigated.

For search engine optimization, a fast page means a better user experience. As such, search engines are incentivized to promote faster pages over slower ones.

Optimizing the overall page load time is a joint effort. Your work as a marketer can directly impact how long it takes, on average, to load the web page. If you stuff it with tags and scripts for marketing purposes, it’s possible you are degrading the page performance just for the sake of getting more data.

Page speed optimization is always a compromise. If you wanted a really fast page load experience, you’d need to strip out a lot of the dynamic qualities that define the modern web page. 

Deep Dive

Metrics to optimize when working with SEO

The metrics you can and should improve for SEO purposes include:

  • Time To First Byte (TTFB): the time it takes for the web server to serve the first byte of its response back to the browser. This measures the readiness of the web server.
  • First Contentful Paint (FCP): the time it takes for the user to see the first element on the page.
  • Page Load Time: the overall time it takes to load the entire page.
  • Core Web Vitals: a group of metrics that measure the page experience itself.

Some aspects of page performance improvement require cooperation across your entire organization. For example, TTFB is difficult to improve with the tools typically available to a marketer.

Instead, you need to discuss with your IT and developer operations if they could figure out ways to make the web servers more responsive. This might mean adding cache mechanisms, or shortening the time it takes for redirects to take place. Similarly, the more computation the web server needs to do prior to delivering the response, the longer it takes to deliver the first byte.

A great way to get instant gratification with improved latency is to make use of third-party edge cache services. These sit between your site and the web, and they constantly cache the content that the site needs. They utilize some of the fastest and most robust hardware and network connections available to make serving the content as fast as possible.

Ready for a quick break?

Don’t forget to optimize your performance, too. Take a short break, reload your batteries, and then carry on with the rest of this Topic. 😊

Core Web Vitals

“Traditional” page load metrics like TTFB are useful for comparing relative performance of different websites, but they don’t necessarily reflect accurately what the actual user experience is.

A slow web server can still result in a positive experience if the page load and render processes are smooth.

Core Web Vitals is a group of metrics developed by Google for measuring the overall experience the user has on any given web page.

Because CWV metrics are a function of the user’s experience on a web page, they are considered to be more user-centric and realistic as measurements than the more clinical ones (such as TTFB and page load time).

Core Web Vitals include metrics like:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): measures the time it takes to load the largest element in the visible viewport of the page, relative to when the page started loading. This is a measurement of loading performance.
  • Interaction to Next Paint (INP): measures the longest latency (response delay) for each interaction (click, tap, keypress) the user has on a web page. This is a measurement of interactivity.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures how often content moves (“shifts”) unexpectedly due to new elements being rendered on the page. This is a measurement of visual stability.

Core Web Vitals are tricky to optimize against because they are reflective of the user’s experience of a web page. Experience, of course, is entirely subjective.

However, when measured in aggregate and with real user data, CWV can give you a good baseline to work against.

One quirk from real user measurements comes with geographical distribution. If your site is hosted on European servers, for example, a large enough number of visitors from Australia might skew the aggregate Core Web Vitals measurements for your site, as they would experience delays with content loads and interactions due to geographical distance.

Page performance optimization is a global effort.

Page performance for technical marketers

When working in digital marketing, there are many things you need to consider regarding page performance and the user experience on your website.

Here are some of the concrete actions you can take to improve the browsing experience of your website(s):

  1. Optimize images – images often take the longest time to load on a page. Use modern formats like WebP, and optimize the output for the web and not for print, for example.
  2. Use a content delivery network – with a proper CDN like Cloudflare, you can optimize content delivery so that it is always loaded from network locations geographically closest to the visitor.
  3. Minify CSS, JavaScript, and HTML – on the web, every byte counts. By minifying text resources, you remove all whitespace and compress the content so that it still works but takes much less space.
  4. Caching – most modern CDNs allow you to cache content on their servers, but you can also signal the browser to cache content on the user’s computer.
  5. Optimize server performance – consider faster hosting or more optimized load balancing.
  6. Limit redirects – make sure your content isn’t stuck in long redirect chains. When an internal URL changes, try to update all links to that URL so that you don’t have to worry about redirections.
  7. Prioritize content that first appears in the viewport – what the page first shows and loads for the user is one of the most critical user experiences. Make sure that the content that is loaded above the fold is loaded fast.

Remember that page performance optimizations don’t happen in a vacuum. Ensure that making your websites faster is a joint effort across your organization.

Key takeaway #1: Page performance isn’t just an SEO benefit

This topic is part of the “SEO” chapter, but really it’s important for any web design and development work. Digital marketing tools and functions often introduce overhead to page performance, and you need to be aware of this performance cost. You need to be able to justify why your efforts are worth the (hopefully minuscule) dip in page performance.

Key takeaway #2: Page performance isn’t just the developers’ responsibility

Everybody working on the site needs to be part of the effort of understanding and optimizing page performance. Especially with tools like tag management systems, it’s easy to get caught in the loop of adding new stuff to the page without considering what the impact on page performance might be. Collaboration is key here.

Key takeaway #3: Core Web Vitals measure user experience

Core Web Vitals measure how users perceive the speed and performance of the web page. They are different from more clinical measurements in that they reflect how the user actually uses the browser and experiences the loading of the page.

Quiz: Page Performance

Ready to test what you've learned? Dive into the quiz below!

1. Which aspects should you focus most on when working on page performance optimization?

2. Why is fast page performance particularly important for mobile browsing?

3. Which of the following are Core Web Vitals metrics?

Your score is

0%

What did you think about this topic?

Thanks for your feedback!

Unlock Premium Content

Simmer specializes in self-paced online courses for technical marketers. Take a look at our offering and enroll in one or more of our courses!

0/27 Topics completed

Solid work!

Complete all topics to claim your certificate.

Next Chapter