Backlinks and high-quality content—these two are the most cited factors that affect your website rankings.
But what if I told you that the reason you’re not ranking on Google is because of your website speed?
Pretty much all the resources you find talk about getting relevant backlinks to improve your domain authority. Almost no one is talking about your website speed and how it affects your search engine rankings.
So, let me show you why speed matters a lot and why you shouldn’t worry about all the shiny new things in the world of SEO like voice search and featured snippets.
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Why Speed Matters on Mobile, Not Just on Desktop
Google announced ten years ago that they are using page speed in their algorithms. But this was primarily focused on desktop searches. This made sense back then.
But as technology improves, consumer behaviors change.
In 2016, global mobile traffic surpassed desktop in terms of volume.
Today, more and more people are relying on mobile devices not only to stay connected but also to do their work.
You don’t have to look far to verify this. Just look at your own behavior.
When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first thing you reach for? Before you go to sleep, what’s the last thing you put down?
You probably don’t think about it as much because it’s “automatic.” But you use your phone or tablet more frequently than you use a laptop/desktop computer.
That’s why it’s important that, as a business or brand, your website loads fast on mobile, not just on desktop.
If you don’t keep up with these changes in the market, you will get left behind.
Why the Emphasis on Website Speed: Aren’t Backlinks and Content More Valuable?
If you Google how to grow your website traffic, most of the search results will tell you to focus on either creating high-quality content or getting backlinks from high authority sites.
They’ll cite studies or surveys such as this one from SparkToro.
Or this study from Ahrefs where it says that the more referring domains you have, the more organic search traffic you get.
The one thing you have to remember is that these studies and data are merely correlations. They come from surveys or analysis of how things appear to be in Google search using their tools.
We do know that links and content matter.
Google confirmed this much, but as to the relative weighing and its importance, you have to take this with a grain of salt.
Prioritization, Limited Resources, and ROI in SEO
In a perfect world, none of this would matter. We’ll all be ranking for every search term. But obviously, we don’t live in that world.
And in reality, we have another constraint: limited time and resources.
That’s why it’s important to focus on which activities will bring you the highest return on investment at that time.
Let’s conduct a thought experiment. To do this, we follow the basic recommendations you find on the internet:
- Create quality content (usually this is a long-form content)
- Build backlinks from high authority sites
Nothing out of the ordinary.
But ask yourself this.
If your website takes 45 seconds to load, would anyone stick around to read your content? Would a high domain authority website like Entrepreneur or Forbes or Wall Street Journal link to you?
Most probably not.
That’s why improving your website speed matters and should be the first thing you do if you want to improve your website rankings.
Again, I’m not saying creating great content and acquiring links aren’t valuable. They are.
In fact, those are two of the three core pillars I believe that every website should have in order to rank on Google.
What I’m saying is they are not the first thing you should look at.
Backlinko actually just published an updated search engine rankings study. In the post, Brian mentioned that they found “no correlation between site speed and Google rankings.” But remember, this particular research only looked at the top 10 results. The average website speeds of these websites? 1.65 seconds.
When I asked him about this, here’s what he said:
This study looked only at the first page of Google. In other words: factors that can take you from #10 to #1. So it might be that speed helps you crack the top 10 (which is why they load faster than the pages we looked at in our page speed study). But it may not help you climb the first page.
Get your website speed on mobile to an acceptable level of quality first, then you work on the other things. You don’t build a house starting from the walls or the roof. You lay a solid foundation first.
Online, that’s your website and how fast it loads.
What the Data Says About Website Rankings
You might be asking is there some data the supports this?
Faster websites rank higher on Google.
While the difference in speed between the 1st and 10th position isn’t as big, their speed are 10x faster than the speed of most websites.
Here’s another study from Backlinko where they found that the average load time for websites on desktop is 10 seconds, while on mobile is 27 second.
As you can see, there’s an argument to be made about why you should improve your site speed first.
Fast Website: What Does It Look Like
You don’t have to have the fastest website in the world, or in your industry if you want to rank at the top of Google.
All you need is to get to an acceptable level of quality, or in this case, speed.
So how fast should your website be?
Aim for less than 3 seconds. That’s it.
By doing that, you’re already ahead of most industry average site speed.
Your website is the foundation of all your online activities. Depending on how fast (or slow) it loads affects how users interact with you online.
Take a look at this additional study by SEMRush. The factors listed that are higher in terms of importance have something to do with how users interact on your page, aka “user metrics.”
As we can see, three of the top four factors that show the strongest correlation with top placement in Google Rankings are factors dependent on page speed. These are also called “UX (user experience) signals.” Lately, Google has begun giving more and more importance to user experience signals as opposed to backlinks and other traditional ranking factors. Of course, backlinks and traditional factors will always remain important, but user experience signals have been gaining more and more importance over the years.Social Media Explorer
This actually makes more sense.
If you add these numbers with Google’s study which says the longer your page loads, the higher probability for a user to bounce off the page, you’ll quickly realize that speed is important because it affects user experience.
Remember Google’s mission?
To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
This means a focus on the user experience.
And that user experience starts with your website getting clicked on search engines. If at that moment, you don’t create a great user experience, Google’s not going to reward you on search engines.
How Do You Improve Your Website Ranking
If you want your website to rank higher on Google, follow these three simple steps:
- Make sure your website loads faster. Aim for 3 seconds or less in mobile.
- Create high-quality content
- Start link building once you have at least 2-3 pieces of awesome content
Here are my final thoughts on why you should start with improving your website speed first, create quality content next, then build backlinks last:
- If you start link building and you don’t have a website with quality content, do you think other websites will risk their reputations linking to you?
- If you focus on creating quality content but your website speed sucks, do you think anyway will stay for over 10 seconds for your site to load and read your content?
Find Out Your Current Website Loading Speed
If you want to increase your rankings and get more organic traffic, you absolutely have to improve your website loading speed.
There are a lot of tools to help you do that. Here are a few of the most well-known (and free) tools out there:
Once you know your current website speed, you can lay out a plan on how you can improve those load times.
Take a look at the four areas you need to look at in order to speed up your website.
You have to take your website speed seriously if you want to start getting organic traffic and improving your website rankings.
Once you get to 3 seconds load time or less, focus your efforts on other areas such as creating and distributing awesome content and earning those backlinks.
I’d like to hear what you think.
Do you think speed isn’t as important as the other ranking factors?
Or maybe you still can’t decide? Let me know in the comments below.