For an eCommerce website, fast page load times and performance are critical to getting more sales and conversions. It’s well known that for every second you boost your page speed, you increase conversions by 6%.
What isn’t as clear is how website performance impacts search engine optimization. Is page speed a ranking factor? Does a faster website get more organic traffic?
There’s a lot of misinformation around this topic, but we’re here to set the record straight and uncover the relationship between website speed and SEO.
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Core Web Vitals, Page Speed, and SEO
A discussion about SEO and page speed should start with a familiar but misunderstood topic, Core Web Vitals. We’ll cover what they are and if they really matter.
What Are Core Web Vitals?
Core Web Vitals are metrics developed by Google that attempt to measure the overall performance of a website. It includes Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS), and First Input Delay (FID). Together, they paint a picture of how well a website performs.
Largest Contentful Paint – This measures how long it takes the largest element in the viewport (what is visible to users) to load. In most cases, it’s an image or video, but it could also be an HTML text element.
Cumulative Layout Shift – Have you ever loaded a website, started to scroll around, and then hit the wrong button, or gotten confused because the screen “jumped” suddenly? That type of movement is called Cumulative Layout Shift. When a section of the website loads out of order, it causes this shift.
First Input Delay – Sometimes a web page will load visually, but nothing is able to be clicked or interacted with. Tapping buttons and scrolling around seems to do nothing. This issue is referred to as First Input Delay, a measurement of how long it takes the website to become fully interactive.
To see how your website scores with Core Web Vitals you can use Google’s Pagespeed Insights tool, Pingdom, or Gtmetrix to run speed tests on various URLs. We recommend also testing your mobile site on a phone to get a real-time idea of performance. Disconnect from a high-speed internet connection and use a standard mobile data connection.
What Role Do Core Web Vitals Play in SEO?
For nearly a decade, improving website performance has been a major focus of technical SEO because it was thought a fast website was favored in Google’s algorithm. In 2021, Google officially announced that Core Web Vitals and other metrics, together known as the “Page Experience”, were an official ranking factor.
However, this was short-lived. In 2023, Google seemingly reversed that decision, taking Page Experience, mobile friendliness, site security, and other elements out of its search engine ranking algorithm.
The truth is that even though page speed was a factor, it was so small and insignificant that this announcement likely doesn’t change anything.
Does Site Speed Matter For SEO?
Yes, it absolutely does. Google has clarified that although it’s not an official ranking factor, “…We do find that all of these aspects of page experience align with success in search ranking, and are worth attention.”
Our experience optimizing the technical performance of multiple eCommerce websites leads us to a similar conclusion. Sites that focus on search engine rankings and organic traffic rank better when they optimize their performance as well.
A site that loads fast and has strong Core Web Vitals scores is a healthy site and gives visitors a solid user experience. The process of optimizing performance can uncover many other SEO issues (incorrect redirects, broken links, which in turn can lead to better rankings.
eCommerce Site Speed Optimization and Conversion Rates
While page load speed can have an impact on SEO, it has a more measurable and direct impact on eCommerce conversions and sales. A slow website means users can’t browse your eCommerce site efficiently. One study showed that 66% of users will leave a retailer’s site (referred to as bounce rate) if it takes longer than 6 seconds to load.
A site’s performance should be measured for all pages of your online store, not just the homepage, for eCommerce conversion rates to improve. Test every eCommerce page, from site entrance all the way through checkout, to find where the slowest areas are and work on them.
How to Improve Your Page Speed
It’s clear improving performance is beneficial for both your traffic and sales. To start the process, most eCommerce companies start with a technical SEO audit. An audit will uncover the issues causing your site to load slowly and show how to fix them.
We recommend a technical SEO audit because many of the fixes required will impact your search engine optimization. It will provide a plan to fix the issues without hurting your SEO.
Once the audit is finished, it’s a collaborative effort between a technical SEO specialist and a development team to fix the issues correctly.
What Factors Impact Website Speed The Most?
We know Google uses Core Web Vitals to measure website performance, but what factors are behind a poor CWV score? There are several common areas that impact the performance of most websites, regardless of the eCommerce platform or technology.
Image Size/File Size – If a site is using files that are large, like HD video backgrounds, hi-res images, or large JS files, it can impact performance.
Minify CSS/JS – The CSS/JS files should ideally be minified, which means compressing them to make the file size as “small” as possible without impacting their performance. This is usually straightforward. Before doing this on your own, make sure the back up your site in case the minification process causes some errors.
CDN – A CDN (content delivery network) is a network of servers located in different parts of the world. When your website loads files from a single server location, it will take longer for the files to load for users who aren’t close geographically to your server. A CDN takes your website files and loads them on servers across the world. When a user in Australia loads your website, the CDN will load it from a server in Australia instead of a server in the United States
Caching – A cache is a static snapshot of your website. Most servers offer a form of caching. When a cache is set up correctly, it helps your site loads much faster because it’s not having to load all the files again
Hosting Providers – The webhost you choose plays a major factor in your site’s performance and response time. Some hosts have superior technology and offer CDNs, native Gzip compression, and other fancy tools to load your site faster. Some have better hardware, which can make a huge difference. Hosting is not an area to go cheap on. The last thing you want is a lot of downtime because you chose a cheap, unreliable host
Which eCommerce Platform Is The Fastest?
This is a popular question, and the answer is, none of them are the “fastest.” We’ve worked with sites on Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento, WordPress, Volusion, and many custom builds. Each has pros and cons when it comes to performance.
A Shopify store offers customers solid performance out-of-the-box. There is little optimization required to make these sites “faster.” However, Shopify is fully-hosted, meaning eCommerce business owners can’t host the site on their own server and server-side optimization aren’t possible. This limits your ability to fix certain performance issues.
Solutions like WordPress (WooCommerce) are generally not as “fast” out of the box. But, WordPress can be hosted on any server environment you choose. It can be modified with virtually no exceptions, so file storage and code can be optimized and tested to give it the maximum performance possible.
It’s clear that a speedy website is a core part of eCommerce success. Though Google has seemingly de-emphasized site speed as an official ranking factor, brands can’t ignore that fast sites offer a robust user experience and set the path for better SEO overall.