Improve Your Search Rankings and Conversion Rates with Site Performance Testing and Optimization

When thinking about website investments, site performance was rarely top of mind for marketers. Now with Google saying that site performance will impact search rankings to a greater degree, the tide has turned. In this article, VP of Technology, Brian Waters shares the ways site performance testing and optimization can maximize ROI for your marketing efforts.

The connection between the performance of your site and your search ranking hasn't always been as clear as it should be. Google has addressed this in their recent announcement that site speed and page experience data will be taken directly into account when ranking results on their search engine results pages, starting in May 2021.

It should come as no surprise that Google updates their search algorithms regularly. Only occasionally do they announce ranking factor changes beforehand, when something is new or important and they want to encourage site owners to prepare for it in time. The introduction of Web Vitals is just such a change — or rather, the next step in Google's emphasis on improved user experience.

Web Vitals is an initiative to provide unified guidance for quality search signals that are essential to delivering a great experience on the web. There are a number of tools today that are available to measure and report on performance, but it can be challenging to keep up with the complexity of both tools and metrics. Google aims to simplify matters by helping sites focus on the metrics that matter most, the Core Web Vitals.

Each of the Core Web Vitals represents a distinct facet of the user experience, is measurable in the field, and reflects the real-world experience of a critical user-centered outcome. Google has noted that the metrics that make up Core Web Vitals will evolve over time. The current set focuses on three criteria — loading, interactivity, and visual stability — and includes the following:  

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): measures loading performance; specifically, how long it takes for the largest piece of content to appear on the screen. To provide a good user experience, LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading.

  • First Input Delay (FID): measures interactivity; how long it takes for the site to react to the first interaction by a user, such as a tap or click. To provide a good user experience, pages should have an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.

  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures visual stability; do elements move around on the screen while loading? To provide a good user experience, pages should maintain a CLS of less than 0.1.

Google is ensuring that these metrics are visible in all of its popular tools, including PageSpeed Insights, Search Console, and Lighthouse. Armed with this data, site owners and developers should be planning to review their scores and determine what frontend and backend optimizations are necessary to make their pages faster.

Everyone benefits when your site loads quickly. Users expect that the pages they visit will be swiftly rendered, interactive, and stable. With this new ranking signal, Google has declared their intention to more highly prioritize performance when determining your position in search results. And while it may not push you to the top — page experience is only one of approximately 200 ranking factors, and great, relevant content is still key — it will certainly be more important for visibility now.

The cost of a slow site isn't only measured by search engine ranking, however. A performant, responsive website directly translates into increased user engagement and improved business outcomes. Research into real-world results demonstrates time and again that investing in optimization has a tangible, substantial impact on conversions and revenue:  

  • A Google study over millions of page impressions found that when a site meets the recommended thresholds for the Core Web Vitals metrics, users are at least 24% less likely to abandon a page before it finishes loading.
  • Walmart saw up to a 2% increase in conversions for every 1 second of improvement in load time. Every 100ms improvement also resulted in up to a 1% increase in revenue.
  • Amazon sees a 1% decrease in revenue for every 100ms increase in load time.
  • ALDO found that mobile users who experienced fast rendering times brought 75% more revenue than average, and 327% more revenue that those experiencing slow rendering times. on desktop, users with fast-rendering times brought in 212% more revenue than average and 572% more than slow.
  • Furnspace reduced their image payload by 86% resulting in a reduction in load time of 65%. This improved user experience helped double Furnspace’s ecommerce purchase conversion ratio, cut bounce rates by 20%, increase mobile revenue by 7% and dramatically improve SEO.
  • Furniture retailer Zitmaxx Wonen reduced their typical load time to 3 seconds and saw conversion jump 50.2%. Overall revenue from the mobile site also increased by 98.7%. (Examples from WPOStats)

Generally speaking, if your site is making $100,000 per day, a 1 second page delay could potentially cost you $2.5 million in lost sales every year. What's true for ecommerce applies as well to other businesses including financial, healthcare, and higher education — any slow website, ecommerce or otherwise, will see an increase in bounce rate and a decrease in time on site. Lost traffic leads to lost opportunities that ultimately affect your bottom line.

The update to Google's search algorithms may be rolling out in May 2021, but it's not too early to begin testing your site performance in line with the Core Web Vitals and making any necessary fixes. Start by reviewing your scores in Google Search Console and PageSpeed Insights, paying close attention to the real-world field data. Your URLs will be classified as Good, Needs Improvement, or Poor — prioritize the remediation of high-value pages that are performing poorly. Check your work iteratively using simulated lab data in PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse to guide your development efforts.

The end result will be a faster site that delivers a more engaging experience, in turn boosting usage, conversions, and revenue.

Need assistance understanding what the new metrics mean for your site or exactly where to start? Confused over the abundance of tools, data, and recommendations? Primacy can help identify the critical pathways to performance success.