Don’t Sink Your SEO Efforts by Neglecting Site Performance

How Website Performance & Speed Impact SEO and Page Rank

When it comes to driving organic traffic to your client's website, SEO must be a critical component of your content strategy. By applying the right mix of keywords, tags, and meta descriptions in all the right places, you can ensure your design ranks highly on the search results pages your client needs.

However, for all the focus that SEO earns and ultimately rewards, you can’t overlook the critical importance of website performance. For one, a fast-loading site simply creates a positive user experience that reflects well on any brand. But for two, with the arrival of Google’s Core Web Vitals initiative, site performance is part of SEO. If you aren’t ensuring that your client’s redesigned website satisfies its visitors as well as a search algorithm, you’re limiting its chances for success.

At one time, site performance could be relegated to a technical matter or a means of measuring a design’s results in a way only we nerds cared about. Now, given the heightened role that speed plays in how prospective customers will see your designs, site performance unlocks the difference between a good-looking website and one that will make a real difference for your clients.

Google’s Core Web Vitals Changed the Game for Site Performance

Clients who haven’t yet considered the role of site performance in search engine rankings may already be feeling its negative effects. In 2020, Google announced that the Core Web Vitals metrics used by its optimization tool Lighthouse would be incorporated into its algorithm for search rankings. If your client hasn’t optimized their site, their position in search has likely already been impacted.

However, Core Web Vitals don’t simply measure site performance from a cold, computational perspective. They consist of three, user-centric metrics that have been shown to reflect the overall website experience for visitors.

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) refers to how long it takes for the largest visible image or block of text in your page to be rendered.
  • First Input Delay (FID) calculates the time a page takes to respond to user interactions, such as through a button or link.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) measures how much the elements that make up a web page move as other elements around it are loading. For example, a page with a high CLS will have components that appear to jump and then lock in place once it’s fully loaded.

Taken together, Core Web Vitals are part of Google’s effort to ensure its users find what they need and have a positive experience once they get there. Inevitably, sites that load in a way that’s stable and consistent with user expectations will allow your clients to form early connections that can convert their site visitors into the customers they need.

How a Better Performing Website Builds User Confidence

An effective SEO strategy ensures that customers will find your client’s website in all the right places. But a well-performing site delivers the important, nearly unconscious message that those customers have come to the right place.

A fast-loading, stable website underscores that your client’s brand is reliable, trustworthy, and cares about the customer experience. A website can boast the most beautiful, intuitive elements of a visual design, but if it loads sluggishly or behaves unreliably, users will register that experience and generate a negative impression of the business.

For example, if users come to an ecommerce site that hasn’t prioritized site performance, the page may suddenly shift as they attempt to select an option or add an item to their cart. At best, they may try again after the page has loaded properly. But at worst, they may click the wrong thing, be forced to navigate somewhere new, and grow increasingly frustrated before finally making their way back to where they started.

When users lose trust in an interface, they also lose trust in your client’s brand. And that’s a direct result of poor site performance.

Measure Site Performance with the Same Urgency as Keyword Performance

The rapidly evolving nature of search algorithms and keyword activity demands that SEO remains an ongoing focus for every company. As Google continues to blur the line between user experience and search rankings, your clients need to view site performance with a similar level of care and commitment.

You have a number of free tools at your disposal to help your clients keep tabs on site performance. Google’s Lighthouse, for example, scores page performance from 1 to 100, while WebPageTest assigns a letter grade from A through F based on their use in different browsers and geographic locations.

Given how often websites are updated with new content and code that could impact performance, you should encourage your clients to conduct performance tests frequently. But the kind of tools they choose is less important than the specific pages they regularly review.

Organizations understandably dedicate a lot of focus toward optimizing their homepage, but you need to ensure your clients take a broader view of their site. You should ensure that the pages you’re optimizing to deliver conversions by applying SEO and content strategies receive the same consideration for performance. Whether it’s your clients’ product detail pages or their contact forms that drive sales, you should ensure they always perform at a high level.

You have to guard against a measure of tunnel vision that results from only testing pages under optimal conditions. Not every site visitor will access their site by using the same, high-end devices. You have to ensure your client’s design performs well on older devices as well as slower network connections. If you can make sure a design performs well when technology isn’t at its best, the raised baseline you establish will lift every boat for their visitors.

When SEO and performance work in harmony, the most valuable parts of your client’s website will consistently find the audience they need. And, just as importantly, a design that loads quickly and seamlessly offers the kind of user experience that builds the brand trust needed to generate results.

Why Website Performance Delivers Higher Conversion Numbers

For as much of an impact it makes on user satisfaction, website performance continues to fly under the radar for many brands. The addition of Core Web Vitals to Google’s search rankings is still a relatively new development. Your clients may or may not recognize a need for their redesigned site to load quickly, but when they realize its potential to torpedo their SEO numbers, the value of site performance comes into sharp focus.

Ultimately, site performance carries a more direct link to your client’s brand. Along with ensuring a high level of visibility in search rankings, websites that are snappy and responsive to users demonstrate that their brands are thoughtful, reliable, and responsive to their needs. The visuals don’t just help users find what they want; the site itself allows them to get to what they’re looking for quickly and efficiently.

With that baseline established, users are much more likely to sign up for a newsletter, buy their products, and, in the end, trust their brand.