Site performance and how it impacts Search Ranking

Search engines are in the business of helping people find the things they’re looking for. However, with over 1.6 BILLION websites, chances are there are multiple very valid options the search engines can present to the searcher. And no one looks at page 2 of the search results. This is where ranking comes in. Search engines, like Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo, run a bunch of tests against web pages to determine which is going to give the searcher:

  1. The best information
  2. The best experience

We think about point one a lot, but what about point 2?

Search engines want to deliver pages that will give the searcher the best information in the best way possible. This means the searcher has a “good experience” with the search engine and will continue to use it. With the business value of the search industry, it’s no wonder a good experience is so important to the search engines.

We’ve talked many times before about how performance is one of the biggest contributors to overall user experience. The evidence clearly demonstrates how a site that performs well is one that engages better with its visitors.

Google et al are not blind to this. They clearly see that people appreciate better performing sites and therefore give ranking preference (not absolute preference mind you) to sites that perform well.

If we look at the past decade we can see that Google has rolled into their ranking algorithm multiple updates around performance

  1. Using page speed in mobile search ranking
  2. Using site speed in web search ranking

Page performance, for a long time now, has been a big factor in search engine page ranking.

WordPress and Page Performance

WordPress, the web’s favorite CMS, has occasionally been labeled as a low-performant platform, sometimes due to its age and PHP roots.

  • Are there “more modern” CMS available? Yes.
  • Are they more performant? The CMS has very little to do with performance.

You could use a modern JavaScript/headless CMS and completely butcher your performance through poor front-end development. You can use WordPress and with great development practices to comfortably sit in the top 1% of all websites.

Your website’s performance is dependant on how you use WordPress, not WordPress itself. Following best practices alone can push you into the upper tiers of page performance. Implement modern tooling with WordPress (PWA, Image optimizing CDN, efficient caching, etc), and you’ll lead the pack and have the search engines love you.

It’s good to know that server-side rendered pages still have the lead over single-page applications. Even if you are having a super modern SPA, spend the time to implement server-side-rendering to not fall behind old but fast applications. The guys at Frontity are leading the SPA/PWA trend well with a Node backed server-side rendering implementation.  

AMP

AMP has been a direct response from Google to the world’s desire for a better performing web. Launched in late 2015, the open source project provides web developers with a simple and restrictive framework for developing highly performant web pages. The strength in the project is not that it produces perfect 10/10 performant pages, but that it makes high performance attainable for developers with less know-how. In their words, AMP is about democratizing speed.

The AMP plugin for WordPress brings the power of AMP to WordPress site owners in a way that lowers the barrier-of-entry even further through automated AMP template generation and a number of other tools.

Is AMP for everyone? No! If a development team has the talent and capacity to produce highly performant code independently of AMP, this can often be best for their needs. For a large portion of the web without those resources and talent, AMP, especially AMP via the WordPress plugin, brings a level of performance in to reach that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Google specifically, within their search experience, visually identify AMP web pages on mobile.

The visual indicator of AMP content in the Search Results Carousel

As a route to performance, AMP has a couple of unique search specific upsides that should be considered.

What can you do? What should you do?

Benchmarking!

Understanding your current state of performance is something anyone can do. There are a number of highly insightful tools (WebPageTest, Google PageSpeed Insights, GTmetrix, Lighthouse) that can shine a light on areas of your site’s performance that could be working against you.

Elevate Performance

Your development team should have performance as a filter for their architecture workflows. As they’re working on your site, they should be actively considering the potential impact on performance and working to. You can even use CalibreApp (uses an instance of webpagetest) to automate performance checks while developing and ensure metrics are kept in-check:

  • Find ways to actively improve performance as part of their day-to-day work
  • Mitigate the risk of negatively impacting performance when implementing new work
  • Measuring, preferably automatically, performance changes at regular intervals as well as pre/post changes to the platform

Measure Impact & ROI

As with all incremental changes to your site, measuring the impact on search ranking after performance work helps you understand what your ROI is on the work and if/how you should invest further moving forward.

Do something about Performance Today

We’ve developed a comprehensive audit process that leverages our 10+ years of experience in building for speed. Contact us to find out how we can help you improve your page ranking through performance optimization.

How To Grow Ad Revenue Without Losing Readers

The more we work with large online publishers, the more we appreciate the impact on-page advertising has on their bottom line. The challenge these companies are facing is that their advertising strategies cannot be set-and-forget. They must evolve. They are realising that not only is the technology behind advertising ever-changing, the attitudes, expectations, and behaviors of readers towards advertising is evolving just as fast.

The risks publishers face in response to this challenge are:

  • Let their ad technology grow stale and watch their competitors leave them behind, or;
  • Get implementation wrong and watch their audience engagement plummet

Basically, this means they must grow, and grow the right way, or die.

A stakeholder might put it this way:

“We want to maintain (or grow) our ad revenue but we need to make sure we maintain good page performance and user experience or we will lose our readers.”

For small sites, the method of implementation is important. For large sites with thousands/millions of visitors per day, implementation is everything!

The difficulty here is that this kind of implementation rarely results in better page performance and user experience.

A good rule of thumb is that the more things (like ads) being delivered to a page, the poorer the performance. The poorer the performance, the poorer the user experience.

Simply speaking the things that impact the performance of a page includes:

  • The number of assets (content, code, images etc) being requested
  • Where in the page code assets are being requested
  • The number and location of servers the assets are being requested from
  • The size of the assets
  • The technology running on the servers
  • The quality of the device and software of the user (you can’t really do much about this one)

With these many considerations, you can see how much care needs to be taken for good implementation. Ad services, or ad providers, send a variety of assets to the reader’s browser including images, text and tracking code snippets. Additionally, the page itself is often part of the actual bidding process for auction-based ad services. The nature of what on-page advertising is and what it requires means it is primed to be a major drain on page performance.

But… it doesn’t have to be! When implementation is done right, publishers can realize the revenue upside of an optimised ad strategy without damaging page performance and user experience.

Unsurprisingly, most large publishers are, and have been, careful about ad implementation. However, ad revenue is under increasing pressure from a few fronts. Be it ad-blockers, which are starting to see mass-market adoption, or general banner-blindness, on-page advertising on large publishing sites needs to be more than just good. it needs to be really, really good. A 1% decrease in ad engagement can have a significantly negative impact on overall profit.

We are finding that ad strategy implementation, or general revenue optimisation, is a frequent conversation topic with our clients and contacts. These companies aren’t looking for general advice on which ad service they should choose or how they should design their banners, but are interested in leveraging technology to maximise ad revenue from what is perhaps an increasingly critical audience. They are looking for solutions like automated A/B testing, reader personalization, or as we have found in a recent project with our friends at Resignation Media, optimising on-page ad bidding and ad delivery, or Header Bidding.

For this particular project, the implementation of Header Bidding with the Resignation Media Team meant that they realized a few key benefits:

  • Access to a wider range of ad providers
  • Optimised on-page bidding (occurs very early during the page load)
  • Transparency in reporting and analytics

Or put even simpler, the whole process was faster, more transparent, and more profitable.

Resignation Media were able to implement a more mature advertising strategy and actually improve page performance and user experience.

We’re looking to walk through the technical ins-and-outs of how Header Bidding works in a future post, but the core message is that with the right implementation, publishers can realise increased revenue through on-page advertising without sacrificing page performance and user experience.

If ad revenue is an important part of your bottom-line, what steps are you taking to manage the ever-evolving challenges of typical implementations? Are there opportunities for optimising your technology?

Want to take action to optimise your ad revenue? Contact us for a consultation.