There are estimated to be more than 200 ‘signals’ Google evaluates on a web page. One important signal is page load speed. Google’s studies have shown that when a site responds (or loads) slowly, visitors spend less time there.
I recall creative consultant Leslie Burns telling an audience, “That loading bar or circular graphic on a website’s home page is the art buyer’s blood pressure gauge.” In other words, the longer the site takes to show the first bit of information, the more likely the art buyer is to skip your site altogether.
If you are a site owner, webmaster or a web author, here are some free tools that you can use to evaluate the speed of your site:
- Page Speed, an open source Firefox/Firebug add-on that evaluates the performance of web pages and gives suggestions for improvement.
- YSlow, a free tool from Yahoo! that suggests ways to improve website speed.
- WebPagetest shows a waterfall view of your pages’ load performance plus an optimization checklist.
I did a test on my own site’s home page (Firefly Studios) using the Firefox/Firebug plug-in “Page Speed” and this is the result:
As you can see, the overall score for the page is 86/100, not bad. The plug-in placed a green check mark next to items (and there are many, many more items it checked beyond what’s shown in the screen grab) that are OK. But what’s best about the plug-in is that it shows you with either a yellow caution icon or a red exclamation point icon what needs to be improved. And, if you click on the arrow to the left of the icons, it gives you detailed information on what specifically needs to be improved.
If I expand the first item: “Leverage Browser Caching”, I see the following information:
According to Google: “… site speed is a new signal, [but] it doesn’t carry as much weight as the relevance of a page. Currently, fewer than 1% of search queries are affected by the site speed signal in our implementation and the signal for site speed only applies for visitors searching in English on Google.com at this point.”
So what does all of this mean to a photographer? It means that it probably pays to (at least on your home page) keep image size (in kilobytes) in mind as you’re selecting what JPG quality to save them at, and to be mindful the overall size (again, in kilobytes) of any Flash elements on the page. I didn’t want to single out anyone’s Flash-based template or non-template site, but if that loading bar is visible for any amount of time, you’ll likely have page load speed issues in the eyes of Google. And if Google is using this metric, Yahoo! Search and Bing will likely follow suit.