Google have been talking for some time about the speed of websites being an important factor in the visitor experience. Recently they announced officially that page speed was now a factor in their ranking system. So, sites that are slow to load will be penalised in the search results. (Another good reason for doing this is that a slow website will ‘cost’ Google more to download and analyse than a faster site).

Google have supported this with some tools that you can use to analyse ‘Page Speed’ – covering a myriad of factors, many of which are completely inaccessible – even to web professionals like ourselves. However, from a user point of view, the lessons to be learned are far fewer and revolve around content, and in particular graphics.

If you control your own content, via a content management system, then from a user experience – and now a Search Engine Optimisation – point of view, it is vital that any images you upload are resized correctly. People get easily confused here because there are two sizes at play. The first is the ACTUAL size or dimensions of the image, and the second is the size or dimensions of the image on the web page itself. The latter just scales the original image and stretches or compresses it to fit in a given space – however, the same original image is downloaded to start with. For example, you can have an image taken from a camera of size 4000x 3000 pixels which scales to a 400×300 size on the screen – but the full 2 Megabyte image (or so) will be downloaded when the page is viewed. You may not notice this yourself on your fast business broadband connection, but your customers, and now Google, will!

You should always use a program such as Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or PaintShop Pro to resize a copy of the original image before uploading to the web. Right click on any images on your website and select properties to see their dimensions and file size. We always aim for 25-30k as a maximum file size. You can adjust this by tweaking the JPG image quality setting and making sure that you pick the right format (GIF or JPG) for the specific image you have (former good for text/lines, latter good for photos).

Google’s attention to page load time emphasises the importance of quality website development – attention to the ‘back end’ implementation as well as the ‘front end’ look and feel of the site.