Site Speed & PPC Performance: Why You Can’t Ignore A Slow Site Anymore

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By now, most search marketers know that Google is on a mission to make the Web faster. SEO professionals feel the pressure because page speed is a factor in Google’s ranking algorithm. Compounding that is the recommendation by Google to have a mobile optimized site that renders above-the-fold content in one second or less.

If you’re a PPC professional, you may be thinking that whole page speed thing doesn’t apply to your ad performance, right? Wrong.

As Web marketers, all aspects of the user experience must be considered, no matter what channel is driving a visitor to the website – be it SEO or PPC. And since Google is in charge of the AdWords product just as much as its organic search product, page load time matters just the same – and Google will tell you it can impact the performance of your ads, too.

Page Load Time & AdWords Performance

It’s as plain as the nose on our faces: right here in the AdWords help files, we see landing page “experience” does affect your ad’s ability to compete:
We use a combination of automated systems and human evaluation to determine landing page experience on your site. Your ads may show less often (or not at all) if they point to websites that offer a poor user experience.

Google explains in those help files that a good landing page experience contains any of the following:

  • Providing relevant, useful, and original content,
  • Promoting transparency and fostering trustworthiness on your site (for example, by explaining your products or services before asking visitors to fill out forms sharing their own information),
  • Making it easy for customers to navigate your site (including on mobile sites), and
  • Encouraging customers to spend time on your site (for example, by making sure your page loads quickly so people who click your ad don’t give up and leave your site prematurely).

Google makes it clear: “Your landing page experience affects not only your Quality Score, but also your Ad Rank and advertising costs.”

Specifically, when it comes to page load time, Google has this to say:

If it takes too long for your website to load when someone clicks on your ad, they’re more likely to give up and leave your website. This unwelcome behavior can signal to Google that your landing page experience is poor, which could negatively impact your Ad Rank. That’s why you want to make sure your landing page load time is up to speed.

Of course, even though many of us know the potential impact that slow site speed can have, it may seem impossible as PPC professionals to get the right people working on the problem.

Web developers don’t always have a search marketing skill set, so explaining to them that they need to change what they’ve done to their work so your outcome is better may fall on deaf ears. And unfortunately in these situations, every moment can count to remedy the problem.

Luckily, Google has some handy tools that make it easier to point out what needs to be done to individual pages to improve load time. Things like the PageSpeed Insights tool, and the recommendations in Google Analytics (as pictured below) can help paint the picture.

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Still, the decision-makers who are responsible for lighting the fire under the Web developers need to see how this might be impacting not just your outcome, but also their bottom line.

Page Load Time, Ad Impressions & Sales: A Case Study

This past year has been an interesting case study in page load time, and advertising and sales performance for one particular client that sells seasonal products.

With all things in the long-running campaign remaining constant but one factor, page speed, the signs pointed to site speed as the culprit for a decrease in sitelinks impressions from 90,000 in October to 2,000 in January, at the time of writing.

Back in November 2014, we updated the sitelinks strategy for this particular client. As we were doing so, we saw that one of the destination URLs went to a page which was quite slow – so slow, in fact, that it timed out in some instances.

This red flag caused us to look into overall site speed for this client in general. We dug into the PageSpeed Insights tool and Google Analytics, and found the score to be very low for many pages, including two of the sitelink destination URLs.

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Diving into page speed suggestions, we saw multiple areas that could be remedied to assist this client:

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But I knew that just showing improvements for page speed wasn’t going to be enough to create action. We had to build a strong case that showed slow page load time was negatively impacting sales.

As pointed out previously, in November, we knew something was up because the sitelinks impressions had gone from 90,000 to 23,000 in October. We also knew page load time wasn’t a new issue, as we discovered when digging into Google Analytics. In fact, it had been happening for quite some time.

So we chose a sample set of three months in the summer of 2013 and 2014 – historically, the busiest time of year for this client – as a timeframe to analyze page load time in correlation with online sales.

What we found was a pretty powerful image. In 2013, as the page load time became worse, the online revenue fell as well. In the following image, the purple line represents average page load time, which shows about 10 seconds in June, and then skyrockets in July to reach 25 seconds. Subsequently in August when page load time was the worst all summer, sales were down significantly.

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Fast-forward to the same time period in 2014, and we see a similar story. In the following image, the purple line represents page load time beginning at around 11 seconds in June and improving to about 7 seconds in August 2014. What we found again was that the revenue increased as page load times decreased, or improved.

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At this point in time (August 2014), it looked like things were improving for the client’s site, and we were on our way to getting back in the clear in terms of page load time. However, to our knowledge, the client had not implemented the suggestions as outlined by Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool, and the improvements in page speed could have been due to something else unrelated.

The moment that we knew we weren’t in the clear was the downfall of our sitelinks impressions. The steady decline in the impressions from October 2014 to January 2015 lead us to believe that Google decided the user experience was not up to par at that point, and had written off this client’s ads for the time being.

At this point, the most troubling aspect is that even if we do make significant improvements to the page load time, the restitution won’t be immediate. Google tells us so in the AdWords help files (linked to previously):

The AdWords system visits and evaluates landing pages on a regular basis. If you’ve made significant changes to improve your landing page experience, it could lead to higher ad quality (and higher Ad Rank) over time. You might not see an immediate impact, but you may see results within days or weeks.

This is especially troubling for this client because the sitelinks strategy was so heavily relied upon previously for special sales and promotions. All in all, this case study is a significant reminder that page speed matters to PPC and ultimately, sales performance.

So in closing, let me just reiterate that page speed is important to your website visitors, and thus, it’s important to Google. This priority will trickle down into all the facets of Google products, including organic search and paid search, so long as the company is responsible for making its offerings the best they can be.

This year, take some time to understand the performance of your website by digging into some of the tools referenced in this post. Your target customer will certainly appreciate an improved website experience, and your marketing campaigns can greatly benefit from offering it.

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