The Cheapest and Easiest SEO Boost I’ve Ever Seen

Check out what’s happened to the traffic on this website in the past couple of weeks!

Sure, traffic has been recovering over the past 8 weeks or so, as you can see in the graph, but then it suddenly jumped up from the week September 14 – 20 (16,845 visits) to September 21-27 (18,809).

That’s 1964 more visits, or a jump of 11.6%!

organic-traffic

You might wonder, “Is it referral traffic?” Nope. Here’s the graph from Google Analytics showing Organic Search traffic separately. You can see that my organic traffic tracks the total visits very closely (because nearly all my visits come from Google).

organic-traffic

So Google traffic jumped from 13,146 visits to 14,901… That’s 1755 more visits, or a 13.3% boost. (And the increase is the same this week, so it seems like it’s real.)

Google Webmaster Tools confirms what Analytics is saying. Pages on this site have clearly been getting more impressions in Google’s search engine results since the new WordPress theme went live on the 20th.

gwt-stats

So How Did I Do It?

(Answer, I didn’t… But then, how didn’t I do it??)

The first thing I wondered was if it could be related to my new site theme.

The boost did seem to happen right after I installed the new theme. Check out the note I made on Analytics on September 20th: “Implemented new Thrive theme.”

organic-traffic4

If it is the theme, what could account for a near-instant boost in search traffic?

Clearly, the site content hasn’t changed significantly, not enough to make any difference to relevance.

So what else is Google interested in apart from contextual relevance? Clearly, Google is busy testing different metrics aside from inbound links to see what could best…

  1. Accurately reflect quality.
  2. While being harder to manipulate or game.

Social Sharing Boost?

My first thought was whether there had been a boost in social sharing. The new theme has much better, more accessible, social sharing icons, which could possibly encourage people to share more on Facebook, Twitter, and (not least) Google Plus.

If I look at the most popular landing page for that week (my CSS Block and Inline tutorial), it only has a few social shares (and zero Google Plus +1s), which does not suggest a recent upsurge.

Here’s what Moz’s Open Site Explorer shows for that page:

moz-social

Page Load Times?

If not social sharing, could page load times have improved enough to constitute a significant improvement in user experience for Google?

(I know that the guys at Thrive make a big deal of how well their WordPress themes are optimized for speed.)

I checked out the bounce rate, average session times, and pages viewed per visit, which are all factors that Google’s already collecting through Analytics, and which could suggest a general increase in visitor approval.

However, it doesn’t appear that the new theme has made any improvement in any of those metrics!

So Why Would Google be Interested in Fast-Loading Sites?

Well, put yourself in Google’s shoes. The Google search engine’s deliverable product is search results. Now what would happen if you give people links to slow-loading sites? Even though they’re not Google’s sites, it has an impact on the experience of the Google search engine.

And what if you noticed that the slower the pages you gave your customers, the less highly they thought of your service, and the less they actually used it?!

That’s exactly what Google did notice. And that’s why they have been using page load as a ranking metric since April 2010.

And I’d bet that Google has noticed a significant improvement! Check this out (from Google Analytics > Behavior > Site Speed).

page load times Google Analytics

Before the new theme, my pages were taking on average 15 seconds — at BEST! At their worst, they were taking over 20 seconds!

But look what has happened since I installed the new Thrive theme!! Analytics reports load times of 3.59 seconds last week, and an incredible 1.54 seconds this week!

Now, I have this is only a crude metric of page load. There are many real factors, such as the time it takes for the first content to appear. However, whichever way you look at it, this site just got a LOT FASTER!

I would say that’s a clear positive correlation, but of course it needs a longer-term test to be 100% sure.

The moral of the story?

First, is your site running slowly?

To find out, head over to WebPageTest.org and enter your domain name. It’s free.

You’ll get a report like this.

speed-test

That’s showing a “Start Render” time (for a first-time visitor) or just 1.29 seconds, and rendering complete in a fraction over 2 seconds, which is very good.

This 2012 infographic shows the median page load time on desktop to be around 2.5 seconds.

View this site’s home page test results here, and compare your own.

Two Crucial Tips For Boosting Your Site Speed

There’s no question that site speed can make a very real difference to your rankings, your traffic, and therefore your business!

If your site is slow, don’t sit and accept it. Act now!

1. Optimize Your Theme

I’d first advise looking at what changes you can make, e.g. stripping out redundant WordPress plugins.

Your WebPageTest.org report will help you identify how many assets (i.e. files: HTML, JavaScript, CSS, images etc.) your page is downloading. Weigh each of those up on their merits. If you were to remove them, what would the real impact be?

Or, even better, start over with a great theme that’s designed to be super-fast. My Thrive themes subscription cost me around $100 (I think), which means that investment has already paid for itself!

Even if I had all the skills necessary to optimize my previous theme to that level (and I’m not sure I do), it would have taken me months! (Months of work or spend $100? I know which I’d rather do.)

2. Use a Good GREAT Host

The other critical change you can make is to move to a better host, particularly one who uses a Content Delivery Network (CDN). That’s one of the reasons I fired HostGator and moved my WordPress hosting to WPEngine.

All web hosts are NOT created equal. Going onto a CDN mean you website is effectively mirrored at different access points around the globe, theoretically reducing everyone’s load times.

Note: This post written seven months ago showed that my total load time on my old HostGator dedicated server used to be 4.55 seconds. After moving to WPEngine, that was slashed to 2.54 seconds. But moving to this Thrive theme has carved another 20% off that time!

Speed comparison, HostGator to WPEngine

Speed comparison: HostGator versus WPEngine

Your choice of hosting provider is critical, and it’s also important not to consider cutting corners! I pay about $15 per month for top-quality hosting from WPEngine. If that seems a lot, just look at the difference in search traffic I’ve just seen, and ask yourself what a 11.6% in visitors would be worth to you over a month.

The bottom line: If your business depends on leads or sales from your website, moving over to a good theme and a good host is one of the wisest investments you can make.

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