When you think about carbon emissions and the industries that are having the biggest impacts on our planet, you probably think about things like transport or manufacturing. But did you know that the digital space is one of the worst offenders? The internet as a whole uses a huge amount of electricity – around 416.2TWh every year – and websites are responsible for a big percentage of that.

In fact, every website visit is associated with the production of 0.5g of carbon emissions on average. That might not sound like much, but when you’ve got 10,000 page views every month, that adds up to 60kg of carbon per year. And if your website is on the complex side, it could be even more.

Websites use energy to load the various elements across different pages. So to minimise energy usage, we need to be making websites speedier than ever before. The good news is that there are many ways to reduce load speed and build more sustainable sites. We spoke to Michelle Symonds from Ditto Digital, our friend and local SEO specialist, to understand how these changes can affect a site’s search engine ranking.

Green website development techniques

Here are 6 hugely effective sustainable web design techniques, along with some advice from Michelle:

Optimise your images

Michelle says: “Too many images can slow your page down, and text is easier for search engines to understand.”

Reduce the number of images you’re using – and for those you do need to use, consider compressing files and reducing the quality where possible. Although it’s tempting to use 150 DPI, remember that, on screens, there’s really no visible difference between 150 and 72 DPI. The smaller the file, the faster the image will load on the website, and the less energy will be consumed.

Optimise your videos

Again, get rid of any non-essential videos, and work to optimise those you can’t do without. There are three excellent ways to optimise videos. First, turn off autoplay so videos only play if users actively request them. Second, consider adding a compressed, lower-quality version. And lastly, remember to resize your video for mobile and embed responsively for viewing on mobile devices.

Michelle says: “Video is heavy and slows your site down, which isn’t good for SEO or sustainability.”

Embrace ‘Lazy Loading’

Lazy Loading is one of the best things you can do to improve your site’s sustainability. It means that anything that’s considered to be ‘non-critical’ doesn’t load on your site. For example, if you’ve positioned images below the fold, they’re non-critical if the user is still above the fold. Therefore, these images won’t load until – or unless – users scroll down to a point where they can see the image.

Use web caching

When a visitor arrives at your website, a request for the site to load is sent from the user’s browser to the website’s server. This happens every time, and it requires energy. With web caching, you can store your site’s data within the user’s browser for a period of time. This means that if they choose to revisit, the data is already there, and there’s no need to use energy to make a subsequent request.

Rework your navigation

Think about how your website is structured. Is there a natural, intuitive pattern from A to B to C and so on, or is it a bit of a maze? When your navigation is complex, it can take visitors a lot longer – and a lot more clicks – to find what they’re looking for, essentially wasting resources. Have a chat with a web designer to see how you can make your structure and navigation much more user-friendly.

Change your hosting provider

A huge amount of equipment is needed to manage a hosting platform, and that equipment can use a substantial amount of energy. If you’re not already using a ‘green’ hosting provider, consider making the switch. These providers use renewable energy where possible to run both physical and cloud-based servers. According to research, these providers produce 65% fewer CO2 emissions.

While it may seem challenging to build a more sustainable, more eco-friendly website, it can be quite a simple task. All you really need to do is think. Take some time to ask yourself:

  • Do you really need a full-screen image, or could a smaller image be equally effective?
  • Is video really necessary to get your message across? Could text work just as well?
  • Does everything on your website need to load simultaneously?
  • Does your website need to be ‘fancy’? Do you need those transition effects, with weighty JavaScript?
  • Do you need to show everything? Could 10 images tell a story, rather than 100?
  • Is every blog post needed? Are they all getting traffic, even the older articles?

But the most important thing to think about is this: Do you need media at all?

Media and code can, of course, be optimised. And we’ve looked at some possibilities for that above. But by far the most effective optimisation is if it’s not there in the first place!

Now, this is somewhat of an interesting topic of conversation. Why? Well, because as many are beginning to realise, search engine optimisation is about more than just keywords. In fact, there are around 200 different ranking factors that Google takes into account when determining which websites should rank for which searches. Media and content are among these factors. So how do SEO and sustainability go together?

The answer is: better than you might think.

Sustainability & SEO

As we’ve seen, one of the best ways to make your website more sustainable is to remove as much unnecessary content as possible. While this may seem counterproductive to SEO, SEO and sustainability can work together very well, helping you to edge closer towards your digital goals.

How?

Firstly, we need to consider Google’s Core Web Vitals. When Google introduced Core Web Vitals, they confirmed that they consider ‘how quickly pages load … as factors for ranking results’. Quite simply, the slower a website, the harder it is to improve the Google ranking for that website.

Core Web Vitals is focused on three things:

  • Largest contentful paint, which is how long the biggest element on your site takes to load
  • First input delay, which is how long it takes for your site to respond to a user’s click
  • Cumulative layout shift, which is how much your elements move during loading

All of these things can be affected by slow-loading rich media. As Michelle says, video especially is ‘heavy’. It slows pages down. So while media and visual elements are important for SEO, they can also have the opposite effect if they’re causing your site to load slowly. Reducing and optimising are key to success.

Secondly, we need to think about content. Again, content is an important factor for SEO. Google likes recency, for example, rewarding those sites that publish content regularly. But a site full of thousands upon thousands of separate posts isn’t great for SEO. So what’s the solution? Merging posts.

Michelle explains: “A modern SEO approach is to merge posts that are about similar things, update and expand them, and gather posts into a more organised model. There’s also movement towards articles of 2000+ words, as longer articles tend to rank better.”

It’s easy to think of SEO as ‘the more, the better’. But research suggests otherwise. It’s not the number of posts that matters for SEO, but the length of each post. One study found that high-ranking websites all have one thing in common: an average post length of 1500 words.

So you can easily get sustainability and SEO working together by expanding and reworking existing posts into longer, more up-to-date articles, rather than producing a brand new post every time.

Finding the right balance

Ultimately, creating a sustainable website is all about finding the right balance. You don’t need to go as far as building a site like that of the Musk Foundation; a 33-word website that produces zero CO2. But you should be striving to do better than Youtube, which produces an above-average 0.84g of carbon per visit. There are always ways to improve without impacting the experience for your visitors, or harming your SEO efforts. And at Freestyle Internet, that’s precisely our speciality!

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