Sustainable Websites: Better for the Planet, Better For Your SEO

July 6, 2021

Last year, Google announced that core web vitals would become part of the ranking signals in May 2021 but going green is not just about getting to the top of the SEO. Minimising carbon footprint is a company’s responsibility, and it needs to become part of the creative process of designers and developers.

sustainable seo

The effects of Digital Carbon Footprint

The internet has an impact on the climate that’s roughly comparable to the aviation industry.

If this comparison astounds you, you’re not alone. Indeed, whenever we plug our devices, we rarely stop to think of the carbon footprint we leave behind.  

While words like “wireless” and “the cloud” makes the internet  sound intangible. In reality, electricity generation contributes to approximately 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and 10% of that comes from everything that we do online.  

Every time somebody fires up a single web page, it emits 20 milligrams of CO2 per second (for more complex sites, this can be as much as 300 milligrams).

At the beginning of Covid, global internet traffic rose by 40%, and the resulting adoption of remote work practices is shifting a greater proportion of carbon responsibility onto digital.

Cisco predicts that nearly two-thirds of the global population will have access to the internet by 2023, equating to 5.3 billion internet users. This is proportional to the number of devices connected to the internet. That’s a lot of charging.

In terms of environmental impact, this is concerning, especially when about 80% of all electricity is still generated by burning fossil fuels.

So, what can we do to help the planet?

Tools to Measure Your Impact

An excellent place to start is using online calculators to determine the carbon emissions of your website to help you devise a game plan.

Ideally, this happens before you even build a website.

But that is not always an option. Cue: the carbon reporting tools.

These go one step further and calculate the carbon emissions of the entire website and all the pages underneath it,  using real-time data from Google analytics, going as far back as 12 months. By tracking the data, you can see what works and what doesn’t.

Now, if you work with websites for a living, all this talk might give you the impression that eco-friendly websites are minimalistic and barren, but that is not true.

WholeGrain Digital is a web design agency that creates and designs WordPress sites for clients, with sustainability at the forefront of its focus.  Similarly, ThoughtCo is a 20-year-old informative/educational website.

Both sites have opted for a more straightforward design without moving elements, demonstrating that it’s possible to have an eco-friendly website that isn’t boring. But how?

Elements That Affect Carbon Emissions (And How)

Server: “One of the biggest steps you can do to reduce your website’s environmental impact is to find a web host that has the same goal,” says Nick Schäferhoff. Indeed, How they choose to have their energy needs met directly impacts how environmentally friendly your website is.

Choosing your website provider is crucial.  When selecting it, among other things, you should be asking yourself if it runs on sustainable energy (The Green Web Foundation is a great tool to help you know if your hosts uses green energy),  if it runs on up-to-date technology (advances in efficiency are energy saving) and if it uses caching (not only good for SEO but sustainability).

CDN: serving your website via many CDN servers rather than one is more efficient due to proximity. Storing your website files closer to the user significantly minimises the power used during data transfer.  CDN servers also block unwanted bots and reduce unnecessary energy consumption.

Browser: having a content strategy is essential for the long run, too.  Choosing quality over quantity (having fewer data stored on the web) and regularly updating your content, and removing irrelevant elements can positively affect your carbon footprint and SEO rankings. Less is usually more—for example, minimal use of video and no auto-playing, reducing custom fonts and using dark mode.

We tend to regard what we do online as ethereal – walking into a modern data centre would be a stark reminder that it has palpable physical consequences. As web developers, it’s understandable to feel that this is not an issue over which we have any influence, but this isn’t true”.

There are a lot of decisions we can make about our websites that can add up to a dramatic reduction in emissions. Happily, these decisions need not conflict with our business goals. A greener website will often be a better performing website, with favourable effects on speed, accessibility, user experience and SEO.

Get in touch

Either contact us using the details below, or fill out this form to send your message. If you’ve got a brief ready then attach that too. We’ll get back to you as soon as possible. +44 (0) 20 3137 5612 86-90 Paul Street,
London EC2A 4NE

We’ll never spam you or share your contact details with any other parties. Any files you share with us will be considered confidential.