Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Why SEO is crucial in combating the online carbon crisis

by Lee Macklin, Senior SEO Consultant at Organic

SEO executives, specialists and consultants are at the forefront of reducing the internet’s CO2 emissions, and most of us don’t even realise it. “But how?” I hear you cry. By optimising website pages, that’s how. Problem solved? Well, not quite… It’s not always easy to gain approval for optimisation proposals from senior stakeholders.

If you’ve completed a tech audit recently, it’s likely you covered page speed elements, something which was likely met with resistance by senior management due to the level of work required to fix it, for potentially small returns.

Try as we might to remind management that a one-second improvement in load times could save bags of cash, it’s still hard to get buy-in. But, for companies with a CO2 emissions goal, becoming one of the greener websites in the UK and moving towards that target via optimisation is an easier sell.

How can businesses adapt?

A lightweight website is fast – a winner when it comes to search results. And even though Google hasn’t announced it (yet), sustainability may also be a ranking factor and having an eco-friendly site helps you rank higher.

For businesses, it’s now a case of reframing and aligning with a different set of core principles, as ranking number one isn’t the sole focus for companies when other issues are quickly becoming more important. Sustainability remains a hot topic and the online carbon footprint for brands is taking centre stage.

Finding ways to reduce the CO2 impact should be key focuses for brands moving forwards. And when implemented effectively, it’s possible to outperform competitors in search engine results pages (SERPs) and increase revenue, while also drastically reducing energy consumption. The methods to consider here include:

Assessing visual elements, for example, reviewing fonts, video, and images, compressing files and turning off auto play.

Evaluating caching and hosting and implementing policies such as setting a long cache for browsers or migrating to the cloud.

Adopting a ‘weight weenie’ mindset for design and optimisation and putting sustainability at the heart – the best way to streamline things.

Eliminating redundant tracking code and making existing code more efficient by using a data layer or Google Tag Manager.

Reducing CO2 emissions is now high on the agenda of individuals and businesses, meaning it’s the ideal opportunity to tie sustainability and optimisation together. Stakeholders unconvinced by standalone SEO investment are more likely to buy in if the environmental impact is also positive.

After all, coupling a faster, better-ranking website with lowering CO2 emissions is a win-win for companies, right?

How do you combine sustainability with optimisation?

Realising there’s a direct link between the consumption of fossil fuels and page loads, clicks, scripts and

downloads is the first step. No matter what you do online, there are related CO2 emissions and energy costs. Although some data centre power may come from a renewable source, it’s more likely to come from an electricity grid running on fossil fuels.

But surely a page load uses an infinitesimal amount of power? Yes, true, on an individual scale, but the total amount of data transferred around the internet every day is staggering. Attempts have been made to calculate that figure and the cost in GB/KWh, which is also translatable into CO2 emissions. Although debated, the statistics are compelling, with some predictions estimating the internet will use a fifth of all the world’s electricity by 2025.

How do we reduce the online carbon footprint?

The steps we can take to reduce internet-related fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions include:

Renewable energy data centres: make the switch to a provider that either already uses or has a roadmap aimed at switching to renewable energy.

Convincing the public to scroll, stream and communicate less: placing the onus on the consumer creates huge energy savings, but change is gradual and total buy-in can be tricky.

Streamlining the internet: utilising the skills of SEO consultants to combat emissions costs is potentially the most powerful part of the solution. While the more difficult changes are progressing your SEO team can be making changes that are beneficial in the long run.

Sustainable optimisation: What’s next?

In a nutshell, to get going you need to start auditing NOW. Every page, script and image, plus your host, fonts and processes. But don’t be fooled. It’s a long-term undertaking, and like all things SEO, it is a slow burn, yet the results are worth the wait.