When we think of living more sustainably, often our minds go to recycling, using less plastic, taking the bus instead of driving, etc. Many of us have likely used carbon off-setters when travelling to account for the carbon emissions created by plane use.
Yet we don’t consider what our internet footprint is doing to the environment either, even though the internet accounts for 4% of carbon emissions – more than the entire aviation industry. In fact, if the internet were a country, it would be the sixth biggest contributor to carbon emissions.
The fact is, we are using the internet more and more, and the internet requires energy to run. The average person ten years ago produced 0.2g of Co2 on the internet per day – the number now is looking more like 8g per person. Think about the rise of ChatGPT too – ChatGPT required a lot of energy and water to train - around about 370 BMWs’ worth of water in fact. And every time you have a conversation with ChatGPT , that’s the equivalent of pouring a bottle of water on the floor.
Of course, no one is suggesting we cut off internet use entirely – not only would that be impossible, but non sensical. The energy used to read a book online compared to the energy needed to create a physical book is vastly smaller, not to mention we are now all reliant on the internet as it is intrinsically intwined with our lives. However, there are ways for us to critically observe our internet usage and think about how we can reduce the energy used in order to be more sustainable internet users – and as SEO specialists, we indeed have a duty to think about this with our SEO cap on.
In our modern lives, we rely on electricity, and electricity is generated by energy. Of course, there are different sources of energy: the renewable (such as wind and solar energy) and the non-renewable (such as burning fossil fuels). The latter – the burning of fossil fuels – is the one which contributes to carbon emissions. CO2, like other greenhouse gases, absorbs radiation and traps heat in the atmosphere. This causes global temperatures to rise and disrupts weather patterns, leading to climate changes.
Therefore, to put it simply, the more energy we use from non-renewable sources, the more carbon emissions we produce.
When talking about the energy used by the internet, I’m not speaking specifically about the energy used to make a computer or run a computer – not because it’s not relevant, but because the calculations get too complicated! Instead, I refer to the servers, and the data centres that house them. Every time we load a page on the internet, a request is made to a server which houses all the information of that page. This request requires energy. Servers are often found in data centres en masse, which then require in themselves energy to run – 1.8x the amount of the servers they house.
In addition, all these servers get very hot when processing all this information – so the data houses have to cool them with cold water, which leads to water wastage.
Of course, some data centres run on renewable energy and are based in Antarctica to keep as cold as possible anyway. But not all of them do. So we have to consider how we can make the requests for the servers require as little energy as possible.
There are a few ways we can reduce our energy usage on the internet from an SEO perspective:
Have faster page loads – the faster a page loads, the less energy it requires
Have less page loads – the easier it is for a user to find a page, the less clicks they will request, which reduces energy usage
Improve navigation for bot crawls – the easier it is for bots to crawl a website, the less energy they will use
Improve your page speed and CWV metrics
The faster your pages load, the less energy they will use. You can improve your page speed by optimizing your images, minifying your code, and using SSR.
Reduce the size of your pages
The smaller your pages are, the less energy they will use. You can reduce the size of your pages by optimizing your images, using a lighter font, and removing unnecessary code.
Use less video
Videos can be a major drain on resources. If you must use videos, make sure to optimise them for the web and use them when they're needed.
Avoid autoplay videos
Autoplay videos can start playing even if the user is not interested in them. This can waste a lot of energy.
Use a sustainable web host
There are many web hosts that offer renewable energy plans. By choosing a sustainable web host, you can help to offset the environmental impact of your website.
Use sustainable design elements
There are many ways to make your website more sustainable through design. For example, you can use green colors, plant-based imagery, and recycled materials.
Use a responsive design
A responsive design will ensure that your website looks good and loads quickly on all devices, from smartphones to laptops to desktops.
Improve site navigation
Having an improved site navigation will make it easier for both users and bots to find what they want more quickly, resulting in less energy usage. Ways of doing this include completing an IA review, making sure all 200 indexable URLS are in the XML sitemap, reducing 4xx and 5xx errors and eliminating redirect chains, and having a crawl depth of less than 3 for high priority pages.
Delete unused content
Old or unused content can add to the size of your website and slow down its loading speed. Periodically review your website and delete any content that you no longer need.
Improving your bounce rate
Having a better bounce rate indicates you are serving the users’ needs more, which likely reduces the number of visits they’re doing on different pages trying to find what they need. This is a similar indication shown by low time spent on page in combination with a high conversion rate for PLPs.
Use a content delivery network (CDN)
A CDN is a network of servers that deliver your website's content to users from the server that is closest to them. This can help to improve your website's loading speed and reduce its environmental impact.
Get an energy audit
An energy audit can help you to identify areas where you can improve your website's energy efficiency. iCrossing can support you with this, feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com for more information.
It should do – everything listed above is pretty much SEO’s bread and butter. That’s because a sustainable SEO strategy is, in fact, just a good SEO strategy, as our aim at the end of the day should always be to improve user experience, which also happens to align with improved energy experience. Not to mention that Google has a goal of being carbon zero by 2030 (Bing even aims to be carbon negative by 2030!), so sustainability could soon become an important ranking factor. We’ve seen Google test environmentally friendly initiatives such as using IndexNow and ignoring the site mod date in sitemaps, but we have a feeling this is just the beginning if Google want to meet their ambitious energy goals.
Making your website more sustainable is a win-win for everyone. It's good for the environment, and it can also help you to improve your website's performance and SEO.