With the page speed update launched this July, its more clear than ever that Google will continue to use page speed as a ranking factor, especially as mobile Internet usage increases. Page speed impacts user experience and affects how your site is indexed by Google. From an SEO perspective this is one optimization factor that should not be ignored. However, you may still wonder if page speed is really an important factor, what algorithm updates have been released on page speed and ultimately if the recent update will affect your website. Here is a brief explanation of Google’s history of using page speed as a ranking factor and how to address it on your site to take advantage of this factor in your optimization strategy.
Google’s algorithm for ranking sites on its search result pages is based on a large number of different factors. Some of these are kept secret, to prevent spammers from attempting to game the system; but others have been made public by Google, because they are considered important elements of good web design which all sites should strive for. One such openly disclosed element of Google’s ranking system is the fact that the speed with which a page loads is taken into account for determining its ranking.
The reason given by Google for why performance matters, is that studies show that people view loading speed as a vital part of user experience. For instance, 53% of visitors to a mobile site will give up and hit the “Back” button if the page takes more than three seconds to load. Google strives to deliver the most useful results to queries on their search engine results pages; and clearly, a site which half of people give up on before they even see is not useful. The longer a page’s load time, the more people will give up on it before it loads, and the less useful it will be – and Google’s algorithms take this into account when determining ranking.
On July 9, Google rolled out a new “Speed Update” that further increases the relevance of page loading speed as a ranking factor. For searches performed from mobile devices, pages with long loading times will receive a penalty to their position on the search engine results pages. According to Google, this update only affects a small number of pages and a small percentage of queries, because it is specifically targeted at the slowest-loading of web pages. Pages that are already fast to load, and pages which take only a moderate amount of time to load, will not be affected; but pages which take an unreasonably long time to load will be penalized. Google has also stated that speed is still only one among many ranking factors and that the intent of a search and the quality of a site’s content remain important; therefore, it might still be possible for a slow site to rank highly if it is the best suited to the query.
Though this new update has been dubbed the “Speed Update”, it is not the first time Google has updated its algorithm with loading speed in mind.
Because it only targets the slowest-loading of websites, if your website loads in a reasonable amount of time, then the chances of it being penalized are small. However, given the overall importance of loading speed with regards to user experience, and the possibility of future Google updates further increasing the importance of loading speed as a ranking factor, here are a few tips you can use to improve your mobile site’s loading speed.
There are many more steps to speed up your website such as using a CDN and caching that can be taken with your IT and development team to improve speed if these prove to be Insufficient; but given that Google has stated that even a small increase in loading speed can result in big ranking gains if your site was one of those hit by the new algorithm, it’s worthwhile to try these tricks first and then see where your site stands.
Google has been gradually increasing the relevance of page loading speed as a ranking factor and is likely to continue doing so in the future. Even if your page isn’t currently affected by the algorithm, page loading speed is such an important part of user experience that you may be losing valuable visitors as people get tired of waiting and hit the “back” button before ever reaching your content. Therefore, ensuring that your sites has a fast loading speed is essential. Check how quickly your site loads on a mobile browser using Googles free tool to check your page speed, or one of the other free page speed test sites and, if necessary, make improvements to the code, fonts, or images to ensure your visitors have the best possible experience.
If you have question on how page speed affects your site or want help in implementing a plan to improve the performance of your website, contact the experts at Fruition today. Our team of developers can provide the direction and implement the key changes to your site that will improve speeds and ensure you remain competitive.
Jeff Williams is an SEO Project Manager at Fruition based in Denver, Colorado. Jeff uses his deep understanding of SEO and internet marketing to guide clients, optimize websites and ultimately improve search rankings.
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