Does page speed affect google ranking?

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.

Reasons page speed is a ranking factor

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.

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.

How the page speed update may affect you

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.

Past Google updates related to page speed

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.

  • Google first officially announced that page speed was a ranking factor in the year 2010.
  • In October 2015, they announced that they were beginning to test ranking “Accelerated Mobile Pages”, or AMP, in search. Pages built in AMP were stated by Google to load four times faster and use one tenth the data of sites not built in AMP. These tests were judged successful; and on February 24, 2016, it was announced that AMP listings were being integrated into the “Top Stories” section of search results. This too proved successful; and on August 2 of the same year, Google expanded AMP into the main search results. With this in mind, the Speed Update is not a new direction for Google, but the continuation of a long trend of emphasizing the importance of loading speed.

Tips to get started

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.

  • Check the code. Sometimes, pages end up becoming bloated with an excessive amount of JavaScript and CSS that is never actually used or is only used on certain pages but is loaded for all of them. Removing code which is not used and including limited-use code only on pages which use it, can speed up loading time.
  • Use system fonts. While custom fonts can seem attractive for the uniqueness and customization they offer, the user has to download it to their browser. Even a single custom font can amount to a significant download size, since it will also include variations like bold and italicized versions; and using multiple custom fonts on a single page can really slow it down. Standard system fonts, while they might not seem as exciting, have the advantage of requiring no loading time and rendering instantly.
  • Optimize images. You can save a lot of space by using the proper file type for each type of image on your site. For simple images like icons and logos, SVG is most efficient. For more complicated images like screenshots, PNG works best. And for the most complicated images, like photographs, use JPEG. You can also make images smaller or reduce their quality to significantly reduce their file size – depending on how much it speeds up your site, it might be a tradeoff worth making. It’s also possible to use the HTML attribute SRCSET to load different images for different devices; for instance, smaller and lower-quality images for mobile browsers which tend to have more problems with loading speed and have smaller screens in any case. You can also employ “lazy loading” to wait until a user scrolls down to an image in order to download it, focusing on first loading the parts of the page which the user can see; this is most helpful on long pages with lots of images.

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.

Key takeaways

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.

References

“Using page speed in mobile search ranking” by Zhiheng Wang and Doantam Phan. Google Webmaster Blog. January 17, 2018. https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2018/01/using-page-speed-in-mobile-search.html

“How to make websites faster” by John Henshaw. Make Fast Sites. March 10, 2017. https://makefastsites.com/

“Google’s AMP Top Stories Now Live In Mobile Search Results” by Greg Sterling. Search Engine Land. February 24, 2016. https://searchengineland.com/amp-top-stories-now-live-243314

“Google Says AMP Will Come To Google Search Early Next Year” by Danny Sullivan. Search Engine Land. November 24, 2015. https://searchengineland.com/google-says-amp-will-come-to-google-search-early-next-year-236999

“AMP breaks out of news into the main Google search results” by Greg Sterling. Search Engine Land. August 2, 2016. https://searchengineland.com/amp-breaks-news-main-google-search-results-254965

 

Jeff Williams

Jeff Williams is a 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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