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Google Site Speed SEO and You

by Topher

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Last week, Google announced that the speed your site loads was one of more than 200 factors that figures into the search ranking of that page.

As happens every time Google says something, the Web/Twitter is going nuts over how this would affect a site. I wanted to give my thoughts on why you shouldn’t panic about this update.

Let’s start by saying that if the only reason you’re worried about the load speed of the pages on your Web site is because now Google is using it as a ranking factor, I feel sorry for the people who come to your site. As Google states in the announcement on the Webmaster blog:

“Speeding up websites is important — not just to site owners, but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there.”

A different way to say that is: Fast page load time is a good user experience.

We know there are more than 200 factors that Google uses in the ranking of a page, so do we really think that now that they’ve added page load speed to the mix, it will all of a sudden become more important than things like well-written, search-friendly content? I really can never see Google penalizing you for giving the end user a good on-page experience.

In the Webmaster blog post, they even said as much:

“While site speed is a new signal, it doesn’t carry as much weight as the relevance of a page. Currently, fewer than 1% of search queries are affected by the site speed signal in our implementation. …”

If we believe what Google says, then why is there all the talk about this and how it will be the thing that keeps you from ranking well?

I think that’s happening for two reasons. One, people just don’t understand what’s happening and how it will or will not affect their site and its rankings, or two, they’re using it as a excuse for bad SEO.

Matt Cutts has a post on his personal blog addressing a lot of the things that have been said about this change, and the No. 1 thing he wanted all the SEO and non-SEO people to know is:

Don’t Panic!

I agree 100 percent with him on this.

Should your page load as fast as possible? Yes, it should! Will it help you in the SERPS? Well, it won’t hurt you; that much we know. What is the biggest reason you should work to have your pages load a quick as possible? A good user experience. That will lead to a better conversion rate on your site, and that is just smart SEO.

Google gives us a list of some tools we can use to measure the speed that the Google bot downloads your page:

  • Page Speed, a Firefox/Firebug add-on that evaluates the performance of Web pages and gives suggestions for improvement.
  • YSlow, a free tool from Yahoo! that suggests ways to improve Web site speed.
  • WebPagetest shows a waterfall view of your pages’ load performance, plus an optimization checklist.
  • Webmaster Tools, Labs > Site Performance shows the speed of your Web site as experienced by users around the world.
  • Google has also blogged about site performance.
  • Many other tools on code.google.com/speed.

I would recommend that you take the time to read the Webmaster blog post on load speed as a search result factor, and then look at your site and pages to see whether there is a way you can speed up the load time.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David WhiteheadNo Gravatar April 12, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Valid points, and I tend to agree with most but I think you’re missing one key thing: this announcement is garnering news b/c it’s Google “pulling back the curtain” a little bit on their search algorithm. No, it’s not a major influencer in SERPs, but it is one more “piece of the puzzle” that people can use to try and influence those SERPs, so in a big picture view it does garner some importance.

But, as you say, if you’re not looking at sight performance independent of your site search optimization, you may have bigger problems to consider.

2 Carlos DuplarNo Gravatar April 12, 2010 at 1:25 pm

But it’s great as a scare tactic. People will finally try to reduce page load times, because if they don’t, their Google rankings will vanish =)

3 Elaine EllisNo Gravatar April 12, 2010 at 8:48 pm

Ha! “Let’s start by saying that if the only reason you’re worried about the load speed of the pages on your Web site is because now Google is using it as a ranking factor, I feel sorry for the people who come to your site.”

Exactly. Nothing is more frustrating then watching a site take forever to load, especially on a mobile device.

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