The use of backlinks, optimised content and using the right codes have played a great deal in influencing a website’s ranking on Google’s SERP. Google checks keyword stuffing and other sharp SEO practices that may be used to deceive the search engine, by generating results that are not top notch. They have stayed true to their culture of ‘returning the best page to the user’.
This culture has been the key driving force in making Google work tirelessly to give internet users the best experience whenever they go online.
Google makes use of algorithms to trawl the pages of the web, sorting through billions of websites to make sure that pages that the internet user requests through the search engine are useful. SEOs understand this attitude of Google, and they optimise websites accordingly to get a good ranking on the search engine.
In 2009, Google announced that it has added yet another ranking signal to the many used by its algorithm to rank pages. This is targeted at using page load speed as an added criterion in ranking sites in search page results.
Page Speed as a ranking factor
Page speed is the amount of time it takes for a certain page to be loaded. Google’s Matt Cutts in his blog post addresses why page speed is a needed criterion, citing users’ behaviour as a determining factor. The average internet user doesn’t have the patience to wait for a website that takes long to load. Google’s Maile Ohyle showed a slide while speaking at the SMX West in December 2010, contending that a delay of under half a second impacted business metrics.
Many more search engines have further reiterated the fact that internet users love pages that load fast, making page speed an important factor for Google to consider in meeting its users’ needs. Google announced that there will be consequences for pages that do not load fast, and this may result in a demotion in search results ranking, as their belief of optimising the users’ experiences remains strong. There are many factors that may affect page speed including designs, images, and server hosts among many others.
More recently, Google suggested that pages that were not mobile friendly are likely to be penalised by losing ranking on the SERP, seeing as over 50% of web users use their mobile devices to access the web. This they did by flagging some sites as not mobile friendly, all in a bid to give the user a wholesome experience.
How to Keep an Eye on Your Site’s Page Load Speed
There are many tools that you can use to check if your website is loading fast enough.
One of the more popular ones made available by Google is the page speed tool, which rates the performance of your page by running a check to see how the page loads through desktop and mobile devices. It allocated a score to show how good or bad your page performed. A page with a score of over 85 indicates that it is doing well.
There is, however, a disclaimer on the site to remind users that the scores may change from time to time as a result of new rules being added. Page Speed insight doesn’t take into consideration network connection performance because it varies. What it checks is how the network’s independent aspect of the page performs, and gives suggestions depending on what it finds to make the page improve.
There are also other tools that the Google search engine team suggested may be used to check the speed of your site such as YSlow, Webpage test, and site performance.
How Relevant Is Page Load Speed as a ranking factor?
There are over 200 algorithms used by Google to rank pages on their SERP and page load speed is just one of them.
While commenting on page load speed as an added algorithm in ranking pages on Google Search pages, Matt Cutts and many other Google experts stressed that relevance of a page plays a very important role in page ranking. There also have been a lot of talks on whether page load speed makes any difference at all.
In discussing the role of page load speed as a ranking factor, Matt Cutts explained that page ranking has a lot to do with relevance, but that page load also contributes some quota. He made a representation that out of two websites that have equally relevant backlinks, great content and everything else being the same, a user is more likely to prefer the faster one. This is because users love fast pages, and because the search engine is there to serve the users, it is possible in situations as the one cited above that page ranking becomes a useful factor.
In his blog post on the importance of page speed, Brendan Wilde, Online Manager at Umbrellar Cloud, shares many reasons why page load isn’t to be taken for granted. He states that, “For e-commerce sites, 1 second delay may result in seven percent reduction in conversion”.
Google search engine team concluded that while it may be 1 in over 200 factors, page speed should be considered, because site owners can then offer their users great value alongside a wonderful internet experience.
Page Speed and SEO
While there hasn’t been much difference noticed in how page speed affects the ranking of websites when opened on the desktop, the same cannot be said of using mobile, where page load speed is very important. Many people who now access the web do it through mobile.
Google has advised developers to optimise their sites to be more mobile friendly. Page load is one of the factors considered in a site’s mobile friendliness, and Google have even introduced the use of a label that displays in front of pages.
Mobile is the present and the future, so SEOs cannot afford to ignore page load speed.
James is a business psychologist and serial entrepreneur, with over a decade working in finance, IT, marketing and recruitment sectors. He has authored numerous books in the management space and is Founder and CEO of Daily Posts.