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by Stephen Logan on 17th November 2009
Page load time has always been a significant factor in how a website is perceived by human visitors. It has also been used to determine quality scores assigned by search engines for PPC campaigns. However, it appears that a site’s page load time could now become a ranking factor for Google SERPs.
The SEO industry has been beset by rumours following Matt Cutts’ appearance at PubCon last week, with the hot topic being the likely emergence of Google Caffeine in the New Year [see: Google to Get a Caffeine Boost...Soon]. However, in terms of importance, the implication that page load time will become a ranking factor in 2010 could well supplant Caffeine.
Before we get too deep into the potential ramifications of this change, it should be noted that there are already dozens if not hundreds of individual ranking factors in operation, all of which are continuously being fed into their unique algorithm. Page load won’t immediately become the determining factor, but it looks set to become an important part of the wider mathematics applied by the Googlebots.
So what does this mean for website owners? Well, the advice has always been to ensure that your pages are free from extraneous content that will slow loading times and ruin visitor satisfaction; now that friendly advice appears to have become almost mandatory.
With Google looking to refresh its SERPs to improve their users’ experience and reduce the time people have to spend trawling through websites, clearly extra care needs to be taken to ensure you aren’t lagging behind the competition.
The primary reason for why page load could become a ranking factor is down to user enjoyment. For example, how many times have you visited a website only to leave after having to wait an inordinate amount of time for each page to open? Nobody wants to waste their time endlessly surfing through one website, particularly when they can find the same information/products elsewhere, quicker. It appears Google are now getting serious in their efforts to bridge the gap between the quality of optimisation (content) and visitor satisfaction (speed and relevance).
This isn’t a complete bolt out of the blue though, or at least it shouldn’t be treated as such. Since early last year page load time has been a factor in your site’s quality score. Although this is orientated towards AdWords PPC listings rather than search engine results pages, it shows that page load is clearly in Google’s consciousness.
Google Caffeine is all about speeding up and improving their own SERPs, so this announcement forms a part of their drive to improve the quality and speed of Internet users’ online experience. They’ve even introduced Google Commerce Search, which has been developed help E-tailers speed up their on-site product search capabilities – albeit hosted on Google’s cloud server and at a cost of $50,000 – in a bid to improve customer satisfaction, as well as increasing their own revenue streams [see: Google Introduce Commerce Search for E-tailers].
So if your website is taking a few seconds to load each page it may be time to review your structure and content. It might mean changing to a different hosting server, or it could just be a case of removing any supurfluous flash images, video or sounds from your pages. Whenever any facet becomes a ranking factor, it becomes a concern of SEO. So if you’re looking to optimise your website, don’t forget those all important loading times, otherwise your efforts could be in vain.
For more information about what was discussed at PubCon and to view Matt Cutts’ video visit Web Pro News’ post entitled Matt Cutts Gives More Caffeine Details, Talks of Site Speed.