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Now that Google have officially confirmed that site speed has become a ranking factor, we explore the implications this could have for your website.
To answer the first portion of the title, site speed (or page load time) is a measurement of how fast your website loads. This is usually an average figure taken from the moment a visitor lands on the page to the time it is fully loaded; this is ordinarily calculated by the search engine when crawling a site.
Site speed came to prominence late last year when Google announced that they would be incorporating it as a ranking factor [see: Could Page Load Time Become a Ranking Factor on Google?]. In the past week this has gone from theory to practice. Google are now taking site speed into account for certain search terms.
But the abiding message in all of this is not to panic. If your site is sluggish you won’t suddenly free fall through the rankings. Site speed will be just one of around 200 individual ranking factors that the Google algorithm uses. How much weight it will be given is yet to be seen.
Improving Website Usability and Search Engine Rankings
Google’s reasoning for making page load time a ranking factor is sensible enough. Essentially, they are looking to reward website’s that provide searchers with the best service. This means that they have to be relevant and navigable. You can’t just optimise your way to the top without any thought of customer satisfaction any longer.
Slow websites are, as I’m sure you’ll agree, a nuisance. You visit them to find information, buy a product or to get in contact and you have to wait an age for each page to load. Unless you have the patience of a saint, you’ll be tempted to leave and start your search all over again. This is what Google wants to avoid.
Google Quality Based Ranking Factors
The reason why Google want to avoid this is the same reason you should too, visitor satisfaction. If somebody uses a Google search and the first returned site is slow or irrelevant, they are far more likely to go off and try their luck with Bing or Yahoo. Needless to say, Google don’t want this.
So by putting in place a measurable factor like site speed within their algorithm calculation, Google can further improve not only the relevance of results, but the quality too. As a site owner, it is now your job to ensure that your website is up to scratch. The lure though is that the more efficient you can make it, the better your chances of improving your site’s Google rankings.
When it comes to site speed, it isn’t just about search engine positions though. Your website’s visitors should be your number one priority. If you aren’t delivering the service they expect, they won’t give you the custom you are looking for. Page load time is a major factor in this visitor satisfaction.
Bringing Your Site Up To Speed
So whatever you can do to bring your site up to scratch, now is the time to do something about it. There are a number of tools available that will help you establish site speed and fix any issues, not least Webmaster Tools. We have detailed some of the best pieces of software in our earlier post, Useful Resources for Improving site speed.
If you are looking for ways to inject some pace into your pages, you might also want to read 10 Tips for Reducing Page Load Time. Again, this provides a few hints as to how you can implement changes that could benefit your Google ranking and customer satisfaction levels.
Don’t get too caught up in measures to speed up your site. This is just one of a number of ranking factors out there and shouldn’t be treated as any more important than the others. Content and links are still top of the pile, but if you want to have a fully optimised site, you will now have to be aware of page load time.