Matt Cutts is a software engineer at Google and, in a recent interview, said that many people at Google believe speed should be a factor in determining search engine rankings. Web site designers and owners want fast loading website because it dramatically improves user enjoyment and minimizes abandonment of the website by surfers. As Matt points out, Google feels that when a user clicks through a search engine page to a website, that the user experience should reflect the faith and trust surfers have in the search engine to return relevant sites for their use.
Is “speed” linked to “relevancy”?
We know that a relevant website will rank higher than one which is not regarded as being relevant, however, will a slow-loading, but relevant website, now rank lower than a fast-loading, less-relevant website?
Google conducted speed tests on its own pages a year ago and found delays of only fractions of a second played a significant role in whether a surfer abandoned the page and hit the back-button on the browser. Chrome, the Google web browser, has been optimized for fast-loading of Java script websites precisely because Google believes a fast internet for all users is a worthwhile goal. This may be altruistic of Google, but at the same time it makes a great deal of commercial sense – a fast internet experience means easier surfing, more commercial activity, more ad revenues and more profits.
Whether speed is linked to relevancy is itself irrelevant – of Google is rewarding fast loading websites with a higher rank, websites looking for top slots have no choice but to go with the flow.
It’s obvious that speed is not the only factor that needs to be taken into consideration, and to be fair to Google, there are hundreds of factors which are taken into account. Speed is only one further additional factor which is taken into consideration and Matt makes it clear; Google are looking at rewarding faster websites all other things being even (note: Google will not be penalizing websites for being slower).
The semantic difference may not make much difference if faster websites get to rank ahead of yours, so now is the time to start looking at what can be done to improve the speed of you website. This is not just about continuing the SEO process of looking good for search engines, but optimizing the user experience too. There is no doubt in this instance that optimizing for search engines will mean directly maximizing user enjoyment which will translate into more traffic, more return visits, greater conversions and more revenue.
What Can Be Done to Improve Loading and Operating Speed?
There are numerous factors which affect the speed of your website, but while search engines have left speed out of the ranking equation, optimizing site speed has languished except for those who have really had their users interests at heart. With Google moving towards including speed as a ranking factor, it is really important for websites to look at the following issues:
- Script Language – websites running Flash are an obvious cause for concern because those aesthetic graphics and visuals, which take time to load and run, may need to be scaled back or sacrificed to maintain commercial viability;
- Hosting Server Speed – many websites find that their hosting service is creating bottlenecks, especially on shared hosting services or in the allocation of bandwidth to a virtual server environment. SLA’s will need to be revisited with hosting partners to establish minimum speed (bandwidth) allocations and don’t be surprised to find Google advertizing “High Speed Hosting” down the road;
- Coding Quality – Google have a neat set of resources which can take your Java website script and pare it down to the minimum required. This speeds up website loading and operation as well as providing you with a test bed to measure how well your site is performing now – find the resources at http://code.google.com/speed/page-speed/ – optimizing coding will improve website speed;
- Picture Resolution – high resolution pictures and graphics are not always required for a website and many images can be rendered without the user noticing a difference at lower resolution. Higher resolution means a larger download which means a slower speed; and
- Bulky Applications – Adobe applications are notorious for slowing loading speeds down, and these seem to be the subject of concern amongst SEO practitioners but it is likely that slow-loading applications are going to create some problems and this will need to be addressed.
As Matt Cutts said, there are plenty of people at Google who believe fast websites should be rewarded with higher ranking. Right now, Google are not applying this weighting for speed – though Adword clients may disagree as speed does appear to be a factor.
No matter, Google is clearly going to add speed as a factor, so to maintain and attain high search engine rankings, websites must be optimized for speed.