Page load speed ranking factor

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

Page Load Speed

Over the last few weeks, there has been lots of talk about Google’s suggestion that page load speed may become a ranking factor in 2010.

While nothing has been confirmed yet, recent comments from Google Software Engineer, Matt Cutts make it seem increasingly likely, so we thought we’d provide you with all the information you need in order to prepare for this new ranking factor.

Why is Google Interested in Page Load Speed?

Google wants searching to be fast and efficient and for users to have a good experience. Google believes it would be fairer for faster sites to be higher up in the search results, so Web pages with faster loading times would have higher rankings than slower ones.

According to Matt Cutts, page load time is already a factor in AdWords advertising searches. He also suggests there is a strong push from within Google to make speed a quality factor in their search ranking guidelines.

How Will Speed Affect Rankings?

There are over 200 other ranking factors that are taken into consideration by Google, so just how important is a quick load time going to be?

With so many ranking factors to be considered, Google will be concentrating on the extremes, for example a page that take 60 seconds to load, or a page that takes a split second. Web pages with an average load time may therefore not initially be affected, however, as faster sites will be given a boost, your rankings may be affected eventually if much faster sites are pushed higher than yours.

How Are Load Times Measured?

According to Google, load time data will come from information sent by users of your site who have installed the Google toolbar and opted for enhanced features. This means it is representative of a global average of real users, which they feel is better than using a spider to gather the data.

Google have already added a page speed report to their set of free Webmaster Tools, so you can obtain a summary of the following:

  • How long your Web page takes to load
  • A graphical history of your Web site’s speed over the past few months
  • How your load time compares to other sites

What Causes Slow Load Times?

There are two main factors that influence your page load times:

Hosting: Your site’s load time is impacted by the quality of your host’s connectivity, so Web hosts with slow servers or insufficient server space to cope with demand, and offshore hosts, for example, may put you at a disadvantage.

Site Development: Poor site development including improper use of scripts, too many large images or media-heavy sites and invalid code can all slow down your page load times.

How Can You Maintain Your Google Rankings?

If you already have a Web site that loads reasonably quickly, don’t assume it will remain in a high position and ignore it. Ongoing Web site optimisation and maintenance is a necessity in order to maintain your rankings over time.

Regardless of whether Google makes load time a ranking factor in future, page load time is still an important metric to consider. If your Web site runs at a snail’s pace, chances are you’re already losing out in reduced user loyalty. Web users don’t want to waste their time waiting for slow pages to load, so they will go elsewhere if your site is not performing well.

Tips To Help Improve Page Load Time

  • If you use Firefox, the Firebug plugin with the Google Page Speed add-on is an excellent tool for testing page load times.
  • If you use a different Web browser, free online services like the Web Page Analyser from WebSiteOptimization.com can also display similar data.
  • Sign up with a good host. Services like Network-Tools.com can be helpful in determining the quality of your host’s network.
  • Employ a competent Web developer and ensure your code and scripts are well written.

Other techniques such as optimising the configuration of your web server or implementing caching, can achieve significant or incremental performance boosts that will improve your page load performance.

Aside from giving your site a little ranking boost, improving your page load times can enhance customer satisfaction, increase traffic and even increase your online revenue.

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Mark started in the Internet industry in 1994 working with one of Canterbury’s first Internet Service Providers. In 1997 Rocket launched New Zealand Tourism Online and then Avatar Web Promotions in 1998. New Zealand Tourism Online was sold to Telecom Yellow Pages in 2006. Mark enjoys meeting with Avatar’s clients and strategising winning Web solutions. When not at Avatar HQ, Mark’s into playing tennis, going on family camping trips and supporting the private space industry.

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