Google incorporating site speed in search rankings

APRIL 9, 2010

in GOOGLE/SEO

(I’m in the middle of traveling, but I know that a lot of people will be interested in the news thatGoogle is incorporating site speed as one of the over 200 signals that we use in determining search rankings. I wanted to jot down some quick thoughts.)

The main thing I want to get across is: don’t panic. We mentioned site speed as early as last year, and you can watch this video from February where I pointed out that we still put much more weight on factors like relevance, topicality, reputation, value-add, etc. — all the factors that you probably think about all the time. Compared to those signals, site speed will carry much less weight.

In fact, if you read the official blog post, you’ll notice that the current implementation mentions that fewer than 1% of search queries will change as a result of incorporating site speed into our ranking. That means that even fewer search results are affected, since the average search query is returning 10 or so search results on each page. So please don’t worry that the effect of this change will be huge. In fact, I believe the official blog post mentioned that “We launched this change a few weeks back after rigorous testing.” The fact that not too many people noticed the change is another reason not to stress out disproportionately over this change.

There are lots of tools to help you identify ways to improve the speed of your site. The official blog post gives lots of links, and some of the links lead to even more tools. But just to highlight a few, Google’s webmaster console provides information very close to the information that we’re actually using in our ranking. In addition, various free-to-use tools offer things like in-depth analysis of individual pages. Google also provides an entire speed-related mini-site with tons of resources and videos about speeding up websites.

I want to pre-debunk another misconception, which is that this change will somehow help “big sites” who can affect to pay more for hosting. In my experience, small sites can often react and respond faster than large companies to changes on the web. Often even a little bit of work can make big differences for site speed. So I think the average smaller web site can really benefit from this change, because a smaller website can often implement the best practices that speed up a site more easily than a larger organization that might move slower or be hindered by bureaucracy.

Also take a step back for a minute and consider the intent of this change: a faster web is great for everyone, but especially for users. Lots of websites have demonstrated that speeding up the user experience results in more usage. So speeding up your website isn’t just something that can affect your search rankings–it’s a fantastic idea for your users.

I know this change will be popular with some people and unpopular with others. Let me reiterate a point to the search engine optimizers (SEOs) out there: SEO is a field that changes over time, and the most successful SEOs embrace change and turn it into an opportunity. SEOs in 1999 didn’t think about social media, but there’s clearly a lot of interesting things going on in that space in 2010. I would love if SEOs dive into improving website speed, because (unlike a few facets of SEO) decreasing the latency of a website is something that is easily measurable and controllable. A #1 ranking might not always be achievable, but most websites can be made noticeably faster, which can improve ROI and conversion rates. In that sense, this change represents an opportunity for SEOs and developers who can help other websites improve their speediness.

I know that there will be a lot of discussion about this change, and some people won’t like it. But I’m glad that Google is making this step, both for the sake of transparency (letting webmasters know more about how to do better in Google) and because I think this change will make the web better. My takeaway messages would be three-fold: first, this is actually a relatively small-impact change, so you don’t need to panic. Second, speeding up your website is a great thing to do in general. Visitors to your site will be happier (and might convert more or use your site more), and a faster web will be better for all. Third, this change highlights that there are very constructive things that can directly improve your website’s user experience. Instead of wasting time on keyword meta tags, you can focus on some very easy, straightforward, small steps that can really improve how users perceive your site