It’s Official: Google Now Counts Site Speed As A Ranking Factor

Google has kept a promise it made last year: Site speed is now a ranking factor in Google’s algorithm, and is already in place for U.S. searchers. But Google also cautions web site owners not to sacrifice relevance in the name of faster web pages, and even says this new ranking factor will impact very few queries. More on that below, but first the background on today’s announcement from Google Fellow Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team.

Why Page Speed Matters

The first warning that site speed was on Google’s radar came last November, when Cutts said there was “strong lobbying” inside Google to account for site speed as a new ranking factor. Speaking at SMX West last month, Google’s Maile Ohye showed a slide indicating that delays of under a half-second impact business metrics.

sitespeed

In addition to the numerous studies over the years that show Internet users prefer fast pages, Singhal says Google ran its own testing on how users respond to page speed, including experiments on Google.com. Singhal and Cutts point to a June 2009 blog post on the Google Research Blog that talked about how Google purposely slowed down its search results to measure the impact on search behavior.

Our experiments demonstrate that slowing down the search results page by 100 to 400 milliseconds has a measurable impact on the number of searches per user of -0.2% to -0.6% (averaged over four or six weeks depending on the experiment). That’s 0.2% to 0.6% fewer searches for changes under half a second!

“When we slow our own users down [on Google.com], we see less engagement,” Singhal says. “Users love fast sites. A faster web is a good thing all around.”

How Google Measures Page Speed

Singhal says there are two primary ways Google will measure page speed:

  1. How a page responds to Googlebot
  2. Load time as measured by the Google Toolbar

In December, Google added a page speed report to Webmasters Tools in the “Labs” section. The report shows how fast your site loads, specifically calls out several pages on your site, and offers suggestions to improve page speed.

goog-speed-wmt

Where Page Speed Fits in Google’s Algorithm

Google’s algorithm has about 200 different ranking factors, and even though Google is taking the unusual step of publicly announcing a new factor, Cutts says site owners shouldn’t overestimate the impact of page speed on rankings.

“Quality should still be the first and foremost concern [for site owners],” Cutts says. “This change affects outliers; we estimate that fewer than 1% of queries will be impacted. If you’re the best resource, you’ll probably still come up.”

Singhal says the focus remains on improving the user experience on Google.com, and the company can’t do that if it gets the relevance of search results wrong. “We want to return faster sites,” he says, “but not at the expense of relevance.”

Final Thoughts

Page speed is in place now as a ranking factor on Google.com, and has been for a couple weeks. If your site was going to be impacted, it probably would’ve happened already. Google plans to monitor the results of this change and eventually expand the use of page speed as a ranking factor in other countries.

One last note: Google says this ranking change has no relation to its upcoming Caffeine rollout, which is about how Google indexes the web, not how it ranks pages.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: SEO | Google: Web Search | SEO: General | Top News

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • edrob

    If you consider the broader impact: This is an important step for the future of the internet – putting a standard in place for a critical part of the user experience.

    Google has been transparent about the change and put in place guidence and tools to help website owners makes their sites rank well against the new standard.

    And most important: Ultimately this will make a better web experience for everyone.

  • a5v19

    Exciting stuff ! How can we find out the webpage loading speed?How much of a speed difference affects the rankings?

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com nickstamoulis

    I am so glad that this is finally official! Page load time in my opinion has always been important (not only from an SEO perspective) but from a user experience. If a site is built well, with great content and it loads fast it just makes it that much better.

    There are a few page load tools that I have used in the past, although I must say I don’t really have loyalty to any one tool (since some of them are pretty non detailed and very buggy)…can you recommend a really good tool that measures all of the site speed aspects? Perhaps a paid product that provides excellent and detailed information?

    Thanks!
    Nick

  • http://www.michaelrroberts.com MichaelSEO

    Hey great article!

    I think page load speed needs to be taken at stride…
    I would never sacrifice content or divert massive amounts of my time in worry about perfect page load speed as I think there are more effective things someone could do with there time.

    However, there are some simple steps that just about every one can do to massivley speed up their site load times. Here is a video I found on youtube that shows some pretty handy tips and tools to use: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-VTA8mfMKM

    Thanks again for the post!

    Keep em’ coming

    Michael Roberts

  • http://www.seven-sigma.com Jeff Dickey

    One of the great benefits from this is going to be that people are going to realize that just having a page full of huge Flash content will have (more visibly) profound negative consequences. We already know the Googlebot (among others) prefers valid, semantic HTML. Mating that to well-done CSS and JavaScript will improve the experience for everyone. Some people just can’t let go of the 1990s; this will help.

  • http://mnglories mnglories

    @Jeff Dickey
    Flash content aren’t always huge. Well made Flash sites load just as fast as any well written css/javascript site. And a badly made css/javascript site will load slow and even crash your browser, which isn’t any better than overly complex Flash content. I’m not trying to argue with you but I just get sick and tired of people always blaming Flash for slow, content heavey sites. Flash is just a tool, how it’s used depends on how good the developer is.

  • mathpelletier

    I really think it’s necessary!
    I just switched from Internet Explorer to Firefox and it’s way faster. What’s the impact? I’m more than ever on the web and I am more excited about surfing on it. E-marketers should definitively focus on the whole customer’s experience and the ecosystem of web using. Without a doubt, speed is an important aspect of this ecosystem and this change can only be positive. Not only your Google ranking is going to improve, but also your conversion rate and that’s the main issue for most of the companies. So, consumers and companies are winning in this situation.

    Math Pelletier

  • http://www.vasserpro.com Chad

    I love that Google is all about the user experience. However, since speed is often a hardware issue, I see a lot of people upgrading servers in the very near future…

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