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April 12, 2010

How fast can you go?

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Google has just announced that the speed at which your website loads, is a now a factor is the organic search algorithm. Google has used page load speed as an element for determining the quality score of a PPC campaign for some time and have been suggesting that it will become part of organic search, which is exactly what has happened.

Google has done some pretty in depth research into how speed of a web page can influence user behaviours when using a search engine. Their research highlights an interesting point; 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%.
The graph below is from a similar research project and shows the impact of higher latency on user behaviour with a search engine.

seo and speed

SEO and speedjpg


This means the slower the page loads, the fewer searches a user is likely to carry out. This principle is followed by other websites around the web, in essence the slower your page loads, the less chance it will achieve high conversions or KPI’s. Google is further trying to improve the user experience by rewarding fast loading pages whilst penalising slow loading pages. As a result of this, we have been doing some search engine optimisation experimentation and testing with our own site and some client’s pages. We have found that simply making a page load faster was enough for us to see an occasional boost in the search engine rankings. Bruce Clay was in Sydney recently and shared some of his own SEO findings where he discovered that reducing a website’s load time can reduce bounce rates and increase time on site per visitor. According to Search Engine Land, page speed is determined by two factors, namely:

  • How a page responds to Googlebot
  • Load time as measured by the Google Toolbar

Google has recently released an added feature within Google Webmaster Tools that allows you to monitor the speed of your site and improve it using their suggestions, which are different, depending what Google thinks is slowing down your page, some speed improvement suggestions include:

  • Enable gzip compression
  • Combine external JavaScript
  • Minimize DNS lookups
  • Serve resources from a consistent URL
  • Combine external CSS

We also have a blog post where we look at ways to improve the speed of your site. In addition to that, Google has suggested some tools to evaluate the speed of your site:

  • Page Speed, an open source Firefox/Firebug add-on that evaluates the performance of web pages and gives suggestions for improvement.
  • YSlow, a free tool from Yahoo! that suggests ways to improve website speed.
  • WebPagetest shows a waterfall view of your pages’ load performance plus an optimisation checklist.

That is not to say page speed is even remotely as important as relevance. This change will only apply to English based searches on Google.com. However it is a significant factor to think about if you are trying to make your website as “imperfect” as possible.

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