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March 3, 2010

The Need For Speed: Google Says It Matters

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Moderator: Vanessa Fox, Contributing Editor, Search Engine Land

Speakers:

Patrick Bennett, Co-Founder, BLVD Status
Maile Ohye, Senior Developer Programs Engineer, Google Inc.
Ralf Schwoebel, CEO, Tradebit, Inc.
Brian Ussery, Director of SEO Technology, Search Discovery Inc.

Maile’s first. Here’s her agenda:

  • Need for speed
  • Faster on the frontend: for little or no money down
  • Available tools
  • Performance and ranking
  • 3 steps to success
  • Looking ahead: performance and SEO

Need for Speed: Increased Conversions

Side-by side testing of an optimized site vs. the original version. They found a faster site resulted in higher conversions and higher volume for average conversion. Delays under half a second reduces a visitor’s average searches/day even after the delay is removed.

Good News: Faster on a Budget

The Performance Golden Rule: 80-90 percent of the end-user response time is spent on the front end. Start there.

Tools: Site Performance

It’s a lab tool. It will tell you how long it took on average for a page to load. It tells you how slow it is in comparison to other sites. It will tell you average load times for specific pages, as well as specific clues to make it faster.

Available Google Tools: Page Speed

It’s a Firebug plugin to use on any URL. It prioritizes ways to speed up your site.

Established truths about ranking:

  • We aim to give users the best search experience possible
  • Ranking is a nuanced process, over 200 signals
  • Google is always innovating and conducting experiments

As of today, performance is not a factor in organic ranking. If performance becomes a signal, we expect to notify webmasters. But, hint: Google is pushing the importance of speed.

3 Steps to a Faster Site

  1. Check out site performance in Webmaster Tools
  2. Install Page Speed
  3. Explore! Check out tools like YSlow, WebPagetest.org, hang out in the “make the Web Faster” forum

A faster site is proven to increase conversions, pages views and time on site while lowering bounce rate and operating costs. That’s measurable SEO value. Check out more at google.com/speed. She closes saying, “So you understand that speed is a priority. Good luck making the Web faster!”

Patrick Bennett

Next Patrick takes the podium. Is site monitoring part of your SEO budget? Search for “website uptime monitor” and the tools can help you identify speed problems on your site.

What are some hints in analytics? Certain KPIs can shed light on bottlenecks:

  • Visits
  • Page views
  • Bounce rate
  • Time on site

Create a custom report to watch performance KPIs. They’re good indicators of whether or not the site is functioning properly.

What’s the ROI?

  • Lower bounce rates
  • Higher number page views
  • Higher time on site
  • More user interaction = more conversions
  • More spider interaction = higher indexability

YSlow

This tool gives a performance grade to a site and lists important components that are in play.

Okay, my site is slow. Where should I start? It’s important to have a good host.

  • Create a benchmark
  • New server?
  • Server-side caching
  • Fewer HTTP requests
  • Gzip compression
  • JavaScript and CSS as external files
  • Image compression

CSS Sprites: Create one image that holds all of your CSS background images, buttons, etc. This means a lot fewer HTTP requests.

When should I stop?

  • Continually make this a priority.
  • User the tools weekly to find bottlenecks.
  • Never stop optimizing.
  • Can we make this standard?
Ralf Schwoebel

Ralf steps up next. He’s coming from an e-commerce background.

Focus on speed when SEO is done. Speed influences ranking.

Using Open Source Tools

  • Search: Sphinx (or Lecene)
  • Cache: Memcache and Squid
  • Code: XCache for PHP

Embrace the Squid

  • www.squid-cache.org: free proxy for Lin/Win
  • Easy to setup, powerful, stable, scalable, fast

Divide and conquer: put the statistics into cache, lower server load.

Go Global

  • Local delivery from the closest hub
  • Load balancing included, also fail-over

Conclusion

  • A fistful of dollars gives you
  • A global content distribution network
  • Increased speed = higher conversions
  • A security layer between your site and hackers
  • A fail-over solution to sleep better
  • Less load on your main servers

Brian is next. Consumers expect a page to load in 2 seconds or less. Speed is not in analytics, so what do you do? Use the Webmaster Tools Maile talked about. The more data points there are, the more accurate it is.

Speed 2010

  • Split the initial payload into 2 parts: 1) necessary to render the page and 2) not necessary to render page
  • Prevent scripts from blocking other downloads
  • Order resources for load efficiency
  • Avoid placing inline scripts between CSS and other resources
  • Use a cookie free domain for serving static content.
  • Compact CSS, place it in <head: and remove unused CSS.
  • With images, use the appropriate optimized format. Specify dimensions, don’t scale images in (X)HTML
  • Use a Favicon with expiration to avoid 404s
  • Use Google Page Speed to optimize images
  • Strip whitespace
  • Minimize redirects and remove dead links to avoid wasteful requests
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8 responses to “The Need For Speed: Google Says It Matters”

  1. Steve Shearer writes:

    I agree that load time is now a new factor in getting good search engine position, but it really doesn’t play as big a role as some would think. Content is STILL the king.

    And comparing two websites for SERP rank due to page load time is next to impossible. Both sites would have to be identical which they cannot be; one would have duplicate content. And I really doubt that they would have the same backlinks, among all the other ranking factors!

    According to Matt Cutts, it will be rare to see a site loose its search position due to slow loading, unless it’s extremely slow. And if page load time were to be a factor, the most that the slower site would suffer is likely to be one position.

    I made a blog post about this and got some good comments, you can see it here: http://webdesignbysteve.com/blog/2010/02/03/google-sets-record-straight-on-page-speed-as-ranking-factor/

  2. Ali Amirrezvani writes:

    Is there any indication as to when speed may be incorporated into Google’s search ranking algorithm?

  3. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Hi Ali, thanks for the opportunity to clarify. At the moment, speed is not an organic ranking algorithm issue, it’s a performance issue. The more fine tuned a site’s performance, the faster it can be spidered, which may indirectly effect rankings. Additionally, it’s a usability issue because visitors will only spend a few seconds on a page forming their initial impression.

    I’d also like to highlight this from the post:

    As of today, performance is not a factor in organic ranking. If performance becomes a signal, we expect to notify webmasters. But, hint: Google is pushing the importance of speed.

    There have been no indications from Google on when this shift might take place, but you know we’ll be talking about it on the blog when the time comes.

    It is worth noting that at the conference I heard from a Google representative that a page’s load time is a factor for the QualityScore of an ad, and that such a model might be similar to that implemented for organic rankings in the future. Hope that helps!

  4. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Hi Steve. At the moment I think it’s still too soon to say what kind of effect speed might have on a site’s organic ranking in the future, considering that Google has said that speed isn’t currently a ranking factor.

    However, it’s clear that Google has been pushing this message for some time now. Since Google is known for its hedged and somewhat vague explanations to webmasters and SEOs at times, I think we should take this as a clear signal that something’s coming down the line — and you better be fast when it comes.

  5. snowstorm writes:

    Hi, can anyone point me in the direct of a video Maile’s speech, I would be really interested in watching it?

  6. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Hi snowstorm. I don’t believe there were video recordings of the majority of SMX West sessions, including this one. I did see that WebProNews published video of a couple keynotes. They also interviewed a number of speakers, including Maile, outside of sessions. You can find that here: http://live.webpronews.com/

  7. Wild Blue Internet Provider writes:

    I think Google is on the right track. Internet providers are constantly improving speed and the need for speed is great, especially needed improvements in the US. Japan’s speed are much greater. Who wants to go to a slow loading site. I’m finding out browsers can slow down page loads.

    CAAS

  8. SEO Reseller writes:

    Since Google has been using bounce rate as as a basis for consideration of content relevance. Site load will become a huge factor when it come to bounce rate. No matter how good your content is, if it’s highly inaccessible, users will just click your site then be turned off by the amount of time it takes to load, thus increases your bounce rate. Google then takes this into consideration and weighs your site as possibly not that relevant to your niche.

    When you think about it, a decent internet connection is not present around the globe. In some areas, they’re still utilizing dial-up connections.

    White Label SEO



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