Google May Now Consider Page Load Time In Its Ranking Algorithm

slowGoogle Webmaster Tools has added a new section in the “Labs” menu titled “Site Performance”. This new feature provides statistics about how fast your web pages load, how that speed compares to other websites, and tips and suggestions for speeding up your page loads. It seems Google is leaning towards using page load times as another metric for search engine ranking. Should you be concerned?

What does Google have to say?

Google’s Matt Cutts hinted in November that site speed is important to Google, and it may be considered a factor when ranking websites in 2010.

From the “Learn More” link in Webmaster Tools:

Google’s goal is to provide users with the most relevant results and a great user experience. Fast sites increase user satisfaction and improve the overall quality of the web (especially for those users with slow internet connections), and we hope that as webmasters improve their sites, the overall speed of the web will improve…
It shows you the average page load time for pages in your site, the trend over the last few months, and some suggestions on how to make the pages load faster. Page load time is the total time from the moment the user clicks on a link to your page until the time the entire page is loaded and displayed in a browser.

What can you do about page speed?

The first step is to log into your Google Webmaster Tools account and see what Google has to say about your site’s performance. Take a look at the specific tips for various pages and see if any can be easily incorporated into your site. Some of the most common ones are:

  • Enable gzip compression
    For static html content (html, css, js) enabling this feature can often help by compressing text before it is sent to the web browser. Modern browsers support this feature. It is not necessary to compress all pages for fast loading pages, but Google seems to think it can help squeeze out every possible ounce of speed.
    To enable gzip compression (for html, css, and js files) on a standard Apache webserver (which is what we use) you would add this one line to your .htaccess file:

    AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/html text/plain text/xml text/x-js text/css application/x-javascript
  • Minimize DNS lookups
    Unless you have to load images, javascript, and other material from external websites, consider having as much content as possible load from your website only. This minimizes the time spent looking up other websites and fetching the files from external sources.
  • Combine external CSS
    If you load 2 or more css stylesheets in your pages, consider combining them into one file which can load a bit faster.

Who you host with matters!

Your web host plays a large role in how well your site performs. Some of the budget hosts that offer enormous resources for a low monthly cost are cutting corners by overloading their servers with too many accounts, which leads to slower page loading for websites. Some hosts use inferior hardware that does not perform as well and as fast under normal conditions, resulting in less than optimal site performance.

If your site uses dynamic content such as MySQL or PHP, an environment that often gets overloaded or has CPU / hard drive issues (i.e. overtaxed, underpowered) will cause your site to load even slower.

Make sure your web host puts a large emphasis on server and site performance, and maintains peak performance for the majority of the time.

Short lived load spikes will always occur, but overall, your site should load quickly without too many delays or hiccups.

Use Static HTML pages whenever possible

Static HTML pages will almost always load faster than dynamic pages that require database information or calculations to appear. Unless there is a requirement for PHP/MySQL on some pages, consider using plain html (html, css, js, images, etc…) for the fastest loading pages possible.

If you have an ecommerce store, creating static html pages will help with page load times. See if your ecommerce software supports this feature. Many of our clients use ShopSite, which creates static html pages by default. This helps with faster page load times and often better indexing by the search engines.

Since Google is making a big deal out of site performance and making the web faster, it would be crazy not to pay any attention to this facet of website design and development.

Log into your Webmaster Tools account and see what Google has to say. Monitor your site performance with this new tool, try to optimize your page load times, make sure you’re hosting with a company that cares about fast loading sites, and minimize code and items that could lead to a slower loading page.

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6 Comments

  1. Janice says:

    I went to Google’s Webmaster Tools after reading your blog to check it out. I was disappointed to find my site was rated as “SLOW” especially when most feedback I get is the opposite. The sample pages were all ShopSite backend pages, which I know are slow and I have no control over, besides who sees them but me. Also listed was my main “test” page, again, I’m experimenting on that one and don’t expect it to be fast. Then I moved down to the next list of sample pages, they were all ones I routinely check whenever I make a change. Over all I found that work needs to be done and the tips were very helpful.

    So digging deeper in trying to understand how this new feature works, I discover the following in the “About Performance” section:

    “Page load time is the total time from the moment the user clicks on a link to your page until the time the entire page is loaded and displayed in a browser. It is collected directly from users who have installed the Google Toolbar and have enabled the optional PageRank feature.”

    So now it makes sense as to why I’m seeing the backend pages instead the most visited pages of my website! My concern is how will these stats even be accurate and how can they even be considered in the ranking process when most people searching the web are non-web developers and don’t even know what a PageRank is and have no reason to enable the optional toolbar?

    • Good questions Janice! I doubt Google will use the Google toolbar stats as their metric for any SEO considerations. I’m guessing that if they choose to have this as another factor in ranking, it will be based on their crawler recording additional information for consideration.

      Google has another reason for this new tool – They believe that to improve the internet as a whole, it should be faster. They want to shed light on this issue, and they figure the easiest way to get webmasters to make their sites faster (through better coding and practices) is to make this data available in Webmaster Tools.

      Remember this is only a snapshot of speed relative to what Google is measuring. And it’s only an experimental “lab” tool meaning Google is simply “playing” at this point. If/when they decide to make this an official metric, I’m sure there will be defined standards and a better approach to measuring site speed.

  2. Janice says:

    Thanks for the clarification. I agree, the web needs to be fast and the first step is getting the webmasters to speed up their websites.

  3. Cemil says:

    The speed of a website may be a good element to consider in SEO and I’d be very interested on how search engines would go about implementing it.

    I believe that many people online, especially in the blogging world have already realized the great impact on the user experience of pages loading quicker and websites functioning better. For example, this has also led to a rise in SEO themes which are making great use of optimized code.

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