Since Spring 2010 Google has used page load times as a factor in its search ranking algorithms. Google’s position is that faster-loading pages should be ranked higher because they provide a better experience for users. In Google’s own words, “Faster sites create happy users [...] Like us, our users place a lot of value in speed - that's why we've decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings.”
What do we know about Google’s page speed algorithms? What can webmasters do (both for Google and for users) to speed up page load times?
How much does page load speed impact Google rankings?
Google representatives have stated on several occasions (for an example see this post on the Google Webmaster Central Blog) that the page speed algorithm impacts rankings for less than 1% of search queries. There have been a few reports from webmasters of page speed significantly impacting rankings :
- Keri Morgret from SEOmoz reported that a site with load time issues saw "quite the drop in organic referrals from Google" when the page speed algorithm was pushed live.
- Work Coach Cafe reported a 40% growth in traffic after addressing site performance issues.
- Smartfurniture.com reported that rankings for 7 of its top 10 keywords improved after site speed was increased.
This data suggests that page speed doesn’t often impact rankings, but when it does the effect can be significant. One plausible interpretation (from Geoff Kenyon) is that "site speed will affect only queries where other ranking signals are very close or when the load time is exceptionally poor." This interpretation seems to be consistent with Google’s statements and community feedback.
Should SEOs worry about site speed? Page rankings are often based on a combination of dozens of small algorithmic factors; therefore, though page speed is a minor factor, even a small boost could be beneficial for your site. Don’t obsess over page load speeds, but it would be a good idea to dedicate a small amount of your SEO time and/or budget to speeding up your site. Page speed is also one of the factors totally within your control so its prudent to optimize this ranking factor.
How does Google measure page load times?
Google receives site/page load speed data from
- “a variety of sources,”
- Google Toolbar data, and
- response times to googlebot. (Some articles claim that this is no longer true, but Google implies this may be correct in a help doc. As with any specifics related to Google’s algorithms, we may never know for certain.)
Google Chrome and Google Analytics are other possible sources for page load speed data.
How fast are Google’s top 5 websites?
According to data from Experian, nearly 20% of clicks from Google SERPs go to Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo, Wikipedia and Amazon. We used Google’s PageSpeed tool to see how well the home pages of these sites are following Google’s PageSpeed best practices:
While these figures shouldn’t be overemphasized, it is interesting to note that these top 5 websites definitely have opportunities to improve their page load speeds.
What is an average page load speed? Google has conducted research on average page load times which can be used as a benchmark for page load times:
How does page load speed impact user experience?
Google implemented page speed into its algorithm because research shows that faster page load times mean happier users.
Feel the need for speed? How to make your webpages pull a fast one
Step 1: Measure.
Your first step should be to measure your site’s page load speed. This will provide a baseline measurement from which you can work to improve. Two good tools for measuring page load speeds are Pingdom Page Load Time tool and Google Analytics Site Speed reports.
Step 2: Upgrade your server.
Many dynamic websites have to execute hundreds of lines of code, respond to dozens of requests, and make multiple database queries to display a single page to a single user. Hosting your website on a more powerful server can result in webpages being served faster.
If your site is hosted on a shared hosting account, consider upgrading to a VPS or dedicated server. VPS and dedicated servers typically allow your website to have more server resources (i.e. CPU and memory) available. A VPS costs about $25 - $100 per month, depending upon the technical specifications and features you select. A dedicated server usually costs $100-$300 per month, depending upon the server’s specifications and the level of support that is included.
Read The Differences Between VPS and Dedicated Hosting if you need help determining which is the best choice for your site.
Step 3: Optimize your code and files.
- Google PageSpeed tools and documentation
- Yahoo’s Best Practices for Speeding Up Your Web Site
- 8 Excellent Tools for Optimizing Your Images
1. Page load speed impacts website user satisfaction, site usability and conversion rates.
2. Google uses page load speed metrics as a minor ranking factor.
3. Load times can be decreased by upgrading your web hosting and by implementing a list of best practices provided by Google and/or Yahoo.
What are your favorite tools and strategies for improving page load times? How fast is your site?