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Page Speed Factored into Google Search Rankings

Summary: Google's addition of a page speed signal to its search rankings algorithm officially links performance with search engine marketing. The loading speed of a web page affects user psychology in a number of ways, and now it can affect its rankings as well.

Google has incorporated the speed of a web page into its search engine rankings. While this new signal currently affects only a small percentage of US sites, Google's announcement officially links performance with search engine marketing.

Google has long used various factors, including page load speed, in its quality scores of PPC landing pages. Now Google has incorporated page loading speed into its search engine rankings. Google announced this new signal in their official Webmaster Central blog:

"Speeding up websites is important - not just to site owners, but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users and we've seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there. But faster sites don't just improve user experience; recent data shows that improving site speed also reduces operating costs. 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. We use a variety of sources to determine the speed of a site relative to other sites."

Linking User Psychology and SEM

While not currently as strong a signal than inlinks and page relevance, the new Page Speed signal should be taken into account when designing websites This is great news for the usability of the Web and for user satisfaction. Google incorporates more than 200 signals into its search engine ranking algorithm, and the page speed signal now more concretely bridges the gap between the psychology of performance and search engine marketing.

The Psychological Effects of Speed

Research has shown that the speed of a website affects a number of measurable usability factors including:

Even in this era of widespread broadband, slow web sites still frustrate users. The average web page more than tripled in the 5 years from 2003 to 2008 from 93.7K to 312K in total size. An upcoming survey will show the trend continuing at a similar rate. We have seen home pages in excess of 4 to 10 MB in file size with hundreds of objects! Even on a broadband connection these fat and complex web pages will tax the attention thresholds of users.

The average number of objects has grown from 25.7 to 49.9 during the same 5 year time period with no signs of slowing down. Object overhead now dominates page load delays in this era of higher speed connections.

How Google Incorporates Speed Into Its Algorithm

Search Engine Land reported that Google will measure the speed of a page in two ways:

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

Google has long been an advocate of website performance, in fact they provide an entire section of their site devoted to Speeding Up the Web. Their Page Speed tool, spearheaded by Steve Souders (who also was integral in Yahoo's Yslow performance tool) incorporates the best practices his team found and he detailed in his two books (High Performance Web Sites, and Even Faster Web Sites, both from O'Reilly). Google included site performance in its webmaster tools in December 2009.

Conclusion

Google's announcement of adding a page speed signal into its search rankings algorithm will in the long run help reduce user frustration with slow web sites. It is well established that the loading speed of a web page affects user psychology in a number of ways, and now it can effect its rankings as well. The Page Speed signal now concretely links user psychology with search engine marketing.

Futher Reading

Google incorporating site speed in search rankings
Matt Cutt's expands upon his company's official announcement. April 9, 2010.
Google Now Counts Site Speed as Ranking Factor
Site speed is now a ranking factor in Google's algorithm, and is already in place for U.S. searchers. Search Engine Land, April 9, 2010.
Page Speed Tool
Google's free Firefox add-on that analyzes web pages against best practices outlined in Steve Souders' two O'Reilly books.
Speed Up Your Site
Learn how to Speed Up Your Site with a number of techniques still applicable today including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript optimization. New Riders, 2003, Andrew B. King.
Using site speed in web search ranking
Google's announcement of the Page Speed signal in its search engine rankings algorithm. Official Google Webmaster Central Blog, April 9, 2010.
Web Page Analyzer
Free web page analysis tool, gives total size of page, components, and number of objects along with recommendations. From Website Optimization.
WebPageTest.org
A web-based version of AOL's Page Test software that analyzes web pages for performance against best practices. Features waterfall graphs to locate response time bottlenecks.
Website Optimization Secrets
Covers both search engine marketing and website performance techniques. Touches on crossover effects from the two camps (SEO and performance), including conversion, usability, and flow.
YSlow
Yahoo's browser plug-in for analyzing the performance of websites. Includes easy to use page stats and recommendations. Requires Firebug.
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By website optimization on 11 Apr 2010 PM

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