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Website Speed and SEO

Summary: Having a consistently "responsive" site will ensure that your site will be crawled and fully indexed, and will not suffer slow-loading ranking penalties. Optimizing the TTFB of your site is a good place to start to minimize the effects of speed on your SEO rankings

Website speed has become an important advantage in our increasingly wired world. The speed of your site can effect a number of important factors including conversion rates, bounce rates, loyalty, and as of 2010 search rankings. This article sheds some light on how website speed can effect Google rankings.

Google Factors Speed into Search Rankings

By now you've no doubt read that Google is factoring in website speed into search rankings. In early 2010 Google posted on their official blog that site speed has become one of their 200+ ranking factors (Google 2010). Faster websites create happier users and longer stay times, and Google wants to provide a positive experience for its users.

Slow Mobile Sites and Search Rankings

In 2013 Matt Cutts warned webmasters that a site speed ranking factor would likely be added for mobile sites (Search Engine Land, 2013). Google recommends responsively designed websites when optimizing for mobile devices (Google 2013). What isn't entirely clear is if Google will penalize a desktop site's rankings for a slow mobile site, or penalize the mobile site only for slow mobile performance. Of course with responsive sites there is plenty of overlap in the content delivered. Since the average mobile site speed penalty is about 50% (King 2014) webmasters should err on the side of caution when designing and optimizing their mobile sites. Note that elements improperly hidden in mobile sites may still be downloaded, slowing mobile performance (King 2013).

Slow Sites Reduce Google Rankings and Page Indexing

Even though Google said that speed will effect only a small percentage of search rankings, we've seen evidence recently that poor and inconsistent site speed can reduce rankings and the number of pages indexed. For a recent example we moved a site from a slow mass web host to a faster server with fewer sites, and found time to first byte (TTFB) times were reduced by 82% for cable connections (King 2014). Before the move the site had TTFB times of up to 60 seconds, and slow, inconsistent load times. The slowly served site also had a reduced number of pages indexed due to crawl issues, and reduced rankings.

TTFB and load times improved significantly after the move, and the number of pages indexed and search rankings improved significantly. Response time variability decreased by nearly 7X (6.7) for cable connections and over 500X for DSL users. Consistently fast response times make for happier users who can "attune" to a site's speed and plan accordingly.

TTFB and Search Rankings

With Google's warnings about site speed impacting search rankings, how does web page speed actually effect rankings? To find the answer, Moz.com and Zoompf ran a study using 2000 random search queries. The results show that TTFB correlates with the search rankings of a web page, but load times did not (Moz.com 2013). TTFB is the time it takes a server to respond with the first byte of data after a browser request. One study showed that TTFB was the largest component of web page latency, contributing from 37% to 57% to page load times (Habib & Abrams 2000).

Conclusion

Web page speed is clearly an important factor in website success. Google now factors page speed into both desktop and mobile site rankings. Having a consistently "responsive" site will ensure that your site will be crawled and fully indexed, and will not suffer slow-loading ranking penalties. Optimizing the TTFB of your site is a good place to start to minimize the effects of speed on your SEO rankings.

Further Reading

Avoid Mass Web Hosting
We investigate moving an example site from a slow mass host to a lightly loaded host and measure the results. Server response times were reduced by 82.1% and variability by about 7 fold. King 2014.
Building Smartphone-Optimized Websites
Google recommends responsive designs for smartphone-optimized websites. Google 2013.
Habib, M.A. and M. Abrams, "Analysis of sources of latency in downloading web pages."
An investigation into the components of slow web page download times. These Virginia Tech researches found that the Time to First Byte component of web page downloads dominated overseas download time. Proceedings of WebNet, 2000.
Diagnosing Slow Web Servers with Time to First Byte
TTFB is the largest web page load time component, taking up 37% to 57% of page latency. Slow web servers can be caused by a number of factors. You can test for slow server response times with the time time to first byte metric. King 2011.
Google: Site Speed Penalty Coming To Mobile Web Sites
Matt Cutt's warned webmasters that the slow performing mobile sites would likely be penalized in search rankings. Search Engine Land, 2013.
How Website Speed Actually Impacts Search Rankings
Shows that TTFB correlates with search rankings but page load time does not correlated with search rankings. Moz.com August 2013.
Mobile Web Page Performance Penalty
Mobile devices incur a 50% penalty in webpage load times versus their desktop counterparts. We explore the differences from a recent survey. King 2014.
Using site speed in web search rankings
Google officially announced that site speed will become a factor in how they rank websites. April 2010.
Velocity 2013 New York City Highlights
A mobile-oriented performance conference, the 2013 NYC Velocity highlights show how to properly hide elements for mobile sites with no extra downloads.

By website optimization on 31 Jul 2014 PM

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