Speed is key

Google is all about the user experience. The newest addition to their algorithm is no exception. The big daddy search engine announced April 9th that they are now taking the speed of a website into consideration for search rankings. There has been much clamoring for this within Google for a while, and they had promised last year to begin taking this into account in some manner. It seems that promise is now being fulfilled.

The number one reason to make speed a factor for ranking? User experience. Faster sites statistically perform better with users. But Google points out that not only is site speed important for the user experience, but it is also reduces operating costs as well. They are careful to note that site speed does not carry as much weight as the relevance of a page. Currently, less than 1% of queries are experiencing changes due to the site speed signal implementation, so your particular site may not even see any difference.

Search Engine Land has a great article bringing to light some of the reasons why site speed is important, and how it came to be an issue. They highlight a June 2009 blog post by Matt Cutts and Amit Singhal that held an experiment with page speed and how it affected user behavior. They found that slowing a search results page under half a second had .02% to .06% fewer searches! There is a lot less engagement at slower speeds.

So, are there any implications for your site?

Perhaps, especially if it’s large and has a lot of images – but it’s always important to pay close attention to the speed of your site and know how it’s performing, even if this particular change doesn’t affect it. Slow response times may already be hurting your rankings and/or causing your bounce rate to go up, so make sure you keep on top of these issues. There are a lot of ways to test for speed, and to implement changes as well.

Google lists several free tools you can take advantage of to evaluate the speed of your website. Included are Page Speed, an open source Firefox add-on, Yslow, a free Yahoo! Tool, and of course- Google’s own Webmaster Tools. Webmaster Tools has a “Labs” section that has a performance overview of the site speed of your pages, and it can provide some great info. It’s especially helpful to see your performance over time and evaluate trends- very cool.

It will be interesting to see how this change affects the day-to-day rankings. Have any thoughts on this? How might it affect your website? Please share!

Emily Thompson is the Online Marketing Coordinator for Kutenda Internet Marketing Software. Kutenda provides tools, services and training for small businesses to succeed online.