So we know that Google has hinted that speed matters (at least a little) for search engine ranking, and we also know that slow page load times lead to web site abandonment – now what? How about a nifty tool for analyzing the page load times of your site? I just came across what looks to be a great web-based tool/interface called GTmetrix. Using a simple web interface, GTmetrix determines the performance of your site and suggests methods of optimization. GTMetrix is powered by both the Yahoo YSlow and Google Page Speed tools and displays performance results from both. There is an option to create an account and save reports and historical performance graphs for up to 10 sites. There is no cost to use GTMetrix (as there is no cost to use YSlow and Google Page Speed) - of course the creator of GTMetrix, Gossamer Threads, would like you to know that should you need to optimize the speed of your site they would be glad to help.
I’ve been using the YSlow and Google Page Speed plugins that hook into the Firebug extension for Firefox and it works out fine for my purposes. But for those who don’t use Firefox or who don’t want to deal with those extensions, GTMetrix is worth checking out.
When Googler Matt Cutts talked to WebProNews about Google’s search algorithm update (Caffeine) late last year, he mentioned that website speed would take on more importance in 2010. Since then the blogosphere has been buzzing with SEO pundits wondering whether website speed will be more important than content relevancy. Earlier this month, in a video response to this question:
“Since we’re hearing a lot of talk about the implications of Page Speed, I wonder if Google still cares as much about relevancy? Or are recentness and page load time more important?”,
Matt assured us that content relevance is still the most important ranking factor. However, he did go on to say,
“If you have two sites that are equally relevant, same backlinks, everything else is the same, you’d probably prefer the one that’s a little bit faster, so page speed can in theory be an interesting idea to try out for a factor in scoring different websites. But, absolutely, relevance is the primary component, and we have over 200 signals in our scoring to try to return the most relevant, the most useful, the most accurate search result that we can find. So, that’s not going to change.”
So what does this mean for you and your SEO strategy? Your primary focus should still be the relevance of your content (and quality of your backlinks), but its clear that going forward Google is taking a bigger interest in the ‘user experience’. One of the easier aspects of user experience for Google to evaluate is speed – so its not surprising that this would be incorporated as one of the over 200 ranking factors that Google uses.
If you are happy with the aesthetics, navigation and content of your site why not take the next step and evaluate your page load times. If speed is an issue on your site and you determine the bottleneck to be server-side then consider upgrading your shared hosting plan to a VPS or even a cloud platform (Even 1and1.com’s has just come out with a cloud platform). If on the other hand the bottleneck lies with the design of your website (size of the pages, large graphics, multiple lookups etc.) get in contact with an SEO or Web design firm to see if a low-cost ‘clean-up’ can be done.
Check out Matt’s response here.
We all know that Google is obsessed with speed. When we made the switch in 1998 from Yahoo to Google for our searching needs we did so because Google delivered better results and it was MUCH faster.
Recently we have seen more evidence of Google’s need for speed – the release of the ultrafast Chrome browser (and soon Chrome OS), the launching of Google’s own Public DNS and the development of a faster protocol (SPDY) to replace HTTP.
The latest speed obsessed products from Google are those designed to measure web page speed.
A new labs feature of Google Webmaster Tools tracks website performance over time. It uses information collected from individuals who have the Google Toolbar installed in their browser to compare your websites speed to the aggregate speeds collected – Google tells you in what percentile your site ranks.
So what’s my point? With the latest Google speed obsession focusing on individual site performance we can speculate that from now on your Google search rankings will be affected by this factor. Meaning that if you want to rank high you must have a speedy website.
The Google Webmaster Central blog has a recent post linking to a new guide they created that lists some of the best practices to improve their sites’ crawlability and indexing. The guide covers topics such as page titles, meta tags, anchor text, site navigation, URL structure among others.
I gave the guide a brief once over and found it to be a very useful starting point for those who want to make their own website and maybe can’t afford the services of a professional web designer and/or search engine optimizer. Even if you can afford the services of an SEO pro, it’s still nice to understand some of the basics of in-site optimization.
You can find a copy of the Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide here.