Have you ever Googled something, clicked on a promising result, and then been frustrated by being directed to a page that takes forever to load? When this happens to me, I almost always navigate away from the slow page and back to the search engine to browse for other results. A page’s loading time, also referred to as a page’s speed, has a serious impact on a user’s experience. And as providing positive user experiences is at the core of Google’s philosophy, page speed is now officially a ranking factor within Google’s search algorithm.
Google’s search engine reportedly uses over 200 different factors to weigh the importance of a web page and then rank it within search results. This past week, after months of speculation within the SEO community, Google announced that a page’s loading speed is now officially a factor that will affect a website’s ranking within search results.
Fast Sites 1, Slow Sites 0
We all like happy users right? Google’s research repeatedly indicates that users spend more time on websites that are faster, and that faster websites create happier users. Faster sites provide visitors with a quality of user experience that their slower counterparts simply cannot match. And if Google has the choice of providing a higher quality search result instead of one of lesser quality, it will always try to return the better of the two.
Will Page Speed Affect My Website’s Google Ranking?
Currently, page speed is only being used as a ranking factor within 1% of all Google search queries. However considering that there are no less than 1 billion searches made daily on Google (and probably even more by the way!), this means that this ranking factor is potentially already affecting the result page positions of tens of millions of websites each day. We can expect this number to only rise with time. So while your site’s result page positions may not have already been affected by this ranking factor, it is always advisable to optimize for ALL possible factors.
Page Speed SEO: Some Tips
While the list below is by no means exhaustive, if you’re looking to improve your website’s page speed, here are a few things you probably want to consider. At first these may seem overly nitpicky, but to put things in perspective we’ve got to remember that Googlebot measures page speed in milliseconds, so every little bit of time savings actually helps.
Reduce HTTP Requests
Before it can render a web page, your browser must contact the host server in order to download components like stylesheets, scripts, and images. The more components your page contains, the greater the number of HTTP requests your browser will make from the server, and the slower your web will load. In order to speed up your website, try to minimize the number of HTTP requests each page needs to make in order to load. Try combining all CSS within a single external stylesheet, using sprites to combine images, and removing any duplicate scripts which may exists on pages.
Reduce Cookie Size
Nope, we’re not talking about the kind you can eat. HTTP Cookies are text files that a website can store within your web browser for the purpose of authentication, session tracking, storing preferences, and any other function that is enhanced by the retention of textual information. Exchanging larger cookies requires more time for the transfering of information between your browser and the web server. Minimizing cookie size cuts down on the necessary response time.
Do Not Scale Images in HTML
Web developers often scale images using the height and width attributes for HTML image tags. Doing so can cause a browser to download image files that are much larger than your page requires. For example, if your web page contains an image that has dimensions of 400 x 400, but is being scaled in HTML to 100 x 100 by height and width attributes, then browsers will be downloading an image that is much larger than necessary for your page. Larger files require more loading time, and will decrease your page’s overall speed. You can easily re-size images in Photoshop in order to avoid this problem.
Update You Google Analytics Scripts
In December 2009 Google Analytics released a new asynchronous tracking code. Among other things, this new tracking code was designed to minimize the time required to load the on-page scripts your website uses to run Google Analytics. While older scripts still function perfectly well in terms of tracking, upgrading your pages with the new script will decrease a page’s loading time.
One Last Thought
Really great SEO is all about creating websites that are useful and relevant to the things users are searching for online. By adding page speed as a factor within their ranking algorithm, Google is actually improving the quality of websites that will be returned to users within its search results; something that we can all benefit from. Hopefully, the days of slow and unresponsive websites will now be numbered.
Questions or comments? Don’t be shy, drop me a line in the comments below.
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