In what should ultimately be a fairly unsurprising announcement to anybody with a moderate knowledge of SEO, Google has announced over at the webmaster central blog that it is officially using page speed as one of the ranking factors in its algorithm.
As a general rule, we congratulate Google on its mission to promote online resources that are genuinely interesting to those searching for them.
Most of the official guidelines encourage best practice when designing and building a site and the speed at which any page downloads does indeed have an impact on the overall user satisfaction.
If you have talked to us about SEO in the past, you will no doubt have heard us discuss the benefits of lean html code – whilst it is only one of a myriad of factors that you should consider, there are definitely advantages to having a site that downloads quickly and it shouldn’t really be that difficult to achieve (simply using CSS and stripping out all unnecessary inline code can make quite a difference to overall page size).
There are concerns amongst the online community that this could cause real problems for sites that are inherently ‘heavy’ such as photographic sites but we would be confident that Google will compare like for like, so this shouldn’t be too big an issue.
There are also question marks around how exactly Google will measure the page size / speed and how often this would be done (e.g. you may be unlucky if a spider encounters one slow download of a page due to network issues), although we would strongly suspect that information collected via the Google toolbar will be instrumental to this as it will ensure that the data is based on actual users rather than isolated pings from Google servers.
One area where we do think it will have an impact is for sites that are heavy on advertising, which can often be slow to load and could have a detrimental effect on search engine rankings over time. Ironically, this is especially true for Google Adsense code and also true for Google Analytics code which can sometimes prove to be fairly slow to load – perhaps Google will shoot themselves in the foot?
As with most announcements like this, we are not expecting to see massive changes in rankings in the short term but it will be interesting to see longer term trends. We do, however, support Google in any attempt that is made to improve overall user satisfaction and welcome the official introduction of page speed analysis.