Most online publishers already know instinctively that a slow-loading website isn't a good thing. After all, who has the time to browse around a website on which pages take forever to load? Not a lot of people in today's fast-paced world.
A post on the Google Webmaster Central blog explains:
Speeding up websites is important — not just to site owners, but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users and we've seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there. But faster sites don't just improve user experience; recent data shows that improving site speed also reduces operating costs.
Common sense stuff to be sure, but that said, it's worth pointing out that it's probably not advisable to fret over your website's performance and hosting setup if your website generally performs well. That's because website speed is still a minor ranking factor:
While site speed is a new signal, it doesn't carry as much weight as the relevance of a page. Currently, fewer than 1% of search queries are affected by the site speed signal in our implementation and the signal for site speed only applies for visitors searching in English on Google.com at this point.
Nonetheless, in the highly-competitive world of SEO, any opportunity for gain will be of interest to publishers and SEOs. And although it might initially seem that big publishers with the most resources have the most to gain here, Google's Matt Cutts thinks that smaller publishers may have an easier time taking advantage of site speed:
...I think the average smaller web site can really benefit from this change, because a smaller website can often implement the best practices that speed up a site more easily than a larger organization that might move slower or be hindered by bureaucracy.
With that in mind, site speed could present development-savvy SEOs with a new opportunity. That's because hosting alone is rarely the cause of a slow website; a poorly written web application or HTML/CSS can be. SEOs who are able to pinpoint performance bottlenecks (inefficient SQL queries, sub-optimal HTML/CSS) and who can offer possible fixes (caching solutions, markup modifications) may now have an ability to make themselves even more invaluable to their clients.
From this perspective, I think the addition of site speed to Google's list of ranking factors is an important reminder for publishers and SEOs alike: building a successful website requires a holistic approach. Every little detail counts, even if just a little.
Photo credit: wwarby via Flickr.