Over at WebmasterWorld there is some talk about a relatively new ranking factor that determines Google’s Quality Score on Adwords, with ‘load time’ now taken into account.
After a short measurement period Google will make a judgement call and if your pages are deemed too slow then your Quality Score will take a hit, meaning that you'll need to spend more to maintain or improve upon your ad positions.
Google will tell you what your ‘Landing Page Load Time Grade’ is after a few weeks, but it provides no further guidance on how fast a page needs to be to pass its quality threshold.
Here's what Google says in the Adwords FAQ:
"The AdWords system re-evaluates landing pages on a regular basis (approximately once a month). If you make significant improvements to your website's load time, you should see an improved Quality Score and lower minimum cost-per-click (CPC) bids. Note that your Quality Score may update incrementally over two to three months after you improve your load time."
It would be bad luck if that 0.1% of server downtime most of us experience in an average month happened to be the time AdsBot (Google’s Quality Score / landing page-checker) came to visit, as you’d end paying a lot more the next month - and beyond - for your keywords. And it may take two to three months to see a full improvement in your score.
Clearly a slow-loading page is bad for users, and definitely bad for converting visitors to customers, so I guess this is a good idea.
The Quality Score, introduced last year, essentially covers two areas: ad positions, and keyword costs (or at least minimum bid prices).
What matters for your Quality Score, more than anything, is clicks. Lots of clicks tell Google that your ad (ad text and keyword targeting) is relevant for searchers. Therefore bidding for higher positions to drive more clicks this month can drive positive benefits for next month, when a higher Quality Score will mean lower keyword costs. There is a balance to be found, and it requires an upfront investment in your Quality Score.
Other factors seem to include keywords in ad text and on landing pages, overall account history and performance, well-written landing pages, and optimising your ads over time.
Keep in mind that because Google automates (by and large) this process, your landing pages need to be legible for Google. So heavy use of - for example - Flash, is not recommended, even if your existing Flash-powered landing page converts ten times as many visitors to customers. If that is the case then contact your Google rep!
Most sites at the current time won’t be able to see their Load Time Grade, as Google only introduced this a few weeks ago, but do keep an eye on it.