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Google's algorithm looks at a significant number of ranking factors when it decides where a site should be in the SERPs. These ranking factors, and the weight they're each given, change over time.

Last week at PubCon, Google's Matt Cutts revealed a new ranking factor that may debut in 2010: page load time.

This would have potentially significant implications in two areas:

  • Hosting. Those with subpar hosting could suffer if load time becomes a ranking factor. A website's load time is, of course, impacted by the quality of its host's connectivity and not all hosts are created equal in this area. Additionally, in the case of database-driven websites in particular, a slow server can have a significant effect on load time. This is especially true in shared hosting environments. To turn a profit on the ultra-cheap shared hosting that is still very popular, hosts cram hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of customers onto a single server. One poorly-written script on a site that gets a sudden surge in traffic can hurt every other customer on the server.

    If load time becomes a ranking factor, there may be added justification for spending more money on a host with quality connectivity and for leasing a virtual private server (VPS) or dedicated server. The location of your host could also be a consideration. An offshore host, for instance, might be at a disadvantage here, especially if it doesn't have good peering.

  • Development. Even with the best hosting in the world and a server with ample resources, slow page load times are often the result of poor development practices. Thanks to scripting languages like PHP, it's easy to learn how to build dynamic websites. Unfortunately, not everyone who can build a dynamic website has the knowledge, training and skill to develop high-performance websites. Poor coding practices and inefficient SQL queries run rampant.

    If Google takes into consideration load time, it will be yet one more incentive for website owners and developers to focus on the basics. From optimizing the configuration of your webserver to implementing caching, for instance, there are a lot of ways you can achieve significant or incremental performance boosts that will decrease page load time.

Improving Load Time: Tools of the Trade

There are a lot of tools that you can employ to identify load time bottlenecks. If you're a Firefox user, the Firebug plugin with the Google Page Speed add-on is hard to beat. It will test not only the load time of a page, but breaks down all of the requests. It also provides warnings and suggestions. If you're not a Firefox user, free online services like the Web Page Analyzer from WebSiteOptimization.com can also display some of the same data and suggestions.

Hosting-wise, services like Network-Tools.com can be useful in determining the quality of your host's network.

And finally, the best tool of the trade when it comes to decreasing page load time in practice: a competent developer. After all, knowing that your toilet is backed up really doesn't help when you don't have a competent plumber to fix it.

Just How Much Weight Will Google Give Load Time?

The big question you're probably asking is: just how much weight will Google give to the load time ranking factor? To start, at least, it will probably be quite modest. As mentioned, there are literally hundreds of ranking factors Google takes into consideration and with page load time, Google will probably be looking for extremes (e.g. the page that takes 20 seconds to load). A fraction of a second is (hopefully) not going to make a difference.

Given that, the possibility that load time will become a ranking factor isn't worth fretting over if you already have a website that loads pretty quickly. But that doesn't mean it should be ignored. Two points:

  • SEO success is often dependent upon paying attention to the little things. Page load time might be one more minor ranking factor, but it's one that you can exercise control over, making it worth your while to ensure that you're taking advantage of it and not getting penalized.
  • Like other ranking factors, page load time is an important metric to be looking at anyway. If your website is a tortoise, chances are you're already losing out in the form of reduced user loyalty, suboptimal conversions, etc. So whether or not Google makes load time a ranking factor and no matter how much weight it gives it, the possibility alone is a good reminder that page load time does matter.

Photo credit: wwarby via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 16 November, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2380 more posts from this author

Comments (13)

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Vincent Roman

Sounds like an interesting idea, to rate a site over time for its availability and load times.  Uptime was already a factor in the equation I thought no?

That being said, sites like last.fm would be unduly penalized for not being able to serve up content ast enough despite running off 2 massive databases and hundreds of web servers with memcache.

It's one thing to optimize the hell out of your site by reducing HTTP request needs and using sprites instead of multiple images, but the benefit of such coding would be nigh on minimal i not totally indistinguishable and are google reallgoing to start counting the number of image files downoaded for a page?

HMMMM so much food for thought.

over 6 years ago

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Shashi Kapoor

Hmm, I don't see how this is new news? Page speed has been a factor with Google for years. Matt Cutts has mentioned it several times before. Inferior hosting and poor site perfomance can lead to penalties already. Web hosting companies have even been marketing on this basis for a good while: http://www.ukfast.co.uk/googlelove.html

It is true that it is likely to get more of a weighting soon though, people are blessed with less patience as time goes on and of course the standard for sites is creeping upwards.

over 6 years ago

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philshaw

It's new news because, prior to this announcement, Google made landing page speed a quality score factor ONLY for paid, i.e. Adwords, listings. Now...it's going to become a ranking factor for organic search results - that's big, well, it is depending on the 'weight' they give this factor or how they choose to increase this 'weight' over time.

Only time will tell but this has obvious implecations for any online business especially in competitive markets e.g. ecommerce, where there are many sites selling the same item. Will landing page speed give a site an edge of another in the SERPS? Adding a web accelerator to your server is just going to become a standard, at work we use aptimize WAX, on my personal wordpress sites I use the  GZIP Output and WP-HTML-Compression plugins. I really think Matt Cutts "don't say we didn't warn you" notice at pubcon was just that.

Wow, last.fm is sloooooow to load.

over 6 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

But I guess Google will only measure the speed of your main HTML page, not all the style sheets and .js files, images, flash files and videos etc that make up the page that your clients actually see.  (The Google spider is clever, but needs to get through page quickly too of course)

So it does make sense, as it always has, to do some sensible web performance work - load testing and web monitoring 24/7 of the meaningful jorneys that make up your Add to Basket and CheckOut routes; and etc

We've done a fair amount of work recently with sites using Flash:  good sites that are using flash widely - and load testing such sits is not as straightforward as a plain HTML site - but the findings have been the all more valuable as a result.

Deri

PS - surely no real world eCommerce site uses a shared server at their ISP, when it is so cheap to rent a single dedicated server....  Although I guess folks who have outsourced their whole ecommerce coding to an off-the-shelf ecommerce shop supplier are likely to have their pages served from a large-ish farm, shared by all the clients at that supplier.

All the more reason to do some sensible User Journey based load testing or monitoring - as an SLA to keep your supplier on their toes!

over 6 years ago

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Adam Lee

I agree with Shashi, this isn't really new news its been discussed for years but the fact that Matt Cutts has now mentioned it maybe it will hold slightly more weight.

I still can't see it affecting the 'good' sites too much. Any site that takes ages to load is not exactly good usability.

Will be interesting to know what is regarded as a 'slow loading' site. With different broadband speeds different load times will need to be considered. If a site is designed for a specific demographic who happens to be fast broadband users then that site will be penalised under this algorithm even though it could be the most useful site to the target market.

I can't see this algorithm having a drastic impact on the SERPs but will see soon!

over 6 years ago

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Terrie Mavros

In a sense, page load is already a factor. 

Google considers your traffic a key element of page rank. If your pages are loading slowly, chances are very good that you are losing viewers! lost viewers=slower traffic= a lower rank. Like Adam pints out, a site that takes ages to load is probably not a strong one, anyway.

However, overall, i don't think it is that much of a factor. we can all guess what the future holds, and what Google will try out next, but we won't know until they hit us all with it!

over 6 years ago

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Brad Canham

As the only web site monitorng company at Pubcon-Las Vegas where Cutts made his comments we noticed a considerable increase in interest at our exhibit following Cutts' comments. My understanding is that the new page load factor was due to be introduced after the first of year.

over 6 years ago

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Daniel Miguel

That's Great.  My company's servers are like 10 times faster than from the other companies on the same segment.

Greetings from Brazil!

over 6 years ago

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handbag chooes

Sounds like an interesting idea, to rate a site over time for its availability and load times. Uptime was already a factor in the equation I thought no?

over 6 years ago

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Mark

This seems like a long overdue submission that will put necessary pressure on hosting companies and server managers to step up their game. We can do our part by optimizing site's load times and anyone still employing 100% Flash sites has it coming anyway but I have personally seen a lot of slacking hosting providers in recent years. With a measured and (re)proven loss in visits and conversions this can help companies with leverage to get what they've been paying for!

over 6 years ago

Danny Bluestone

Danny Bluestone, Managing Director at Cyber-DuckSmall Business

I think this is a truly great thing. Finally people who are uploading fast loading sites on dedicated servers will be rewarded for their work.

over 6 years ago

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Debra

I was under the impression that load time and site availability was already considered, but this is still good news.  Web development should always consider the "human" factor first.  With that said, a site that is more flash then content should not enjoy higher page rankings.

over 6 years ago

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sharmawebsolution

why seo is important for business? http://sharmawebsolution.blogspot.com/ Search engine optimization (SEO) is essential if you need to be successful in making money online.

over 6 years ago

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