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September 5, 2010

Website Speed Penalty – Google is Testing Your Load Time!

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After Google started using website speed as a parameter in their ranking algorithms every webmaster has a good reason to keep an eye on the page load speed of their website. Google’s bending over backwards to spread the word about this new speed penalty is proof in itself since big G is usually very secretive about pending algorithm changes.

From the announcement we learn that the speed penalty was introduced following experiments by Google that revealed the impact website speed has on Internet users.

But the results of the experiment come as no surprise even for someone that has started to use the Internet recently; users prefer websites that load faster and tend to spend more time on such websites.

However, the search engine giant has been careful to state that even though website speed is now a factor, it is not the primary parameter for determining results. The quality and relevance of information is still the determining factor, but if your website speed is slow, you will receive a Google penalty.

This implies that it is important for you as a webmaster to assess the speed of your website to determine whether you are moving further down the search engine results pages (SERPs) because your website is slower than your direct competitors.

How Can Google Know Your Page Speed?

It is vital that you understand the basics of how Google’s algorithm determines your website speed and thus your SERP ranking. The search engine uses two main factors when it comes to speed assessment.

First, your website will receive a higher speed ranking if it responds faster to Googlebot, the crawler program Google uses to find and index websites.

Second, your website will also receive a good speed ranking if it records a faster loading time on Google Toolbar than your competition. To better assist you in analyzing your website speed, Google has added a page speed report to their webmaster tools found within the Google webmasters ‘lab’ section.

The tool and the reports can be used to compare your website’s page load times to that of other websites. Once you are armed with the information of where your page ranks in the speed hierarchy, you can start to make the necessary code and structure changes to make it respond faster.

Your first priority should be to make sure you have no SLOW pages on your site. Pages that take two seconds or more to load and pages that are marked as SLOW in Google Webmaster Tools need to be improved to avoid a Google penalty for website speed.

When you have no slow pages left, try to make all your pages load in less than a second. Read on to see why this is important.

Having a website that loads quickly has more benefits than just higher search engine ranking and avoiding a Google penalty.

A website optimized for speed reduces the bandwidth required on your hosting service, thus reducing your overall hosting costs.

Faster websites also provide a better browsing experience because users are able to get information faster and navigate through your website more easily.

In addition, websites optimized for speed work better when accessed on mobile phones, PDAs and other devices that do not have the same level of processing memory as your standard laptop or desktop computer.

Even though you can have a mobile variant of your website which is trimmed down, some users will want to view your site in full HTML on their phone or PDA and a faster loading website will have a better chance of successfully loading on such devices.

As a webmaster, there are a number of free tools that you can use to improve the loading speed of your website. I have listed three of the more popular ones below:

Page Speed

Page Speed is an open-source add-on for the Mozilla Firefox browser. It evaluates the speed of your website and gives you suggestions on how to improve your website speed.

Page Speed runs tests on the architectural configuration of both your web server and your website’s front end code. After running these tests, it gives you a report on your website speed and suggestions on how to improve the speed of your website.

Yslow

Yslow is a free Firefox add-on from Yahoo integrated with Firebug software for website development. It displays statistics, an evaluation report and also provides suggestions on how best to improve the speed of your website using best practices.

Yslow comes integrated with other tools for performance evaluation, including Smush. Use it and JSLint to further enhance your website performance. Yslow is a Yahoo product but is still useful for avoiding the Google speed penalty.

SSEL Speed Tools

There is also a website speed check at Secret Search Engine Labs where you can get a quick answer on how big your webpage is and how fast it loads.

The Website Speed Quick Fix

There are several factors that affect page load speeds on your website, many of them technical and best solved by your webmaster or developer, but some changes you can do yourself as long as you have some experience with HTML and creating web pages.

Reduce the number, size and quality of images and use less audio, flash and Javascript. Reduce the length of the page by splitting a long page into several short pages. Strip the source code of redundant HTML, Javascript and CSS code that just slows things down. Don’t use images and other components that are linked live from other domains; instead use a copy on your own server.

And don’t forget to keep your eyes on Google Webmaster Tools to see how your site performs compared to the competition.


Aaron Steinheinkel is virtual lab scientist at Secret Search Engine Labs, a new search engine. Use the website speed checker to improve the speed of your website.

17 Responses to “Website Speed Penalty – Google is Testing Your Load Time!

    avatar Rebecca says:

    Interesting article Aaron and very relevant to all website and blog owners.

    As a developer and marketer, I’ve advocated keeping sites fast for the past decade or so, and to avoid all the bling that is unnecessary. However, that isn’t always the case – for example, my online art gallery is always going to be slow on page loading speed due to the high graphic content.

    Rebecca Habel
    Rebecca’s Resource
    Helping website and blog owners make money online

    Thanks for this post. I totaly agree, that page speed impact Google SERPS. Hope google will make more tools to help improve seo and rankings.

    avatar Web Hosting says:

    It calculates the daily costs according to a given budget. Web Hosting

    avatar Virual Character says:

    I use firefox sometimes and thanks for sharing the add-on used, but is there an extension for chrome? TY!

    The big speed villains are “lots of big images”, “slow back-end database” for applications like blogs and forums and finally “slow third party resources” like javascript, advertisements and images loaded from another domain.

    It does of course help to have a good web host and not buy the cheap like dirt plan that everyone else is using.

    avatar Terry Vanhyning says:

    Thanks for this post. Good information!

    avatar SEO SERP Checker says:

    I am using page speed and YSlow to determine tha load time of my pages and both tools are excellent.

    avatar Georgi says:

    Thanks for this post. Good information!

    avatar Tallbox says:

    Thanks for this post. I totaly agree, that page speed impact Google SERPS.

    avatar Tahografi says:

    Thanks for this post. I totaly agree, that page speed impact Google SERPS.

    avatar Patrick says:

    Thanks al lot for that bunch of information!

    As far as I can see, Google does not support the Website-Performance Analysis in Webmaster Tools. It seems like they moved this feature to Google Analytics exclusivly (which I am not going to use on my site)

    Greets from Germany
    Patrick

    avatar Patrick says:

    At least in Google Labs the feature is no longer available ANYMORE. Sorry.

    Perhaps the Crawling Speed indicates the loading speed relevant for Googles SERP.

    Today, I doubled my website performance from 17 to 38 in Google’s PageSpeed Insight (using an css and html optimizing plugin on my shared-hosted Joomla site).

    Will see how it changes my site’s ranking…

    avatar Tiande says:

    Thanks for great post and good prepated information.

    Thanks for this post. Good information!

    really nice post with valuable information. thank’s for sharing

    Thanks for this post. Hope google will make more tools to help improve seo and rankings.

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