September 5, 2010
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 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 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.
And don’t forget to keep your eyes on Google Webmaster Tools to see how your site performs compared to the competition.