Why website speed is such an important factor for rankings

Web advertising expert Adam Adlkish tells us how to not get left behind in the wake of Google’s newest website-speed and mobile-first related SEO updates for ranking search results
22nd March 2018

As if SEO wasn’t difficult enough to understand already, Google is now adding more factors into how they rank and present search results on the web. Namely website speed and mobile-first indexing.

I Feel the Need

Our incessant need for speed online has pushed Google to make the decision to consider how fast a website is when compiling their rankings. In an age of efficiency and ease of use, there’s nothing quite so irritating as a page that refuses to load, and now Google’s going to take care of that for you, pushing those sluggish sites down to the dreaded ‘page two’, or even lower.

The Need for Speed

In July (2018), this update is going to be rolled out worldwide. The warning comes now to give developers the opportunity to lean up their web experience. But don’t worry, because slow sites with relevant content will still rank higher than fast sites with irrelevant content, which means all that SEO you did won’t be for nothing, even if your site is a little more tortoise than hare.

Mobile-first indexing

For anyone staying up to date on this, after nearly a year of talks, and a study done by Stone Temple Consulting, Google is now ranking sites based on mobile experience. Why? Well, the study that was done showed a whopping 55% of all internet traffic comes from mobile devices. Historically, Google ranked websites by desktop experience, but now that mobile has surpassed it in terms of traffic, Google is getting in line.

What does this mean for my site?

The question on everyone’s tongue. In a nutshell: for sites that display the same content on their pages across both desktop and mobile, nothing will change in terms of the rankings (unless they’re slow). But, for the sites that have less content displayed on their mobile sites – they’ll see a negative impact on their rankings. So, if you can, make sure that your mobile experience is as good as it can be, before this change takes full effect.

When?

Soon. That’s all we can say. Google, cryptic as ever, is saying that they’ll make the switch when results are “quality neutral”. That means that they’ll wait as long as it takes for people to adapt. They’re not looking to upset the status quo and won’t make the change until the search results will stay largely the same. If they did it now, they’d upset a lot of people, and scramble their lists. So, they’re waiting. Still, we’d recommend getting your mobile site fully functional and responsive ASAP to avoid any unnecessary aggravation.

What should I do?

Go responsive. Make sure your content displays on all devices. If you want to know more about this imminent switch, which we guarantee will have an effect on your rankings if you ignore it, then go straight to the source. Google’s Webmaster Central Blog should be bookmarked for any up-to-date company with their finger on the tech pulse. If you rely on traffic for business, then read this to make sure you’re up to speed (pun intended).

It’s not all bad news

In true Google style, we’re not just getting slapped in the face, we’re also being handed an olive branch. Google knows that not everyone will have access to a crack team of developers to get things as they should be straight away. As such, they’re providing us with tools to map and track our progress as we update for mobile. In terms of speed, we’ve now got access to their Speed Scorecard. It’s simple – enter a domain, hit search, and it gives you the length of time it takes to load the home page. Check yours out against the competition to see how you’ll stack up in the rankings.

Impact Calculator

Google has also included an ‘Impact Calculator’ on their Speed Scorecard, which means you can work out how much money you’re going to lose by having a worse ranking than a competitor. In the internet age, traffic = revenue. It’s just that simple. More people means more conversions, more impressions, more leads and more sales. If you rely on traffic for income, then you need to be making speed and responsiveness your top priority in the coming months.

But what does it mean?

If your site reports news and you’ve written an article on the Oscars, for example, a rival site has seen it, taken it, repackaged it with the same number of keywords, and posted it, then whether or not they are the top result boils down to speed. If your site loads slower than theirs, then you’ll rank lower. So how do you improve speed? More concise content, less high-res images. The less there is to load on a page, the faster it is. Servers, hosting, and other factors also play a role, but clutter is a good place to start. Lean up your site and your rankings (and your mobile view) will thank you.

A word on WordPress

With over 28% of all websites in the world (yeah, that’s right) being managed by the WordPress Content Management System (WP CMS), and 50,000 more being added every day, WordPress is to web-hosting as Google is to search engines. And now, like some sort of Galactic Federation, they’ve teamed up. Google has now put a dedicated team of engineers on a project, the soul intent of which is to accelerate the development of the WordPress Ecosystem.

In English

WordPress is a goliath in the tech world. But, their core code is still bulky and flabby from constant security and performance updates. This cobbled-together Frankenstein’s monster functions well enough to support more than a quarter of all websites in the world, but when users introduce heavy content, complex plugins, or anything else that leeches performance, load speeds plunge.

That’s a disaster, as “53% of users abandon a site if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.” Google see that, they know that, and they’re now doing something about it. With their support, expect to see WordPress speeds improve steadily in the coming months and years with updates continually bolstering functionality and diminishing load times. If you want to read the full article on this team up, then you can get it here.

Good News for WP

Everyone over at WP HQ must be jumping for joy. This partnership secures WP’s future as the market-dominator, and getting into bed with Google will only spell good things for them, and everyone using their services.

With more and more plugins and themes coming out daily, helping with mobile responsiveness and load times, as well as the support from Google, anyone using WP is likely to sail through the Google speed and index updates and continue to top the rankings for many moons to come.