Google is constantly implementing new signals into its algorithm to better distinguish quality sites from their spammy counterparts. In the wake of the Google Panda and Penguin updates, increased focus has been placed on creating a better user experience to maximize search rankings.
The old mindset of bombarding a site with anchored links has been phased out in favor of a user-centric approach that calls for high quality content, functional and intuitive site architecture, and social media integration. These are just some of the factors that now determine where a site stands in the search rankings.
Among the quality signals that Google now emphasizes is site loading speed. Page speed can be negatively affected by a number of factors, from a traffic congested server to a poorly configured WordPress installation. These hiccups have a number of implications beyond affecting a sites rank, many of which will be explored below.
Page Speed as Part of the Evolving Definition of “SEO”
As webmasters continue to process the fallout of Google's most recent algorithm updates, one message has been clearly received – that SEO is a multifaceted process. What was once synonymous with aggressive link building has been redefined. It is no longer viable to base your entire SEO campaign on backlinks, as getting safe links in abundance is no longer a cheap or easy task. Furthermore, backlinks are now only one piece of the puzzle. If your site lacks indicators of visitor engagement, you may not be rewarded with those prized high rankings.
Optimizing your site's loading speed is an excellent way to give Google a broader, positive impression of your site. Although this task has been conventionally handled by conversion rate optimization experts and other web professionals, there is no better person than an SEO to tackle the problem. Making a site faster is not the challenge. It's doing so without negatively affecting a site's spiderability and other factors that correlate with ranking.
How Slow Loading Speeds Affect your Ranking
A slow site is problematic for a number of reasons as far as search engines are concerned. From a technical standpoint, a page that continues to timeout cannot be crawled by search engines. That means any new pages added to the site or updated won't be rapidly indexed, keeping potential visitors away. This is the proverbial nail-in-the coffin for news websites, which require quick indexing and ranking to garner those initial surges of traffic as a story breaks. Even shopping sites that are chock-full of product pages can suffer, as fewer pages indexed means less long-tail traffic. Existing pages can suffer heavy ranking demotions if the lag is severe enough.
In contrast, optimized sites will often have a greater number of pages indexed. This is because the Googlebot spends less of its visit time indexing any one given page. By reducing the footprint of each of your site's pages, you can increase the indexing volume and subsequently traffic. Even those pages that aren't heavily optimized for keywords can attract super-targeted long-tail traffic once they become indexed.
A slow loading site can also affect your traffic levels at an algorithmic level. Visitors will often click out of a slow loading site, which increases it's bounce rate. Google correlates a high bounce rate with a poor user experience, meaning the algorithm may demote your site's rankings.
Overall, it makes much more sense to optimize page speed on large authority sites than to invest in expensive link building campaigns.
Page Speed from A Marketing Perspective
It's a well documented fact that conversion rates plummet with increases in page loading time. Retailing giant Wal-Mart and others have conducted studies that confirm a dramatic dip in conversion rates on pages that take longer than two seconds to load.
The implications of these findings are even more troubling in the mobile device realm. Google attributed more than one-quarter of it's pay-per-click advertising revenue in Q4 2012 to mobile devices, which lack the robust hardware to quickly serve pages. As the average footprint of a web page continues to soar at a level far outpacing the technical capabilities of mobile devices, it can be assumed Google will place increasing emphasis on page load speed in its mobile SERPs.
Diagnosing Site Speed Problems
There are a number of free tools available to simulate or monitor (in real-time) your sites loading speed. WebPageTest.org falls into the former category and offers the flexibility of testing your site from a number of different locations while simulating different browser and connection configurations. The tool outputs load times for both new and repeating visitors and even features an intuitive scoring system for those not technically inclined. For those who can make due without detailed reports, Google PageSpeed Insights is a good option.
Page speed has become one of a number of factors that are now integral to successful search engine optimization. A well optimized site can generate more revenue by means of having more pages indexed, enjoying better rankings, and being more responsive to a user's needs. A split second difference in loading times can translate to a dramatic loss in revenue. If you embrace the latest SEO practices, you only stand to gain.
Author: Gerrid Smith is CEO of the law firm SEO companySmithSEO. For over 5 years Gerrid has helped attorneys generate more business from the web. In addition to his interests in Internet marketing, he also enjoys hiking, fishing and camping with his family.
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