Google officially announced that page speed will be a ranking factor in how results are shown for mobile queries. This announcement is the latest in a series of moves by Google to improve mobile user experience, which include the mobile-first index, Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), new webmaster tools to improve website performance, and new mobile ad formats. This algorithm update will be rolled out in July of 2018, giving webmasters six months to assess and address technical factors that may be causing their mobile sites to load slowly.
The update, appropriately called “Speed Update,” will focus on the slowest of loading pages and will not discriminate between technologies used to build the pages. Pages built in AMP will not necessarily receive a favored ranking. As with nearly all of Google’s algorithm updates, it is intended to affect a small percentage of overall searches directly, but as a core algorithm update, it will impact all types of searches. Google encourages webmasters to think of load time and page speed in the broader context of how it impacts user experiences, as studies have shown users begin to abandon pages after waiting 3 seconds of waiting for them to load.
Prior to the mobile-first index announcement over a year ago, Resolution has treated page speed as a focus area for mobile SEO and user experience. Ultimately, slow loading is detrimental to Google as a search platform. Content that causes users to abandon or click back excessively means these users will eventually move on to other platforms. It is critical for Google to stay ahead of the game as platforms converge and activities such as search transcend them. As a result, we expect Google to roll out more algorithm updates to ensure users are seeing fast-loading and relevant content. On the heels of this announcement, businesses should consider the following four actions:
- Evaluate your site speed: Google has made this incredibly simple with their speed evaluation tool. While this metric is purely directional, it will give decision makers a sense of how page speed impacts customers. Compare your site to key competitors and a technical SEO expert can help dive into site needs.
- Consider mobile formats such as AMP: Google has given developers six months to evaluate and implement changes and AMP is a rapidly growing format that can load in less than half of a second. If your organization has been considering making the switch to AMP, now is the time.
- Ensure page speed is a factor in technology decisions: For brands, this means analytics code, rich media, content management systems, and distribution networks elements should be considered. Ensure the evaluation process of integrating them into your web presence includes their impact on load times.
- Monitor for anomalies: Webmaster Consoles and enterprise log monitoring platforms can help marketers understand how factors such as 500-level errors or poor connections could be a hindrance for search engine spiders. While some errors impact SEO negatively already, they must also be considered for their impact on overall speed.
The Speed Update comes as little surprise to the SEO community, and Resolution has been optimizing content for speed as a part of SEO programs for a long time. Speed also plays a pivotal role in the success of formats such as voice. At its core, voice requires an interstitial step of an AI-enabled bot to translate voice into a query string to perform a search and return a relevant answer. With the Alexa Show, Siri, or Android, this includes providing a link to the answer, where waiting for a long time for a page to load is detrimental. Resolution is in agreement with Google’s sentiment that webmasters need to consider page speed in the broader context of overall user experience. Page speed, along with advancements in enhanced search results (rich snippets, knowledge graphs, etc.), demonstrates the importance Google places on ensuring users are getting answers to their questions as efficiently as possible. Webmasters must consider all of these components together when building a modern digital content strategy.