Google made well over 350 changes to their ranking algorithm in 2009. The algorithm itself consists of over 200 different factors that combine to determine the rank position for a site for any given search phrase. This year they added site speed, which is the page loading times, as a new ranking factor.
We have always said that the first impression a user received when entering a site is speed. If a user becomes frustrated because the web site’s pages do not load fast, you may never get a chance to make a second impression. The back button makes a fast exit just one click away.
To give web site owners guidance to help them improve the loading speed for their sites, Google offers links to advice and tools that can assist with improving site speed.
If you use Google’s free Webmasters Tools, there is anew feature that gives you a visual representation of what GoogleBot has experienced when visiting your site. You will find a graph under Labs > Site Performance.
The Site Performance tool give you an impression of how your site performs relative to all other web sites and displays a threshold site speed target of an average of 1.5 seconds. While this target should not be difficult for static web sites to achieve, it can be difficult for dynamic, database-driven web sites to hit. Nonetheless, it is a target and the challenge to beat the majority of other web sites is interesting. The graph shows the improvement over time, so it is easy to gauge the effectiveness of your improvements.
Webmaster Tools suggests that you should install a FireFox browser plugin named Page Speed, a tool that offers advice for improving web page speed performance, we found that a similar tool from Yahoo called YSlow offers better advice. You can use whichever tool you are comfortable with, but you really should install one or the other or both.
How much will site speed affect your rankings? At this point no one except Google knows. Google admits that fewer than the rankings of fewer than 1% of web sites are currently affected, but we can expect that number to grow as the algorithms and testing methods improve.
If your site currently enjoys good rankings, it would be wise to use the webmaster Tools Site Performance tool to see how Google’s algorithm feels about your web site. Now is the time to start making improvements.