On April 9 Google announced that they have added web site speed to their algorithms as a ranking factor. While Matt Cutts, a Google quality engineer, did mention that they were considering this addition for some time in 2010, the announcement that it has already been implemented came as a bit of a surprise.
The announcement was published in the Google Webmaster Central blog in a post entitled, Using site speed in web search ranking. The rationale for using site speed is based upon studies that show that users like faster sites and are much more likely to spend more time in a fast web site.
The criteria for rating a site for speed was not revealed, but is is clear that since the widespread adoption of high speed Internet access, many site owner and developers have not paid very much attention to how their sites perform, because if you are using a high speed connection, a site may always appear to load and render quickly. This, however, is not the case for any user who is not using a high speed connection. We have seen several web site with grossly bloated code and images that create 1.5 megabyte web pages.
We use a factor called page weight for evaluating the potential performance problems with users who do not have high speed Internet connections. Page weight is the total size in bytes for all code, content, images and objects that must be downloaded from a web server to the browser on the user’s PC. Ideally, the page weight should be kept under 150 kilobytes (150,000 bytes). E-commerce sites with a lot of product images might be able to stretch that to 300 kilobytes, but no web page will perform well on a slow connection if it is larger than 300 kilobytes. Once the page weight exceeds 1 megabyte, it can literally take 5 minutes or more to load for someone in a rural area who is forces to use a slow internet connection.
There are many issues that can cause performance problems even if the page weight is kept to a reasonable level. A slow or overloaded web server, poorly written code, slow database connections, excessive numbers of server requests, network bottlenecks, etc. Each issue must be evaluated and corrections made in order to improve site speed and web site performance.
The Google announcement offers links to a range of free tools that can help evaluate and diagnose site speed problems. They have also added a graph to their Webmaster Tools site that rates the speed of your web site as it appears to users around the world.
If you have not been paying much attention to your web site’s performance, or are not aware of issues due to your use of a high speed Internet connection, we can evaluate your web site and make recommendations for any corrective actions that may be necessary.