Google seems to be on a crusade against slow websites. Last year they first spoke about incorporating page load times into the ranking algorithm. One client, suffering from the curse of cheap shared hosting, has just seen his first wide-ranging rankings drop of one to four places. Interestingly, by removing external widgets (Facebook Like Button, a Youtube video) and using CSS sprites for more of the images most of that ground has been recovered within a couple of days, so it seems Google are very responsive to changes.
This suggests that the dial has been turned on the importance of page speed to Google’s algorithm.
Where does Google get that page speed data from?
Real users – if you’ve installed the Google Toolbar and not opted out of pretty much everything, Google logs URLs and load times. The more traffic your site gets the higher chance there is that your visitors have the toolbar installed and the more reliable the data Google gets.
Do I have speed problem?
To find out if your site might be being penalised for loading slowly, take a look at what Google’s Webmaster Tools tells you in the Labs > Site Performance section, comparing our site performance to all the sites they test, or install the Page Speed Add-on for Firefox and Chrome, or use Google’s new Page Speed Online tool.
What can I do about it?
There are many different aspects that affect a page’s load time, from the time taken for the server to generate the HTML for the page, to the time taken to deliver it and all the related scripts, stylesheets and images. If you’ve got a problem (you’ll know about it soon enough if you do) then it’s time to spend money on better hosting and some development time to squeeze the very best performance you can out of the site.
image credit: Shoot-n-fish via Creative Commons on Flickr