Does page load speed affect my search engine ranking?
In 2009 Google flagged to website owners that the speed at which pages on your website load (or "site speed") is an important metric you should be assessing from a usability perspective.
And it's not just a matter of upgrading your website hosting to a faster, dedicated hosting plan, it's also about creating elegant code, which loads quickly and is nimble for browsers.
Developers take note.
Research shows that website conversion rates are improved when a website is lightening fast, as people spend less time waiting and more time browsing in their task-based mindset.
Google does seem to be spending a lot of money educating us about ways we can improve the speed of our websites with this dedicated "let's make the web faster" section.
And recently Matt Cutts (head of Google's Web Spam team) weighed in on the act, saying in a late 2009 interview that although Google doesn't currently factor in page speed to its ranking algorithm, it's something "...that could change in 2010".
I think we can read that as, "...it probably will change in 2010"; so here comes yet another change to watch out for in among the 400 or so algorithm changes every year.
I think you might be able to get the 'SEO jump' on competitors in 2010 if you spend a little time optimising page load time on your site. That's got to help your online sales.
Without going into too much detail, these tools will help you or your developer understand which aspects of your pages and associated code cause page-loading times to slow down.
You can upload the results from the Page Speed (and YSlow) to Show Slow to see how your site ranks among some of the biggest and the best.
Speaking of concern, looking at the screenshot above, there's quite a discrepancy between the two tools. YSlow says the MSN website (second from the bottom) gets a page load score of 68% where as the PageSpeed Tool returns 81% for the same site.
So which score will Google use?
Given YSlow is a Yahoo product, my money's on PageSpeed.
Google's not saying anything, but I'm guessing any 'score' slower than 80% could be cause for concern. You should at least forward this answer to your developer if you're worried.
Another aspect to consider is the physical location of your webhosting. Ideally you should host in the primary country where your audience lives as this will "generally speaking" make your website load quicker for them.
Obviously it's tempting to take your web hosting offshore as it can be a lot cheaper, but it is getting more competitive here in Australia and you can pick up some pretty good hosting deals these days.
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Chris Thomas heads Reseo, a search engine optimisation company which specialises in creating and maintaining Google AdWords campaigns and Search Engine Optimisation campaigns for a range of corporate clients.