Page speed as a ranking factor
What you need to know

Page speed as a ranking factor: what you need to know

April 04th, 2017 – 33 Comments

It’s official: Google announced that page speed will be a ranking factor in its mobile-first index. But what does that mean? There’s no beating around the bush anymore: you should work on making your site as fast and accessible as possible. Don’t wait, do it now. I mean it. Work on your mobile SEO.

For years, we’ve been bombarded by one message: mobile is going to take over the world. We needed to adapt ourselves to this new reality where everyone does everything on their mobile devices. While we still spend loads of time in front of our desktop and laptop machines, we can’t deny mobile is crucial. Just look at the upcoming markets, where people use their mobile for all possible tasks.

We also know that if you want to compete with the big boys, get a solid ranking for your mobile site and make some money from it, you need to take care of a few things. One of the most important ones is page speed. 

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The verdict is in

Let’s look at some recent research: according to Google the average time it takes for a mobile landing page to load is now 22 seconds. Compare that with the three seconds visitors need to decide if they want to stay for your page to load and you will see a huge discrepancy. People are impatient. They want something, and they want it now. While page speed is important for your SEO, it is even more important for your UX, conversion and general customer happiness.

Yes, page speed will be a ranking factor

At the moment, page speed is more of an indicator than a ranking factor. Unless your mobile site is extremely slow, you can still get decent rankings with average page speeds. But it’s been proven time and time again that the speedier your site, the better your results will be.

Google’s latest research shows that the chance of a bounce increases 32% when the page load time goes from 1s to 3s. 1s to 5s increases the chance to 90% and if your site takes up to 10s to load, the chance of a bounce increases to 123%. That’s incredible. For search engines, better results and performance is a sign of a healthy site that pleases customers and therefore should be rewarded with a higher ranking.

Also, Google has recently gone on record saying that page speed will be a ranking factor in its upcoming mobile-first index. Details on how they will evaluate page speed for mobile and calculate rankings are still unknown. But, what we do know doesn’t change much from what we at Yoast have been saying for some time: make sure your site is responsive, as fast as possible, solidly structured, and full of excellent content.

5 ways to speed up your site

Do everything in your power to increase the loading speed of your mobile site. Everyone loves a fast site: we SEOs and search engines, but most importantly, our customers. Firstly, check Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to see what they advise you to do. Secondly, take a look at the size of your page, as many sites are bloated nowadays. Try to shave off as much as you can by optimizing images, compressing code and loading fewer external scripts and ads. In addition to that, here are five things you can work on:

Activate AMP on your pages

Google’s AMP project is meant to give the web a necessary speed boost. It’s not too hard to implement, and it will give your mobile site a life in the fast-lane. According to Google, AMP is not a ranking factor, but it’s not hard to predict it has a decent chance to become one. Read Google’s documentation on how to implement AMP.

Use HTTP2

That series of tubes we call the internet is at the dawn of a new age. Several new technologies will bring much-needed upgrades to the way the underlying infrastructure has been built. One of these is called HTTP2, and you can already use to speed up your site, barring it uses HTTPS. Find out more on performance optimization in an HTTP2 world.

Switch to PHP7

As we mainly use WordPress in these parts, getting everyone to use PHP7 is a big deal. To get everyone to move from unsupported and unsafe versions, like PHP5.2 and PHP5.3, we at Yoast created Project WHIP. Moving to PHP7 will give your WordPress site a speed boost, keep it secure and make it future proof.

General optimizations

You should already know these tactics. Please use a CDN to make sure that your content is delivered from a location close to the visitor. Use a caching plugin like WP Rocket to keep static parts of your site in the browser cache. Last but not least, please optimize images. That’s low-hanging fruit.

Critical rendering path

Running a PageSpeed Insights test will show you which elements block a page from rendering quickly. The critical rendering path is formed by the object – like CSS and JavaScript – that have to load before the content can show up on screen. If this content is blocked, your page will render slowly or not at all. Pay attention to this and keep the path free of obstacles. At modpagespeed.com you’ll find several open source tools to help you with these issues.

Always work on your page speed

Keep in mind that your work is never done. Your mobile site is never too fast, and your customers will never come flocking to you when you shave off just a little of your loading time. Keep working on it. Now, tomorrow and next month. If possible, try to automate your PageSpeed Insights testing, so you get regular updates. Follow the news to see if there are new ways to speed up your site.

Read more: ‘Mobile SEO: the ultimate guide’ »


33 Responses to Page speed as a ranking factor: what you need to know

  1. Scott
    By Scott on 13 April, 2017

    Do you know why WordPress doesn’t list the compatibility of plugins with different versions of PHP? I’m working on switching to PHP 7, but after I make the move, I wouldn’t want to add a plugin that won’t work. Seems like this would also apply pressure to plugin developers to update their offerings.

  2. Andy Kuiper
    By Andy Kuiper on 10 April, 2017

    Thanks Edwin :-) especially about ensuring sites are updated to WP7+

  3. Tristan Thar
    By Tristan Thar on 10 April, 2017

    Completely agree. We recently did an overhaul of our creative agency website’s code base, conpressed images, etc and now have a pagespeed score of 100/99 on both mobile and desktop. This decreased the bounce rate from 55% to 35% and increased the conversion rate from 1% to 3.5%. Amazing how so many people overlook this!

    Looking intro http2 now! :)

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 10 April, 2017

      Wow, congratulations! Awesome scores.

  4. Bradley shaw
    By Bradley shaw on 10 April, 2017

    Page speed is a constant battle on my clients websites. Thanks for the tips and resources.

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 10 April, 2017

      Yes, the work is never done. Keep at it and it will pay off.

  5. Beth Terry
    By Beth Terry on 9 April, 2017

    Surprisingly, it’s April and I just got off the phone with a Bluehost tech who, firstly, had never heard of http/2 and after doing some research, determined that currently, none of Bluehost’s packages support http/2. I told him I was very surprised since Google is going to be including page speed in its rankings soon and since I am paying for SSL already to avoid being penalized. He did some further research and said it looked like Bluehost will be adding http/2 support but there are other projects ahead of it. He also suggested a look into Cloudflare, which others have suggested in the comments here. So that’s what I’ll be doing.

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 10 April, 2017

      Not every host is as forward-thinking. Good work reminding them of the upcoming changes. Cloudflare is a good suggestion as well.

  6. krewjordan
    By krewjordan on 7 April, 2017

    Page speed depends on many different factors, from host to design and can be optimized the ranking factors and thanks for the blog

  7. Odira Ndubuisi
    By Odira Ndubuisi on 7 April, 2017

    Thanks for the article. I have been trying very hard to optimize my site for speed for some time now, not getting the best result, but I will keep trying.

  8. Emmerey Rose
    By Emmerey Rose on 6 April, 2017

    Thanks for the very informative post Erwin! Have heard a lot about page speed as a ranking factor. I was wondering, how do images play a big role with page speed?

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 6 April, 2017

      Hi Emmerey. As mentioned in the article: one of the first things you should do is optimize your images. A lot of people forget to do this, but you can get huge savings from it. Read about optimizing your images in this article: https://yoast.com/image-seo/

      • Emmerey Rose
        By Emmerey Rose on 6 April, 2017

        Sorry, I might have missed it. Thank you for the response! I’ll check the article. Thanks for the help! :)

        • Edwin Toonen
          By Edwin Toonen on 6 April, 2017

          No problem!

  9. Lucy Beer
    By Lucy Beer on 5 April, 2017

    Hi
    Do you mean PageSpeed, i.e. the grade provided by the Insights tool? Or do you mean, page speed, i.e. loading time?

    Thanks!

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 6 April, 2017

      Hi Lucy, I’m talking about general loading times in this article. Wherever I’ve mentioned the tool, I wrote PageSpeed. I hope ;)

  10. jeroen
    By jeroen on 5 April, 2017

    Hi,

    two questions:
    – is http2 the same as https?
    – Is ‘amp’ handy for all mobile pages or only for webpages that create a lot of content ( like news websites)

    Looking forward to your answers.

    Kind regards,
    Jeroen

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 5 April, 2017

      Hi Jeroen. HTTP2 is not the same as HTTPS. HTTPS uses SSL certificates to encrypt access to a website supporting it. HTTP2 is the underlying web protocol that takes care of all these connections. The new version of this protocol – hence the 2 – brings loads of awesome improvements that make it much faster and more secure.

      Regarding your AMP comment: you can use AMP on any type of website. How you implement it, kind of depends on how you have to add it to your site. If you have to hand-code it into 10.000 pages, it’s best to start with your most important pages. However, if you are a WordPress user, and don’t want to mess around with code too much, you can just install the official plugin and be done with it. Keep in mind that the current version of the plugin only works on posts, not pages.

  11. Mackey Kandarajah
    By Mackey Kandarajah on 5 April, 2017

    Great information! As we know already that Google announced website speed would begin having an impact on search results. Thanks for sharing this informative post. It helping me a lot.

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 5 April, 2017

      You’re welcome!

  12. Amin Ghale
    By Amin Ghale on 5 April, 2017

    We always knew this was coming, right? Google is all about user experience. And speed is one of the vital elements of UX. So they had to use it as a ranking signal. Nice overview edwin

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 5 April, 2017

      Yes, we did. But it’s a great wake-up call, since there’s still a lot of work to be done.

  13. David
    By David on 5 April, 2017

    Install a good caching plugin everyone! It has provided the biggest “bang for your buck” for improving the speed of my sites

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 5 April, 2017

      Great advice, David! We recommend WP Rocket.

      • Bhathiya Pathirana
        By Bhathiya Pathirana on 6 April, 2017

        The way I see it, Plugins are not gonna cut it. Although they help you bring up the Google Page Speed test score little higher but plugins along can’t do it. I’ve been trying to achieve the best score for a long time and I actually achieved it on my website http://ilfordplumber.com/ on this website I’m using only Contact Form 7 and Yoast SEO that’s all…

        Here are the test results : https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/?url=ilfordplumber.com&tab=mobile

        • Edwin Toonen
          By Edwin Toonen on 6 April, 2017

          Nice score! While working on you site speed, you have to know that there’s no silver bullet. It’s not just one thing you do that fixes everything. There’s a whole range of tactics to enhance your speed and you shouldn’t expect that tackling only one will make a huge difference.

  14. Ramanan
    By Ramanan on 4 April, 2017

    AMP makes an exception for Google Fonts. Can I then assume that Google fonts are okay, even though it currently penalizes? (Even with everything else optimal, I get 75 because of Google Fonts).

    • Ramanan
      By Ramanan on 4 April, 2017

      Let me be more clear with my question. Google makes an exception for Google Fonts in AMP. Do you think it will do the same for non-AMP mobile pages?

  15. Carsten Legaard
    By Carsten Legaard on 4 April, 2017

    This really sounds a lot more like an April’s Fool than an add seller which happens to be the biggest of its kind. So Google wants to shortcut the decisions of the W3C?

    I say: Good luck.

    The instructions page is killing. Time. And. Me.

    Don’t have time for nitty-gritty, rather go find some living audience instead.
    They’re still out there, if you happen to not know.

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 5 April, 2017

      Hi Carsten, I’m not quite sure what you mean. Do you refer to AMP using its own version of HTML? If so, yes, this is also in Google’s best interest. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need something like AMP. Just following web standards would be enough to make a perfectly accessible, fast and mobile-friendly website. But we’re not in a perfect world, we’re in an alternate reality where people think it’s perfectly fine to load a 4MB site over a 3G connection. So yes, in principle, this is a great project. Even if its main goal is to give Google an even stronger foothold in the mobile space.

  16. Nayab Khan
    By Nayab Khan on 4 April, 2017

    Hello Edwin,
    Some great information shared as always.
    Does installing a cache plugin helps to the cause?

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 5 April, 2017

      Hi Nayab, thanks for the compliment. And yes, a caching plugin certainly helps.

  17. Erica
    By Erica on 4 April, 2017

    I can say for sure that ?DN (on average) affects the most, so the templates or custom-designed sites are usually well-optimized.


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