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

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. 

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’ »