Site Speed is now a Ranking Factor

Just wanted to jot down a quick blog post with my thoughts about two blog posts about speed. Matt Cutts has been writing both on his own blog and on the official Google Webmaster Central Blog to tell everyone what we knew was coming: site speed is now an official ranking factor.

Now I want to remind you that I’ve been writing about site speed for quite a while. I wrote about WordPress template optimization (a quite dated post now, btw) back in january 2008. And even in april 2007 I wrote about the effect a slow server could have on how Google spiders your site.

Now of course I do a weekly WordPress podcast together with Frederick Townes, who is the creator of the awesome plugin W3 Total Cache, so I talk about speed a lot, and I’ve talked more than once about getting proper WordPress hosting. And that is leading to what I wanted to tell you in this post: the fact that Google now officially has made site speed one of the (over 200) ranking factors, means that there can be no more excuses; you have to get proper hosting. Now.

Having said that, I should probably tell you that I recently switched to an even better CDN, which has made my site even faster. I’m now on MaxCDN, as well as still being hosted on a VPS.net VPS itself. My site now loads, depending on where you are in the world, in somewhere between 1 and 2,5 seconds. Am I finished? Of course not, there’s always room for improvement. Has this speed helped my rankings? Probably. I do know one thing: I’ve had several clients whose sites were too slow, and who, after being properly optimized for speed, got better rankings.

And heck, if it’s a ranking factor, this is one of the easiest ones to get right. There can be no discussion about it: 10 seconds is slow, 1 second is fast. Of course there’s grey areas, but why settle when your site is still loading in more than say 2 seconds? There are several pieces of research that show that decreasing load times on pages leads to an increase in sales, pageviews and other desired actions. Of course it does. A fast site is nicer to hang around on. Nicer to purchase stuff on. Nicer to subscribe to. In short: a faster site is more likely to make you money.

Do I need to say it again? Make your site load as fast as you can. Install W3 Total Cache if you’re on WordPress and you haven’t done it yet. Get proper hosting if it’s still slow after that (test with Pingdom, f/i), and yes, I urge you to try VPS.net in that case. Go do it. Now!!!

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56 Responses

  1. DarrenBy Darren on 10 April, 2010

    Seems they brought in this update a few weeks ago though! And no one noticed… or at least let it be known they knew ;)

  2. EmilBy Emil on 10 April, 2010

    Same here, I’ve been talking about this to my clients as well and some of them were thinking
    that I was crazy. Well now when site speed is actually in place, they changed their minds quickly.

    It is extremely important that the server you are on is reliable and fast, one of the reason was
    that switched my sites to Hostgator VPS.

    I must 100% agree that this is indeed the easiest ranking factor out there and that anyone can speed their sites.

    Thanks for the posts, I think this is my first time writing, however I did hear all good things about
    you and visited many times before.

    Cheers,
    Emil Uzelac

  3. Chung Bey LuenBy Chung Bey Luen on 11 April, 2010

    Even if Google doesn’t consider site speed as a ranking factor, we should always optimize site speed your reader’s experience. Slow site speed can keep your readers aways from your site.

  4. JasonBy Jason on 11 April, 2010

    I installed the W3 Total Cache plugin like you suggested, but it’s behaving a bit funny. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the theme I have installed? Do I need to adjust the settings, or just keep the defaults?

  5. geoDVBy geoDV on 11 April, 2010

    I agree yoast. You have been talking about it for a long time. Thanks for been so vocal about it

  6. Ann DonnellyBy Ann Donnelly on 11 April, 2010

    Should those of us in counties with ‘third world’ internet infrastructure be concerned that we may lose out? Should we be looking at our hosting providers for server performance and perhaps moving to US hosting services if region is not a big issue?

    I’m hoping that as long as the site is optimized we’re good, rather than go looking for new hosting :-)

  7. AditBy Adit on 11 April, 2010

    When I visit a site that is slow, I immediately closed it. I think many people who do the same. So it was quite reasonable if the speed of the site became one of the factors determining the ranking.

  8. mantasBy mantas on 11 April, 2010

    Thanks chief! You da man :D

  9. Craig WhiteBy Craig White on 11 April, 2010

    Thanks Yoast,
    I have been having a problem with this lately because of the number of pics I have on my blog.
    I will take your suggestions and see what happens.
    Thanks,
    Craig White

  10. BillBy Bill on 12 April, 2010

    Hold up. Google’s rolling out experimental high-speed optics in the States that can handle something like 1GB/second. I agree that websites should be optimised to shed unnecessary bandwidth, but with continual growth in bandwidth capacity and increasingly rich online experience, how is it possible for Google to compare and rank websites based on speed? How would say a light blog compare against a HD video streaming service.

    • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 12 April, 2010

      I haven’t had confirmation on what Google uses to test site speed, but my guess would be they use the loading time for the HTML, and a high bandwidth video site could still be faster in that regard than a light blog :)

  11. Milan PetrovicBy Milan Petrovic on 12 April, 2010

    I switched to VPS.NET 2 months ago, and I am in the process of transferring my websites to it. And it’s very fast and scalable. It can be a problem for less experienced users, because it’s unmanaged server, but learning some Linux is a good trade off in using fast server.

  12. JohnONolanBy JohnONolan on 12 April, 2010

    “Has this speed helped my rankings? Probably.”

    Actually, probably not. To quote Matt Cutts himself, less than 1% of search QUERIES have changed to take speed into consideration. So the number of search RESULTS affected by this will be miniscule!

    • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 12 April, 2010

      Well 1% of search queries would be a couple of hundred visitors to this site, a DAY. So ehm yes I think it mattered.

    • EsteveBy Esteve on 12 April, 2010

      That’s a huge important comment. Why anybody answered it?

  13. Cristian O. BalanBy Cristian O. Balan on 12 April, 2010

    Some VPS.net client tell that here http://wordpress.org/support/topic/381689 :
    I actually went along with Yoast’s setup and in the end went back to VPS.net + Apache + APC + MAXCDN (NetDNA) + W3T

    Nick Nelson from VPS was very helpful and we tested litespeed too but it actually did work slower! so we went back to apache and the site got faaster and costs less too!
    I’m also on VPS.net but I buy 1TB on VPS.net’s hwcdn.net service (Akamai is too expensive for me)…

    Result? I leave W3TC and the 1 TB CDN… my site work more faster without this CDN and the plugin; however I’m on VPS.net too and I have LiteSpeed.

  14. Cristian O. BalanBy Cristian O. Balan on 12 April, 2010

    The VPS.net client tell that:

    “I actually went along with Yoast’s setup and in the end went back to VPS.net + Apache + APC + MAXCDN (NetDNA) + W3T

    Nick Nelson from VPS was very helpful and we tested litespeed too but it actually did work slower! so we went back to apache and the site got faaster and costs less too!”

    This is strange for me, especialy after my mought LiteSpeed license… Nick Nelson also has configured my LiteSpeed server :D

  15. BedriftsbasenBy Bedriftsbasen on 12 April, 2010

    Yet another argument for “slimming” a website, good point, Yoast.

  16. StijnBy Stijn on 12 April, 2010

    My site is hosted in the US. Most traffic, around 98%, comes from Europe. I know hosting your site closer to your visitors leads to faster pageload. Perhaps this new development is just the push I need to start looking for a new hosting partner. (Preferably in the Benelux.) What’s your experience with this, Yoast?

    • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 12 April, 2010

      Hi Stijn,

      I’d choose a hosting provider a bit closer, like the UK. VPS.net has a UK cloud that’s just as affordable as their US ones… Depending on where the bulk of your traffic comes from, you could choose specific countries as well.

      On top of that, using a CDN like Akamai is most beneficial when your readers are from many different countries, as the CDN server would not only be faster but also a lot closer to your readers than you are.

  17. Martijn BeijkBy Martijn Beijk on 12 April, 2010

    Ok. Gonna move my website to run off nginx.

  18. KeithBy Keith on 12 April, 2010

    I’ve been using the minify plugin on my sites since it seems every wordpress plugin adds a new css and js file. However, this only improves performance after the first page visit. Any thoughts/feedback on pros/cons for using minify?

  19. Tracey RissikBy Tracey Rissik on 12 April, 2010

    Thanks for the info on page loading; I’m making changes to my sites today!
    Your analysis and further detail is great, thanks for the link to the Googla Webmaster blog too.

    Kind regards
    Tracey

  20. JauhariBy Jauhari on 12 April, 2010

    Speed Rules has come… ;)

  21. TheoBy Theo on 12 April, 2010

    As you posted befor, it was just matter of time.

  22. JordanBy Jordan on 12 April, 2010

    Thanks for the heads-up on this, Yoast. One question: do you know exactly what metric they are using to determine site speed? I ask because I have a very large site with ads loaded into the page via “blocking” JavaScript (the big ad networks don’t offer any fancy asynchronous scripts like BuySellAds, unfortunately), and it seems no matter how well I optimize front and back-ends of the my site, it only renders as fast as those ads can come in. Will Google penalize me for that rendering delay, or are they only monitoring the load time for assets served directly from my site?

    • MatthewBy Matthew on 21 April, 2010

      I have the same question Jordan. Hopefully someone can chime in with an answer.

    • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 21 April, 2010

      Nope, I don’t know… It’s a pretty horrendous thing from the sound of it though…

  23. SumanBy Suman on 12 April, 2010

    Nice post with lots of factors ,which clarify about web ranking.thank you.

  24. Jackie AndersonBy Jackie Anderson on 12 April, 2010

    I just installed the plug-in. I appreciate the heads up about Matt Cutts and what going on with Google.

  25. Tissa Godavitarne AffiliateBy Tissa Godavitarne Affiliate on 12 April, 2010

    Thanks so much for letting us know. I just installed the plugin you suggested on all my
    wordpress sites.

  26. David WilcoxsonBy David Wilcoxson on 13 April, 2010

    I have the need for speed :-) Thanks for the tip!

  27. NickBy Nick on 13 April, 2010

    This site speed ranking is new news to me. Quickly reading this post and some of the comments to follow it is believed all you need to do is make sure you have a fast web host and cache your pages to achieve faster page loads. Sure this will help, but I think Google is more concerned about the “best practices” you implement on your website. This includes offloading images, CSS and other static content to a CDN, minifying files, gzipping files and minimizing the amount of HTTP requests your pages make. I think improving on these areas should be handled first before switching to a new web host. I can’t see Google saying, website A loads in 10 seconds while website B loads in 2, therefor website B should get a better score. It is my understanding Google will create a “score” based on Page Speed techniques talked about here: http://code.google.com/speed/page-speed/docs/rules_intro.html. I recommend using the Page Speed plugin for FireFox to identify the areas for improvement on your website. When Google is talking about “Site Speed” I believe they are talking about maximizing those best practices.

  28. Cong ty SEOBy Cong ty SEO on 13 April, 2010

    Official statement from Google would prompts developers and designers to work more so that the site could be cleaner and faster.
    But I’m wondering how the percentage of this factor among hundreds of ranking factor.
    My site now takes 6.5s to load a page (accordingly to Google Webmaster tools) and competitor’s only 3.5s.
    So is it the main reason that we’re losing some good keywords recently?

  29. Martijn BeijkBy Martijn Beijk on 14 April, 2010

    Optimizing site speed on a large scale reduces bandwith. A LOT. Keep in mind that reducing costs (also for Google) is a necessary act.

    • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 14 April, 2010

      Too true, Martijn, too true.

  30. Ronen BekermanBy Ronen Bekerman on 15 April, 2010

    I took this speed factor very seriously and made the move to VPS.net + w3 total cache + MAXCDN a month ago… and I’m very happy with the place I’m at now. I keep testing my site with Pingdom as well as webpagetest.org and now with google’s page speed plugin for firefox.

    The thing is that pingdom tools show me results around 3-5 secs most of the time; webpagetest.org shows 3-5 secs for a USA based test and 12-20 secs for a UK based test; Page speed scores 81/100 very similar to yoast.com and many other sites i tested…

    So am i right to think that speed is mostly up to the Server / CDN and less about the actual code optimization?

    What do you think…

    • JordanBy Jordan on 15 April, 2010

      It sounds like you’ve done most everything you can on the backend, but don’t forget about the front-end rendering of the page. For example, refrain from linking to externally-hosted Javascript files whenever you can, or move your JS loads to the bottom of your template.

  31. AnggaraBy Anggara on 16 April, 2010

    I’m not in USA but Indonesia. Please advise, which the best plug-in to optimize websites:
    - W3 Total cache
    - WP Super cache
    - WP offload
    Thank you.

    • Cristian O. BalanBy Cristian O. Balan on 16 April, 2010

      I don’t know WP-Offload. Is a good alternative to CDN ?

  32. Chris GuthrieBy Chris Guthrie on 17 April, 2010

    I’m using a dedicated server from Softlayer combined with W3 Total Cache and a CDN from MaxCDN.

    What do you think of my results?

    my blog

  33. LesBy Les on 17 April, 2010

    Wow! This is awesome Yoast.

    Just wondering why you went to VPS.net. I already have an Amazon S3 storage account and am not really interested in getting another CDN provider.

  34. DennisBy Dennis on 18 April, 2010

    All the more reason for people to spend a little extra time during development to ensure the outcome is a nice fast loading site. I think this is a good move for Google, I hate slow sites.

  35. John W. FurstBy John W. Furst on 19 April, 2010

    Hi, coincidentally I have been looking into cloud based/VPS hosting myself recently. I’m glad that you bring up VPS.net. I got a lot of recommendations for them. Now you are adding to that. Fabulous.
    Thanks.

    And too much advertising widgets slow down a site for sure as well. Keep that in mind people.

  36. RobinBy Robin on 21 April, 2010

    Hey,
    I am agree with your post, site speed really effect on web site ranking.
    Thanks

  37. MatthewBy Matthew on 21 April, 2010

    I’ve seen a large increase in traffic this month. Last month I was averaging around 10,000 visitors per day and the last 2 weeks that has jumped up to around 18,000 – 19,000 / day.

    I have been working hard on my site this last month and done a lot more internal linking within posts, and had a few good links come in, but I’ve not seen a jump like this before this quickly.

    Looking at webmaster tools I see page load speed getting quicker although I’m still in the red (as in slow) but better than I was 2 months ago. Still a lot of optimising to do.

    Main problem I believe is with javascript banners from companies like technorati media, netshelter and IDG which seem to slow the site down. I’ve put those in frames but am unsure if page load speed is still calculated when the content in the frames has finished loading. Anyone know if thats the case?

  38. Larry LimBy Larry Lim on 27 April, 2010

    Site load speed, together with other changes in the upcoming Google Caffeine update like the use of thematic keywords and domain age, is going to wreak havoc on SEO. Sigh!

  39. Cable BraceletBy Cable Bracelet on 29 April, 2010

    I have been trying to get to grips with increasing site speed since this was released. I have pretty light sites now so hoping this will help my rankings.
    Cheers

  40. pamBy pam on 1 May, 2010

    Great post, I am finding this whole site really useful thanx :)

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