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The Google (Page) Speed Update, Demystified

The ins and outs of the Google Speed Update, and what you can do to improve mobile site performance

Google has announced that starting July 2018, page speed will become a key ranking factor in mobile search. Speed has been used as a ranking signal for desktop search since 2010—this marks the first time it will be used to rank pages on mobile.

Graphic of google logo and race track flags

Anyone responsible for tracking page rankings has long been familiar with page load speed as a ranking factor, but Google’s previous algorithm focused much more on desktop searches. As mobile internet usage continues to surge in the coming years, mobile search is now more relevant than ever, and page speed has become a primary factor in improving the mobile user experience.

From Google’s Webmaster Central Blog:

Although speed has been used in ranking for some time, that signal was focused on desktop searches. Today we’re announcing that starting in July 2018, page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches.

This is being called the “Speed Update,” and it will target only the slowest loading pages. 

What is the Speed Update, and what does it mean for you? 

Page speed is incredibly important for user experience. Studies have proven that fast loading speeds help users stay longer in a website, ensuring steady traffic and a lower bounce rate. Slow-loading pages can have a negative impact on conversion rates.

Speed has always been a Google ranking factor, because Google knows web users will quickly abandon a page if it takes too long to load. What’s new with this update? Previously, site speed was based only on a site’s desktop version. With this update, speed will now be a ranking factor for your mobile site as well. This means that mobile sites with slower load times may see a decrease in mobile organic rankings on Google. 

Google graphic showing a page and speedometer

Here’s the good news: The new algorithm change will only affect mobile pages that deliver the slowest load speeds. Being less than perfect isn’t a crime, but a painfully slow page load on mobile will be detrimental to ranking. Google further clarified that the update will affect only a small percentage of mobile queries. And while some slow mobile pages will be affected, those whose content is relevant and of high quality will still thrive. Creating content that’s timely, relevant, and unique for your site users can and will have more impact than speed. A slow page may still rank well if it’s content is highly relevant to what the user is searching for. Google offers the following advice:

“We encourage developers to think broadly how about performance affects a user’s experience of their page and to consider a variety of user experience metrics.”
 

Preparing for the July Speed Update

Change is coming. Make sure you’re on the safe side of page speed metrics. The first step in assessing your page speed is testing the existing version of your mobile site. Google’s testmysite tool will scan a mobile site, test it, and then grade the site’s load speed time. You’ll also receive a report on resolvable factors affecting the test results.

Use the PageSpeed Insights tool or Gtmetrix tools to start to look at your mobile page speed and make sure all your pages are mobile friendly. You can also use these tools to evaluate a page's overall performance:

  • Chrome User Experience Report: A tool that provides insights on your page’s performance and offers performance optimization suggestions.
  • Lighthouse: An automated tool for auditing the quality of web pages based on performance, accessibility, and other metrics.
  • Google Search Console: Its Mobile Usability Report tells you exactly which pages in your site have mobile usability issues, as well as providing you with resources on how to fix the problems found.

It sounds like a no-brainer, but if your mobile site performs poorly, you should treat making improvements as a priority. The easiest place to start is by compressing site images using tools like tinypng.com. You can also minify Javascript and CSS and leverage browser caching to reduce site load times—another quick update that can make a real difference in performance.

A few other recommendations for improving mobile site speed include removing unnecessary plugins, hiding unnecessary videos or images on mobile, and reducing server response time.

Google graphic reading 'Google Update' showing hands holding mobile phones

Protect Your SEO Ranking

As we enter the heydey of mobile internet, it’s very likely that Google will stay focused on improving the overall mobile user experience. If your site’s pages take too long to load on phones and tablets, you could see a drop in your overall ranking and visibility on mobile—bad for business no matter what industry you serve. A quick-loading, user-friendly mobile website is becoming more important than ever before. Don’t miss your chance to get ahead of the curve.

Want expert help in improving your site’s mobile performance? Put our SEO team to work.

Christy Jones
Digital Marketing Manager & Terps Fanatic
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