In 2010, Google made it official: website speed was a SEO ranking factor. Then, a few years later, they announced that a site speed penalty was coming to mobile websites. Even though Google was quick to say that fewer than 1% of websites would be affected by site speed and that site speed doesn’t matter more on mobile than it does on desktop, webmasters still scrambled to optimize their website speed. In fact, there are over 150,000 search queries per month related to website speed.
So, yes, webmasters should be worrying about website speed for SEO – but probably not for the reasons they think.
Website Speed Doesn’t Directly Affect Rankings
As MOZ points out in their article about site speed, site speed is one of the SEO ranking factors and slow page speed could mean that your pages don’t get crawled as quickly or as often, thus affecting your indexation.
But, of all of the SEO ranking factors, site speed is just a really small factor (there are over 200 of them!). Site speed is such a small ranking factor that recently Google’s John Mueller said in a Google+ hangout that site speed doesn’t matter.
His exact words were:
I don't know how much of that [PageSpeed ranking factor] is still used at the moment. So we do say we have a small factor in there for pages that are really slow to load where we take that into account. But I don't know how much that's actually still a problem in ranking.
This comment created a buzz of controversy from people who insist that site speed is an important ranking factor. There are even some studies to back this up, like this empirical study on site speed and rankings which found that crawl time and its variability correlate with rankings. But these sorts of “studies” are flawed in that they have no control group and are thus unreliable. It is possible that the websites with lower site speeds also had other factors negatively affecting their SEO. After all, if a webmaster is not taking steps to keep site speed up (such as enabling compression and minifying CSS), then the webmaster probably isn’t using other good practices which are important for SEO. To really study the impact of site speed on SEO, you would have to use the same websites and measure how rankings changed when crawl speed was slowed down.
But Website Speed Does Affect User Experience
Whether or not website speed is an important SEO ranking factor should be irrelevant. As we talked about in our What is SEO? article, SEO isn’t about following scientific formulas to please the search engines. Good SEO is about taking steps to please users. If you please users, you please the search engines too.
If your website is taking a long time to load, visitors are going to get frustrated. You are going to have a high bounce rate – which is an important SEO ranking factor. You are also going to have a much lower average Time on Page, because people won’t even bother sticking around for the page to fully load. And this also is an important SEO ranking factor.
Not only will your SEO suffer, but your conversion rates will also go down the drain. Today’s web users simply don't have the patience wait an extra second or two. And, as mobile web use continues to grow, site speed is going to matter increasingly more.
How Is Your Website Performing?
It is incredibly important that you are regularly checking your website speed to make sure your site is performing. One great way to keep tabs on your website speed is to use Monsido's web governance tool. In addition to detecting SEO errors and opportunities, the tool scans your website for Average Response Time and Uptime Report and presents the data in comprehensive charts on your dashboard. With this, you can see if your hosting company is living up to its promises and/or determine there steps you need to take to improve website speed.