Google has forced a New Year’s Resolution upon many practice websites; Get faster or get lost!
Last week, Google posted an announcement that starting in July 2018, it will use your site and page speed as a ranking factor in its mobile search results. I listed site speed as one of the 5 Tips to Improve Your Mobile-focused Optimization last year. This Google announcement simply confirms when it will start impacting mobile search results (which differ from desktop results from the same location).
Why Site Speed Matters
Knowing that Google will start testing how quickly your website pages load as a ranking factor is important, but understanding WHY may be a bigger take away.
Google has done numerous tests on the impact of site speed as it relates to its users’ experience. And data doesn’t lie. For example, they analyzed 900,000 landing pages from mobile ads and concluded that the majority of sites are slow and bogged down by too many elements.
Last year it posted the findings of a deep neural network study (a computer system that models the human brain and nervous system) that had a 90% prediction accuracy and concluded:
A load time that goes from 1 second to 7 seconds increased the probability of a mobile user bouncing out by 113%!
Here is a breakdown of Google’s findings based on mobile load times:
It is probably no surprise that how your website “performs” (beyond simply optimized with content and meta tags) will impact how Google ranks your pages on key search results.
The Bigger Picture: User Experience
So improving your website’s speed will not only give your web pages a greater opportunity to move up the rankings, it can increase your users’ engagement and your conversions.
The bigger picture isn’t just to focus on building super fast pages. It is about your users and how they experience and engage with your site and pages.
Thus, the value and importance of your Google Analytics data goes far beyond just a report sent by your webmaster with the primary intent to justify your continued payment. Your Google Analytics data can reveal a significant amount of user data for every page of your website, including your most important SEO pages.
Fast Is Good; But Only If It Is Useful
Two important things to keep in mind:
1. Google is adding site speed as a ranking factor, but it is still only one a many influences that go into a page’s ranking. Just having a lighting fast page will not rocket you to the top of the list.
2. Visitors have different expectations and intent when visiting different pages of your website.
Some practices ask me, “should I cut down the amount of information and resources of a lot of my pages to accelerate the load time?”
The answer is it depends (sorry!). But it does. The goals and expectations of your mobile visitors that land on your home page are vastly different than those seeking informational pages and useful resources.
In fact, our heat mapping research on mobile home pages indicated that mobile visitors scroll less than we initially anticipated. Long, scrolling home pages had very few eyes go beyond the top quarter of the page, particularly when they found what they wanted. So in these cases, less may be more (effective).
However, heat mapping on key resource pages and sections showed visitors engaging with more elements and scrolling deeper. So if you have engaging long form pages (more substantive content, engaging video, useful infographics or other interactive elements), the goal may not be to remove assets visitors like, but rather focus on improving how this information gets loaded and streamline the page.
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