Google Elevates Mobile Agenda: Is Your Website Ready For The Speed Update?

For Lawyers, Doctors, and Dentists

Most practices realize Google wants to serve up web pages and content that give visitors what they want and provide a great experience.  For years, Google has researched online user activities and continually updates its algorithms to incorporate user experience elements as part of its ranking factors.

The vast majority of these updates are minor and rollout without much notice.  However, there are instances when they are more significant. Major updates force practices and marketers to change how they produce and deliver content to target users, if they want to get indexed and rank well.

In recent years, many of these updates have focused on Google’s commitment to mobile. 

A good example was giving a boost to mobile-friendly pages. This 2015 update, commonly referred as “Mobilegeddon,” literally changed the website design industry into a mobile responsive world.

In 2016, Google hinted it was researching mobile-first indexing:

“Our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site.”Google Webmaster Blog (Nov.4, 2016).

This past March, Google announced that it had started rolling out mobile-first indexing, which places higher weight on your website’s mobile version for search rankings. Previously, Google crawled, indexed and ranked using the desktop version, but many of these pages had issues for mobile users.

“Our mobile-first indexing means that we'll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they're looking for.” – Google Webmaster Blog (Mar. 26, 2018)

July 2018 – Google Speed Update

In a January video/article, I shared Google’s study that showed bounce rates consistently increased with slower load times and that page speed will be incorporated as a ranking factor in mobile search starting in July.  That’s right! In just a week, Google’s Speed Update will start rolling out.

How fast your website loads has been a ranking factor in desktop indexing for some time. This signal will now be a mobile ranking factor. This makes sense when you consider the mobile share of organic search reached 64% in 1st Quarter 2018.

The following are some tips to help you speed up!

Burden or Opportunity?

When major search engine updates happen, most practices perceive them just as another cost just to remain status quo.  In fact, many wait until their results have been negatively impacted before they finally succumb to allowing their marketing partner to make adjustments.

On the other hand, pro-active digital marketing practices embrace these updates and changes.  They view them as opportunities to continue creating separation from less visionary competitors. Don’t procrastinate or assume these updates are simply an agency’s way to make money.  Digital marketers that are willing to blaze new trails typically benefit greater from major updates.

It is likely the update will roll out over time and you may not immediately see an impact on your results, but if you haven’t optimized for speed yet, this should be a priority.

Do A Speed Check

I recognize that your practice likely pays an SEO agency to manage and run your SEO marketing.  However, it is really important that you take some initiative to go beyond monthly reports that are sent you in order to monitor the efforts and results they are providing.  This includes creating a baseline benchmark for your website’s performance as well as that of your biggest competitors.

I also suggest running multiple tests on different platforms, as results will vary from one to another.  In addition to getting an overall feel for your website’s mobile speed, you can get suggested fixes from each to identify the most commonly recognized opportunities.

Google Tests - Google provides some of the most insightful tools and these are easy to use.  PageSpeed Insights is a quick, performance report that provides a speed score (fast, slow, average), optimization score (good, medium, low), and optimization suggestions.

Google’s Test My Site platform utilizes site testing technology from WEBPAGETEST

It tests your connection through 3G, checks programming, page styles, mobile usability and it provides industry comparison and a more detailed report with suggestions to improve mobile site speed.

Here is a list of other tools that that your practice can use to determine where you stand and opportunities to improve and continually improve your mobile website performance and results.

Some of the more common strategies that these tools provide include:

Enable compression – Google suggests using Gzip, a popular program used for data compression to reduce the size of your website-related files, particularly large items.

Code Minification – Optimize you website code by removing unnecessary punctuation, extra spacing, comments, formatting code and cleaning up back-end programming without changing its functionality.

Image Optimization – Not only is image optimization about not making images larger that they need to be, you may also choose to hide certain images or larger files, like large banner images or videos.  It also includes making sure they are in the appropriate format.  For instance, Google suggests PNGs are likely better when you need to maintain more detail and higher resolution.  Generally, photos are recommended to be JPEG files.  All files should be compressed.

Use Browser Caching - Browsers cache a lot of information (stylesheets, images, JavaScript files, and more) so that when a visitor comes back to your site, the browser doesn't have to reload the entire page. Use a tool like YSlow to see if you already have an expiration date set for your cache. Then set your "expires" header for how long you want that information to be cached. In many cases, unless your site design changes frequently, a year is a reasonable time period. Google has more information about leveraging caching here.

Server Response Time - How quickly your server responds is affected by your website’s volume of traffic, the assets on each page and other server side set up. Speed tools can help identify bottlenecks, slow database queries, routing issues, and inadequate memory. These can all impact how long it takes to get that important first byte of data.

“AMP” Up Your Website

When we refer to AMP, we are talking about Accelerated Mobile Pages.  Accelerated mobile pages is a Google-backed project to have pages load quickly on mobile devices.  It is an effective way to shorten web page load time, boosting your users’ experience.

AMPs utilize a number of programming and rendering strategies, including redirecting standard HTML pages to basic versions, which significantly reduces page load times. Google tests showed AMPs can shorten load times by 15 percent to a whopping 85 percent! A number of major websites(such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Wordpress), publishers (including the Washington Post, Vox, BuzzFeed, etc.) and the SEO industry have embraced AMP.

Bonus July Update Reminder:  HTTPS Security

Although most practices have updated their website from being previously insecure (HTTP) to secure (HTTPS) with an SSL/TLS certificate, I continue to find a number of websites that have not made the switch.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that July is the deadline to get your website secure for the Google’s Chrome 68 release.  This will not only likely affect your Google ranking, it will diminish your credibility with website visitors. If you have questions on how to make the switch, feel free to give us a call (303) 233-3886, or email us.

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