Page speed to be a ranking factor in mobile search results

From this July, search giant Google is to make mobile page speed a ranking factor in mobile search results, in response to research showing this really matters to users.

Dubbed the ‘speed update’, the fresh algorithm is set to affect only a small proportion of queries. In practice, this means that only those pages that ‘deliver the slowest experience to users’ compared with their competition in the SERPs will be affected.

With several months in hand before the change is implemented, Google has suggested that webmasters use tools such as TestMySite, LightHouse and the newly updated PageSpeed Insights report to measure and improve your current page speed. (Alternatively, GTMetrix is an example of a free page speed test.) And you can also use these tools on other websites to see how you compare.

Refreshed in January, the PageSpeed Insights tool uses data from the Chrome user experience report, meaning that you see how quickly pages load based on real user data, a vital metric for searcher satisfaction. Pages are graded as loading at fast, slow or average speeds. However, this only uses data from the Chrome browser, and so doesn’t have sufficient data to assess smaller websites reliably.

In a post, Google explained that the update applies the same standard to all pages, whatever technology was used to build them. It stressed: “A slow page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.” And, after all, speed remains just one of various signals that are used to rank pages.

The change has been a long time coming, with Google saying for years that it would look at mobile page speed. In 2009, it said page speed was a ranking factor in both organic rankings and AdWords Quality Score, but concentrated (at least officially) on desktop searches.

However, earlier this year, the corporation said it had “no new changes to announce for desktop.” It explains:

“We want a great search experience for all users, whatever their device. We encourage developers to think broadly about how performance affects a user’s experience of their page, and to consider a variety of user experience metrics.”

Bear in mind that mobile web browsing overtook desktop traffic in terms of volume in 2016. So if your website isn’t already optimised for mobile devices, it certainly should be.

Here’s what you can do before July:

  • Make the switch to an Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) – a change to your site’s source code which converts regular HTML pages to a stripped-down AMP version. In Google testing, AMPs reduced load time by between 15 and 85%. You may sacrifice some page design, but this is a quick way to speed up page loading time.
  • Bear in mind that mobile searches tend to be shorter and simpler than their desktop equivalents, and are more likely to have a local focus.
  • Use the Google search console as well as PageSpeed Insights to check how usable your website is.
  • Many improvements to mobile page speed will also enhance the wider mobile user experience. For example, autoplay videos and audio, as well as being annoying, slow the page down with unnecessary content. Disable full-page pop-ups and interstitials to help users get to what they need quickly without being bogged down.

You have a few months in hand before this algorithmic change – but talk to us if you have concerns about potential Google penalties, and we’ll be glad to help.