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Sep 26, 2013
DotcomWeavers

Website design and speed are very important aspects to modern websites. A fast webpage loads quickly, has optimized code that is not plagued with clutter and unnecessary elements, and is error-free. When Google first announced their intention to begin including why speed matters with regards to actual site page ranking, it was very unclear what exactly something like speed means in search engine optimization speak. In general, it has been understood to mean that the speed of the eCommerce website, measured in terms of how quickly a page loads, and the extent to which it can be accessed by consumers attempting to reach the site via search engines.

The vagueness surrounding what defines a website’s speed has been, much like other statements by Google, left on purpose by the search engine giant. Unwilling to disclose its exact methods for determining site page ranking, Google’s methods with regards to how website speed affects search ranking is much the area of speculation as actual science.

There are, however, certain approaches that can influence the practical behavior of online marketers and site managers. It would be obvious, for example, that a site that loads quickly in a browser would rank higher than a competitor’s site, albeit assuming all other factors are equal. Moreover, we can then assume that sites that load slowly would be less likely to rank highly in Google’s search methodology. Overall, while it is remains unclear as to the actual methods employed by the company, common sense and logic can lead us to assume certain core features of website speed affecting search rankings.

The first step in attempting to figure out how website speed matters overall with regards to search rankings by Google is to understand what we mean when we say website speed. Typically, this refers to either the load time of the webpage, which can be further divided into two primary levels. The first level of loading is the extent to which the page needs to load before information on it can be visible and useful to the consumer. The second level of page loading is the extent to which the page needs to load before it can be interacted with by a consumer.

It would stand to reason that Google, as a company built around the core idea of getting people the most relevant search results possible in the fastest amount of time, would favor sites that load the quickest in order to display information and text and graphics for viewers. Sites that require consumer interaction, such as online auction houses or marketplaces, for example, could possibly be given more “time” in order to finish loading before any penalizing attempts are made by the search engine in terms of overall page ranking.

However, research done by people interested in the inner workings of Google’s engine optimization have found that there is little to no correlation between the two types of loading levels mentioned above. What this means is that search rank is not adversely or positively affected by the speed in which a page loads either partial or full, and subsequently interactive, information. Instead, while it is clear that sites that load faster are usually ranked higher, this is likely due in large part to the fact that optimized sites are of higher quality and represent higher standards of business practice and Ecommerce Websites than their counterparts that offer comparatively less quality in their online offerings. However, it appears there is a lack of a causal mechanism with regards to the speed in which pages load and their respective page rank.

Thus, there is a lack of evidence to support the idea that pages that load quicker are somehow ranked higher than their slower-loading counterparts. However, this may be due to the fact that the most common way of understanding how a page loads may not be the most effective. Typically, the speed in which a page loads in seen as the website speed affecting search ranking in the sense that a page that loads, either fully or partially, to the client would rank higher than a slower counterpart (again, assuming all else is equal). However, it is clear that this is not true. However, if we assume that the speed in a website loads is instead determined by the amount of time it takes for your web browser to get the first signal of information from the website, a different correlation arises.

Instead of assuming that website page loading is determined by the extent to which the actual page itself loads on a consumer’s computer, Google seems to instead favor the Time to First Byte (TTFB) method of page ranking with regards to website speed. Here, the measurement is one that determines the time it takes for the first byte of information from a requested webpage to register on your web browser, which is indicative of the fact that Google likely places at least some importance on TTFB overall. Though there can be no causal claims made here, it can be argued that time to first byte is nonetheless perhaps one of the best indicators of how website speed affects search rankings.

Overall, then, many things can be concluded with regards to how Google determines page rank as a function influenced by the power of website speed. We can see that there is little to no relationship between the time it takes for a page to load on a customer’s browser and the respective page rank of the website that the user was attempted to access. Yet, as per Google’s comments, there must be some relevancy in website speed ranking that applies to consumer interaction. This correlation is found, then, in the time to first byte metric determined by Google.

Time to first byte, however, may not be the entire picture. While there is most definitely a strong relationship between time to first byte and respective page ranking, are remains unclear whether this is a causal relationship, or rather a byproduct of simply good management. Good websites are ranked highly often because of content and optimization efforts, and these sites are then more likely to be maintained at a higher standard than lower quality counterparts. As such, it stands to reason that website speed affects search ranking in the sense that higher time to first byte pages that take longer to reach a consumer’s browser are going to be less likely to realize potential clients and business opportunities. Moreover, as there is less opportunity for quick and speedy interaction with the website, Google is less likely to rank the page higher.

In general, then, it is probably safe to assume that there is at least some sort of contributory causal factor with regards to the website speed ranking and Google’s search results. Even though it is somewhat likely that the correlation exists only because higher quality sites are simply more likely to be better maintained and offer better hardware and software optimization than their poorer quality counterparts, time to first byte seems to be the most indicative metric of online search engine optimization and website page ranking.

At the same time, however, this raises the important question of whether or not content is truly the king of search engine optimization. Though Google has stated repeatedly that good, quality content is the key to creating effective search engine results, the possibility remains that at least some of a website’s page ranking may be determined by the quality of infrastructure supporting the site. This seems like a dangerous step for Google to take, as it means that search engines are now in the business of determining the internal quality controls of infrastructure of smaller companies.

Moreover, is raises the ominous question of whether or not small sites with good content will be able to get ranked, even if their time to first byte may be considerably slower due to poorer hardware or less optimized sites. Still, even if the content is good and worth viewing, there may be a chance that the sites with better content may, in fact, be ranked lower than their competitors who, it can be argued, “bought” there way to the top of the page rankings with superior hardware.

That said, it is highly unlikely that Google’s elaborate and advanced systems could be so easily fooled.

Overall, it is critical to understand the importance of website page loading in search engine optimization work as well as overall page ranking efforts. While the actual time it takes to load a page is not clearly a concern for Google, the time to first byte represents one of the ways in which Google’s concern for website page loading speed is nonetheless a factor in the overall ranking of a website’s page search results. That said, it remains clear that maintaining a good time to first byte speed should be the goal of every webmaster that has the intent of ranking highly on Google, as any objective way to increase page rank is always welcome for online marketers. The fact that Google cares about the speed of a webpage loading is important for the sake of the consumer and the impact that have on actual page performance.

Posted in: Design

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