Does this sound familiar? You’re staring at your smartphone, waiting for a website to load. The Wi-Fi is working properly, but still nothing happens. It could be the most interesting page in the world, but if it takes too long to load, you switch off, get bored and decide to do something else instead.
In July 2018, page loading speed (let’s just call it page speed) became a ranking factor for mobile searches; previously, it had only been a ranking factor in desktop searches. Google indicated that only significantly slower-than-average pages would be affected to begin with, and that the evaluation criteria might become more granular later on.
The page speed factor is of minor importance in comparison to other factors, such as content and backlinks. What this means is that pages with good content will rank better than faster pages with mediocre content.
But since SEO does not operate according to the either/or principle, we ideally want to deliver pages with top-quality content at lightning speeds.
The ideal situation
In the real world, however, this dream-like ideal is the exception, not the rule. IT departments do not sit around twiddling their thumbs, waiting to process SEO and page speed tickets.
So why make page speed optimisations at all, given that they take up a lot of time and resources?
- “Just because Google touts page speed as a mobile ranking factor, it’s still not important.”
- “page speed has only a very small impact on rankings.”
- “page speed is a UX and conversion issue, but it has nothing to do with SEO.”
All of these statements may remain true to a certain degree for a while, and you can hardly expect to significantly improve your ranking positions with the help of small page speed hacks. But it is also true, however, that good SEO reporting is about more than ranking analysis.
SEO is a great tool to get users to your site in a way that is sustainable and cheap compared to other marketing channels. A particularly nice aspect of SEO is that it is a so-called pull channel and thus encourages websites to improve and align themselves with the wishes and needs of the target group-specific users.
So what good is a high ranking position and a lot of organic traffic if the user’s search intention is not fulfilled in the end because they end up staring at a white page and jumping back to the search results?
It is also worth bearing in mind that search engine usage via mobile devices is steadily increasing. Since 2015, the number of mobile search queries has, in certain parts of the world, exceeded the volume of desktop search queries. In Germany, the ratio is currently 47% mobile search queries to 53% desktop search queries (source).
People lose interest after just one second
The key take-aways:
- You can hold the mobile user’s attention for up to a second
- After one second, users lose focus and are likely to switch to another app or another tab – or simply leave the page altogether
- After 1 to 3 seconds, the probability that the user will ‘bounce’ increases by 32%
- After 1 to 5 seconds, the probability that the user will “bounce” increases by 90%
- Since these experiences can prove frustrating, many users will not wish to return to the page again
Pages that take longer than two seconds to resolve are crawled less frequently
The crawling process is both enormously resource-intensive and cost-intensive for Google. Like any company, Google is naturally very interested in using their resources in as efficient a manner as possible.
For this reason, URLs that take longer than two seconds to resolve are crawled less frequently than faster pages. Since a time span of two seconds for resolving the URL alone is already very long, only a few pages are likely to be affected here.
However, this aspect can have a negative impact on SEO efforts, e.g. if large websites are affected, or important, SEO-relevant pages are not crawled frequently enough as a consequence.
SEO success does not end with a good ranking position, but with the user actually getting what he was looking for – only then is his search intention actually satisfied. This should, of course, apply in principle to all search queries, regardless of whether these search queries are made on mobile devices in the underground or on a slow 3G network.
Nevertheless, page speed is still a relatively minor ranking factor, and resources for implementing page speed measures are usually scarce. For this reason, one should take a smart approach to planning and prioritising and aim to achieve the greatest possible impact with minimal effort.
Free tool: How fast is my website?
SISTRIX has built a free tool that allows you to view and compare the real, user-measured loading times of millions of websites:
Here you will find, broken down by desktop and mobile, how quickly real users load your website and how well you perform compared to the average. Have fun using it!
About the authors
Founder and Managing Director
Matthäus Michalik is the founder and managing director of Claneo GmbH, a Berlin-based performance marketing agency with a focus on search, content and commerce. With his expertise, he advises start-ups, SMEs and corporations in the areas of content marketing, search engine optimisation (SEO), search engine advertising (SEA), app store optimisation (ASO) and marketplace optimisation (MPO). Previously, he worked at Performics (AKM3 until 2015) as a senior consultant for over 6 years.
Senior SEO Consultant
Elena Jung is a Senior SEO Consultant at Claneo GmbH. There she leads the successfully growing strategic and technical Onpage team. With over seven years of in-house and agency experience, she has already been able to advise well-known clients and develop complex strategies and technical alignments with them.