Google Ranking Factors 2017

09. Site Speed: How Does Site Speed Influence User Experience?

With Gerry, Barry, Dawn and Ned.


Dawn Anderson – Director Move It Marketing
Ah well, it’s massively important, and increasingly so, particularly given the rise of the mobile web and the popularity. The year of the mobile has kind of been and gone and we’re kind of well into it now, if you like, the whole, like, mobile…

Ned Poulter – CEO & Founder Pole Star Digital
…the decade of …

Dawn Anderson
…mobile. Well, the future! The future of mobile. Particularly with this whole millennial, millennials out there.. Yup Ned, yeah. I mean the attention span of millennials apparently is supposed to be less than that of a goldfish, and that’s no disrespect to millennials.

They also, we’ve got that whole momentology thing going on where people are constantly checking their phone. Everything is done in tiny, tiny moments and that needs to be a really fast experience for people. So yeah. It’s just huge.

Ned Poulter – CEO & Founder Pole Star Digital
Yeah, I think that it’s obviously been on SEO’s radars for a long time, PageSpeed, and it’s one of those things where it’s heavily steeped in tech-SEO as well. It’s really dependent on: what CMS you’re using, how up to date the CMS is, how many scripts you’re firing on every page you get – tracking scripts or otherwise.

And I think that can be a big bugbear from my experience when you talk about speeding the site up, because there’s quite often some simple things that you can do, which a lot of SEO’s will look at, such as compressing images and obvious things. But the more technical things are steeped in the entire tech-stack of the company and that’s much, much more difficult, to kind of overhaul just like that.

Gerry White – SEO Consultant Just Eat
Absolutely, I mean one of the biggest, since you mention it, is Javascript. Every website has been loading in loads of different libraries, even if they’re not used in the page and they’re all loaded before bits and pieces are rendered.

And moreso the rendering itself, Google is increasingly rendering pages as it indexes, rather than being kind of just a text crawler, it’s actually rendering the page. So, slowly rendered pages is something Google can actually see and this is critical to users because they’re not worried so much about downloading everything and then carrying on. It’s basically: when can they first interact with the page? You can prefetch data. You can also make sure that the content renders first and then everything else starts to load in afterwards.

There’s technology around, like from Google tag manager and write-through to HTML version 5, which is now better equipped to do this kind of thing. And there is all sorts of more and more CDN (Content Delivery Network) technology out there. The other thing that’s been very quiet, and not too many people have talked about, it is HTTP/2 which…

Dawn Anderson
I have just switched to that.

Gerry White
I am surprised by how much of an impact it’s making. Again it’s not really an SEO thing and if your site is loading …

Dawn Anderson
There are just lots of tiny things that you can pull together and make a difference.

Gerry White
And Sitespeed is such an SEO issue in that it’s not necessarily going to help your rankings but it’s such a user experience thing, and SEO tends to be more focused on that than the people whose job it is almost for user experience.

Dawn Anderson
I think there does seem to be a correlation. I was reading recently somewhere that there seems to be a correlation, when you do use things like the site speed test tools. There seems to be a correlation between those sites that rank that get a high score and that rank when it comes to those very very granular tiny differences, like the HTTPS and HTTP finishing line.

Ned Poulter
I would go so far – I know it’s not officially there – but I really have seen blatant obvious examples where really poor page features – so it’s not your “it’s good to great”, it’s your “really not good compared to the good comparisons” – where it has heavily affected ranking.

Gerry White
I’ve seen it almost as a penalty, rather than as an actual boost.

Ned Poulter
Yeah, yeah, exactly. I actually had an example this week with a client which was quite interesting, where they were stopping serving some of their ads, because of the poor pagespeed. And their guidance, which came via the client, which I found quite interesting, was it should be above 65 in the pagespeed test.

Now they currently aren’t, and it’s obviously something that we’re looking into as an ongoing thing, but, as I said, it’s not a thing that you can change overnight. But it was interesting to see that that was their benchmark, because I know from experience that‘s quite high actually.

Barry Adams
It’s very high. I mean the pagespeed tool itself, we know that Google looks at that pagespeed number that comes out of there as a potential ranking factor or at least a user experience factor, but I find a number to be entirely unreliable. I see clients where, in Google Analytics, the sitespeed is report is 3 or 4 seconds, on average.

Dawn Anderson
There does seem to be discrepancies, yeah.

Barry Adams
And I think for larger, complicated websites it’s a fairly decent speed. And then they get like a 12 in the pagespeed tool. I’m like, ”Why? What is happening here?”.

Dawn Anderson
Well, presumably Analytics has also taken that whole user’s browser kind of fetching experience into consideration versus yourself and you’re just doing like a test as an individual as such. But then you get Pingdom, which comes up with a completely different score.

Barry Adams
And you get very different signals from different tools and platforms. There is no one standard approach to measureing.

Dawn Anderson
I think the main point is, there are essentials for anybody that is looking to implement big savings on pagespeed. For instance, minify CSS, minify Javascript. If you are on an Apache server press the “optimize website” button! You know, in the server. It literally does loads of immediate wins.

Barry Adams
It can also break your site, by the way, so be careful.

Dawn Anderson
Yeah, well obviously test everything! But it’s quite a big save in that it’s one press of a button.

Barry Adams
What I find is the interesting question about load speed is that, of course you want to make it as fast as possible, but where does the return on your investment actually end? Because, like we said before, for a lot of websites this is a very complicated technical issue that they cannot easily fix.

So, as an SEO, when we come in and we got external recommendations, we have to be able to prioritize that and say, “this is what you can probably do on the short term, this is stuff that you might want to have your tech people look at, and that’s the stuff we sell for your next website.” We need to have the insight to make those recommendations.

Dawn Anderson
It’s like using an agile traffic-like system. Saying “these are showstoppers. These are nice to have. These are, like, well, you know…”.

Barry Adams
The problem starts when you have a showstopper which is a fundamental technical issue of the platform.

Ned Poulter
That is true, because you trip over your own methodology. Although I’ve explained it more like a 90-10 type approach, where the 90% is oftentimes the more basic stuff, which isn’t so steeped in tech-dept, on having to completely rerender or rebuild whatever the tech-stack is.

So that’s your best-practice: get there! But I have had that conversation with a client, where I was like, “your return on the investment is that remaining 10%”, is going to be difficult to justify.

Gerry White
There is an opportunity to have like a Hack-day or something like that, where if you got the developers and you kind of turn around to them and say “You know what? Let’s spend a couple of days just getting it, just that 20%.”. And I know it seems like, sometimes that tiny bit…

Dawn Anderson
Sometimes those, when you add them together, they are in the most competitive niches, those are the types… because everybody else, that you are competing with has ticked all the boxes.

Barry Adams
I think they call that the aggregation of marginal gain.

Dawn Anderson
Exactly. You are right, those tiny things all combined tip the balance.

Gerry White
Once you’ve done the low-hanging fruit, like the buzzwords, those marginal gains is what SEO is so much about.

Dawn Anderson
And in competitive verticals, everyone has done the low-hanging fruit, generally speaking. Mostly!

Barry Adams
In the words of Stephen Kenwright: “It’s not Best-Practices, it’s Standard-Practices that’s everybody’s goal”.