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Publishers take note: Google rolls out ‘Speed Update’, impacting rankings of slower sites

Google is pulling out all stops to modernize the web. Just earlier this month, Google started marking all HTTP sites as “not secure”. Now—after six months of preparation—it’s rolling out the Google Speed Update, which will impact the mobile search rankings of slower websites on the internet.

People want to be able to find answers to their questions as fast as possible — studies show that people really care about the speed of a page. Although speed has been used in ranking for some time, that signal was focused on desktop searches. Today we’re announcing that starting in July 2018, page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches,” Google announced in a blog post.

Importance of Google’s announcement

With the decline of the audience stream via Facebook, and in spite of referral traffic fragmentation like never before, Google—with a multi-faceted effort—has consolidated its position at the top of the heap.

In such a scenario, Google search rankings have become an even more important traffic source for publishers, and they need to be cognizant of all the steps Google is taking to improve user experience; especially since it directly affects search rankings, and determines whether a particular publisher’s content gets found or not.

Determining impact on publishers’ rankings

Google also mentioned that there is no tool that directly indicates whether a page is affected by this new ranking factor, but provided some resources that can be used to evaluate a page’s performance.

  • Chrome User Experience Report, a public dataset of key user experience metrics for popular destinations on the web, as experienced by Chrome users under real-world conditions
  • Lighthouse, an automated tool and a part of Chrome Developer Tools for auditing the quality (performance, accessibility, and more) of web pages
  • PageSpeed Insights, a tool that indicates how well a page performs on the Chrome UX Report and suggests performance optimizations

Technology used will not impact rankings

Some feared that the Speed Update might mean that Google would prioritize sites based on whether or not they used the company’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) technology, but that clearly isn’t the case.

“It applies the same standard to all pages, regardless of the technology used to build the page,” Google’s Zhiheng Wang and Doantam Phan made clear.

Accelerated Mobile Pages

It may still be advisable to make the switch to AMP, though. According to Google, AMP-converted pages cut download times between 15% and 85%. Here’s a comprehensive resource that explains AMP in depth, and also guides how to implement it on a site.

While AMP is not technically a must to deliver super-fast mobile experiences, it’s a relatively quick way to cut down page load times and make a website faster.

Quality + Relevance > Speed

The Google Speed Update doesn’t necessarily mean that publishers with high-quality content will get trumped by those with more optimized websites.

“The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a slow page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content,” Google clarified in its announcement.

As always, quality and relevancy are key. So even if a page is slow loading and yet happens to contain the most relevant and high-quality content, it may still rank favorably in the search results.

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