You’ve probably read countless articles from different online marketing specialists stating that one of the numerous factors that Google takes into account when improving a website’s ranking is the website speed. And while this may be true, it seems that a website’s loading times may not actually lead to it getting a higher ranking at all.
Yes, hundreds if not thousands of articles will say the same thing in a different way: the slower a site is, the more damage it inflicts on your SEO. The longer it takes for a website to load, the more users become impatient, giving them the impression that the website is not going to load. This, in turn means a higher bounce rate. And given the world we live in and the short attention span we all have lately, an extra loading second could feel like an eternity.
Or at least, that’s what online marketing and SEO specialists lead up to believe in almost every SEO article, referencing to studies that currently may not be relevant. Yes, once upon a time Google indeed announced that the website speed has a direct impact on the website’s search ranking. Still, this came as news 5 years ago. Does it still apply?
When SEO experts think of website speed, they immediately think about the amount of time it takes for a site to load for the first time. When, for the first time, you click a link to a page you’ve never browsed through before, you usually wait for the blank white tab in your browser to load all the content. And the moment relevant content is presented to you, it’s all fine and dandy. Not really too many users care if some of the scripts on the website have yet to load. As long as the article or piece of news the user is interested in reading has loaded, the fact that the page still continues to load is irrelevant.
Moz conducted a study with 2,000 random search queries and 40 measured metrics relating to page loads. The company wanted to determine how the speed of a website impacted the search ranking. They took into consideration not only the loading time for a document, but also the loading time for the whole page. They found that neither of these two had any direct correlation with search ranking.
One could argue that if the load time of a page is an extremely important ranking factor, one may be inclined to state that the lower a site shows up in the search results, the longer it takes for it to load. But what happens when pages ranked 100 and pages ranked 1 take the exact same amount of time to load? Thus, it is pretty safe to say that page load times do not carry that much weight as far as search rankings are concerned.
Still, Moz has found two metrics that had a direct connection with search ranking. These were the size of the webpage and the time to first byte. While page size is obvious, time to first byte refers to the amount of time it takes for a server to respond and the browser to receive the first byte of information for loading the website. While in the case of the first byte there was a direct link, the correlation was minor to say the least. As far as the page size was concerned, it was far less consistent. Still, the consensus was that smaller pages had lower loading time overall.
Moz has concluded that the load times for WebPages and search rankings are not correlated. Still, this is debatable. Given the fact that there are currently over 4.74 billion WebPages that are indexed, looking at only the top 50 pages is only the tip of the iceberg. To be able to find WebPages that are impacted by the long page load, you’d have to browse through large mountains of WebPages.
But what is there actually important? In my opinion, one of the most important things that carry weight is your web host. The most important correlation between search ranking and data point was time to first byte, which is considered a web host factor. If your server is extremely responsive, the more your chances grow for your website to rank higher in the search results.
Also, remember that large pages will tend to rank higher. Still, I’m not saying that you should go out of your way and try to make all the documents on your site larger. Actually, it means that WebPages that have higher rankings in search results tend to have more news or content. We can thus safely say that quality content is the best way to show up high in search results.
Yes, the speed of a website is influential, but it is far more important in creating and retaining your audience than for influencing your company’s SEO.