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Website Load-Speed Is Now a Google Ranking Factor

After a lot of recent speculation, it has now been officially declared by Google that the load-speed of a website is now one of the factors considered when assessing site search rankings.

Is this the end of flash?

What this means is that a website than incorporates flash images, or a large amount of images, could potentially be penalized by Google. A large amount of images, large images and flash-based graphics are known to slow down the load-speed of a page. Potentially, this could mean a sudden drop in SERP positions for any site using an abundance of images, graphics or flash objects.

Have Google shot themselves in the foot?

There is growing anger in the website fraternity over this recent announcement by Google. It has been pointed out, quite strenuously, that Google’s own Analytics script and its Adsense code both decrease webpage load-speed, especially the latter, which can be painfully slow at times. Many feel that for Google to now factor load-speed as one of the criteria for search ranking is rather hypercritical.

In its defense, Google has pointed out that load-speed (which they are calling Site-Speed) will be only one of over 200 other criteria that make up the overall search ranking assessment.

This defense by Google has done little to quell the mob, many of whom are threatening to drop all Google Analytics and Adsense for their sites. It is not clear how much importance will be placed on load-speed and as usual Google are being secretive and evasive over the matter. The fact remains that if Google decide to make it one of the major factors and place great weight on it, it could potentially have a large significance for even the average website.

Is the panic valid or just an over-reaction to another Google announcement?

Whenever Google makes a major announcement there is always a ‘the end is nigh’ reaction from webmasters and SEO specialists. People just do not like change. Naturally, Google is playing down this latest announcement and proclaiming that it really will not be that noticeable to the majority of websites.

In a recent interview Google’s Matt Cutts himself declared that, “People shouldn’t stress out too much about Site-Speed, and the reason is that we’re always going to care first and foremost about quality.”

In relation to the growing paranoia over a sudden drop in search ranking, due to the introduction of the Site-Speed factor, he went on to add, "Don’t think it’s going to be the largest of the two-hundred factors."

Will Site-Speed actually be beneficial?

Google repeatedly state that their number one goal is customer experience, and that the websites at the top of the search rankings should be those that are most relevant, and beneficial, to search engine users. Maybe there is some benefit to the new Site-Speed factor?

It is a well proclaimed statistic that the average human web browser has an attention span of approximately five seconds or less. Therefore, if a page takes longer than 5 seconds to load, there may be plenty of people hitting their web browsers back button, before they even read that page. So what use is a site sitting at a SERP number one position, if very few people are going to bother reading its actual content?

Will user-experience be the winner?

Site-Speed was not incorporated to be the ultimate factor used for deciding on a search ranking position. What it can do is help to decide on ranking positions where websites contain similar or identical information. This is a step in the right direction for a more favorable user experience. If two websites contain almost identical content, surely a user would prefer the site that can display the information in the least amount of time?

Maybe Google has done all search engine users a favor?

This decision may force webmasters to streamline their sites and take a closer look at load-speed. Any announcement that persuades a website designer to improve load-speed, so that a visitor does not have to wait 10 seconds to read the content should be seen as a step forward.  Improving a site’s load-speed should not be done just to please Google; any site upgrade should be geared towards improving visitor experience.