Google’s Mobile “Speed Update” Is A New Ranking Factor

Google’s Mobile “Speed Update” Is A New Ranking Factor

Two days ago, Google announced that they would be taking mobile page speed into consideration when ranking websites. They have labeled this new ranking factor as the “Speed Update.”

This is a continuation of their efforts to best serve their users in any way possible. Since users are quickly shifting to primarily searching on mobile devices, this is another step to improve the overall user experience. Or in Google’s own words “People want to be able to find answers to their questions as fast as possible”.

Now, unless you’ve been living under a rock, this update shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to you. Google has taken page speed into consideration when ranking the desktop versions of websites for quite some time now. Also, with 2016’s announcement of the imminent mobile-first index, it’s clear that they’ve been moving towards optimizing for the mobile experience for a while now.

Is The Speed Update Going To Ruin My Rankings?

As with the majority of updates, the answer is “probably not”. This is especially true if you’ve been savvy about keeping up with the latest SEO best practices and have been keeping mobile considerations in mind. Even Google offers a few helpful points of reassurance.

First, Google claims that the mobile speed update “will only affect a small percentage of queries”. So as with other updates, it seems like they are going to roll things out gradually, to give webmasters the chance to adapt to the changes.

Second, Google states that it “will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users.” Well, that certainly is vague. Surprise, surprise. Although, in the past Google studies have found that any page load time over 3 seconds will result in a 53% abandonment rate on a mobile site. So it’s safe to assume that if your site takes longer than 6 or even 7 seconds to load on the mobile view, you might be in trouble.

That being said, the article urges webmasters and SEOs to focus on user experience and consider what a searcher is going to encounter on your site, and start your optimization process there.

If you’ve been following along with Google updates the past few years, this isn’t anything new. These standards have been out for some time now and you should be taking into consideration the best practices for your users either way. Make the users happy, the traffic and rankings will follow.

How To Optimize Your Mobile Site For The New Update

Sorry to disappoint, but there is no special secret sauce to making sure you don’t get hit by the Speed Update.

These are simply best practices for optimizing your mobile site view to match searcher behavior and satisfy expectations. This will not only ensure a stellar user experience but increase engagement as well.

The goal is to develop systems around these core principles that will “Google-proof” your site no matter what algorithmic updates they implement.

1. Make it responsive

If your website still isn’t completely browser and device responsive, then there may not be any hope for you. Users are using their mobile devices now more than ever.

Your site needs to change it’s dimensions and layout seamlessly based on how a user is viewing it. If you’re working on any kind of CMS (Content Management System) like WordPress or Squarespace then they should have templates that are built to be responsive already.

If by some chance your site is custom built, you will have to leverage media queries and breakpoints to define the code level changes that your site will need to undergo based on the device, viewport, and browser. Here is an excellent guide by W3 Schools on how to design for responsiveness.

2. No large or bulky images

Large images and large file sizes are killers to site load time. Especially on mobile devices. If you think about it, the average website size in 2016 was approximately 2.2 MB. If you make the mistake of loading a full size and high quality 5000 x 3000 image to your site, it adds another 2.5 MB to your site.

You just doubled the amount of website that a user’s device and browser has to load when trying to view your site. Also, images have a lot of background (meta) information added to them about the time taken, date taken, camera specs, etc. that is added to the file size. Stripping this information can reduce file sizes by up to 50%.

See how quickly that can get out of hand if you have multiple unoptimized images?

Here’s a few quick tips:

  • Use photoshop or an online service to scale your file sizes down to the containing element’s dimensions on your site
  • Compress your images using online or desktop tools

3. Limit third-party resource loading

A third party resource is any file that isn’t contained within your website’s file structure, but that you link to in order to use.

These resources have to be loaded by your website in order for certain functionalities to take place. Things like Google analytics, non-standard web fonts, or even javascript libraries are good examples. Some of these resources are necessary for your site to function, but most of the time, it’s not necessary to load more than a few.

The issue is that everything on your site loads in a certain order. If these resources are being loaded before the content on your site, then your users will not be able to properly view the content until they’ve been loaded.

Keep these in mind when optimizing your site:

  • Use web standard fonts or include your font library directly in your website file directory
  • If you can code it natively, don’t rely on a plugin or third party resource for advanced functionality

4. Utilize browser caching

Each time you view a webpage, your browser has to download the related site files in order for it to render properly. As you can guess, this takes time. Depending on the size of your site, it can take a lot of time.

Browser caching can help speed things up by storing some of these files within the browser itself. By storing the files, everytime a user views the page after the first visit, that stored version of your site can quickly be served to them.

Here’s a great guide on how to implement this on your own site. Or if you are a WordPress user, take a look at this more specific caching guide.

5. Optimize the content

As you may know, Google is working towards a mobile-first index. That means that your site will be ranked and indexed based on the mobile version of your site, rather than the desktop version.

So it’s no longer possible to simply make your mobile site an afterthought. You’ve got to provide the same level of content, intuitive architecture, and value as your desktop site. That includes keeping the same amount of text, if not adding more, than your desktop site.

Also, take into consideration how the user will interact with the device. Do you need to add video? Remove or resize images? Decrease text size? All of these need to be a focus when optimizing your mobile site for the update.

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