Slow down and think about Google’s speed update

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The latest speed updates affects only the slowest performing mobile pages.

Earlier this month, Google rolled out a new ranking algorithm which is designed specifically to downgrade the search rankings of the slowest mobile pages. So if the focus is on mobile and speed right now, what is the impact of this update?

Google’s blog on the subject played down the likely disruption, writing the following post on the Google Webmasters forum: “The ‘Speed Update’ will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and applies the same standard to all pages, regardless of the technology used to build the page. 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. We encourage developers to think broadly about how performance affects a user’s experience of their page and to consider a variety of user experience metrics.”

Google go on to point out that although there is no tool that directly indicates whether a page is affected by this new ranking factor, there are a variety of resources available that can be used to evaluate a page’s performance. Google’s Lighthouse Report, for example, can run through your site and pick up anything that may be having a negative impact on page speed.

Likewise, Google’s mobile Speed Scorecard and Impact Calculator can provide an insight into your website’s mobile site speed, while also estimating the potential impact on your website’s earned revenue. Google has also suggested that webmasters should look at the Chrome User Experience Report and PageSpeed Insights tool for an idea of what might be worth focusing on.

Some online webmasters have already started to see a change in their mobile performance. Click Consult, as per standard practice, are keeping a close eye on our clients’ performance to see if this update is having any impact . To date, thanks to the ongoing weekly audits and technical implementation we carry out for clients across mobile and desktop, none of our clients have been affected negatively.

A key point to remember regarding the update is that this only affects the slowest mobile sites and fast sites that optimise to go even faster will not see a ranking improvement.

The best approach, as always, is to continue to make incremental improvements to your site that can make a big impact on page speed. Optimising your server response times is one area to be looked at, as is minimising redirects from old pages that no longer exist. It’s also clear that there are still some sites which include a large image on the homepage of their site. One of the easiest wins you can get, speed wise, is to compress the images on your site. There’s no excuse not to when there are free plugins available online to help do it all for you.

We’ve noticed that Google itself is pushing Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) as a tool for developers at the moment, but, so far at least, we’ve not seen much difference between the performance of AMP and a well optimised mobile-responsive site. One potential negative of using AMP is that they can make it harder to track page performance. AMP function by scraping information from a website, therefore traffic can often appear less than it actually is due to site visits being hidden from webmasters.

So, while Google itself may be placing a particular focus on mobile and speed right now, don’t get distracted from the bigger picture around organic strategy. Things such as link acquisition, good content, smart conversion and technical optimisation remain as important as ever. In your rush to address your mobile speed issues, don’t lose sight of everything else.

Mark McGonigle is head of organic search (SEO) at Click Consult

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