Impact of Website Design on Speed and Search Ranking .pdf
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How Website Speed Actually Impacts Search Ranking & User Appreciation
Google uses a multitude of factors to determine how to rank search engine results. Typically,
these factors are either related to the content of a webpage itself (the text, its URL, the titles and
headers, etc.) or were measurements of the authenticity of the website itself (age of the domain
name, number and quality of inbound links, etc.). However, in 2010, Google did something very
different. Google announced website speed would begin having an impact on search ranking.
Now, the speed at which someone could view the content from a search result would be a factor.
Unfortunately, the exact definition of “site speed” remained open to speculation. The mystery
widened further in June, when Google’s Matt Cutts announced that slow-performing mobile sites
would soon be penalized in search rankings as well.
While Google has been intentionally unclear in which particular aspect of page speed impacts
search ranking, they have been quite clear in stating that content relevancy remains king. So, in
other words, while we can demonstrate a correlation (or lack thereof) between particular speed
metrics and search ranking, we can never outright prove a causality relationship, since other
unmeasurable factors are still at play. Still, in large enough scale, we make the assumption that
any discovered correlations are a “probable influence” on search ranking and thus worthy of
While we captured over 40 different page metrics for each URL examined, most did not show
any significant influence on search ranking. This was largely expected, as (for example) the
number of connections a web browser uses to load a page should likely not impact search
ranking position. For the purposes of brevity, in this section we will just highlight the
particularly noteworthy results. Again, please consult the raw performance data if you wish to
examine it for additional factors.
Page load time
When people say”page load time” for a website, they usually mean one of two measurements:
“document complete” time or “fully rendered” time. Think of document complete time as the
time it takes a page to load before you can start clicking or entering data. All the content might
not be there yet, but you can interact with the page. Think of fully rendered time as the time it
takes to download and display all images, advertisements, and analytic trackers. This is all
the “background stuff” you see fill in as you’re scrolling through a page.
Since Google was not clear on what page load time means, we examined both the effects of both
document complete and fully rendered on search rankings. However our biggest surprise came
from the lack of correlation of two key metrics! We expected, if anything, these 2 metrics would
clearly have an impact on search ranking. However, our data shows no clear correlation
between document complete or fully rendered times with search engine rank, as you can see
in the graph below:
The horizontal axis measures the position of a page in the search results, while the vertical axis is
the median time captured across all 2,000 different search terms used in the study. So in other
words, if you plugged all 2,000 search terms into Google one by one and then clicked the first
result for each, we’d measure the page load time of each of those pages, then calculate the
median and plot at position 1. Then repeat for the second result, and third, and on and on until
you hit 50.
We would expect this graph to have a clear “up and to the right” trend, as highly ranked pages
should have a lower document complete or fully rendered time. Indeed, page rendering has a
proven link to user satisfaction and sales conversions (we’ll get into that later), but surprisingly
we could not find a clear correlation to ranking in this case.
Total image content
Since our analysis of the total page size surprised us, we decided to examine the median size, in
bytes, of all images loaded for each page, relative to the search rank position. Other then a sharp
spike in the first two rankings, the results are flat and uninteresting across all remaining
While we didn’t expect a strong level of correlation here we did expected some level of
correlation, as sites with more images do load more slowly. Since this metric is tied closely to
the fully rendered time mentioned above, the fact that this is equally flat supports the findings
that page load time is likely not currently impacting search ranking.
What does this mean?
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