Not too long ago, I wrote about the fundamentals of creating a search-engine-friendly website, including the importance of writing good copy with relevant keywords that feature relevant titles to create an “optimized website.”
I also discussed the Google™ algorithm, which is a secret formula used to determine what ranking position a website will have for a given keyword in Google’s search results. It is believed there are some 200 elements that comprise that formula, and Google, for good reason, does not share the details or the weighting of those elements to the public.
However, one element of that formula that Google has been emphasizing lately is a website’s performance; more specifically, how fast and efficiently a website is downloaded from its server to a website visitor. Google has stated they want the Internet to run faster so more people can access more websites in less time.
It is interesting that back in the ice age of the Internet, say 10 years ago, download time was also a concern due to the relatively slow speed of Internet access. It was not unusual for Internet users back then to be dialing up their Internet service provider using analog modem speeds of 1,200–4,800 bits per second, or slower. Frequently the site would “time out” before the site could be downloaded to the PC, largely due to bandwidth bottlenecks. Additionally, server technologies, caching techniques, large image sizes, and poorly designed websites also contribute to dreaded time-outs.
So why would download time be a concern with today’s fast and efficient cable and DSL access speeds?
It’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure a website is designed to download quickly to minimize visitor wait time. Applications are becoming more complex, mobile and droid devices are increasing, and website visitors have little patience for websites that move slowly.
Google’s objective is to make the Internet faster and more efficient. They are implementing a new architecture (nicknamed “Caffeine“) with an objective to index the Web more quickly than ever before. To encourage good website design that supports and enables efficient download time, Google is now incorporating download time into the algorithm, suggesting that faster, more efficiently designed websites will benefit in terms of Google’s results page ranking.
So, what should you do?
The factors that slow a site are not always obvious or under the direct control of the Web designer. There may be more than one factor that could be slowing a site. A good first step is to run a self-audit on your site with one of the many free tools available on the Web.
Google has a series of free tools you can use to help diagnose and improve website performance at code.google.com/speed. The tools vary in their measurement and complexity, but address the many issues that can affect a website’s performance, including Web coding, image usage, Web server configuration, website page load measurements, and more. These tools will go to your website, re-create the download experience, and give you a report card of your site’s performance, with specific information on issues that might be contributing to the slowness.
Once you have identified the issues that are affecting your website’s performance, make the necessary corrections as quickly as possible. If the reports identify an area that is outside your expertise, seek out experienced help before making any changes. Making even a small change in an unknown area could have an even greater negative effect on your rankings, which may not be immediately obvious, but could place your site further down Google’s ranking than before.
With the right analysis and periodic fine-tuning of your website’s design, you should expect that your site will download quickly, make Google happy, and, most importantly, create a positive end-user experience of your website.