Google has rolled out Speed Update for all users, impacting mobile rankings for the first time.
Websites that are slow to load on mobile devices will see drops in mobile rankings as Google seeks to improve the mobile search experience.
Google say that the Speed Update will only affect “a small percentage of queries”.
Lose redirects, improve server response time, optimize images, load above-the-fold content first, and consider using AMP to improve page speed.
In a sly adjustment to their Webmaster Central Blog post about using page speed for mobile search ranking, Google have just revealed that the Speed Update, first announced in January of this year, is rolling out for all users as of this week.
While page speed has been a ranking factor for desktop rankings for some time, this is the first time it will have an impact on mobile rankings. The user experience is purportedly at the heart of everything Google do, and so it makes perfect sense that they’d want to deliver optimal performance in mobile results.
The Speed Update, which enables page speed in mobile search ranking?, is now rolling out for all users!
More details on Webmaster Central ? https://t.co/fF40GJZik0
— Google Webmasters (@googlewmc) 9 July 2018
In the post, Google point to the following three resources that help to evaluate a page’s performance:
“Chrome User Experience Report, a public dataset of key user experience metrics for popular destinations on the web, as experienced by Chrome users under real-world conditions
Lighthouse, an automated tool and a part of Chrome Developer Tools for auditing the quality (performance, accessibility, and more) of web pages
PageSpeed Insights, a tool that indicates how well a page performs on the Chrome UX Report and suggests performance optimizations”
Following on from the wider rollout of the Mobile-first Index last week, this month is set to be crunch time for webmasters learning how successful their mobile optimizations have been.
How will the Speed Update impact your local business website?
Using the tools linked to above, you should get a good indication of how your site’s performance will affect its ranking in mobile SERPs. Those of you who have been hard at work improving mobile experience and page load speed should find you see little to no change in rankings or traffic. Google have themselves said that the Speed Update will only affect “a small percentage of queries”.
However, if you’ve been sitting on mobile page speed improvements for some time, you’ll likely soon get the impetus to work on them when your rankings suffer due to the algorithmic change.
It’s a given that smaller local businesses don’t have as much budget to use on constant web development and website improvements as their big brand counterparts, so sites like these are among the most likely to suffer.
If you’ve used the above tools on the sites you manage and find performance lacking, here’s what you need to do:
How to improve page speed on mobile
1. Optimize images
Probably the ‘heaviest’ (i.e. slowest to load) parts of a web page will be large, high-definition images. With the growth in both resolution and size of mobile device screens over the years, you obviously want to present visitors with high-quality images, but the truth is that these can significantly impact page load speed.
To combat this, consider using a CMS plugin that automatically compresses uploaded images to a file size that reduces their weight while providing a good experience for the user.
An additional option is to use CSS to load images in the background and use media queries to hide them or show them, dependent on the device being used.
Google has put together an entire guide on optimizing images, and it’s definitely worth a read to help you reduce image size without sacrificing quality or experience.
2. Lose the redirects
Every time you click a link and your browser is told to redirect the entered URL to another, a little ‘time to load’ is added to the page load speed. These milliseconds really count on mobile devices, as they’re more likely to be connected to non-wireless networks with slower speeds.
The most common type of redirect is known as a 301, and over time these can really mount up, especially if you’re regularly having to archive pages and push users to top-level pages instead.
This can be a difficult problem to wrap your head around, as sometimes a 301 is just necessary. Google might say that they “strongly encourage webmasters to minimize the number and ideally eliminate redirects entirely,” but achieving a redirect-free site is incredibly difficult, and only gets harder the larger the site becomes.
If you’re concerned that redirects are abundant on your site, use a tool like Varvy’s Redirect Mapper to analyse pages and discover the redirects that need eliminating for optimum page load speed on mobile.
3. Minimize server response time
“Time to first byte” (TTFB) is the length of time it takes for your web server to return a response, and of course you ideally want this to be as short as possible for a speedy page load time. Improving your web server software or configuration and ensuring adequate CPU and memory resources are available are steps you can take to improve your server response time.
I won’t go into too much detail here, but suffice it to say it’s definitely worth performing some analysis of server response time in order to ascertain whether it’s a factor in slow page load speed.
4. Prioritize visible content
In their ‘HTML Service: Best Practices’ documentation, Google highlight the importance of having your website first load the content that the user will be seeing as soon as they reach the web page. This is generally ‘above the fold’ content and, luckily for you, there will likely be less of it on mobile devices than on desktop due to the smaller screen size.
Make sure your web pages are coded to tell the server to send the data necessary to display above-the-fold content first, while it loads the rest of the page in the background. If your website isn’t trying to load a full page at once, this should also reduce the “time to first paint” (TTFP), which is the point at which content starts to appear on the screen.
5. Consider AMP
While this isn’t going to be suitable for every page of a local business website, pages that include a great deal of text or content could benefit from being coded as AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages), which Google loads outside of your website with minimal dynamic features and navigation.
The question you have to ask yourself here is whether the page you’re considering AMP-ing is compelling enough to draw the visitor through to the rest of your website, as this page type has minimal functionality and doesn’t count as a traditional pageview.
Is your website ready for the Google Speed Update?
I’ve covered just a few techniques that owners of local business websites can use to improve page load speed; by no means is this list intended as exhaustive. (You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?)
I’d love to hear what changes you’ve made to your sites to make them load faster, and if you’ve already seen changes in your mobile rankings due to the new update. Feel free to discuss your experiences in the comments below!