Google Adds Page Load Time To Its Rankings, But It's Weighted Too Lightly To Make A Difference

As expected, Google has officially added a page-loading-speed factor to its search ranking algorithm. In theory, this change means that faster retail pages will show up higher in Google search results. But in reality, that's not going to be the case because Google set the weight for page loads as extremely light. In short: It's all just for show.

To be fair, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Google today has the largest slice, by far, of the search engine pie. New Hitwise stats released Wednesday (May 5) give Google 71.4 percent of the search market, compared with 14.96 percent for Yahoo, 9.43 percent for Bing and 2.18 percent for Ask. (Interestingly enough, of those four engines, Google is the only one that gained marketshare from March to April. Ask, meanwhile, lost a painful 37 percent in that same month.)

When any market leader speaks of its secret sequencing sauce, retailers are going to listen very carefully. And if that knowledge causes some to accelerate their pages slightly, all the better. But if the goal is to materially change Google rankings, that information won't help much.

"We still put much more weight on factors like relevance, topicality, reputation, value-add, etc.--all the factors that you probably think about all the time. Compared to those signals, site speed will carry much less weight," Google Software Engineer Matt Cutts wrote in his personal blog.

"Fewer than one percent of search queries will change as a result of incorporating site speed into our ranking. That means that even fewer search results are affected, since the average search query is returning 10 or so search results on each page," he said. "The fact that not too many people noticed the change is another reason not to stress out disproportionately over this change."

Search engine optimization (SEO) consultants have jumped on the news that page-loading speed is now a part of Google's algorithm, arguing that optimizing for site performance is just as critical as any other SEO improvement.

"Instead of wasting time on keyword meta tags, you can focus on some very easy, straightforward, small steps that can really improve how users perceive your site," Cutts said. But, he added, most retailers already routinely take these steps.

With such a small weight given to site speed, the only way for an already tight site to get a boost in Google search results is through a big jump in performance from faster servers, more bandwidth or a completely re-architected site. And that won't be easy or cheap.

But it doesn't mean optimizing for page-loading speed is a waste of time. Better performance means happier customers. And those customers are likely to notice better site performance a lot sooner than Google will.