Speed Is It!
As of next month, speed—or rather the lack of—will
determine Google’s e-commerce search ranking.
“To be clear, there is no ranking
boost for being fast, just
a downgrade for being really
Barry Schwartz, news editor,
Search Engine Land”
On July 1, Google will modify its
search-ranking process, using speed as a
determining factor: E-commerce websites
whose mobile/cell phone versions are
slow to load will appear lower in searches.
As Google told Barry Schwartz, news
editor of Search Engine Land, when he
asked whether sites will be notified if their
overall search ranking is changed, this is
completely algorithmic. There is no tool
that directly indicates whether a page is
affected by this new ranking factor.
“Speed is just one of many signals that are used to rank pages. Keep in mind that intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a slow page may still rankhighly if it has great, relevant content,” Google added. (1) This will only affect, Google told him, “a small percentage of queries.”
“How small that percentage is, is unclear,” Mr. Schwartz said. “Google has said for a long time only really slow pages have to worry about a downgrade in their rankings for speed. To be clear, there is no ranking boost for being fast, just a downgrade for being really slow.”
“Wait a minute, you’re thinking. Hasn’t page speed always been a part of Google’s ranking algorithm,” writes Allen Finn, a columnist at WordStream. “Yes, page speed has been a ranking factor since 2009, but never on mobile, at least not officially…Don’t be the guy or gal who opens up Analytics one sultry July morning and says, ‘Crap. I got smoked.’ Summer is coming, but it’s still a ways off. Here are some things you can do to plan ahead.” (2)
The first step would be to test one’s website load time. While Google suggests its own tool to do so, one should note that, as of April, this tool was testing sites via a 3G connection rather than the faster 4G, Mr. Finn noted. In addition to this one, there are several free page-speed tests available, he added.
Speed based on mobile website performance
Testing one’s e-commerce site will mean testing its mobile version as Google started to roll out its mobile-first index earlier this year in view of the increasing use of mobile/cell phones for internet searches. “Google’s aim is to launch this index worldwide , in a move that will see the search giant access the mobile version of a website to index and rank content,” writes Jim Yu, CEO of BrightEdge, at Search Engine Land. (3) “Even if a consumer searches on a desktop device, Google will query its index of mobile content to find the most authoritative, relevant response. The mobile version of your site will become the primary version,” he said. So the first step for an e-commerce owner is to make sure the mobile site version loads as fast as can be.
To AMP or not to AMP
This may lead some web developers to consider AMP—short for Accelerated Mobile Pages— they had so far hesitated to use due to an inherent problem linked to it. “The way AMP works (and one of the things that helps with speeding up your web pages)
is that your content is served out of a cache on Google,” Eric Enge, CEO of Stone Temple Consulting, explained. (4) “When a user clicks on the AMP link in the search results, that page lives in Google’s cache (on Google.com). That’s the web page that gets sent to the user.” Once an e-commerce site’s homepage has appeared—and this in record time as that page lives at Google’s so to speak—the shopper who clicks on a link will be taken to the actual e-commerce’s site.
But Google Analytics, which determines ranking in web searches, will interpret this as the visitor browsing two websites and, if that visitor leaves after the first page, of never reaching the e-commerce site, Mr. Enge said.
And yet, even though implementing AMP takes some doing—for example, the AMP pages must basically be identical to one’s other responsive pages—the e-commerce people using this strategy have obtained spectacular results both in terms of visitors and conversions, he noted.
Moreover, AMP’s drawback may soon be minimized. “You don’t like http://google.com/amp URLs? Neither do we,” Malte Ubl, Google’s tech lead for the AMP Project, posted on Twitter
“When we first launched AMP in Google Search, we made a big trade-off: to achieve the user experience that users were telling us that they wanted, instant loading, we needed to start loading the page before the user clicked,” (5) he wrote in a blog earlier this year. Changes to remedy the situation should be introduced in a few months,” he added.
How significant is this speed rating
To make all these measures the more effective at accelerating visitors’ access to one’s site as the faster a buyer arrives at a site, the higher the likelihood of that e-commerce gaining a buyer, several experts recommend that e-commerce people review their websites to address or eliminate features that may slow down site load and are not proving essential to a shopper’s journey. But if one’s e-commerce has been effective at attracting and converting shoppers even though some of its visual features may slow down site loading, how much attention should one pay this new speed rating?
A great deal, said SanityCheck.io. “As there are potentially over 200 factors that go into ranking your pages – the fact that Google is open about one, and gives you a traffic light and score system to grade your page -I would want to make damn sure my pages are scoring as high as possible!” (6)