Google's Speed Update has arrived!
Google's Speed Update, an algorithm update that incorporates page speed into mobile rankings, has officially arrived:
The Speed Update, which enables page speed in mobile search ranking📱, is now rolling out for all users!— Google Webmasters (@googlewmc) July 9, 2018
More details on Webmaster Central 👉 https://t.co/fF40GJZik0
In this post we’ll clear up some of the chatter around what the update is and what you should do to make any last minute preparations.
What is the Page Speed Update?
There are 3 big takeaways from what various Googlers have said about the update:
This is a big change from how Google currently classifies speed for ranking. Right now, pages are either fast enough or not fast enough. This has changed with the update.
Instead of separating pages into "fast" and “too slow”, Google uses a “more gradual scale” to how it ranks pages based on speed.
Here’s the question and answer from John Mueller during a Google Webmaster Central hangout (the part where he specifies the gradual scale starts at the 10:18 mark):
So with this change, theoretically, a page that’s a few seconds faster will slightly outrank another page (all else being equal).
However, there’s a caveat to that statement…
It will only affect pages that are slow
According to Google’s blog post, this update "will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and will only affect a small percentage of queries."
John Mueller specified that on Twitter:
To clarify on the mobile speed update: a) this only affects the slowest sites, b) those can incrementally improve (though ideally you'd significantly improve the speed...), c) we're still aiming for this month. If your site is reasonably fast, tweaking won't change things. https://t.co/4glNAFd0ww— John ☆.o(≧▽≦)o.☆ (@JohnMu) July 3, 2018
So if your pages are already "reasonably fast", making slight tweaks to speed them up won’t help their rankings. Although, of course, you should still try to make your pages as fast as possible for user experience and conversion purposes.
If you go to that Twitter thread and scroll down, you’ll see that several people asked Googlers to provide some clarification behind "reasonably fast."
Unfortunately, those people didn’t get their answers. Since Google doesn’t rely on "a single metric that covers everything relevant for speed", there’s no single thing you can focus on.
So the takeaway here is that you should make your pages as fast as possible, but don’t expect small changes to have big impacts if your site is already loading quickly on mobile devices.
And if your site is fast, don’t expect much of a boost at all.
On the flip side of that, if your site is on the slower side, you can make incremental improvements to boost your rankings.
Canonical URL speed doesn’t override AMP URLs
This is a bit of a confusing situation. We know that Google will use canonical mobile URLs for indexing purposes and assign ranking signals like links to the mobile URL. So it’s logical you’d be concerned that a slow canonical URL would cause a page’s AMP version to get dinged.
That’s not the case according to another Tweet from Mueller:
(...) In this example, since users from Search would be seeing an AMP page, the speed of the AMP page would be taken into account. However, if a page built with AMP provides a slow experience to users, it may also rank lower in the results.— John ☆.o(≧▽≦)o.☆ (@JohnMu) January 17, 2018
The speed algorithm is applied to the URL that’s served in the search results.
So if you AMP URL is nice and fast, it won’t get penalized for having a slow canonical.
How You Can Prepare
As stated above, if your site doesn’t currently have a speed problem, there’s not much for you to do outside of your normal efforts to maintain a quality site. So take a minute to relax.
If your site isn’t what you would consider "reasonably fast," don’t panic! There are some steps you can take to improve your page’s speed and avoid any drastic ranking loss.
Review your website
Since Google doesn’t have (or won’t give us) a target metric to determine speed, a comprehensive website review could be in order. A WooRank website review checks your site against best practices to speed and will identify opportunities to speed up your site (both mobile and desktop).
You can also check for aspects that are specifically bad for mobile speed and user experience:
There’s a quality tradeoff when it comes to image optimization, though, so if image quality really matters to your website (like for a photographer for example), you might want to consider a lossless compression option like gzip or PNG.
As the name — Accelerated Mobile Pages — implies, AMP is a framework built specifically to make pages mobile friendly. And speed is a big part of the AMP specifications.
If your pages are slow, AMP can be a great way to make big changes to get out from under the new speed update algorithm.
AMP isn’t right for everyone. It’s best for websites that rely mostly on content. So if you’re a publisher, AMP is a great solution for your website. Even if you’re not a publisher, it’s worth considering for your blog.
What To Do Now?
If your pages are already fast, there's really no action for you to take here. If your pages aren't "reasonably fast," it's time for you get to work.
Your best bet is to review your site, find issues that are impacting speed, and fix them as quickly as you can.
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