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Google's Speed Update, an algorithm update that incorporates page speed into mobile rankings, has officially arrived:

At the start of 2018, Google published a blog post announcing that page speed would become a ranking signal in search results for mobile searches.

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:

It’s incremental

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:

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:

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).

WooRank review speed criteria

You can also check for aspects that are specifically bad for mobile speed and user experience:

WooRank review mobile speed

Optimize images

Images are some of the biggest files on the web and the usual culprits when it comes to slow pages. Optimizing images using lossy compression like JPEG is a great way to improve a page’s load time.

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.

Consider AMP

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.

AMP greatly restricts the HTML and JavaScript you can use on the page, and Google stores these pages in a dedicated cache. This allows them to serve the page, and for it to load, almost instantly. According to Google, AMP can improve page speed by up to 85%.

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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