What page speed does Google SEO use
We analyzed 143,827 URLs and found the often overlooked factors that influence Google ranking
Let me start with an obvious fact: page speed is relevant to SEO.
Every SEO beginner knows that. But I want to know something else: How and why is page speed relevant?
We didn't realize this when we started this research, but we were on the verge of discovering a specific speed factor that Google uses to place your website. It's not just speed that matters. It's a specific type of page speed that makes all the difference.
The study that you are about to get to know is the largest study on the subject of "Influence of page speed on Google search engine placement" that has ever been carried out. Ahrefs provided placement data, but it took an incredible amount of verification, comparison, and data analysis to get accurate results.
We have made several important lessons. These insights are extremely important - not only because they have never been revealed before, but also because they could have a massive impact on your website's ranking.
Why bother doing this study in the first place?
Some wonder why I bother doing such massive, data-driven studies like the one on Hummingbird and local Google search results. Why invest all of this time, effort, and money into doing this Page Speed and Google Rankings study?
- The last big, data-driven study of page speed and Google rankings was done two years ago! We do not have an up-to-date data analysis on this important topic.
- Google has made massive algorithm changes in the past two years and has publicly commented on the importance of loading speed
- User experience and page speed are merged, so to speak. They influence each other.
- I'm curious! I want to know how my own websites are ranked and what I can do to improve my rankings.
- I want to give SEO consultants the best, most reliable, and useful data on human terms. It's not exactly wise to just rely on gut instinct on topics like how SEO works or the parameters of the algorithms.
What I want to give you is rock solid data that you can rely on 100%. I want you to be able to take action that will also lead to results.
What we already knew about page speed and what we still wanted to learn
As mentioned earlier, page speed is an important SEO factor. But it is not only important for SEO! A faster website increases the conversion rate.
You need to check the loading speed of your website. It's very simple and goes like this:
Step # 1: Open Ubersuggest, enter your url and hit "Search".
Step # 2: Click on “Site Audit” in the left sidebar.
Step # 3: Now scroll down to the “Website Speed” area.
Here you can find the loading speeds of your website on desktop and mobile devices. My website loads in two seconds. That is an excellent result.
If your website is slower, you will need to find the problem with the increased loading time. The following data can help you with this:
- First contentful paint
- Speed index
- Time to Interactive
- First Meaningful Paint
- First CPU idle
- Estimated input latency
You shouldn't rely solely on Ubersuggest to infer your loading times or to determine how your website's loading time affects your Google rankings, as there are many other factors that can affect the speed of a website.
Other factors that also influence the ranking are plug-ins, the size of the image files used, caching, the response time of the server, Time to First Byte (TTFB), the location of the server, the DNS query, downloads, static content, the source code and redirects to name a few.
As I said, it's complicated.
I wanted to remove all of these complications and give you a great insight. (Only one!) But to do that, I had to collect, cultivate, analyze, organize, configure and digest a whole lot of data. That's why 143,827 URLs.
We measured six metrics for each URL that have important effects on page speed:
- Time to First Byte (TTFB): When your browser calls up a URL, it sends a message to the server, where the HTML document associated with the URL is requested. TTFB is the time it takes for the first data to be sent to your browser. If it’s fast, it means that the rest of the page will also load quickly.
- Start render: The Rendering is necessary to convert the computer code into a visual representation. Start Render is the time at which the first visual part of the web page appears. This is particularly interesting for users, as they then know that something is actually happening on the website.
- Visually Complete: That's when the rendering is finished and the user can see all of the pages.
- Document Complete: Although the page is visually complete, there are still some things that go on in the background. Once these are complete, the server says that the HTML document has fully loaded. This is the technically accurate measure of “page loaded”.
- Fully Loaded: When the document is complete, asynchronous code is executed to load more objects. This does not prevent the user from interacting with the page and is therefore usually not counted as “loading time”. This value is measured when all charging activities have been completed for 2 seconds.
- Number of file requests: When a page is loaded, it still requests multiple files such as CSS, JS or image files. Loading small files can slow down loading times and should therefore be minimized.
And this is how these key figures appear in the speed table:
We use a free tool for our test: www.webpagetest.org.
Using an API, we checked all 143,827 URLs for extensive speed testing and analysis.
We had to work through loads of numbers! It took 100 AWS EC2 servers over two days to crawl URLs, run tests, and spit out metrics.
This is how we conducted the study:
- Each participant used Chrome and Windows, with a PC screen and a resolution of 1024 × 768.
- To determine which URLs to search, we generated 5,000 random keywords with a monthly search volume of over 10 to ensure we were able to include a representative sample of all keywords, from main terms to long-tail keywords.
- We examined the top 30 Google results for each (non-mobile) keyword.
The results of the study
And now it's getting interesting.
Unsurprisingly, we were able to confirm a faster loading speed indeed leads to a better Google ranking.
But Why? The data surprised us.
First, let's take a look at some data. The top ranked websites had high speeds under “Start Render”.
Look at the data in the table below. The numbers on the X-axis (at the bottom of the table) show the website's Google rankings. The Y-axis shows the milliseconds.
The table shows that the loading speed is significantly shorter, especially in the first five positions. Rank 6 is on average 20% slower than Rank 1.
The data suggests that improving “Start Render” times could result in better Google results.
Our results confirm the results of other research that said websites in top positions had faster speeds for TTFB times. That was the greatest correlation. Note the massive increase in speed between positions 1, 2 and 3.
Also note that the TTFB correlation (table above) is much stronger than the start render correlation (table below).
To visualize this argument: TTFB differs greatly from the next important key figure, namely Start Render. (Table below).
On average, we found the following:
Now take a look at the correlation ranking for each speed metric:
Since TTFB has such a strong influence on the ranking, it is easy to overlook the influence of less important metrics.
If you combine Doc Complete and Start Render, the correlative influence is nearly as significant as the correlations of TTFB.
Although the TTFB correlation high our research has revealed a new perspective. Google no longer evaluates the simplified TTFB value alone, as it did in the past. Today it looks at a more complex interaction between Doc Complete and Start Render and uses these speed factors as signals, in addition to the TTFB values.
This point of view goes beyond a simple "fix your TTFB problems and everything will be fine". As our results show, Google can analyze important speed values much better today.
It is strategically important to optimize Doc Complete and Start Render metrics, as these values taken together can result in better rankings.
Why is the focus on TTFB?
Why is TTFB such an important factor?
I think that in the end it comes down to the user experience. Have you ever read Google's corporate philosophy? When the company was young, they wrote down ten philosophies. So:
- Focus on the user and everything else will follow.
- Fast is better than slow.
So one can assume that TTFB is a significant factor. If Google placed a higher ranking on a page with high TTFB speeds, it suggests that they think that page offers a better user experience.
While TTFB is an important factor, there are still improvements to be made to other elements of page speed.
And that's why our study is important. Thanks to research into the correlative significance of the “unimportant” speed metrics - particularly Document Complete and Start Render - we can see that their cumulative impact is nearly as great as that of TTFB.
How you can improve your TTFB
Most SEO basics articles will teach you how to improve your loading speed. But this isn't a basic article. I'm not telling you to improve your loading speed either. Instead, you need to focus on improving specific aspects of page speed.
You can first measure the current TTFB of your side.
Visit www.webpagetest.org and enter the URL of your website. Then click “Start Test”.
Set the location so that you are using the server that is geographically closest to the majority of your users. If you know that your users are using a different browser than Chrome, you can also change their browser settings.
I recommend leaving the advanced settings as they are as they are useless without the appropriate experience or expert knowledge of speed tests that can affect your results.
The test itself usually takes less than a minute. When you're done, look for the “First Byte” value in the table.
This is the TTFB of your side. If you're a real data geek, click on the “First View” table to see an expanded view of the waterfall, connection and request details.
The “Request Details” table arranges the TTFB in a table:
How can you tell whether your TTFB needs improvement? Here is the recommended guide:
Do you now think that your TTFB is in need of improvement? These six methods are guaranteed to make your TTFB better. (Pro tip: Pass the list on to your developer. They will know what to do).
- Use a CDN.
- Optimize the application code.
- Optimize database queries.
- Reduce HTTP requests.
- Get a fast server response time.
- Use a Respond First, Process Later (RFPL) caching method.
Closing words, and three really important lessons
Lesson 1: Speed is important, but it's just one ranking factor among many.
Like most ranking factors, page speed alone will not secure you a top position in the SERPs; but a slow side is sure to slow you down. So what should you do? Try to improve the speed of your site, but also optimize the other search factors at the same time.
Lesson 2: UX is super important.
Don't forget that Google is a good UX really like. Scaling your page down to bare line HTML doesn't necessarily improve your ranking. But if you have broken the visual claim or the UX of your site, that is of course not good. You need to optimize both the speed and the user experience to improve your ranking.
Lesson 3: Optimize your TTFB first!
If you're knee deep into optimizing your site, you have to be smart. Instead of editing your Document Complete, Start Rendering or Fully Loaded values (all of which are important) with all your might, you better concentrate on the most important key figure first: TTFB.
What comes next? Call your developer or roll up your sleeves and join the TTFB! You will be happy once you have it behind you.
I always enjoy hearing success stories. I want to know what impact this data has in real life. Tell me what changes you have made to your site and what it has brought you!
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