Google have said that it is important to make you sites faster. People like faster sites. But how important is it really? Some sites are so crowded that even on a good server they can take up to 10 seconds to fully load, although they may “render” sooner.
But why did Google decide that speed is something that should factored into the search engine algorithm? Well, it possibly stems from their own testing on latency in their search results.
Slow and Steady Does Not Win The Race
Here Google’s head of Search Engineering, Marissa Meyer, explains how their own testing of scalability issues led to them focusing on less content and faster results. You need to skip to around 13 minutes to get the right part of this 60 minute presentation.
Google first found that its users wanted more search results. As Google prides itself in providing for users, it decided to increase the number of results shown on the first page. The result surprised Google – people started searching 20% less than they did prior to the updates. Google analysed the data on what searches people were performing and how they were using the site, and there was no obvious reason why people reduced the amount they searched on Google.
So Google had to run it through more tests, and then they found the cause: The new results took on average 0.9 seconds to load, whereas the original pages too 0.4 seconds. Although users had said that they wanted more results, the reality was somewhat different – they actually preferred faster results to more results. Google gave them more, and people left.
This example should be taken on board by all webmaster.
Give The Customer What They Want, Not What They Think They Want
We all hate salesmen, even salesmen hate other salesmen. But they do have a knack for telling us what we want, explaining why we want it and then giving it to us on a plate, before taking out cash. You could argue that all websites should really operate in this fashion.
It is all very well asking the users what new feature they would like to see on a website, but you must remember that they will assume that all current features, including the style, layout, speed and size of the little cute puppy in the corner will all remain. When you change stuff, some people get upset and leave, even if you are giving them precisely what they have asked for.
You may not be able to please all of the people some of the time, or but you can certainly upset some of the people all of the time.
If you decide to make a change with the idea of improving the user experience, ensure that you test thoroughly and understand the results. But ultimately, speed up your site. What is the moral of this story: test, test, test.
This does pose one other question though – was Google’s problem that the page took a long 0.9 seconds to load, or was it because it took longer than before? People are likely to spot that one site has got slower, but less likely to gauge the speed of a new site. All this is academic, as Google now has its instant search, which obviously addresses the speed issue rather well. Instant = no speed problems.
So the real key is to ensure that you do not slow down your site, only ever make it better or faster, or both.
I shall review some of the best website page speed testers in the next blog, as I have been playing with these quite a bit in the last few weeks. There are various online tools that will highlight slow areas of your website so that you can make the required changes to speed them up.