For web users, waiting on slow-loading websites is about as exciting as watching paint dry. Those slow-moving progress bars and spinning wheels indicate you’re going nowhere fast, but what some may not realize is that the real impact reaches far beyond a poor user experience.
Google is moving to de-prioritize slow-loading sites in mobile search results. Starting in July, pagespeed will become a ranking factor in mobile web search, pushing content owners to make mobile optimization a priority in their workflows. Mobile Optimization Video Interview with RapidTV News.
For brands and content owners familiar with Google’s algorithms, you may know that Google has penalized slow-loading pages for SEO (search engine optimization) on the desktop for some time now, favoring websites built with user experience as a priority. With consumers now expecting the same experience across all of their devices, Google is extending their pagespeed policy to mobile search results. As websites transition away from static content to offer more dynamic, personalized, and engaging experiences for users, we’ve seen design, information architecture, and photo optimization turn from “nice to have” to necessities.
The Speed Update, as Google calls it, will affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to mobile users—raising the standard for all mobile sites and demanding more from your web developer.
“We encourage developers to think broadly about how performance affects a user’s experience of their page and to consider a variety of user experience metrics,” Google said, in a posting. “People want to be able to find answers to their questions as fast as possible. Studies show that people really care about the speed of a page.”
Of course, the challenge in creating fast mobile website experiences somewhat revolves around the other parts of the ecosystem: Mobile phones lack the processing power and memory that desktops and laptops do, for one; and, even with LTE-Advanced 4G, mobile networks are prone to congestion and slowdowns at busy times of the day. But developers do have the ability to make the experience better.
What you can do – how to get started.
The first order of business is to evaluate your website’s performance. Although no tool directly indicates whether a page is affected by the new ranking factor, Google houses Lighthouse, an automated tool for auditing the quality (performance, accessibility and more) of web pages, which developers can use in benchmarking their pages’ performance. You should also check out the mobile-friendliness of your site with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool. Both Lighthouse and Mobile-Friendly are free, so there is no excuse to use them!
Next, identify where the content can be streamlined for speed. For instance, given that photos and videos are the most substantial content on your page and account for the lion’s share of bits that get transferred over the network, site owners can apply optimization tools like JPEGmini to compress image and photo file sizes without compromising quality. By reducing the size of each photo file, pages can deliver higher quality experiences to mobile users over lower-bandwidth channels (like 3G, in-flight WiFi or crowded networks), thus improving the overall user experience— giving the page’s search rankings a boost and reducing CDN cost at the same time.
Other best practices include reducing “code bloat,” where mobile sites are bogged down by excess code. Mobile sites should be as lightweight as possible, without a lot of background graphics, complex design or moving gifs. Reducing pop-up ads can also improve page-loading performance. For other ideas, Google offers PageSpeed Insights, a tool that indicates how well a page performs on the Chrome User Experience Report and suggests performance optimizations.
Sure, the intent of the search query is still pretty crucial for Google, so a slow-loading page may result in a high ranking if it has highly relevant content (for instance, an exact phrase match to the search query). And, most mobile website visits today originate from apps (think Facebook, Snapchat, and Pinterest), i.e., driving traffic to viral or curated content presented within a specific context, regardless of speed. But mobile developers should nonetheless heed the decree of Google, given that 40% of mobile web users abandon a site if it fails to load in three seconds or less.
Check out our article “Are viewers the new content aggregators?”
And those creating business pages should take particular notice: As more internet traffic moves to mobile networks, websites cannot afford to ignore the data load on their pages. So, taking the steps necessary to improve mobile page performance is now a business visibility imperative, while making your audience happier in the process.