Google today announced a significant change in how it ranks websites for mobile searches: it will now take page speed into consideration as one of its signals, the company says. The change, which Google is referring to as the “Speed Update,” will go into effect in July 2018, and will downrank very slow websites under certain conditions.
Though speed will become more of a factor in determining the order of search results, the change is not so drastic as to make it the only factor. There will be times that slow pages still rank highly – like when they have the most relevant content related to the search query at hand, for example.
Google says the update will only affect pages that “deliver the slowest experience to users” and it will only affect a small percentage of queries.
The search giant has been increasingly prioritizing page speed for some time.
In February 2016, it began to highlight AMP sites (pages using its Accelerated Mobile Page technology to speed up mobile rendering) in search results, and then in April 2016 gave AMP pages a more prominent position in Google News.
More recently, it began rolling out its new, mobile-first search index to a handful of sites to make good on its promise to shift its overall search index to favor the mobile version of the website over the desktop version. That change, in particular, is focused on forcing web publishers to ensure their mobile site has the same information as their desktop site – something that’s not always the case today.
This Speed Update, however, is unrelated to whether the site contains the same info as desktop, nor is it related to any requirements surrounding AMP usage.
Instead, it’s about the page performance in general, with the goal of offering mobile users a better overall experience when searching via mobile.
Google is not offering a standalone tool for web publishers to help them get ready for this shift, but did point to a number of resources that can provide general insights about site performance.
This includes the Chrome User Experience Report, which offers user experience metrics for popular web destinations; Lighthouse, an automated tool for auditing site performance and other web quality metrics; and PageSpeed Insights, which shows how well a page performs on the Chrome UX Report and makes suggestions about how performance can be improved.
This is not the first time that page speed has been used as a signal on Google, to be clear – that’s been the case for some time on desktop searches, the company notes. It’s just never been explicitly taken into consideration for those same searches on mobile.
These sorts of mobile-focused changes to Google search are critical for the company, given that the majority of Google users today search the web via mobile devices, like smartphones.
In fact, mobile searches surpassed desktop searches back in 2015, and mobile has continued to grow in the years since. Though Google hasn’t provided an update on what percentage of its searches are mobile, some third-party reports placed this number near 60 percent last year. Another resource, Statista, says that Google accounted for over 94.4 percent of mobile search market share in the U.S.
These figures mean that mobile has been more important than desktop for several years now, and it’s time for the search index itself to reflect that.