Page Speed: How important are loading times as a ranking factor for SEO on Google?

For years, SEOs have been referring to the importance of page speed or loading times for search engine optimization . But how important is this ranking factor? When is a website fast enough for Google? What does fast mean? A short loading time, low response time, size of the page or download speed ? We have compiled the official information from Google and the results of two of our own studies on the influence of page speed on the ranking.

What does fast mean?

There are tons of assumptions floating around the internet about when a website is fast. The assumptions range from fast enough for the user to specific times such as no longer than 3 seconds or at least 1.5 seconds. According to the Search Console, the time it takes to download a page over 3 seconds seems to be long. Between 1.5 and 3 seconds as average. According to John Mueller, Google has so far differentiated between slow and fast websites.

With the Page Speed ​​Update in July 2018, Google wants to differentiate more precisely what is fast and slow.

Click on the picture and listen to John’s statement from May 17th, 2017

In other words, it doesn’t matter whether someone reaches 85 or 100 points in the Page Speed ​​Insights tool . Google employee Gary Illyes made this statement more concrete, at least with regard to mobile . A score of 85 is absolutely sufficient.

In 2016 there was a statement from John Mueller on Twitter, in which he described a speed between two and three seconds as fast. He also points out that the number of http requests is not decisive, but the loading time.

John Mueller on Twitter in November 2016

From our own research with pingdom, the average loading time for websites is currently around  3.25 seconds (as of December 2016).

It is still important to differentiate the reasons why Google pays attention to loading times and why website operators should pay attention to fast websites. On the one hand, it’s about the user experience. Especially on smartphones. For this reason, Google has made Page Speed ​​a ranking factor. On the other hand, it’s about crawling. According to John Mueller , pages that take the Google bot more than 2 seconds to download are crawled less often than fast pages. Google wants to use the crawl budget more effectively. On the other hand, Google emphasizes that the crawl budget is not a problem for many websites.

In this post on the Google Webmaster Central Blog  , a Google employee gives the following answers:

As a rule, publishers do not have to worry about the crawl budget described below. If new pages tend to be crawled on the day they are published, the webmaster doesn’t have to worry about the crawling budget. Also, a website with fewer than a few thousand URLs is usually crawled efficiently.

Q: Does the speed of the website affect my crawl budget? What about mistakes?
A: The faster a website is, the better the user experience and the higher the crawl frequency. For the Googlebot, a fast website is a sign of a well-functioning server. So he can get more content over the same number of connections. On the other hand, numerous 5xx errors or connection timeouts indicate the opposite and the crawling slows down.

Q: Is crawling a factor in ranking?
A: A higher crawl frequency does not necessarily lead to better positions in the search results. Google uses hundreds of signals to rank the results. The crawling is necessary to appear in the results, but not a ranking signal.

Page Speed ​​Benchmark Study by Google

Google itself published a benchmark study on page speed in 2018 . With the following results for Germany:

But what time is reasonable for users?

I think there is no general answer to this question. People who are under time pressure answer this question differently than people who comfortably surf the net. How long it takes a website to load is also always a question of the internet connection. Another factor for the perception of speed or slowness is habit. You orientate yourself on what you are used to from other offers. According to a 2013 study by Radware . There, the 500 largest e-commerce sites were examined in terms of loading speed. According to this, ecommerce websites tend to be slower rather than faster due to the growing size.

Radware study infographic

Different types of website performance

Before I go into our investigation results, it makes sense to consider some possible criteria or key figures for the evaluation of “speed”.

Response time / first byte time

This metric describes the first contact of a person, so to speak. Browser with the page. Wikipedia:

It is the duration from the virtual user making an HTTP request to the first byte of the page being received by the browser. This time is made up of the socket connection time, the time taken to send the HTTP request, and the time taken to get the first byte of the page.

Page Load Time

The loading time or page load time includes the entire time of the process between an initial request, e.g. clicking on a link, to the finished rendering of the page. However, there are also views in which only the process up to the rendering of the page, i.e. loading the html code without taking into account the download or the display of images and loading of Javascript code such as Google Analytics , GTM, etc.

Source: https://docs.newrelic.com/docs/browser/new-relic-browser/page-load-timing-resources/page-load-timing-process

Weight or size of the website

The size or weight of a website describes the number of kilobytes that a website needs to load completely (down). In addition to the pure weight, the speed of downloading these kilobytes is also interesting.

Correlation between “speed” and ranking according to Google

In 2010, Google introduced Page Speed ​​as a new ranking factor. This video by Maile Ohye from 2010:

Here Maile emphasizes the importance of website speed for users and website operators as well as for Google and that Google has therefore introduced page speed as a ranking factor. From the statement that page speed is important for Google, SEOs made the statement over the years that page speed is an important ranking factor. There is no question that page speed is a ranking factor and there is no question that speed is an important criterion for UX and conversion optimization. This is supported by Google and various studies (for example here , here and here) approved. But whether the loading time is actually an important ranking factor, as many SEOs claim, remains to be questioned. But before we get to the results of our own investigation, here are some official statements from Google on the subject.

In the video above, Maile emphasizes that page speed is one ranking factor among many and that content and relevance are much more important.

“Rankings is a nuanced process and there is over 200 signals, but now speed is one of them. Know that ‘content’ and relevance ‘are still primary. ”, Mail Ohye 2010

When Google speaks of page speed as a ranking factor, it is not very clear what is meant. The official post from 2010 says:

As part of that effort, today we’re including a new signal in our search ranking algorithms: site speed. Site speed reflects how quickly a website responds to web requests. … We use a variety of sources to determine the speed of a site relative to other sites … While site speed is a new signal, it doesn’t carry as much weight as the relevance of a page. Currently, fewer than 1% of search queries are affected by the site speed signal in our implementation and the signal for site speed only applies for visitors searching in English on Google.com at this point.

A few months later there was also confirmation in the German Webmaster Central Blog:

Website speed is a measure of how quickly a website responds to web queries … So we decided to include website speed in our search rankings. We use many factors to determine the speed of a website compared to other websites … Although website speed is a new criterion, it is nowhere near as important as relevance of a page. Currently, less than one percent of searches are affected by the website speed criterion in our implementation. The website speed criterion is currently only used for search queries made in English on Google.com.

In 2010 and 2011 Matt Cutts commented on the subject

In the Webmaster Central Hangout of April 8th, 2016, John Mueller confirmed that the influence of the server loading time on the ranking was only minor and that optimizations in the millisecond range would have no effect on the ranking. He only talks about the time how long a website needs to be loaded into the server. The time that the Google bot needs to crawl content is not a direct ranking factor according to John, but only influences the crawling speed for content. Here is the video:

In a video from the year 2019 from the SEO Mythbusting series , Martin Splitt from Google explains that Google pays attention to performance criteria such as the rendering bits and uses them to recognize the responsiveness of a page, for example. However, nothing is said about how great the influence of website performance is.

The Google Speed ​​Update

Google announced in January 2018 that Page Speed ​​would be a raking factor in mobile search as part of the Mobile First Index. The Google Page Speed ​​Update was then rolled out in July 2018. This also made Page Speed ​​a ranking factor for mobile users. Interestingly, the loading speed also became a quality indicator for the quality score for Google AdWords .

The influence on the ranking seems to be just as high as for desktop searches and a distinction is only made between fast and slow websites.

“The” Speed ​​Update, “as we’re calling it, will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and will only affect a small percentage of queries. It applies the same standard to all pages, regardless of the technology used to build the page. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a slow page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.

Google becomes very specific in the form of Martin Split and Eric Enge in the Mythbusting series. In the following video from July 2020, both emphasize that page speed is not a very large ranking factor, but rather tips the scales when the pages are on the same level with regard to other factors such as content relevance and quality. In addition, it is emphasized again that Google only differentiates between fast, normally fast and slow pages in three grades.

In a webmaster hangout from the beginning of June 2018, however, John Müller stated that with the Mobile Page Speed ​​Update introduced in July they are looking at the loading times a little more differently. You should not only make sure that the Google bot gets the page delivered quickly, but above all the user. According to its own statement, Google also uses real user data from Google Chrome here.

“Blocking scripts just to speed up a page for the Googlebot won’t change how we rate your page.”

John Müller is more specific about this in another webmaster hangout. Accordingly, Google uses data from the Chrome User Experience Report to measure page speed. Users who have given their consent transfer their data to Google. This data is collected and evaluated there. This is how you can determine how a website behaves under real conditions.

Also in a hangout on February 5th, 2019, John from Page Speed ​​speaks of a weak ranking factor. The quality of the content is much more important.

This Google video is from October 2019. Martin Splitt and John Mueller give some interesting statements on what is fast and what is slow and which metrics and tools should be used for orientation.

FAQs about Pagespeed

What is fast and what is slow?

For Google there is only sufficiently fast and too slow as a classification. There are no clear thresholds to be observed here.

Page Speed ​​Insight, GTMetrics or Lighthouse. What is the Right Page Speed ​​Tool?

Google advises webmasters to use a mixture of different tools. Each tool has different target groups. GTMetrics is more of a tool for technicians. Other tools are more for marketers. The results from the Page Speed ​​Insight Tool are something in between.

Content Meaningful Paint (CMP) or Time to Interactive (TTI)

The question of which metrics should be used to optimize the page speed cannot be answered across the board, as is so often the case. The Content Meaningful Paint (CMP) should be used for pages that have the purpose of informing the user with content. On the other hand, the Time to Interactive (TTI) is more recommended for pages on which a quick interaction, e.g. playing a video, performing a download or filling out a form is recommended.

The Core Web Vitals from Google

From 2021, Google will consider the web vitals as factors for the ranking. Various combined signals for the page experience will be included in the ranking.

Core Web Vitals are:

  • Loading time. The Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) metric measures the perceived loading speed and marks the point in the page loading timeline at which the main content of the page was likely loaded.
  • Time to interactivity. The Firt Input Delay (FID) metric measures responsiveness and quantifies the first-time user experience of the page.
  • Visual stability. The Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) metric measures the visual stability and quantifies the extent of the unexpected layout shift of the visible page content.

Source: https://blog.chromium.org/2020/05/introducing-web-vitals-essential-metrics.html

The web vital metrics are integrated in tools such as Google Search Console, Lighthouse and Page Speed ​​Insights and can thus be monitored. The page experience is not more important than high-quality and relevant content.

A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content. However, in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in search. 

Source:  https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2020/05/evaluating-page-experience.html

Optimization of the UX and user behavior

Optimizing user behavior includes all measures that can improve common user signals. So for example

  • Loading times optimization
  • Usability optimization
  • Conversion optimization
  • End device optimization

Correlation study Page Speed ​​& Ranking (December 2016)

Our most recent study on charging time and Google ranking is based on data we collected in December 2016. We wanted to answer the following questions:

  1. Is there a connection between Google Page Speed ​​points and the Google ranking?
  2. Is there a connection between loading time and ranking
  3. Are the loading time or the page speed points weighted differently in the first 10 search results than in the results eleven to twenty?

For this study, we have compiled the top 20 search results for 20 keywords in terms of the points according to Google Page Speed ​​(desktop and mobile) and loading  time. The keywords were a colorful mix of short and mid-tail keywords with transaction-oriented and commercial search intentions, e.g. the term combinations content marketing , fashion for the chubby, health insurance, disaster control, olive oil, gift vouchers, time recording, power bank …

We have used the following tools for this:

I then related the scores and loading times to the rankings per URl using a correlation analysis. I then did the same for the loading time in terms of page size and number of http requests. Since I couldn’t find a tool for bulk querying the data, we had to collect all the data manually. Many thanks to our hard-working intern Simon! Anyone who has a tool to hand for bulk inquiries always has it. Gladly in the comments …

First of all, the results of the correlation analysis on the connection between points from the Google Page Speed ​​Tool and the ranking on Google in the Top 20, To10 and position eleven to twenty.

Click on the image to enlarge it

Correlation coefficient top 20 (desktop): -0.40672

Correlation coefficient top 10 (desktop): -0.7694

Correlation coefficient Top 11-20 (desktop): -0.06355

Click on the image to enlarge it

Correlation coefficient top 20 (mobile): -0.47139

Correlation coefficient top 10 (mobile): -0.8895

Correlation coefficient Top 11-20 (Mobile): -0.3946

Click on the image to enlarge it

Correlation coefficient top 20: -0.08871

Correlation coefficient top 10: -0.61247

Correlation coefficient Top 11-20: -0.06564

The correlation coefficient

Before I come to the interpretation of these results, a brief explanation of the correlation coefficients. The correlation coefficient ranges between -1 and +1. It indicates how likely there is a connection between variables or not. With a rather small number of samples, correlation coefficients between 0.9 and 1 are considered to be very high. So a connection is very likely.

  • up to 0.2 => very low correlation
  • up to 0.5 => low correlation
  • up to 0.7 => medium correlation
  • up to 0.9 => high correlation
  • over 0.9 => very high correlation

With o there is no connection at all. In the minus range it is the other way round. This is important to understand for the investigation in relation to the points from the Page Speed ​​Insights Tool and the ranking. Since the assumption is to be examined whether the ranking rises with increasing number of points, i.e. the value moves towards position one, the correlation behaves dysfunctionally. So the highest possible negative correlation would confirm the assumption. A pronounced correlation coefficient indicates a strong correlation with the charging time.

Correlation does not mean causality, however. Therefore I interpret the following results in the subjunctive. In addition, it should be clear to every SEO that determining the ranking is so complex nowadays that it is almost impossible to clearly identify the dependencies between the ranking and individual metrics.

The questions about the investigation

The investigation brought us a little closer to the answers to the following questions:

  • Is there a connection between the Google ranking and the point ratings from the Google Page Speed ​​Insights Tool?
  • Is there a connection between the Google ranking and the loading time?
  • Which metrics should you use for page speed optimization from an SEO perspective? Page speed points or loading time?
  • Does Google weight loading time / page speed as a ranking factor more heavily for ranking the top 10 search results?
  • Is there a relationship between the size of a page and the loading speed?
  • Is there a connection between the number of http requests and the loading time?

Is there a connection between the Google ranking and the point ratings from the Google Page Speed ​​Insights Tool?

According to the results of our investigation, there seems to be a connection between the evaluation of the Google Page Speed ​​Tool and the ranking. The correlation between the mobile points and the ranking is greater than that of the desktop points. The correlation coefficient is already high in the top 10 search results with 0.89, which suggests a connection.

However, it must also be noted that there are always strong outliers. For example my article  What is Content Marketing? Info, definition, goals, strategy & more . For years, this has  consistently ranked second or third for the term content marketing . But with a loading time of over 10-15 seconds it is already in the very slow area, which is uncomfortable for users. And even with the Page Speed ​​Insights Tool.

A phenomenally poor website performance

Funnily enough, the article you are reading and my basic article on SEO ranked with a similarly poor performance according to Page Speed ​​Insights for very popular search terms like “SEO”, “pagespeed”, “page speed” in the top 3 search results Google. (As of August 2020)

Performance according to Page Speed ​​Inisght. Keywords: pagespeed (pos. 4), page speed (pos. 3)

Performance according to Page Speed ​​Inisght. Keywords: seo (pos. 3)

These are just examples. There are some outliers in almost every data set, which suggests that the weighting of the ranking factor page speed and loading time is at most mediocre.

Therefore, we must continue to orientate ourselves on the statement of Maile Ohye from the year 201o. There are probably much stronger ranking factors than page speed, such as content, links and trust / authority of the domain itself.

Is there a connection between the Google ranking and the loading time?

The correlation coefficient for the relationship between loading time and Google ranking is rather medium at 0.61 in the top 10 search results. Therefore, a connection cannot be ruled out, but it seems to be rather weak.

Which metrics should you use for page speed optimization from an SEO perspective? Page speed points or loading time?

Many page speed optimizers will yell and protest here, but based on the results I would recommend performing the page speed optimization with a view to the mobile points of the page speed insights tool if you want to rank better. But the criticism of this approach would be justified in view of the perceived speed for the user, as Torben Leuschner  explains in his contribution  Demystification of the Google PageSpeed ​​Insights Tool to the colleagues from ryte:

Except for a single hint (“Average server response time”), Google PageSpeed ​​Insights does not analyze any times. So we’re talking about the topic of “Optimizing loading time and speed” and time as the most important key figure simply falls under the table.

But looking at the rankings, these points seem to be the better orientation.

Does Google weight the loading time / page speed as a ranking factor more strongly for a ranking in the top 10 search results?

Here’s a clear yes. I would even go so far as to say that page speed is only possible as a ranking factor for positions one to ten. At least the correlations in positions 11 to 20 are so weak compared to the coefficients in the top 10 that one can assume it.

How fast do pages load on average and is there a threshold?

What I noticed with the data sets for the various keyword queries is that over 90% of the websites examined loaded faster than 3 seconds . In addition, the average loading time of all websites that were previously measured by Pingdom is currently 3.25 seconds, which would also be consistent with the statements made by John Mueller about fast websites.

Investigation of the influence of loading time & first byte time on the ranking (November 2014)

Our first study on the topic of page speed and ranking dates from the end of 2014. In this study, similar to the MOZ study, we examined the influence of the first byte time , page load time and weight of a website on the ranking. To do this, we entered 50 search queries from different subject areas on Google and examined the loading time, first byte time and weight of the websites that ranked in the first ten search results. The results are as follows:

Singing loading time investigation

Result of the first investigation: only minor influence on the ranking

Our page speed test gave a similar picture to the study by MOZ (see below). With the exception of the first byte time , there does not seem to be a clear direct connection between the speed or loading time or weight of a website for ranking. A connection can be guessed at firstbyte time . To this end, the esteemed colleague Michael Janssen has made his own investigation , from which a first byte time of less than 300 Ms is recommended. However, this depends crucially on the speed of the server on which the domain is hosted.

Further studies on the topic of loading time and search engine ranking

From further studies from the last few years it is also clear that the “speed” of a website does not seem to be an important ranking signal. In 2013 there was also a study by MOZ   to what extent the loading time, response time and the size of a page correlated with the rankings for 2000 search queries. MOZ could not find any correlation between the loading time and the size of the website and the rankings. The only thing that could be faintly guessed as a connection to the ranking of a page was the response or first byte time.

Our data shows there is no correlation between “page load time” (either document complete or fully rendered) and ranking on Google’s search results page . This is true not only for generic searches (one or two keywords) but also for “long tail” searches (4 or 5 keywords) as well. We did not see websites with faster page load times ranking higher than websites with slower page load times in any consistent fashion. If Page Load Time is a factor in search engine rankings, it is being lost in the noise of other factors. We had hoped to see some correlation especially for generic one- or two-word queries. Our belief was that the high competition for generic searches would make smaller factors like page speed stand out more. This was not the case.

Investigation MOZ: loading time and ranking

The Searchmetrics study on the ranking factors 201 5 was also unable to establish a connection.

A feature that is heavily based on technology and that appeared for the first time in the analysis from last year is “Sitespeed”. This factor was included in the pool of ranking factors for 2013 with the expectation of a clearly positive correlation – however, the correlation for this value, as can be seen in the overview chart with the changes, was almost “zero”.

Conclusion: Page speed is important for UX, little to moderately important for SEO

Google has said it for years, and our research suggests it. Page speed influences the ranking of websites. According to our research results, especially for the top 10 search results. But how much effort should you put in if you want to make your website faster? Here you first have to ask yourself who I want to do the effort for. For the search engines or the ranking or so that the user feels comfortable on the website?

I would always recommend primarily optimizing the loading speed for the user. And whoever comes up with the manslaughter argument, user signals on websites influence the ranking, must first prove this to me with their own investigation or reference to other studies. Nobody doubts that Google likes high-performance and user-friendly websites. But there is still a difference between finding it good and including it in the ranking algorithm.

Last year, John Mueller answered my explicit question about user signals as a direct ranking signal:

From my point of view, it makes sense to look at user signals on a larger scale. Especially when we test algorithms, things like A / B testing can be done on any website, where you can see what works better, what works less well and that definitely makes sense. If you relate that to individual pages, I think it makes less sense that you can include that.

John’s statement is thus similar to other statements on this topic from Google in the past.

A detailed documentation of all current Google statements and more on this topic in the article  Are user signals & user behavior ranking factor / ranking signal?  .

Therefore, the question is still justified why in the last few years the (loading) speed of a website has been repeatedly cited as an important  or even very important ranking signal in the SEO world , although large-scale studies do not demonstrate this thesis and also Google itself has not increased the weight of the ranking signal “speed” since the statements in 2010.

As a critical observer and listener, one more reason to examine the whole thing again and again with your own little investigations. In terms of feeling, the influence has increased since our last survey in 2014. But an important ranking factor? Ranking factor yes! Important or even very important? No!

In my opinion, the topic is always so hotly boiled in SEO circles because it is very technical. And technical SEOs in particular love solutions that look complicated, as they can thus maintain their sovereignty and their exposed position. Territorial security, so to speak. And SEOs love tactical measures or hacks – implement a measure and immediately get better rankings. But in my experience, those days are simply over.

Shaun Anderson from hobo comes to a similar conclusion , who after his own investigation in his article  How Fast Should A Website Load in 2017?  summarizes the following:

Is that ranking signal and slight speed improvement justification for spending hours redeveloping your site? On its own – it was not – when you have to choose between SEO clean-up tasks, website redevelopment, content marketing or making your page more relevant in the first place.

A technical approach to improving user experience, it seems to me, would begin with site speed.

A faster site should improve visitor satisfaction levels and the number of conversions, for instance. This very well might have a second-order effect on your rankings over time – as many SEO think that QUERY COMPLETION & SATISFACTION SIGNALS are significant measurements in how Google orders search engine results pages in 2017.

To be honest, I never expected faster website load times to directly improve the rankings of my website.

There is not much to add to that!

Tools for testing page speed and loading times

At this point it should be noted that, according to Google, there is no tool that maps the measurement of the loading times of a website in the same way as Google does internally.

Statement by John Müller from July 2018 on the subject of Page Speed ​​Tools

However, there are some useful tool resources that can be used to analyze websites for page speed

  1. Pingdom
  2. Webpagetest.org
  3. GMetrix
  4. Uptrends tool
  5. Google’s tool for testing mobile friendliness
  6. Google Page Speed ​​Insights
  7. Google Lighthouse

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