How important is site speed as a search metric?
The short and simple answer to this question is nobody knows, however it does not seem to be very important, at least not at the moment. Google themselves, or Matt Cutts to be specific has said that other factors will carry much more weight (i.e. relevance and reputation). So why does it matter to the average website?
In my opinion, which could be wrong remember, this is one of the fine tuning metrics which can make a difference when you are optimising a site and pushing for the top 3 positions. It may be that there are some simple things which can be done to a website such as changing the size, type or resolution of images, which will increase speed, these really should have already been addressed, so if not, they should be done regardless of what Google recommends. If a user has just spent money on their brand new 50GB internet connection, but still has to wait several seconds for your pages to display, you had better have something either totally unique or incredibly well written (or both) or they will just leave and go to another website. After all, it’s up to you to get new site visitors and then keep them, so a fast website really is just a courtesy to your visitors.
Assuming that you don’t have any obvious mistakes, is it worth potentially time consuming and possibly costly site development to move from 45th position up to 43rd? I doubt it very much, your traffic will not increase substantially, if at all. However, if you are in 3rd position and have already fine tuned your tags, copy etc, then a bit of re-coding to speed things up, could just push you into 2nd or even 1st place.
Quite a few SEO’s and website designers really don’t like this change to the algorithm, I’m not really sure why. Google is alleged to have made around 350 changes to it’s algorithm in 2009, we don’t know what they all are, but I’m sure there were some which had a bigger impact on the search results than this one has.
When Matt Cutts posted about these changes he said:
“I know this change will be popular with some people and unpopular with others. Let me reiterate a point to the search engine optimisers (SEOs) out there: SEO is a field that changes over time, and the most successful SEOs embrace change and turn it into an opportunity.”
So if you need a little push to achieve those top search positions, have a look at your Google Webmaster Tools account. From in there you can check your site speed and download a tool to help you to identify what is slowing your pages down. My guess is that if they have publicly told us that it’s a factor, it will become more important at some point, so it may be worth taking a look at anyway if you want to keep ahead of the game.