Mobile site speed is Google’s priority now for rating sites. The search giant made the move to mobile-first indexing in March, after giving site owners about 18 months to prepare for the switch.
Savvy site owners did not wait for the mobile site speed change to happen before optimizing to meet this new emphasis. With mobile indexing, Google uses the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking.
Gone are the days of weak, thin mobile presentations. This gives searchers, who now predominantly use mobile devices, a better user experience. To further benefit this huge user base, Google announced in January in the Webmaster Central Blog that in July of 2018 slow-loading content wouldn’t perform as well for both desktop and mobile searchers.
As the calendar slips over to July, a new study by Searchmetrics shows that site owners have heeded the warnings. The results are in already, and if your site is not speed-ready, you are already being left at the starting line in the race for top rankings.
What Makes a Rankings Winner in the Mobile Indexing Era?
The answer is simple: Speed.
Mobile users want their information delivered instantly, and Google seeks to maximize user satisfaction by ranking the faster pages first in the results. The Searchmetics study clearly shows that the race for rankings is already being won by the fastest sites. Although the study is loaded with useful and interesting insights, the two biggest takeaways are:
- For pages ranking in Positions 1 to 5 in the search results, pages load faster with each improvement in ranking position.
- Mobile pages ranking in Positions 1 to 5 load faster than those ranking from six to 15.
Site speed is hard to define; and over the years, I have personally had numerous disagreements with site owners on just how fast, or usually slow, their sites are.
In a word, if you are looking at speed as an SEO ranking factor, which it clearly is, employ the tools and methodology that will be used in ranking your site. In my practice, I have used a variety of tools over time. My current favorites are Google Lighthouse and Page Speed Insights. My logic has always been that if Google is measuring my site speed, then let’s see if I can mirror its results so that any improvements are framed in its context.
The Searchmetrics study indicates that pages must load in under 2 seconds. Although the mobile site speed results varied somewhat by industry segment, the rule of thumb coming out of this study is as follows: Forget about making incremental changes. Unless you can come within the 2-second limits, you will not break into the top five. The top five results are faster than six to 15.
What About AMP?
The use of AMP (accelerated mobile pages) is growing. These pages typically mirror the desktop pages. The study found that across all industries, AMP pages were found on the first results pages for three out of five (61%) keywords. AMP is most common in media (87% of keywords), the first adopters.
AMP is also now found on more than half of SERPs in finance, e-commerce and travel. E-commerce pages lag just a tiny bit in speed. This is expected, given the heavy use of scripting needed to present all of the bells and whistles buyers expect to find in a commerce site; however, this is no excuse for not striving to achieve the speed needed for top rankings.
Although speed has only just officially become a ranking factor in July, the race is well underway and winners are already lining up for their rewards.