Once upon a time, search engine optimization consisted of shoving keywords into content – any content – in order to drive traffic from an engine like Google to your website. Things have changed a great deal, and while keywords do still play a role in your ranking success, page load time is something that everyone should consider. Here’s why it matters.
The Goal of a Search Engine
To truly understand how and why something like page load time is so critically important now when it wasn’t important 15 years ago, you first need to understand the search engines’ ultimate goal. A search engine like Google is a company. Even though Google has a significant portion of the market share, they are always competing, so they are always improving and trying to provide a better experience for their users. Their ultimate goal is to keep their users happy so that their percentage of the market share keeps growing. Like any company, they want to be the absolute best.
Not Just Keywords Anymore
Sophisticated technology allows Google to develop “algorithms,” which are essentially lists of criteria that ads or websites need to meet in order to climb the search results rankings. Years ago, as long as you stuffed in enough keywords, you could be the very first search result. A website about apple pie might be the first result for a search on blue suede shoes as long as you mentioned blue suede shoes often enough, even if the content didn’t make any sense. Over time, Google users started trying alternatives. They wanted a page about shoes, after all – not one about pie. In response, Google’s algorithms changed to satisfy their users, and now there’s much more to a high ranking than just keywords.
As you might expect, as technology has continued to get more and more sophisticated, and as search engines got faster and better at what they do, Google’s algorithms got pickier. Now, in order to satisfy the algorithm and rank your page or site highly, you’ll need to focus on many, many things. Most of these things fall into two categories: relevance and user experience.
- Relevance: If a user searches for blue suede shoes, they expect to be given results that are relevant to blue suede shoes – not apple pie. Your website content must be relevant to the search term in order to rank highly.
- User Experience: Now that millions of companies have learned about SEO, and now that there are millions of websites on the internet, Google has started including user experience in its algorithm. This includes things like aesthetics, navigation, and page load time, among others.
Page Load Time is the New Keyword
We’ve moved beyond keyword stuffing. We’ve even moved beyond relevance. Now, in order to truly compete for ranks, companies must make sure their websites deliver the best possible experience because Google must deliver the best possible experience to its users. Page load time is a critical part of this because no matter how relevant and clean and authoritative your site might be, if it loads too slowly, Google users won’t like it and they’ll move to the next result. If it takes more than a couple of seconds for your page to load, your rankings will suffer as Google provides users with links to faster-loading sites that are just as clean and just as authoritative as yours.
With every passing year, it seems that Google gets more and more critical. The complexity of their algorithms continues to change, and companies must keep changing things and keep testing new ideas to rank highly. Making sure your content is relevant, dynamic, and user-friendly is the best way to make the algorithm happy, and page load time is an important part of being user-friendly.