You might have seen it in the news headline ...
Gary, working at Google, is telling us that site speed is a "teeny tiny" ranking factor, very similar to HTTPs usage.
Surely we should trust him right ?
In reality, it is a bit more complex than what has been presented. And here's the opportunity to present a concept unknown to many SEO's : search filters.
A search filter is an attribute that will remove a page from the pool of possible pages that will be elected in the SERPs.
It is not the same thing as a ranking factor!
Let's say you have 1000 pages and you want the top 100 most relevant results for your search query.
You can order those 1000 pages by relevancy using your various ranking factors and then take the first 100 pages
You can remove the pages that you know for sure that they won't be relevant using a search filter eg. you trim your 1000 pages to 684 pages with your search filters, then (and only then) you apply your ranking factors to THAT new pool and pick the first 100 pages.
An example of a search filter could be (and I'm not saying it is what Google uses here, mind you), "remove all dead pages".
But why would you do that ?!
In computer science, ordering is a costly operation. That's why removing pages before ordering them is an essential thing to do. Especially when you are Google and dealing with trillions of pages!
On the other hand, ranking factors are properties of the pages that will be used to order the remaining pages (**after** we have removed pages using our search filter)
Here are some examples of ranking factor used by Google :
- Number and quality of pages linking to your page (using variation of the PageRank algorithm)
- Relevancy of your content
- Search intent matching
So... is page speed a ranking factor?
No, it is a search filter !
So... do I need optimize my site for speed?
Absolutely yes ! But it will not boost your rankings ;)
It will actually make you appear in more searches.
If your page is slow enough, it will stop appearing in slow connection searches. You will simply not be there but it will not impact your ranking position.
Put it another way: when you appear in a search result, your site speed does not matter to determine your ranking position. It has already been used to select you in those search results (or not) beforehand !
If you optimize your page speed, you will most likely get more impressions but not better rankings.
Because ranking is not all that counts
And you start to understand why Gary said something like that. If he would say right away (truthfully) that page speed is not a ranking factor at all, you can bet that most SEO's would not care anymore about page speed... which would be detrimental for their website and the internet in general!
Because ranking is not the only thing that matter!
Ask yourself: why do you need a good ranking ? To get traffic.
Why? To get conversions.
Here you go.
Page speed is not helping your ranking. Page speed is helping your search traffic (by increasing your impressions) and your conversions (by increasing your CRO/reducing bounce)
Detrimental page speed optimization
I also want to add a quick note about detrimental page speed optimization.
I've seen cases where for the sake of page speed images have been removed and content reduced.
Do not do that!
Content (and OnPage SEO in general) IS a big ranking factor so if you start playing with that, you will impact your ranking. (if you're removing content, you will most probably decrease your ranking). And as we've seen, the additional page speed boost you got by doing that won't help recover those ranking losses, so be careful !
Here are some key takeaways :
- Page speed is not a ranking factor ie. it will not impact your ranking position
- Page speed acts as a filter: if you're too slow you will stop appearing in slow connection searches
- You still need to optimize for speed: you will get more impressions and more conversions from your visitors.
- Be careful with overoptimization: do not optimize to the detriment of good content. As a general rule of thumb, aim to be under 3s for most of your pages.