How To Optimize Your Website Speed For Mobile: Google Speed Update Is Coming

Mobile and tablets walking

It’s now been a few months since Google announced that, as of this July, page speed will be a ranking factor in mobile searches. Essentially, slower-loading content will be downranked.

This is the latest development in Google’s efforts to make the web more mobile-friendly and reflect the latest user behavior trends. Indeed, more than 60 per cent of searches on Google are performed on mobile devices, and mobile users expect sites to load even faster on their phones, even though they may be using a slower network connection.

There’s still a lot of confusion around what it will mean for marketers when Google implements page speed as a mobile ranking factor. Do you have to change anything? Everything? If your site is mobile-friendly, will that be good enough?

Years ago, Google made it clear that slow sites would impede its ability to crawl the sites. A while back, Google announced that the slowness of a site was a weak, negative factor for desktop searches. Later, in a Webmaster Central discussion thread, Google’s own John Mueller cited a two-second page load as a threshold above which the crawler would be slowed in indexing a site’s content.

As with most of Google’s ranking factors, they’re secretive about what exactly constitutes a fast site for ranking purposes. You can use tools like PageSpeed Insights or Webpage Test to get a sense of how fast your sites load -- and even run comparison tests on your direct competitors.

Recent builds of Google’s Chrome browser also include Lighthouse, an automated tool for running website audits. You’ll notice when you run it that it simulates loading the site on a mobile device -- and even delivers load times that are based on a simulated 3G connection. Be warned, though, you’ll probably be concerned about the figures it reports.

When you compare Lighthouse to Google’s earlier PageSpeed Insights Tools, it’s interesting to note that its recommendations are only based on a mobile analysis, where PageSpeed Insights also gives a set of recommendations. The implication is clear: Google sees the internet as mobile first. Indeed, just weeks ago Google also announced that they are in the process of moving to a mobile-first index for ranking sites.

Why does all this matter to you, as a site owner or marketer? Google is one of the most important sources of traffic for most, if not all, of our clients. When customers research a buying decision, increasingly the first place they go is a search engine.

July is approaching quickly, so the time to improve your site’s speed is running short. Where should you start? There are a myriad of possible ways to improve performance, so we typically start by analyzing three key areas:

  1. HTML page load times;
  2. How many on-site assets (images, CSS, and JavaScript) are being loaded, and how long they take; and
  3. How many third-party assets and services are being called, and how long they take.

Looking at site speed this way is useful because problems in each of those areas call for different remedies. If one area is already in good shape then applying more effort there likely won’t have as much impact as directly addressing a problem area.

For example, suppose Lighthouse indicates your site’s home page will take 12 seconds to load over a 3G connection. If the load of the HTML page is only one second of that, then common site acceleration strategies like better caching will only have a marginal impact, perhaps 0.3 - 0.5 seconds. On the other hand, if the real culprit is the use of many large images, then finding ways to make the image sizes smaller, reducing their use, or even optimizing their delivery will have a much stronger impact on the overall load time.

In my DrupalNorth 2017 workshop Performance: A Primer for Making Drupal Fast, I go into detail what to look for when analyzing site performance, the tools I use to perform a site audit, and provide a lot of examples of audit tools in action. Even if your site is not a Drupal site, a lot of the information will apply.  

It’s important to analyze your website's speed on a regular basis. If you can’t even remember the last time you’ve checked, or if speed performance and mobile rankings are a concern to you, engage your web agency or IT department and ask it to conduct a speed audit with the intention learning how to optimize your website speed for mobile.

Digital Echidna also offers an affordable web speed analysis service audit, which will give you deep insight on what elements on a page may be too fast, too slow, or too big, and provide recommendations as to how you can resolve such issues. Contact us today for pricing. 

Good luck and good speed!

Questions Answered

What tools can I use to test site load times? How will the google speed update impact my site?

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