For over two years Google has been talking very vocally about site speed and performance and the role that it plays in search. Back in April 2010, this post highlighted why they care so much about speed and even discussed how site speed and performance is a ranking factor for search results. This is one of those things that really helps highlight how complex search engines really are and the technology behind what they do. The following case study provides a pretty good example of how speed and performance impacts the process that search engines, in this case Google, go through to find, index and rank content from across the web.
Despite the fact that Google’s announcement about speed and performance was from back in 2010 I rarely hear marketers and agencies talk about it. I’m not sure why this is and so I want to share some more information about this and something we just learned from our own website. We launched a new website back in March 2012. This update for us was a complete overhaul. We changed the design, information architecture and perhaps most importantly the content management system that we use. It was a big upgrade, moving us from an older, archaic setup to one that is more current with web technologies.
Google, through their Google Webmaster Tools portal, provides some great data to website owners about how Google is interacting with your site. One of the items is the amount of time they spend downloading a page. This could be impacted by the way your page is programmed, the technologies you use, your hosting provider, how many images the page has, and more. But the goal is to be as fast as possible, for both users and search engines. In the chart below you can see that when our new site launched at the beginning of March there was an immediate impact.
Another chart shows the immediate impact on the amount of data Google needed to download. It was significantly less and relates directly to the other chart above.
What is interesting is this last chart, which shows the number of pages crawled per day. This chart has the opposite trend of the other charts. What is shows is that when you make things easier and faster for Google they “reward” you by crawling more pages.
The way that it really works is that when Google is crawling a site, they allocate a certain amount of resources to that task. They make that determination by a number of different factors such as site size, inbound links and overall authority. If they have to use up all of the dedicated resources to crawl 100 pages, then they are done and they move on. But if you make your site faster, they can crawl more pages using that same amount of resources. It is much more complex than this, but this is the way to think about it, and it is reflected in the charts above.
Now, the above information is a positive thing, but it doesn’t really prove that our natural search visibility is any stronger because of this change. It just shows that our site is faster and that Google is crawling more pages. I would love to be able to share that data and show year over year numbers to prove that this has impacted our overall SEO, but I can’t, and it’s not because we care about sharing the data. We are all about transparency. The problem is that the data doesn’t tell the correct story because of a change that Google made last year.
In October of 2011 Google made a change where they started encrypting traffic from logged in users. They originally thought this would impact a single-digit percentage of traffic, they were wrong, and it has had a major impact on most sites across the web. What it results in is a line item in your analytics called “(not provided)”, referring to the specific keyword used by the searcher being “not provided” by Google. This makes it very challenging to show year over year improvement. For our site about 20% of our natural search traffic is falling under this category of “not provided”. For other sites on the web it is worse, see this article. But I digress.
The point of this post and the message for hotel websites out there is that you need to think about speed and performance. Despite the view in this post, speed and performance is really about the end user and providing them with a superior experience. The fact that it matters for SEO is an important second consideration.