Google April 9 confirmed what it hinted at last year when it began using site speed as one of the 200-plus signals the search engine uses to decide search rankings.
Site speed reflects how quickly a Website responds to Web requests. Over the last decade or so, Google has made speed the No. 1 criteria in rendering search results for users.
To gauge their Website's speed, Website publishers, Webmasters or Web authors can use Google's Site Performance tool in Webmaster Labs; Google's Page Speed, an open-source Firefox/Firebug add-on that evaluates the performance of Web pages; YSlow, a free Yahoo tool that suggests ways to improve Website speed; and WebPagetest.
"Faster sites create happy users, and we've seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there," wrote Google Fellow Amit Singhal, and Matt Cutts, principal engineer for Google's search quality team, in a blog post.
"But faster sites don't just improve user experience; recent data shows that improving site speed also reduces operating costs. Like us, our users place a lot of value in speed-that's why we've decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings."
Singhal and Cutts noted that Website speed does not carry as much weight as page relevance and less than 1 percent of English search queries in the United States are affected by site speed. Moreover, the changes were made a few weeks ago, and Website owners would have noticed the change already if there were an impact.
Cutts on his blog April 9 attempted to assuage smaller Web publishers who fear their Websites may be too slow to curry favor with Google's ranking algorithm.
"Don't panic. We mentioned site speed as early as last year, and you can watch this video from February where I pointed out that we still put much more weight on factors like relevance, topicality, reputation, value-add, etc.-all the factors that you probably think about all the time. Compared to those signals, site speed will carry much less weight."
Cutts also claimed the change won't necessarily help larger Websites who pay more for Web hosting, noting that small sites can respond faster than large companies to changes on the Web because they don't have to worry about big company bureaucracy.
He also urged search engine optimizers (SEOs) to embrace speeding up their Websites to boost conversion rates.
Site speed certainly dovetails with Google's arguments for network neutrality and against big ISP or network operators who can speed or slow data on their pipes at their leisure.
Comcast recently scored a major victory when a court said the Federal Communications Commission could not tell ISPs how to manage their networks.
Google fears this control will impact how its users' access their services, which is why the company is testing broadband networks to see if it can improve on the current user experience and perhaps spur carriers to speed up their own networks.