Starting in July, Google will take into account the speed at which pages load on mobile devices when ranking websites in mobile search results.
Generally, websites with fast loading pages will get a higher ranking in search results than those of the same quality content but with slower page speeds. Google will apply the speed-ranking factor to all mobile pages regardless of the technology used to build the page.
The Speed Update, as Google is calling it, is designed to encourage website owners to optimize their sites for mobile use at a time when a growing number of people have begun using smartphones and tablets to browse and search online. Google has been using site speed as a ranking factor for desktop search since 2010.
Even after the change kicks in, Google will continue to consider search query intent when ranking pages in mobile search. So a slow page still has the potential to rank highly in search results if the content is strong and relevant enough to the query, the company said.
The inclusion of speed as a ranking factor for mobile search will "only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and will only affect a small percentage of queries," Google engineers Zhiheng Wang and Doantam Phan said in a Jan. 18 blog.
Wang and Phan encouraged webmasters to review various user experience metrics that Google has made available over the years to figure out how their site performance might be impacting the overall experience of mobile users.
Currently no tool is available that lets website owners figure out if their site will be negatively impacted by the new mobile search ranking factor, the two engineers said. But various tools are available to help evaluate mobile page performance, they noted.
One of them is the Chrome User Experience Report, which contains user experience metrics collected from Chrome users on various popular web destinations. The data reflects how mobile users actually experienced popular web destinations and is designed to give webmasters pointers on how to replicate that experience on their own sites.
Another tool that website owners can use to evaluate mobile page performance is called Lighthouse, Wang and Phan said. The automated tool lets site owners audit performance, accessibility and other website performance metrics.
Google has been prepping website owners for the Speed Update for sometime. The company has been using its enormous clout in the search space to get website owners to optimize their pages for mobile use in a variety of ways.
The most notable among them is Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) a, Google-led open-source initiative to get websites to implement a lightweight protocol for boosting site performance on mobile devices. Sites that have implemented AMP are now ranked higher in Google's mobile search results than sites that have not implemented the protocol.
More recently, the company began rolling out mobile-first indexing under which it has begun using the mobile version of a website's content first when indexing pages for search. Prior to the shift, Google's search engine crawlers looked at the desktop content first for site indexing. The company has said the shift is necessary to ensure that users searching for content with their mobile devices do not end up on pages that are vastly different from the desktop version.