How Google Rewards/Penalizes Sites Based on Mobile Speed

A Whopping 53% of internet users report abandoning a site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to fully load. To Google, this indicates a poor user experience. Since more people are searching on mobile devices than traditional computers, and Google’s goal is to deliver the best search experience to its users, mobile speed is increasingly important to consider.

What Happened with the Google Speed Update?

In 2018, with the rise of the mobile-first indexing, Google announced a new algorithm for ranking mobile pages. They’ve dubbed it: “the Speed Update.”

As Google’s Z. Wang and D. Phan explained, the Google Speed Update would affect only the slowest pages. 

And if they still have great content, they won’t see their ranking drop (too much).

The History of Page Speed as a Ranking Factor

Webmasters and SEOs have seen this update coming for years, ever since the number of searchers coming from mobile surpassed desktop (in 2016, mobile searches accounted for more than 50% of global searches for the first time).

Google has been conducting tests on the importance of loading speed since 2009

Even then, they found that longer loading times led to decreased engagement. 

People want answers, and they wanted them fast. 

Following up on the results, Google announced that it would use site speed as a ranking signal in 2010. Back then, speed wasn’t as important when calculating the ranking of your site. Content was still king.

The Importance of Back-End Performance

In 2013, Moz ran an experiment. They wanted to see how exactly Google made good on their promise to penalize slow-loading sites. They found that:

  • TTFB (Time-To-First-Byte) had a bigger impact than full/partial rendering. Sites that responded faster to Google had higher search rankings.
  • Pages and websites with more content earned higher rankings. 

Their data ultimately showed that there was no correlation between page load time and ranking.

Websites that had better infrastructure (servers and hosting) and delivered content faster ranked higher.

The conclusions were quite natural.

TTFB is the most reliable metric for Google’s crawlers. 

It’s the first thing they can assess, and it’s the easiest way of understanding page speed.

For webmasters, that meant that they shouldn’t just remove unnecessary elements from their pages. 

Instead, they had to focus on the back-end performance of their websites. 

And yes, that includes servers, content delivery networks, and hosting providers. 

Slow Sites Earn Less Revenue

In time, it became clear that an increasing number of people started using their phones as the gateway to the World Wide Web.

So in 2015, Google announced a new algorithm change that prioritized mobile-friendliness. 

They introduced mobile optimization as a ranking signal. As we know today, a major part of mobile-friendliness is speed.

Back in 2015, people were quick to call this algorithm update “Mobileggedon.” 

Suddenly, webmasters found their landing pages ranking lower, losing their traffic almost overnight because they didn’t load fast enough or display well on mobile devices

However, others understood that there was a direct correlation between page speed and revenue.

Google explained it succinctly:

Speed = Revenue

In 2018, Google analyzed over 11 million mobile ad landing pages. 

They found that mobile drove more traffic, but desktop drove more conversions.

Further benchmark analysis showed that for mobile users:

  • The probability of bounce increased 32% for pages that took between 1 and 3s to load
  • The probability of bounce increased 90% for pages that took between 3 and 5s to load

The probability kept increasing until it became clear that speed truly equals revenue. If you wanted to make sure your mobile visitors convert, you have to make your pages fast.  

All things considered, the 2018 Google Speed Update was a long time coming.

Back to the Future of Mobile Speed

Even now, Google continues to experiment with ways to improve the user experience by helping users more quickly identify which sites will load quickly, and which sites will be frustratingly slow.

The first such badge is already in use, and it is appropriately a lightning bolt.

Lightning Bolt Badge Identify AMP Pages on the SERP

First announced in 2015 and formerly known as Accelerated Mobile Pages, the Google AMP Project aims to deliver lightning-fast mobile experienced on the web. By creating an alternate version of your page’s HTML that adheres to strict guidelines designed to increase site speed and performance on mobile devices, Google is able to serve up your AMPs near instantly. They also tag your listing in the results page with a lightning bolt, indicating to searchers that your site will load shockingly fast.

AMP pages and a plethora of other tools webmasters could use to speed up their mobile pages will ensure that your website still ranks highly, delights mobile users and brings in revenue.

Learn more about AMP, what it is and how it can benefit all websites that rely on search traffic for revenue, including mobile e-commerce sites.

Google Experiments with Additional Site Speed Badges

As of the end of 2019, Google announced that it’s experimenting with other ways to shame slow sites and reward fast-loading pages. One example they’re trying with the Chrome browser is a badge that indicates the page ‘Usually Loads Slow’. To reward fast sites, they’re experimenting with a green progress indicator. 

The folks at Google have always been vocal about pleasing searchers, and the new mobile-first era ensures that we can increasingly expect quick-loading content, regardless of what type of device you use to access the web. When a speed increase can have a 5-7% increase in your bottom-line revenue, the rewards for speeding up your site seem simple enough even without Google’s incentives. WompMobile specializes in mobile speed improvements and can leverage your existing website to create AMPs that load almost instantly, delighting your website visitors and mobile shoppers and increase your revenue.