Keen-eyed webmasters may have spotted a brand-new feature in the Google Webmaster tools recently – the ability to monitor the loading speeds of pages on their site.
This new tool, described as 'site performance' allows users to compare the speeds of a website, specifically how fast a single website is when contrasted with other domains.
The following graph shows the load speed of one particular website over the past few months.
While it's good practice to minimise the loading times for pages as standard – to accommodate users with slower connections – there have been rumours that Google could begin using page speed as a ranking factor in its search engine results pages.
This year's PubCon – a social media, SEO and online marketing conference, held in Las Vegas – saw Matt Cutts, Google's head of webspam, explain there was strong support inside Google for a new algorithm which judges the speed of a site.
Talking to Web Pro News in November, Cutts said:
"We're starting to think more about if speed should be a factor in rankings. Historically, we haven't used it in our search rankings, but a lot of people within Google think the web should be fast, it should be a good experience."
"So it should be fair to say maybe if you are a fast site, maybe you should get a bit of a bonus. If you're a slow site, maybe users don't want those things so much."
Adrian Mursec, lead developer at theEword said that site speed was always an important consideration for SEO professionals.
"First and foremost, site speed is important for usability; many browsers will click away after three seconds."
"Site speed has always been an issue in some respects. For many years, SEO companies have not only been working to minimise the amount of data on the site – which affects loading speed – but also careful to ensure the relevant data is being located by Google's cataloguing algorithm (a process known as 'spidering'). As Google has only a limited capacity to analyse a site, the relevant information must be presented in a way that ensures it is efficiently looked at by the search engine."
With the launch of this new Webmaster tools, it is apparent that Google is maintaining a strong emphasis of usability – of which speed is a vital component. Whether or not the team at Google HQ decide to use a website's loading time as a ranking factor, it is clear that this is an issue the company feels strongly about.