SEMA News - March 2010

Faster Sites Could See Higher Rankings in 2010

By Joe Dysart


Firebug, a Firefox add-on, works in concert with Google Page Speed to help uncover problems with download speed.   

In a move that is raising eyebrows in the online marketing world, Google is intimating that companies with websites that download faster than those of competitors could soon be given preference in Google search-engine returns. The statement, made by Matt Cutts, a high-profile software architect at the web-search titan, reflects a larger initiative underway at Google in which the company is searching for ways to make web browsing even faster and easier.

“One of the things we care deeply about at Google is speed,” said Bharat Mediratta, a principal engineer at the company. “We want users to have the fastest possible search experience.”

The growing problem with tortoise-like websites is rooted to a great degree in the evolution of websites design, which has witnessed the blossoming of ever-more-spectacular sites and resulting code that is often much more sophisticated and resource-sapping.

“As Web 2.0 technologies, such as Ajax and DHTML have become more widespread, websites have grown more complex,” said Andrew B. King, author of Website Optimization. “The size of the average webpage has tripled in five years, while the average number of objects has doubled. All of this largess has led to inevitable slowdowns in display speeds. Some argue that with bandwidth inexorably increasing, slow response times have become less of an issue than in our dial-up past. The data show otherwise.”

King, along with other less-is-more evangelists, has been pushing the idea for years that web marketers and others need to continuously look for ways to make webpage downloads as fast as possible lest visitors click away in frustration. Indeed, a 2009 study released through Portland State University and Bogazici University by researchers Seneler, Basoglu and Daim confirmed what most of us already probably take for granted: When it comes to performance on websites, nothing is more important than speed.

Interestingly, Google’s mulling of site speed as a new factor in ranking search-engine returns is emblematic of an over-arching initiative at the company of late to make web browsing as fast and easy as possible. Late last year, for example, the company rolled out a pilot test of a brand-new algorithm for its search engine, which is designed to make Google run faster, enable the search engine to index more pages, ensure greater accuracy and bring back results that are more relevant.

Code-named “Caffeine,” Google’s algorithm overhaul will most likely be rolled out across the entire Google system early in 2010, according to Cutts, who said that the feedback on Caffeine has been very positive.

While the hammer has yet to come down on whether or not speed will become an official page-rank factor on Google, it still makes good business sense to ensure that your company’s pages are as lean and mean as possible. Here are some tools to help you along:

Google Page Speed: This is a free, downloadable software tool from Google that automatically analyzes a number of design factors that could be slowing down your site and then creates the changes you need to eliminate those speed bumps. Initially, this remarkably handy program was used internally at Google to punch up the design code for Google properties, such as Google Maps and Gmail, according to Mediratta. It’s designed to work with the Firefox browser and Firebug, an add-on tool for Firefox.

Page Speed is simple to use. Just load in a page, click “Analyze Performance” and you’ll immediately receive a list of suggestions on how to make your websites download more quickly. The true power of the program, though, is its ability to actually give you the changes you need to correct speed problems.

If there are problems with your Javascript code, for example, Page Speed will auto-write an alternative that is much simpler and more elegant and offer you the option of dropping in that code with just a few points and clicks. Moreover, if you’re experiencing the common snafu of bloated images that have not been compressed properly, Page Speed will auto-create an optimally compressed version of the images for you, which you’ll also be able to drop back into your design with just a few points and clicks.

Page Speed Video Tutorial: Google offers an overview of its speed initiative in this video, including a video example of how Page Speed analyzes a specific site and how it can be used to auto-create optimization solutions for speed bottlenecks.

Web Page Analyzer: This is an online site-performance analysis tool that can be used with virtually any browser. Simply enter the address for any page of your website, and Analyzer will look for speed deficiencies in your page’s design and offer solutions. The tool is offered free by King’s site.

Website Auditor: This is a multipurpose analysis tool that offers design suggestions on how to speed up your site, and it will also show you how your site stacks up against competing websites.

14 Rules for Faster-Loading Websites: This is a handy checklist for designers looking to quickly optimize their designs, by Steve Souders, author of High Performance Web Sites and Even Faster Web Sites. Souder said he has been able to speed up webpages by 25%–50% simply by following these rules.

Yahoo’s Best Practices for Speeding Up Your Website: Offered by the Yahoo! Developer Network, this is a fairly detailed checklist on how to maximize your site for speed. You may not understand all of the acronyms, but you’ll be able to use the checklist to confirm with your web designer that he/she has bulletproofed your site against major speed gremlins.

Website Optimization by Andrew B. King: This is King’s second and expanded book on website optimization. For speed optimization, he recommends various ways to tweak your website’s code, including how to shrink video files. 

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan, New York.
Voice: 646/233-4089




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