We’re living in the age of speed and people want to do things as fast as possible. And they’re not alone, since Google wants pretty much the same thing, especially when it comes to your mobile browsing experience.
This week, the search engine giant announced a new ranking algorithm, tailored for smartphones. To be more specific, we’re talking about mobile search. Because, in case you still don’t know this, the number of searches made on mobile devices has surpassed searches made on PCs. Let that sink in for a while.
The Google Speed Update, as it’s known in the webmaster community, will impact a small percentage of queries, at least for the moment. Pages that “deliver the slowest experience to users” will be among the first hit by the new update, the company says.
What’s the deal with this update after all?
Going live in July 2018 (so anybody has all the time in the world to make required updates to their pages), the update raised some question marks at first. As you probably know, speed has been a ranking factor since forever.
Ok, not forever, make it 2009. Back then, they were saying that speed as a ranking factor was focused just on desktop searches. But little did they know that the number of mobile searches will grow like crazy and they will be somehow forced to do something in order to deliver the best experience.
Back to 2018, it’s finally happening. The company mentioned this in the blog post through which the official announcement regarding the update was made:
“Although speed has been used in ranking for some time, that signal was focused on desktop searches…Starting in July 2018, page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches.”
However, there are some exceptions. Google says that the intent behind a query remains a very strong signal. And you know what this means? A slow page may still rank if the content is extremely relevant to the search. MAY.
Is the update going to affect my site?
Most likely, all webmasters with a big focus on mobile (and not only) started asking themselves about a potential penalty. Luckily, you can answer this question yourselves, since there are a lot of tools which you can use to test page speed and eventually see if there’s room for improvement.
Google has its own tool, TestMySite, which, if you ask me, does a pretty amazing job. Specifically, it allows you to identify the problematic areas in terms of mobile speed. But it does have a downside: it tests your site using a 3G connection.
At first, this doesn’t sound like an issue, since it’s probably a very common connection all over the world. Still, users from developed countries connect using 4G, so it’s kind of mandatory to test it for this speed as well. But hey, the Internet is huge and you will definitely find an alternative!
For example, take GTMetrix, which allows you to test for various connections, including 4G. And you know what’s the coolest part about these tools? You can use them to see how your competitors are doing as well.
In a nutshell, if the results of these tests are good, you don’t have to worry that much about the Google Speed Update. If your site loads fast on mobile, it will receive a lot of search engine TLC.
Will the update have an impact on my SEO strategy?
Yes. Next question, please? Ok, you want a detailed answer. Say no more…
If you had the slightest idea about what an SEO strategy implies, I’m convinced that you already knew about this update before it took effect and already took the required measures.
With six months before it started rolling out, Google announced the Speed Update, so all webmaster (well, not really all of them) have enough time to see if the mobile variants of their websites need some work. On the other side, there are definitely a few of them who will be surprised by what their Analytics account will show one morning, this summer.
As mentioned above, yes, the update will have an impact on your strategy. But it’s just January, so you could start thinking about getting prepared. To be more specific, these are a few of the first things you must do…
- Install AMP on your website
It’s like Google sent signals about this update for a very long time, since AMP is around for a while. Accelerated Mobile Pages are simplified variants, designed for…well, mobile devices, showing just the essential information on a page. They load very quickly and consume less data, but this is just a bonus.
Did I mention that they load fast? Bingo, they are what you need. Add the fact that this is very fast to implement as well, since you can do it through a simple WordPress plugin, and they’re definitely the first thing to do on your “Stuff to do in order to avoid getting hit by the Speed Update” list.
Sure, a really-fast mobile experience can be created in other ways as well, not to mention that with AMP you’re sacrificing a bit of your pages’ design, but hey, they do the trick!
If you’re still not convinced about the potential efficiency of AMP in a Google Speed Update era, you can start by simply installing the WP AMP Themes plugin here: https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-amp-themes/
- Consider user intent
Ok, so your pages are now faster. No, you’re not done yet!
If you weren’t aware of this, it seems that users tend to search for things on mobile different than they do it on a desktop. To be more specific, the mobile queries are shorter, since they want the results as fast as possible, so they don’t want to waste a lot of time typing.
If you decide to optimize for shorter, generic keywords and eventually manage to reach one of the first positions in SERPs, you need to make sure that that page is blazing fast. Otherwise, the user might go back.
- Check your potential slow pages
The Internet is a pretty amazing thing and you can find tools for pretty much everything you need. A bit earlier, we talked about Google’s TestMySite, but there’s another method you can use to diagnose your potential pages with issues.
And it’s pretty simple, since the Search Console can give you a lot of valuable insights. Head over to the ‘Smartphone’ tab under Crawl Errors and you can see all the crawl errors that might be affecting your mobile error. Eventually, use the Fetch on Google option to see how crawlers view your site. Oh, and check the Mobile Usability report as well, you never know what you can find over there.
As for the speed, there’s PageSpeed Insights to the rescue. It’s a straightforward tool, where you can enter the URL of a page you will see how well-optimized it is.
These are three of the most important aspects you should be concerned about, but there are a couple of tiny bits that need to be taken care of as well. I’m talking about improving mobile UX, by looking at the following things:
- Forget about autoplay
Besides being annoying and inaccessible to some users, video and audio elements set to autoplay slow down your page, as they basically load unnecessary content. Get rid of them and you can kill two birds with one stone.
- Remove full-page pop-ups and interstitials
You’re getting penalized if you keep this, even before the update starts rolling out, so why risk? Plus, your visitors hate these from the bottom of their hearts.
- Work on that UI
Finally, let’s not forget about the design of your pages. The idea here is to rely on a slimmed-down, task-based design, which allows users to navigate easily through the page and reach the information they need as fast as possible.
To sum everything up, let’s put the effects of this future update in one sentence. Websites which deliver the slowest experience will be hit, so implement AMP, think about users intent and make use of all the tools you have in order to check how your pages perform. Well, that’s actually a phrase.
In the end, a mobile website should do one thing: enable the visitor the quickly accomplish what they came there for. Emphasis on “quickly”. If yours manages to do this, you shouldn’t have any reasons to worry about the Speed Update! But hey, it’s worth giving some pages a check. A bit of precaution never hurts!