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Page load time is an important factor in website optimization if only for the fact that if the pages of your site take too long to appear, users can become impatient, stop the load and go to another website. In fact, this is one of the big reasons I was so fond of Google right from the start — their nice clean homepage design had one big advantage over their competitors at the time — it came up quickly and gave me what I wanted right away without making me wait for pictures and other Flashy stuff to load. So we know that fast load time is good for users but what effect does load time have on search engine rankings? This is a question that comes up quite often. Matt Cutts of Google recently asked for topic suggestions for his latest video and this was the number one question.
So, can a delay in page load time affect your search engine rankings? The short answer is yes. Even if load time is not directly a factor in the search engine algorithms, slow load time could lead to a loss of rankings for a website — particularly a very large website. The reason is that in order for your pages to rank to their full potential in the search engine results, search engines need to have accurate information about them. Both the content on the page and the linking structure of the page are important factors in the search engine algorithm.
To illustrate further, consider this diagram to be a rough model of a site’s linking structure. If the page represented by the node highlighted in yellow isn’t crawled by the search engine spider, all the other links that originate from it may not be found either, and that can affect not only the ranking of the top page but also the ranking of all the other pages beneath it, even if the search engine spiders can find those pages another way. This is because they won’t have the full information about how these pages are linked together.
If search engines do not see the full linking structure of a page because it takes too long to crawl the links on your site, linking structure information is not included in the index and the page will rank lower in the search results than it deserves. This is why including an xml sitemap on your site is not good enough to get individual pages indexed and ranked. Search engines have to see how the pages fit together as well.
Search engines cannot give you any credit for something they don’t see. The spiders have a limited amount of time to crawl a site and if page load time is too long, they are less likely to fully crawl your site and that can affect your rankings. Recently, Live.com’s Webmaster Blog did a special four-part series describing special optimization issues for large websites that featured some excellent advice for webmasters with tips for optimizing content, site structure and server configurations. Helping spiders get at your content as quickly and efficiently as possible is an important aspect of search engine optimization so load time should always be given a high priority in any large-scale website optimization project.
While writing several blog posts and documentation, I often have used example.com to stand in for any domain name. One of the Internet standards established by the Internet engineers circa 1999 set aside example.com (as well as example.org and example.net) for documentation purposes. So if you were to click on a link to http://www.example.com in my post, you wouldn’t see an actual web page. Click on this link to see for yourself.
I’d like to demonstrate a fun little trick you can use to amaze your friends.
The page you see is when you go to http://www.example.com is completely indexable by the search engines. There’s not a lot of content, but you would think that the engines will have indexed the content exactly as your browser shows it to you. It turns out that there is a robots.txt file that blocks all spiders from all content inside www.example.com. (If you ever forget how to create a basic robots.txt file, you can use this one as a guide.) Alright, now for the punch line. Let’s see what the search engines really have indexed for http://www.example.com. Go to www.google.com and type “site:example.com” (without the quotes). What do you see? If you see only one result, click on the link: repeat the search with the omitted results included.
I see 10,400 results now. There are pages like example.com/blah/ and www.example.com/concepts. The Google search results page does not have links to the cached version for any of these results, unfortunately, so we can’t see what exactly Google has indexed from these pages, but we can go to the page ourselves. Well, I tried that, and every page I go to replies back with “Not Found.” It’s logical to conclude that those pages never existed, but also notice some of the results have been crawled by Google in the past few hours. Impossible, no?
You can try this search on other search engines too.
My feeling on this strange phenomenon is that it could either be Google’s own testing or other people testing or somehow tricking Google into adding these pages to its index. It may be relegated to certain data centers as well.
Whatever is causing this, I’m sure Google knows about it, but doesn’t feel the need to do anything about it. This phenomenon may also get you thinking about how search engines are supposed to work.
Web page optimization can be daunting for the beginner so we’ve put together five easy steps to optimizing a page for search engines.
1. Identify your goal. (This is always the first step in anything, but we’re going to mention it anyway). Remember that ranking number one is great but at the end of the day, the ultimate goal is acquiring customers, so choose the keyword carefully – which leads us to the next step.
2. Research the keyword target and make sure the keyword is right for you.
* Does anybody ever search for that keyword? It doesn’t do any good to rank number one if nobody ever looks for it.
* Is that the word people would use to find my product or service?
* How competitive is the keyword? Who is your competition?
For example, an exact match search for “blue widgets” reveals that about 22,000 other sites are relevant for that phrase while “big blue widgets” displays only about 40. It will be much easier to get the number one spot for big blue widgets. If a keyword is too competitive, consider choosing a longer phrase containing the keyword. Ranking on page 1 for a lower traffic key phrase will bring more traffic than ranking on page 5 for a high traffic keyword.
3. Choose a page to target that key phrase. Which page you choose will depend on a couple of factors:
* Page Content – the more precisely matched the page content is to the keyword target, the more likely that a visitor will click on your link in the search results and buy something once they are there.
* Competitiveness of the keyword – If the keyword is highly competitive, you may need the ranking power of your homepage.
Whatever page you choose, make sure it contains clear information on how to get the product. Ranking well for the keyword doesn’t do any good if the target page doesn’t convert them into a customer. (Did I say that already? Remember it. It’s important.)
4. Check out your competition for the keyword.
* What’s their current keyword density?
* Does the keyword appear in all of the important places, title tag, description tag, keywords tag, headline, etc. on the competitor’s page?
* How many backlinks do they have to their page and what kind of anchor text appears on those backlinks?
5. Optimize your page for the keyword.
* Put the keyword on the page in all the important places.
* Target a keyword density at or slightly above (or below) that of other top ranking sites.
* Get inbound links to the page — ideally with the keyword in the anchor text.
Alert readers will have noticed that all the steps listed here are really just extensions of the first step — identify your goal. Identifying your goal is definitely the most important step in web page optimization. The second most important step isn’t really a step but it’s still crucial. Monitor your progress and not only for how your page ranks in search engine results pages.
Compare the ranking in search engine results pages before and after and then compare the difference in traffic before and after your listing appeared.
* Make sure you give search engines enough time to crawl and index your pages. It can take up to a couple of weeks after they have crawled your page for changes to produce results.
Compare customer conversions from the page before and after.
* Are your new visitors sticking around to become your customer or are they coming to your pages and just “bouncing away”?
Fierce competition and shifting search engine algorithms make web page optimization an ongoing process. If the results aren’t what you hoped, then maybe this wasn’t the best keyword for you or maybe the page needs a little more tweaking for keyword density or backlinks. You can always benefit from another good backlink. Maybe the page is fine for search engines, but needs to be optimized for visitors. Identifying goals, taking a step-by-step approach, monitoring your progress and never giving up are the keys to success in web page optimization.