Page Load Time vs SEO: My Experience

It is hardly news that the average load time is one of the many factors that Google uses to determine how well your site will rank. But how much does it matter, really? If my recent experience is anything to go by, the answer is “very little”.

Over the last two months, I optimized this site to load almost 2x faster. After the optimization was complete, the amount of Google search traffic that it receives increased by a whopping 5 percent. Here are the specific numbers:

November 2010

  • 4.5 seconds.
  • 58 832 visits.

January 2011

  • 2.2 seconds (-105%).
  • 61 751 visits (+5%).

If I wasn’t deliberately looking for changes in my organic search traffic, I probably wouldn’t even had noticed! The upswing is so tiny it might as well be a random statistical aberration. In fact, there’s a good change that is all it is.

Either way, there is some value in this exercise – it provides an upper bound. If you speed up your site by 100%, you probably won’t see more than a 5% improvement in your search traffic. Underwhelming, that.

And a couple of charts for you:

Site performance history from Google Webmaster Tools

Google Search traffic

Both charts overlaid

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7 Responses to “Page Load Time vs SEO: My Experience”

  1. MK Safi says:

    Maybe Google needs more time to take changes in speed into consideration…I prefer if speed weren’t an important factor. My sites — hosted with Bluehost — are sloooooooooow….

  2. White Shadow says:

    Yeah, there probably is a delay, but I doubt it could be that long. The average load load time has been at 2.0 – 2.3 seconds for almost a month now; whatever the effects, I’d expect them to have become apparent by now.

  3. Tony says:

    Great Post – I increased our page speed for our home page to (98%), and for my blog (95%) and each load about 2.0 seconds. What’s really interesting is I seen a 50% increase in traffic.

    White Shadow – It does work and it will pay off in the end. You have to remember you only want it faster than your competitor.

  4. Hi, Gab,

    Unfortunately, it’s not the clear experiment. Your site pages could get more traffic by hundreds of reasons, and page loading time – just one of them.

  5. Andreas V says:

    It’s very difficult to get clear experiments in SEO to control for other factors. Either way I appreciate the author’s honesty in not trying to sensationalise the phenomena appealing to our confirmation baises like other studies (no I won’t mention them to benefit their SEO) and even takes the courtesy to provide an error rate. Thanks for the post and thank Gab for bringing this to my attention.

  6. Jonathan Hilgeman says:

    While you may have been hoping for a more direct cause-and-effect between load times and rankings, it may not be that simple. Not only does Google change their algorithms frequently, but people who post about doing X and it resulting in big increases usually are often overlooking other factors or simply had a horrible ranking to begin with (it’s far easier to jump from page 100 to page 10 than from page 10 to page 1).

    Even if Google doesn’t care directly about your load times, your visitors may. If it loads fast, they may be more likely to generate link popularity for you, which will have more (and longer-lasting) effect than most other factors. Don’t discount load time optimizations – it’s like a company stripping out their customer service because they don’t directly sell more products. There’s a lot to be said for several small pieces of infrastructure leading up to a stronger end result over time.

  7. Jonathan Hilgeman says:

    There’s also somethng to be said about your competition. If they all have the load times and other factors to stay in their current spot, improving your load time may get you closer to overcoming the competing sites, but may not be enough to change your rank.

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