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How Website Performance Affects SEO Results

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Published: July 15, 2014

Google considers an estimated 200 factors in its algorithm that determines where a webpage will rank in the search engine results. These ranking elements include on-site factors such as overall site architecture, site content, and properly tagged titles and headers. Off-site factors include the number and quality of inbound links, and social media signals.

In recent years, Google has added a third dimension to their ranking algorithm: website performance. The way Google sees it, a poorly performing website will affect the overall satisfaction of the search engine user, and an unhappy user is less likely to contribute to Google’s profitability. In short, website performance matters and Google will reward or punish webmasters accordingly.

In addition to the customary toolbox of accepted SEO tactics, savvy marketers would do well to measure their website against the performance standards that Google has deemed important contributors to visitor satisfaction.

Page Load Time is Important
According to Google, page load time is an important consideration, but it has never specified which definition of page load time is being referred to.

  • “Document complete time” refers to the amount of time before a user can start clicking on different page elements or begin entering data.
  • “Fully rendered time” is the amount of time it takes the site to completely download and display all images, text, advertisements, and analytics.

Extensive testing using both of these page load metrics across some 2,000 search queries has not found any clear correlation between either document complete time or fully rendered time and search rankings. However, a third metric referred to as “time to first byte” (TTFB) was found to have a definite impact on search rankings. Basically, TTFB is the amount of time that is takes the web server to respond to a request and return the first byte of information back to the user’s browser.

  • While front-end performance factors (document complete and fully rendered times) have not been shown to affect SEO rankings, they are important in creating a faster and more enjoyable visitor experience. A free website performance scan is available at zoompf.com/free, and can help you identify potential performance problems with your website.
  • TTFB has a definite effect on search engine rankings, and includes such elements as how heavily loaded the web server in question is as well as how quickly the website’s back end can process and load the content. An excellent starting point to begin analyzing your website’s TTFB performance is with a free test available through webpagetest.org.

How Domain Names Affect Search Rankings

In the past, exact match domains, or domain names that included the primary target keyword, were all the rage and for a very good reason: they made a clear contribution to improved search engine rankings. Google updates, most notably the “Exact Match Domain” update, have devalued the effectiveness of the exact match domain. Another problem is the availability of many premium exact match domains: they’re already registered and expensive or impossible to obtain.

The new emphasis is on branding, and more specifically, on branded domain name. It’s the way search engine users and social media followers will identify and be able to follow your company.

  • Stick with a .com extension if at all possible.
  • Make sure your branded domain is easy to remember.
  • Make sure that your meaning and relevancy are crystal-clear. Your branded domain name should instantly communicate what your company is all about.
  • Keep it short. Aim for one or two words in length.