How to Prepare for the Google Speed Update

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With the Google Speed Update set to launch in a few short months in July, it is not too early to prepare your website for search engine optimization success. This new update further expands the search giant’s emphasis on a quality mobile user experience, by integrating search signals related to page load speed. Load speed signals have been in place for a while on traditional desktop searches.

Given that the majority of online searches occur on mobile devices, this update is important news for any organization or entrepreneur with an online presence. The following is an overview of key insights and tips to help you understand how to prepare for the Google Speed Update!

Measure Your Current Mobile Page Speed

Before we delve into the specifics of the update, now is a good time to gauge how your current mobile page speed measures up. Google has its own PageSpeed Insights tool, which is a good place to start. Your test yield an overall score for both mobile and desktop, as well as insights on factors to assess as you look to improve.

The following is a screenshot of the mobile results for a recent analysis of the Guide to Digital Marketing home page. Notice the “Optimization Score” of 88. You can also see a few of the factors itemized for review. There are countless articles on the web outlining strategies to achieve a perfect score of 100 on the PageSpeed Insights tool. However, doing so is not necessary, and your pursuit can even cause damage to your site. The best strategy is to read up on the best ways to code your site, or the best plugins to use for optimizing page speed. If you get the right mix of speed tools in place, you will receive a solid score and have pages that load efficiently.

GuidetoDigital.com PageSpeed Insights Score

One of the reasons I’m perfectly fine with a PageSpeed score of 88 is that I know the pages on my site load quickly, and the site performs well on the whole. My desktop score on the same test was 77. However, given the relative emphasis on mobile speed, I’m fine with that too. With a responsive website, it is common that your mobile speed outperforms desktop because heavy images and other weighty elements are often removed to deliver a quality user experience on a smaller screen. It is also important to note that your PageSpeed Insights score has no direct bearing on your search engine ranking positions.

There are other great tools you can use to measure your site’s page speed and performance to reinforce what you see from Google. One I personally like is Pingdom. Pingdom’s tool delivers a precise “load time” for the page provided, a “performance grade,” and a very thorough breakdown of the factors that contribute to the scores. You also get a detailed look at which page elements and source domains impacted the load time.

The following is a new test for Guide to Digital Marketing’s home page on Pingdom. A load time below 3 seconds is solid, and a time below 2 seconds is ideal for retaining visitors. I like that the tool also gives you perspective on how your site’s speed measure up with peers. I used the home page for these tests because it is a blog style format, and typically one of the slowest pages on the site.

Guide to Digital Marketing Pingdom Score

Refine Your Site and Continue to Test

If you aren’t satisfied with the results of your initial page speed testing, particularly on mobile, you have some work to do. If you haven’t ever thought about page speed or done anything to improve yours, this is likely the case. For all the great advantages of WordPress and other content management systems, they don’t come pre-packaged for load-speed optimization. You need to add some plugins or coding.

Rather than trying to address the multitude of strategies and tools for enhancing your mobile page speed here, I’ll save that for another article. Instead, here is an awesome overview of 15 WordPress Speed Optimization Plugins.

I will say that there is no exact recipe or cookie-cutter approach that works for every site. I use different plugin combinations on multiple WordPress sites, because each site combination of themes, plugins, features and content creates a distinct output for performance and speed. It can take time to get the right mix of tools in place. I spent part of three days working on page speed applications before accepting the results. In the course of trial and error, some speed-based plugins actually caused my load time and performance scores to go down. In those instances, the benefits of the plugin did not outweigh the extra coding and the incompatibility problems.

It is important to note that bulky images are one of the key culprits to slow load times. As mentioned, this hindrance is not as significant on mobile as it usually is on desktop. However, smaller files and an image-compression plugin like WP Smush goes a long way toward improving your page speed. For insight, other plugins I use that contribute to site speed and performance are: WP-Optimize (Database cleaning), Autoptimize, Cache Enabler, Fast Velocity Minify, SpeedUp – Optimize CSS Delivery and WP Performance Score Booster. Even when you have your optimum mix of tools or plugins in place, it still takes time to tinker with the functionality and attributes before you reach the pinnacle.

Continue to Prioritize Quality Content

Even as you work to optimize your mobile page speed, continue to prioritize the delivery of high-quality, relevant content to targeted buyer personas. When Google announced its impending Speed Update this past January, the company noted that only sites with extremely slow load times and user experiences will be affected. Thus, if you can hit a solid metric on your speed testing, rest comfortably.

Some site formats, include retail and eCommerce, are difficult to run as efficiently as a blog with a light backbone. Still, Google was clear that if you deliver relevant content to its users, your page can still outrank others with fast load times but lower-quality user experiences.

Conclusions

With the Google Speed Update set to affect mobile search results in just a few short months, follow the steps outlined in this article on how to prepare for the Google Speed Update. There are plenty of free testing tools available to find out how your site currently performs. If your pages need work, there are also a lot of great free and low-cost tools and plugins to help you ramp up to max speed!

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About the Author: Neil Kokemuller

Neil Kokemuller is a veteran college marketing professor with an MBA. He has also been a freelance business and marketing content writer and website creator since 2008.

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