Google Page Speed Update – Does not affect indexing?

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On January 17th 2017 Google announced “that starting in July 2018, page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches.” They go on to say “The “Speed Update,” as we’re calling it, will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and will only affect a small percentage of queries. It applies the same standard to all pages, regardless of the technology used to build the page. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a slow page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.”

Google say the Page Speed Update won’t impact how Google indexes your mobile or desktop content; it will only affect how the mobile pages are ranked in the Google mobile search results. So, to be clear, indexing and ranking are two separate things, as Google explains clearly in the How Search Works portal.

Google want to “encourage developers to think broadly about how performance affects a user’s experience of their page and to consider a variety of user experience metrics. Although there is no tool that directly indicates whether a page is affected by this new ranking factor”.

Some resources that can be used to evaluate a page’s performance.

  • Chrome User Experience Report, a public dataset of key user experience metrics for popular destinations on the web, as experienced by Chrome users under real-world conditions
  • Lighthouse, an automated tool and a part of Chrome Developer Tools for auditing the quality (performance, accessibility, and more) of web pages
  • PageSpeed Insights, a tool that indicates how well a page performs on the Chrome UX Report and suggests performance optimizations

To our mind the speed of page loading is the critical factor in the UX equation – it’s pretty obvious that if it’s slow the user will move on..

Some experts think that the issue with the PageSpeed Insights report is that, because it’s using data from the Chrome Browser, it doesn’t have enough data to reliably measure smaller sites, so the speed portion of the report is unavailable for those users. Optimization scores are still available, but that’s not enough to allow sites to tell if they have slow pages or not.

In 2010, Google said page speed was a ranking factor but it “was focused on desktop searches” only. Now, in July 2018, it will look at how fast your mobile pages are and use that as a ranking factor in mobile search. Google has been promising to look at mobile page speed for years now, and it is finally coming.

It’s not yet clear whether these ranking factors will also be applied to desktop searches, but we’re checking with Google and will update when we receive additional information.

Some questions and answers from a Google spokesperson: (from Search Engine Land)

  1. Are you still going to be using the desktop speed factor for the desktop index?

Correct, no changes to announce for desktop.

  1. With the mobile-first index, will desktop rankings use mobile page speed and not use desktop page speed?

No, this change is about the mobile search results. As mentioned in our mobile-first indexing blog post, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we’re going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.

  1. What about the sites that get the “unavailable” message in the PageSpeed Insights report? How do they properly prepare for this?

Developers are encouraged to think broadly about how performance affects a user’s experience of their page and to consider a variety of user experience metrics. We encourage developers to use all the tools that make sense to them.

PageSpeed Insights uses data from the Chrome User Experience Report. For sites that are not in the Chrome User Experience Report data set, we recommend using Lighthouse to evaluate the performance of a page.

  1. Can you give us a percentage of queries impacted by this?

This will affect a small percentage of queries.

  1. Will there be a significant drop in ranking if the site is impacted?

Speed is just one of many signals that are used to rank pages. Keep in mind that intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a slow page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.

  1. Will there be a notification of some sort in Google Search Console, or it is completely algorithmic?

This is completely algorithmic. There is no tool that directly indicates whether a page is affected by this new ranking factor.

  1. Is it using the same data you use in the PageSpeed Insights tool? The Chrome User Experience Data?

The intent of the signal is to improve the user experience on search. While we can’t comment on the types of data, we encourage developers to think broadly how about performance affects a user’s experience of their page and to consider a variety of user experience metrics when improving their site.

  1. What if the site has AMP URLs but the canonical URLs are super slow? How does a site with AMP get impacted by this?

The same standard is applied to all pages, regardless of the technology used to build the page. The goal of this change is to improve the search user experience. In this example, since users from Search would be seeing an AMP page, the speed of the AMP page would be taken into account. However, if a page built with AMP provides a slow experience to users, it may also rank lower in the results.

But there is a whole load of confusion around indexing and ranking and we’re not sure why..

Google clearly states “When crawlers find a webpage, our systems render the content of the page, just as a browser does. We take note of key signals — from keywords to website freshness — and we keep track of it all in the Search index.” The index is just that – a list. If a page in on the web it will always be indexed by Google. People are linking Indexing and Ranking when they shouldn’t.

Being indexed merely means that your site is listed inside Google. But doesn’t mean you are ranking for any keywords. It means that Google knows that your site exists, and it has it catalogued in their search engine. Being ranked in Google means that your website is listed in Google for keywords associated to your content. Simple.

So let's be clear - being indexed and ranking are two very different things. Not ranking, not being indexed, losing rankings, and being dropped from Google's index are four separate problems that often require unique solutions. Don't make the mistake of confusing indexing and ranking!

Google Page Speed Update – Does not affect indexing? Correct – it doesn’t.

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