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Here's How the Google Speed Update Will Impact Your Site (& Google Ads Account)

October 26, 2018

Update: As of July 9, 2018, The Speed Update has officially rolled out to all users.

Late last week, Google announced a major change to its mobile ranking factors. While speed has always been a factor in determining both organic rankings and Google Ads Quality Score, Google’s change shifts this focus slightly. Starting in July, page speed will become a major ranking factor for mobile searches. That means that, if you’re already advertising to prospects on mobile devices—or you have an organic search presence of any kind—you’re going to want to pay attention.

Now, if that isn’t you, I know what you’re thinking.

I’m a B2B advertiser. I negate mobile traffic with fat bid adjustments. This isn’t going to impact me…

Not so fast, toots.

Way back in 2016, mobile web browsing officially passed desktop traffic in volume. If you’re not advertising on and optimizing for mobile devices by now, you’re missing out on a metric ton of prospects (even if you sell B2B software and mobile clicks don’t tend to turn into trials or demos or what have you, you should still be advertising on mobile; get a mobile-friendly offer put together, reduce your bids on handheld devices, and start testing). Trust us on this—as a B2B company ourselves, we’ve seen our mobile traffic top 35% of total site visits in recent months.

And that’s why we’re here. Today, we’re going to run through what you need to do in terms of your SEO and PPC efforts in order to ensure that this Google update doesn’t derail your business.

In this post you’ll learn:

  • What the Google “Speed Update” is
  • Why Page Speed matters
  • How this update will impact SEO and PPC, respectively
  • Which tools you can use to determine your page speed (for free)

Let’s dig in.

What Is the Google “Speed Update”?

“Wait a minute,” you’re thinking. “Hasn’t page speed always been a part of Google’s ranking algorithm? What kind of malarkey are you trying to pull, WordStream?”

First of all: woah, that’s uncalled for. Second of all: yes, page speed has been a ranking factor since 2009, but never on mobile, at least not officially. Per the blog post Google released last week: “Although speed has been used in ranking for some time, that signal was focused on desktop searches...Starting in July 2018, page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches.”

google speed update

Have a piece of informative, relevant content that’s dragged down by a few cat gifs? How this update affects you really depends on your niche and how fast the other sites you're competing with are. Google says that the intent behind a query is still a “very strong signal,” and that a slow page may still rank if it has relevant content. The Speed Update will have the greatest negative impact on pages that deliver the slowest experience to users compared to their competition in the SERPs.

Does that mean that if you have strong, relevant content, you shouldn’t worry about page speed? Decidedly not! Here’s why.

Is My Site Going to Be Penalized?

Wondering if your site is going to take a hit? Luckily, there are several tools that allow you to benchmark your page speed to see where you might need to improve. Google recommends their own tool, TestMySite, to identify areas where you can improve your mobile page load times specifically. Heads up: the tool tests your site via a 3G connection, and though this is a common speed globally, we find that most of our users connect with 4G speeds and optimize accordingly. There’s also a number of free page speed tests that you can use to take a broader look at your site’s performance—our favorite is GTMetrix.

Since these tools don’t require you have admin access to your website, you can run them on any site you’d like! Benchmarking yourself against your competitors will let you know if your site is particularly vulnerable for a rankings drop.

How to Adjust Your Mobile SEO Strategy for Google’s Speed Update

In its benevolence, Google announced the Speed Update six months before it’s supposed to take effect. Don’t be the guy or gal who opens up Analytics one sultry July morning and says, “Crap. I got smoked.” Summer is coming, but it’s still a ways off. Here are some things you can do to plan ahead.

Make the Switch to AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages)

What is an Accelerated Mobile Page? An AMP is an alteration to the source code of your website which points your standard HTML page over to a stripped-down version of itself--your hosted AMP page.

amp pages can impact page load times

In layman’s terms: because AMPs are so scarce, they load super fast. In initial Google testing, AMPs cut down load time between 15% and 85%. Here’s a pretty comprehensive post (and video) from Moz explaining what AMPs are and how to implement them on your site. It’s worth noting that you don’t *need* AMP in order to create super-fast mobile experiences, and you sacrifice some control over your page design—but if you’re looking for a relatively quick way to cut your page load time, it could be worth a shot!

Think about intent

Search engine users enter mobile queries differently than they enter desktop queries. For one thing, mobile queries are shorter. Queries in general have become more conversational as we’ve become more intimate with our devices, true; but mobile queries are still dictated by the desire for speed and simplicity. You’re in a movie. You’ve got a little popcorn butter on your fingers. “How does Daniel Day-Lewis tend to his moustache” becomes “Daniel Day moustacge” real quick.

So, if you’re in charge of SEO at IMDb, and you rank third for “Daniel Day moustacge,” you’re going to want to make sure that page is lightning quick.

google speed update impact on organic search

Then, of course, you have local search. One Google Mobile Moments Study found that 40% of mobile searches have local intent. That’s a remarkable amount. Say your pizza joint slings the best Neapolitan ‘za in town, and you’re consistently getting traffic from queries like “pizza near me.” You’re going to take a substantial hit from the Page Speed Update if your home page is bogged down by interstitials and uncompressed food images.

Leverage Search Console and PageSpeed Insights. Do it.

Is there a way to quickly diagnose which of your mobile pages have speed and usability issues? Absolutely!

Leveraging Search Console is a great way to check in on your site’s usability. The “Smartphone” tab under “Crawl Errors” allows you to identify any crawl errors that might be encumbering your mobile pages; “Fetch on Google” allows you see how crawlers view your site and adjust accordingly; and the “Mobile Usability” report tells you exactly which pages have mobile usability issues, and the nature of the problems.

As far as page speed goes: PageSpeed Insights is going to be your go to tool. Merely type in the URL to Daniel Day-Lewis’ actor page, and voila:

google pagespeed insights

Disclaimer: not the actual page. Don’t worry, IMDb.

Get a grade for how well-optimized your page is; a diagnosis of any perceived problems; and actionable insights for improvement.

How Will Google’s Speed Update Impact Your Google Ads Account?

We mentioned it earlier, and it’s worth repeating: Google claims that the Speed Update “will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and will only affect a small percentage of queries.” That being said, we suspect that Google is minimizing the importance of page speed as both an organic ranking factor and a component of Quality Score.

“Who cares about site speed, my ads just send people to landing pages anyway.”

Well, my friend, you should.

landing page speed impact on quality score in adwords

You see, landing page experience makes up a significant portion of the Quality Score algorithm; you know, that fancy little formula that determines how much you have to pay per click in order to serve an ad on the Search Network?  In an effort to ensure that prospects are brought to websites that give them what they want, Google doesn’t screw around. If your site doesn’t load quickly and convey useful information (in addition to meeting your actual business goals), you’re going to a) pay a premium or b) fail to serve an ad at all.

The Google Ads (formerly known as Google AdWords) documentation suggests that there are five ways to affect positive change in terms of your site’s landing page experience

  • Compelling, relevant content - Make sure that prospects are picking up what you’re putting down. Your landing page should prominently feature keywords you’re bidding on and provide an offer commensurate with their intent (for example, a low-intent keyword should direct to an offer for a download or low-stakes phone call, not a product demo).
  • Be trustworthy -  Provide social proof and accolades (below your CTA and form fill/product) to promote your business’s competency. Make it clear what you do and what you’re offering.
  • Make navigation simple - Ensure that prospects acna get around your page with ease. Avoid pop ups and don’t bury your CTA/form/product information. This is particularly important for mobile landing pages, where real estate is limited.
  • Decrease load time - Consider using AMP pages or ensure, through whatever means, that your landing pages load quickly on all devices/browsers.
  • Make your website faster - In a similar vein, test your website’s Page Speed to ensure everything’s kosher in Google’s eyes.
mobile landing page speed checker results bad

Those last two (three, really) are all tied to load time in some way, which means they could be impacted by Google’s Speed Update. If you’re not trying to spend more on clicks come Mid-July, here’s how you can dig into your account’s landing page experience at the keyword level.

Checking your landing page experience in Google Ads

First, log into your Google Ads account and select the “Keywords” option in the bar to your left.

adwords keyword tab

From there, you’ll need to find the status column and hover over the visible text for any single keyword. From there, you’ll see a pop up that looks something like this:

adwords keyword level insights

For our purposes here, all you need to pay attention to is that final piece of information, labeled “landing page experience.” If it says ‘Average’ or ‘Above Average,” you’re in ship shape. In the event it says “Below Average,” refer to the list of contributing factor above; if you’ve got keywords in place and aren’t slingin’ straight nonsense, odds are your problem is page speed.

wordstream advisor keyword level quality score insights

If that was a little heady (or you’re already a WordStream customer), you can use WordStream Advisor, you can jump right into the manage tab and take a look at your landing page experience within the “Manage” tab (depicted above).

In Conclusion

Phew, we just hit you with a ton of information.

If you’re a Google Ads user, make sure that you’re observing and optimizing for landing page speed and load time, not just relevance. From an SEO perspective: consider making the switch to AMP, think hard about intent, and leverage the power of Search Console and PageSpeed insights.

Allen Finn

Allen Finn writes many things at WordStream, where he reigned as fantasy football champion for some time. He likes marveling at funky beer labels, every beat on Liquid Swords, most cuts of beef, and New Hampshire.