Google Update Week No. 2: Is site speed more important than content?
In the second of five episodes, focusing on the latest round of Google Updates, Jordan and Ben compare and contrast technical site performance and content quality in view of the recent changes to Google’s Search Algorithm.
Ben: Welcome back to Google Update Week on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro and this week we’re going to publish an episode every day covering what you need to know about Google’s latest algorithm change. But before we get started, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are a team of SEO’s, content marketers and data scientists that help enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data driven decision using a mix of software and expertise.
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Ben: Okay. Joining us again for our Google update week is Jordan Koene, who’s the lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. Today we’re going to continue our conversation with Jordan about the most recent Google update. And specifically, we’re going to talk about how the update should have you thinking about site speed. Here is the second installment of Google Update Week with Jordan Koene, CEO of Searchmetrics Inc.
Ben: Jordan, welcome back to the voices of Search Podcast.
Jordan: Thanks, Ben. This is going to be a fun week, and we’re going to cover a lot of really really useful and in some cases, maybe very technical information. But I hope that folks really soak this up ’cause this is coming straight from the source, Google.
Ben: Yeah, well, I’m excited to hit the ground running and talk about site speed. Minor pun intended there. It seems like how responsive, how fast your site works was re-evaluated in Google’s eyes with the November-ish change. Talk to me about the impact the latest algorithm change had on site speed.
Jordan: Yeah, so we didn’t touch on this so much in the last episode. But what we really need to understand here is that site speed and site performance is still today one of the most important and critical driving factors for Google rankings, but really, for your consumers. If you have a website and it’s slow, nobody wants to go to it. if you have a website and it’s hard to access the content, nobody wants to visit it. And so this notion of how do you make your website more performant, is really the premiere ranking factor for Google.
Ben: So, site speed is obviously very impactful not only in terms of how you rank, but your site is going to perform and how it impacts your consumer. So what actually changed? How is this re-evaluated? Isn’t it always that the fastest site wins?
Jordan: So there’s a couple things that are going on here. Yes and no. And this is where it’s important for our listeners to understand how evolved Google is and why it’s important to understand your partnership and relationship with Google in the perspective of your assets being your website and the various pages it has and Google’s ability to access them, crawl them and index them and evaluate them. In summary, what’s going on here is that, yes the faster you are, of course the more likely you are to rank higher. But it doesn’t work that easily. Not all pages on a website are created equal and not all competitors are created equal at each individual level of their website.
Jordan: So for example, you might have a website that has both long form, short form content and maybe the long form content actually ranks really really we because it is more performant than other long form pieces of content on other websites. It’s also possible that you have different experiences throughout your website and some experiences perform better than others.
Jordan: Basically what I am trying to say is that not all parts of everyone’s website are created equal and you need to evaluate things at an individual page level or at least at an individual template level for you to really understand how Google is going to evaluate and then stack rank you against your competition.
Ben: So it’s not just about how your overall site speed looks. We obviously get down to the individual page level, but also the categorization of pages, the page types, as well.
Jordan: Exactly. Basically, you can have a home page that’s the fastest on Earth and it might be blazing fast, faster than any of your competitors, but if you go one layer down and you’re mediocre, that means that Google’s not going to take your home page and evaluate it for what the home page is worth. And it’s going to take that next layer down and evaluate at that level.
Ben: It’s almost like the domain authority concept where you look at the overall power of the domain and in this case, you’re looking at the overall site performance, not just the discrete performance of the individual page.
Jordan: Correct. Exactly.
Ben: Okay. So what could people do to optimize their site speed? What should they do to satisfy Google? And either if they lost share, get back to where they were or take this as an opportunity to gain some rankings?
Jordan: Great question. First, you’ve got to be evaluating this data, and there’s a lot of tools out there that ultimately help you evaluate your site performance. But you have to do it from a very complete picture. Google has released a tool or a set of metrics that they called light house score. And this set of metrics really looks at the whole picture of how Google views your page. So essentially, there’s a lot of different metrics or KPI’s for site speed. There’s the first paint, there’s the first bite and all these different scores can be interpreted in different ways, but the best thing for everyone to do here is start to use the light house score, which is an open source automated tool to help you look at the comprehensive set of data points. Google has put out a lot of information about this and there are a lot of tools out there, third party tools out there, that can help you use the light house KPI’s and evaluate the performance of your site against your competitor’s.
Ben: So this seems logical, right? If you want to understand how Google’s going to evaluate your site based on site speed, you should look at the metrics that Google outlines for how they evaluate site speed. That doesn’t seem like rocket science. What are some of the tools that you suggest that are ways that people can, not only gauge Google’s light house tools, but also figure out what they can do to fix some problems?
Jordan: Yeah, we use one here at Searchmetrics pretty often. It’s called Treo, T R E O. Their website is treo.sh. And it’s a great tool. It allows you to evaluate this. We at Searchmetrics are also working on building these data points and collecting these data points within our platform and allowing our customers to also get access to this kind of information when it comes to performance.
Jordan: But ultimately, the tool itself isn’t necessarily the key driver here. It’s your ability to interpret and understand what your website’s doing [inaudible 00:08:04] and then adjust your site speed or performance strategy to take advantage of that.
Ben: So it sounds like the biggest take away here is that Google’s re-evaluating how site speed factors in the rankings. It’s not just looking at the individual page level, it’s sort of looking an aggregate of how your site performs and you have to use their KPI’s to understand how you’re performing, and you could bench mark against who your competitors are to understand where it will likely impact your rankings.
Jordan: Correct. Now let’s talk about one little semantic real quick here because the recent update that just happened at the end of November, we spent a good amount of time talking about this in the previous episode. So if you want to learn more about what happened, please listen to the previous episode. This change was really focused around the value of content assets and how Google determines their use for this. And what we’re proposing here, what we’re talking about is site speed. Now it sounds a little interesting, right? Because site speed is more of a technical ranking factor than it is a content raking factor. But these two play so much hand in hand, it’s remarkable. I think it’s important notion for all of our listeners to understand that your speed can really predicate the value of your content.
Ben: What do you mean?
Jordan: So what I mean by that is that it’s not just all about speed. You certainly have to still have some value within the substance of your page. But what I’m trying to express here is that speed is such a powerful competitive advantage that maybe suboptimal content will become higher ranked because it’s faster. And accessibility to Google today is such an important driver as they try to understand how to get faster content in the hands of mobile users that speed has now become kind of the defacto ranking factor and kind of supersedes the content quality. You could have the most comprehensive best piece of content on the planet, but if it just loads too slow, you’re not going to outrank any of your competitors.
Ben: I think what sticks out in my head, it’s like fast food in the ’70s or ’80s where … I’m going somewhere with this one, I promise. It’s like the McDonald’s-ification of food, where people were so interested in getting their food, getting in and out, and expediting the process, they kind of forgot about what the health values and where it was coming from. And now, maybe we’ve gone the other way, but everybody is on the go, on demand, in such a rush. We expect answers so quickly that Google to satisfy the consumer’s needs, can’t actually think about the calorie content that they’re delivering you or what sort of in the results that they’re bringing to some extent, they just need to get you something as fast as they can or you’re going to stop your search.
Jordan: Exactly. And I’m sure this is going to evolve and change. And so you have to keep a pulse on this. But what we’ve seen in our studies, in our research is that speed rules and if you are able to improve your speed and do it at a dramatic pace, especially against some of these light house scores, you can really edge out the competition.
Ben: All right, so everybody, hurry up, get your pages up there, get them out there, get your speed updated. It’s almost as important, if not as important as what your content is. Site speed is becoming a more important ranking factor. Jordan, any last words on how site speed and the latest Google algorithm change is impacting SEO’s?
Jordan: Yeah, so for those of you who are probably sitting there, scratching your head going “How do I make a change here?” Start with the simplest places. This can be a very technical area of not just SEO, but even of site management, how you manage the infrastructure of your website. But the reality is there are some simple places to start. The first one is tags. Do you need to be deprecating any tags on your website that are really causing things to be very slow? Second place is code debt, or just technical debt as a whole. Is there just gloat in excessive code that’s unnecessary? And can you do an audit in either or both of these places to quickly reduce the burden on the load for those pages?
Jordan: I say start there. And I think what you’ll start to do is learn very quickly. Especially from the technical minds of your company, how to make your site faster. And for those of you who are using third parties, third party tools or resources to build and maintain and manage your website, there is always opportunities to contact those vendors and pressure them into identifying solutions to make your website faster. And in many cases, where you’ll come to find out is, they’ve already built the technical tools or capabilities within these platforms. It’s just a matter of you turning them on or embedding them correctly to take advantage of that.
Jordan: So get out there, contact those third parties and work with those vendors to improve your performance.
Ben: At the end of the day, I think that people’s expectation is to get information in real time and that’s what’s driving Google to continue to prioritize site speed is that the consumers just want everything to be faster, on demand content delivery and to me, the big takeaway here is that this is going to continue to be a priority, so it’s something that people are going to be able to address it, not just now but over time are likely going to win in the search game.
Jordan: Yup, exactly.
Ben: Okay, that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Keone, the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. we’d love to continue the conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find a link to his bio in our show notes, or you can contact him on Twitter where his handle is @Jtkoene. If you have general marketing questions or if you want to talk about this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes or you can Tweet me @benjshap. If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility or to gain competitive insights, head over to Searchmetrics dot com slash diagnostic for your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team.
Ben: If you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insight in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow and we’ll discuss how you should prepare for site migrations. Okay. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.