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Google Chrome measures site speed

Your site speed can affect your Google rankings

Google Chrome logo with speed meter
Site speed affects the ranking of websites in Google's results pages

In March 2018, Google’s senior webmaster trends analysts John Mueller hosted a discussion at the Search Marketing Expo (SMX) in Munich. He revealed that Google Chrome does, indeed, measure site speed which affects the ranking of websites in its results pages.

Google uses performance data taken from Chrome users, who have agreed to the study, and evaluates the speeds of sites that they visit. This means that site speed is an important part of SEO and should be optimised too.

In the past, it was not been clear how Google assessed site speed and many believed that it was measured by Googlebot. However, Googlebot is unable to actually measure how users experience a website and so this theory has flaws.

So how does Google go about measuring site speed?

Google Search Console

If you spend some time on the Google Search Console, you may come across a graph depicting the time spent downloading a page. “It’s technically not ‘downloading a page’ but rather ‘receiving data in response to requesting a URL’,” says Mueller.

“If you have some really big files that are frequently requested (e.g. giant PDFs), this number could go up with the same ‘speed’ compared to other sites,” he adds.

By looking at the graph, you can see how long it takes to request a URL from your server. “If I see things in the ca 50-200ms range, that seems fine,” says Mueller. “If I see things over 2000ms, there’s clearly something amiss,” he continues.

“Since that’s just the time to request a URL, not the time to render it, numbers that high will almost certainly have a user-visible effect too,” he explains. This graph can also be used to assess the success of server and backend changes to your site. However, it is still not an accurate measure of the real speed of your site.

Google Chrome User Experience Report

The Chrome User Experience Report was introduced in October 2017. It is a public dataset of key user experience metrics for top origins on the web. Performance data included in these reports comes from real-world conditions, taken from participating Chrome users who have agreed to share their browsing history.  

These browser histories record load time and other useful metrics for Google, and the data is included in the public dataset for the top one million origin websites. Mueller confirmed that this data is being used in conjunction with other data sources for Google’s analysis.

What changes can you make to increase site speed?

We know that Googlebot is not capable of detecting certain features of user experience, however, Google can still detect other features and use them as a ranking aid. The key is to pay attention to your users and stop worrying about page speed for Googlebot.

By using HTTP/2 for your website, it will improve the user experience and speed for your visitors. Any changes you make to your website should have user experience in mind. This fits in with Google’s updated algorithms that place a heavier emphasis on user experience for site ranking.

There are number changes that can be done to the back-end of your site that will improve site speed and the time it takes to render a webpage. These are broken down nicely in Bastian Grimm’s slideshow from a talk he did at SMX on web performance optimisations.

Although Google has ways of measuring site speed, website owners should be more concerned with user experience if they want to improve their Google rankings.

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Written by Joshua Oates

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