Ranking Penalties Coming Soon to Slow Mobile Sites
Matt Cutts has warned us more than once that site speed would eventually influence rankings for mobile. In August 2013, Google made its initial move with the publication of new guidelines stating:
“We must deliver and render the above the fold (ATF) content in under one second, which allows the user to begin interacting with the page as soon as possible. Then, while the user is interpreting the first page of content, the rest of the page can be delivered progressively in the background.”
At the same time, Google also updated its PageSpeed Insights Tool, making mobile suggestions even more prominent than those for desktop sites. And in October, Cutts reiterated that slow mobile sites would indeed be getting penalized—and that the change would be coming soon.
The process of rolling out a new campaign is likely to take at least 12 months, so if you want to see results (and avoid penalties) by next year (and you probably do), it’s time to start planning now.
Why Optimizing Mobile Site Speed Is Important
Like with desktop websites, page load speeds on mobile sites can negatively impact a user’s experience. Not only can this deter prospective clients from following through with conversions, but it will impact your search engine rankings as well. Google emphasizes the positive experience as critical to a successful mobile SEO campaign and ideally wants mobile pages to have load times of one second or less.
Is your mobile site up to par?
How to Improve Mobile Site Speed
With the average mobile page speed over seven seconds, chances are you’ll need to make some changes to your campaign. In order to optimize mobile site speed and the mobile experience for users, we recommend the following:
- Create a mobile website design or, even better, a responsive site design
- Minimize the number of redirects you have in place
- Reduce server response time
- Optimize your images so that they are the correct size
- Enable compression of larger pages
- Minimize or remove any unnecessary code
- Remove any unnecessary plugins
- Avoid using Flash
- Use CSS instead of images whenever you can
Keep in mind that, as of October 2013, Google is already excluding smartphone sites running Flash assets from rankings if the smartphone won’t support it (like the iPhone). Be sure as well to prioritize above the fold content; if this content loads in one second, it could improve the user experience in Google’s eyes, even if it takes the rest of the page a few more seconds to catch up.
To determine which issues your mobile site has and what your priorities should be going forward, you may want to consult Google PageSpeed Insights and Google Webmaster Tools.
Creating a Mobile SEO Campaign to Improve Load Time
In order to create a successful mobile SEO campaign with site speed at the forefront, it’s important to create a plan to resolve any existing issues with your site and any obstacles you may face with optimization.
Before beginning, consider that getting through a 3G network might take the entire second you’re allocated. If you’re condensing your CSS into one file in an effort to improve load time, note that it may actually have the opposite impact. If the file is bigger than 14k and anything in it is needed for rendering, then there will be multiple round trips and you’ll likely exceed that one second mark.
You’ll also need to decide whether you want a responsive design or a mobile site extension. Responsive design is looked on particularly favorably for SEO purposes, but it does require a little more of a time commitment.
Once you’ve decided which route to take and had your site analyzed to assess speed, you can begin putting together your plan. It’s important to start scheduling as soon as possible so you can be prepared once the penalty comes into effect. Remember that the rollout could take 12 months—if not more—and the sooner you get started the better.
If you don’t have time to create a mobile website or SEO campaign for your small business, call Blue Corona and we’ll do it for you!
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