What is The SPEED Update?

Google have recently announced a new ranking algorithm designed for mobile search. Starting from July 2018, page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile queries. Although speed has been used in ranking for some time, that signal was focused on desktop searches.

Google will apply the same speed standard to all pages, regardless of the technology used to build the page. However, 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 said the update will only impact a small percentage of queries. That said, it is again an indication that Google is putting more and more emphasis on the user experience.


Why is Page Speed important?

Studies have consistently shown that a fast page will improve user engagement and conversions. According to Google latests research, the average time it takes to fully load a mobile landing page is 22 seconds, and 53% of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes longer than 3 seconds to load[1].

Statistics on Bounce Rate depending on Page Speed

As more  and more searches are taken place on mobile devices, businesses haven’t kept pace with ensuring the mobile experience is optimised. Google’s recent “Speed Update” and “Mobile Index“ announcements mean that pages that deliver slow experiences may be negatively impacted in search engine result pages.


How do I measure Page Speed?

In conjunction with the July 2018 Speed Update, Google have also announced a new method to track real page speed. As load times can vary dramatically from user to user, depending on their device capabilities and network conditions, they have proposed a method that breaks down the different moments in a loading journey.

The specific moments in the page loading journey tie in with a user-centric approach that indicate a high quality user experience. These user-centric performance metrics differentiate between when a page initially renders and when it becomes responsive to user actions, such as; being able to click different elements on a page or scroll down and interact with content.

The moments in a loading journey can be categorised as:

  • First Paint (FP)
  • First Contenful Paint (FCP)
  • First Meaningful Paint (FMP)
  • Time to Interactive (TTI)
  • Long Tasks

The example below outlines the page loading moments against the visual cues a user would recognise to be reassured that everything is going to work as expected.

Page Loading Moments Visual Cues


What is First Paint?

First Paint reports the time when the browser first renders anything visually different from the last screen they were on. This excludes the default background paint, but includes non-default background paint. This is the first key moment developers care about in page load – when the browser has started to render the page.

What is First Contentful Paint?

First Contentful Paint reports the time when the browser first renders any text, image (including background images), non-white canvas or SVG. This includes text with pending webfonts. This is the first time users could start consuming page content.

What is First Meaningful Paint?

There is currently no standardized definition for FMP. In the context of a single page or a single application, it’s generally best to consider FMP to be the moment when your hero elements are visible on the screen.

What is Time to Interactive?

The metric Time to interactive (TTI) marks the point at which your application is both visually rendered and capable of reliably responding to user input.

What are Long Tasks?

These tend to be JavaScript applications that can take a long time to run, forcing other tasks to wait and resulting in a perceptible lag in response to user input. Typically quantified as a delay or 50 milliseconds before the action is executed.

To get an accurate tracking of each of these points on a website some additional code is required. Tracking these new moments is also aimed at reducing speed ‘hacks’ that result in fast rendering pages that are then unresponsive for extended periods of time. Google wants to put the emphasis back on overall user experience and not just fast loading visible elements.

The table below outlines the page loading moments against Google’s user-centric approach to performance. Namely that a user would want to be reassured that; something is happening, it’s what they were looking for, they can interact with the page and that interaction is smooth and uninterrupted.

Page loading moments

How do you optimise for page Speed?

Simply compressing images can often be a game changer. Additionally, there are a range of actions that will help improve page speed:

  • Removing any render blocking scripts or stylesheets from the <head> of your document
  • Reducing the number of server calls
  • Reducing server response time
  • Enabling image and text compression
  • Leveraging browser caching
  • Avoiding landing page redirects
  • Minifying CSS, HTML and JavaScript
  • Serving images as WebP
  • Lazy loading of off-screen images
  • Prioritising visible content


Summary & recommendation

Site speed is an important factor in user experience and a confirmed SEO ranking factor in both desktop and mobile searches. A slow load time causes a negative user experience which can lead to users exiting the site, whereas a fast load time can improve the conversion rate of a page. These page engagement signals are often picked up by search engines and will impact rankings. As a benchmark businesses should be aiming to have pages loading within 3 seconds but ultimately trying to get them as fast as possible.

Reprise therefore recommends webmasters to focus on improving page load times, as this will have a significant impact on their bottom-line as well as improving their search visibility.

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Katie Mckelvie

I’m a Digital Solutions Executive at Reprise and enjoy working in local and technical SEO roles. I provide SEO insights and recommendations to Finance & Retail clients and I’ve previously worked with luxury Hotel brands in the UK.