Google's introduction of website speed as a parameter in their ranking algorithm means that webmasters must now pay even closer attention to the speed of their websites. Googles bending over backwards to spread the word about this new speed penalty is proof in itself, as big G is usually very secretive about algorithm changes.

From the announcement we learn that the speed penalty was introduced following experiments by Google that revealed the impact website speed has on Internet users.

The results are no surprise to someone that started using the Internet recently - surfers prefer fast websites and tend to spend more time on a site that loads quickly.

However, Google has been careful to state that even though website speed is now a factor it is not the primary parameter for ranking results. The quality and relevance of information is still the determining factor but if your website speed is slow you will receive a Google penalty.

This implies that it is important for you as a webmaster to start to assess the speed of your website to establish whether you could be moving further down the search engine results pages (SERPs) because your website is slower than your direct competitors.

Is Google Timing My Pages?

But first, it is vital that one understand the basics of how Google's algorithm determines your website speed and thus your SERP ranking. The search engine uses two main factors when it comes to speed assessment.

First, your website will receive a higher speed ranking if it responds faster to Googlebot. Googlebot is the web crawling tool used by Google to find and index websites.

Second, your website will also receive a good speed ranking if it records a faster loading time on Google Toolbar than your competition. Google want to help you check your website speed and has kindly added a page speed report to webmaster tools, it can be found in the 'lab' section.

You can use the tool and its report to see you how fast your website loads as compared to other websites. Once you are armed with the information of where you page ranks in the speed hierarchy, you can start to make the necessary code and structure changes to make it respond faster.

You first priority should be to make sure you have no SLOW pages on your site. Pages that take two seconds or more to load and pages that are marked as SLOW in the Google Webmaster Tools need to be improved to avoid a Google penalty for your website speed.

The when you have made sure to improve all slow pages go on to make all of your pages load in one seconds or less. Read on to see why this is important.

A quick loading website is not only better search engine rankings and avoiding the Google speed penalty, there's additional benefits.

A website optimized for speed reduces the bandwidth required on your hosting service thus reducing your overall hosting costs.

Faster websites also give a better browsing experience as users are able to get information faster as they can navigate through your website easily.

Remember that a faster website will work better on PDAs, mobile phones and other hand held devices. These devices don't have the same processing power as your standard PC and will benefit from a quick loading and lean page.

Even though you can have a mobile version of your website, usually this comes with trimmed down graphics and other aspects of your site. Some users will want to view your site in full HTML on their phone or PDA and a faster loading website will have better chances of successfully loading on such devices.

As a webmaster, there are a number of free tools that you can use to increase the loading speed of your website. I have listed two of the more popular ones below:

Page Speed

Page Speed is an open-source add-on for Mozilla Firefox browser. It evaluates the speed of your website and gives you suggestions on how to improve your website speed.

Page Speed runs tests on the architectural configuration of both your web server your website's front end code. After running these tests, it gives you a report on your website speed and suggestions on how to improve the speed of your website.

Yslow

Yslow is a free software by Yahoo. It analyzes the performance of your website and gives you suggestions on how to improve the speed of your website.

Yslow is a Firefox add-on and is integrated with the Firebug software for website development. It displays statistics and an evaluation report. It also gives you suggestions on how best to improve the speeds of your website using best practices.

Yslow comes integrated with other tools for performance evaluation including Smush. Use it and JSLint to further enhance your website performance. Even though it is a Yahoo product, Yslow can help you avoid the Google penalty on website speed.

The Website Speed Quick Fix

There are several factors that affects page load speeds on your website, many of them technical and best solved by your webmaster or developer.

There's still some changes you can do yourself to improve page load speeds as long as you have some experience with HTML and making web pages.

Reduce the number, size and quality of images and use less audio, flash and javascript. Make the page shorter by splitting long pages into several shorter. Remove redundant HTML, CSS and Javascript code from the page source code. Don't hot link to images and javascript on other domains, but instead keep a copy of it on your own server.

And make sure to keep an eye on the Google Webmaster Tools to see how your site compares to your competition.
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