There was a time when webmasters were obsessed with page load time. A sure held belief that if you could reduce the period from 2 seconds to 0.5 of a second it would be the path to better rankings.
There was, and still is, some truth in it. Search engines like Google want to produce a set of search results that don't disappoint the user and pages that take for ever to display can annoy.
What did I just say? “Some truth … don't disappoint”. That's the key.
Top rankings, slow loading
Here's an example I recently came across while doing the Google search “how to make wine from grapes”, what with my vines being ready for harvest there are things I needed to know!
Now right up there near the top is motherearthnews.com with their six page article Growing Grapes and Making Wine.
The site groaned and griped, the little circle in Firefox whirled around endlessly and nearly a full minute passed before the content could be wrestled from Mother Earth New's server into my browser.
I was prepared to wait it out because the domain name and the snippet of text in the search results gave me some hope that this was not another website full of “add this sachet, add that sachet” type information.
It didn't disappoint
Here is the key – it was really great information for my needs. So I didn't bounce, I actually spent a great deal of time on the site – dozing off occasionally as I waited between moving from page to page.
It was slow, unbelievably slow, but all the information I needed was there ... and I hadn't been able to find it elsewhere.
What is a search engine to do?
Well in this type of situation the search engine's crawler and algorithm is in a fix. It knows the page loads slowly but (if my behaviour is anything to go by) it also knows humans like the content.
Luckily a good search engine crawler knows it is just a robot and if
- humans want to wait 30-60 seconds for the content;
- humans react better to the content than on other pages available (even if they load faster);
then the page should rank highly.
And so it does!
This is a change from, say, 2 years ago when search engines focused far more on the technical (i.e. factors such as load time) and far less on the human interaction.
These days the situation is rapidly turning on its head and hence why I said at the start there is some truth in it and there certainly was some truth in it.
So don't worry about page load times?
Well before you go and put your feet up because you think page load times are not important think twice. We wind back once again to the saying “content is king”. If a search engine has the choice between your site and another one and human behaviour is generally the same and your page loads slower … you will rank lower.
In a competitive environment paying attention to page load times is as important as ever, just bear in mind slow loading times don't automatically mean lower rankings every time ...