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Page Load Time: Is It the SEO Rankings Culprit?

If you’re concerned about your Google rankings and website page load speed, you should keep them in perspective.

Website developers and marketers buzz about page load time, especially because Google announced beginning this past July that speed is a keyword ranking factor for some mobile versions of websites.

In a Google Webmaster Central Blog post, Zhiheng Wang and Doantam Phan write:

The ‘Speed Update,’ as we’re calling it, will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and will only affect a small percentage of queries. It applies the same standard to all pages, regardless of the technology used to build the page. 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.

Search query intent is still a strong signal. Slow page may rank high if it has great #content. @Google #SEO Click To Tweet

OK, that was hardly a surprise and clearly Google cares about websites that load fast even on desktops. After all, representatives talk about it all the time. Google even developed tools devoted to both desktop and mobile performance, including PageSpeed Insights.

You could have page load issues, but that deficiency might not be to blame for your Google keyword rankings.

Here are three realities:

  1. Fortune 500 companies sometimes get failing grades for page load speed and enjoy top rankings. You probably do too.
  2. Page load speed is only one ranking factor; everything can’t be important. Backlinks and content still rule.
  3. If you’re vigilant about website load time, you’re still making good use of time. Fast-loading websites impress visitors.
Page load speed is only one ranking factor. Backlinks & #content still rule, says @mikeonlinecoach. #SEO Click To Tweet

For SEO purposes, I looked at four Fortune 500 companies and analyzed keywords, search volume, page authority (with Moz), and rankings with SEMrush. For top-ranking keywords, I used the popular GTmetrix tool that references Google data.

As you can see, the companies often don’t do too well with page load speed grades, as noted in the mobile and desktop columns. But Google ranks their sites high for key phrases.

How does Walmart pull off a No. 1 ranking for “car seat” with 165,000 monthly searches?

Does “car” or “seat” appear in the domain name? No. What about the page URL? Not bad:

Its SEO page title is short and to the point with the plural version: <title>Car Seats –</title>

For the most part, parts of the page content seem relevant:

I think the real boost for Walmart’s car seat page is the domain authority – 92 out of 100 on Moz. Although the page authority is only 50, the domain authority influences rankings as well. Moz reports 183 million backlinks to Walmart’s website.

Though @Walmart page gets F for load time, it ranks No. 1 b/c of its domain authority. @mikeonlinecoach Click To Tweet

Johnson & Johnson has some SEO-related advantages too to support its No. 2 ranking for “pharmaceutical careers” (1,300 monthly searches):

The subdomain “careers” provides context and focus. The H1 tag is “careers.” The content is kind of short, but the domain authority is 74, which is strong.

INTL FCStone has a good desktop page load speed grade (B), but the mobile grade is D:

What did the company do to rank No. 1 for “grain brokers”? Is it the low search volume – 110 searches a month? I’m sure that’s a factor, but low-volume searches still have plenty of competition with search results (6 million) and value for potential leads and sales. The limited content refers to “brokerage” even though the SEO page title isn’t spot-on (it starts with the business name, not a keyword): <title>INTL FCStone – Cash Grain Brokerage</title>

I imagine that Google simply recognizes that the website page has relevant content backed by a reasonable domain authority (46) and a fair page authority (26). Page load speed grades likely aren’t helping or hurting.

Ericcson ranks No. 1 for “Apache Storm vs Spark” (390 monthly searches) because it has SEO success on many levels:

Sure, B is a notable page load speed grade. But other variables seem to have the influence:

  • H1 tag: Apache Storm vs Spark Streaming
  • SEO page title: <title>Apache Storm vs Spark Streaming | Ericsson Research Blog</title>
  • Page URL:
  • Content: About 800 words

Google likes the page so much that it even rewards it with a featured snippet and the first regular result:

Additional resources for SEO, page load time, and rankings

If you need technical advice about ways to improve page load speed, check out Aleh Barysevich’s recent CMI article: 4 Steps to Speed Up Your Website and Look Better to Google.

Crazy Egg also explores the topic and references website user surveys in this comprehensive piece: 20 Ways to Speed Up Your Website and Improve Conversion.

For a closer look at SEO ranking tactics and factors, I recommend these resources:

What’s been your experience with page load speed as it relates to Google rankings? What impact does it have for you as you work on multiple fronts to target high search engine rankings for your website’s most relevant keywords?

Please note: All tools mentioned in this article were suggested by the author. If you’d like to suggest a tool, share the article on social media with a comment.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute