In late August, Matt Cutts explained that Google looks at site speed as a factor in where a website shows up on the search results page. In his Webmaster Help video, he stated: “If your site is really, really slow, we’ve said that we do use page speed in our rankings. And so all of the things being equal, yes, a site can rank lower.
“Now, we tend not to talk about things in terms of like an absolute number of seconds because websites do work differently in different parts of the world, and there’s different bandwidth and speeds in different parts of the world.
“However, it’s a good way to think about it to say, okay, look at your neighborhood of websites. Look at the sites that are returned along with you, and then if you’re the outlier. If you’re at the very bottom end because your site is really, really slow, then yes, it might be the case that your site will rank lower because of its page speed.”
The relevance of download time
A long load time has been something that usability experts have always argued against, as more website owners packed their home pages with scripts, images, and other content that made visitors sit and wait for things to load.
The goal was to ensure a better user experience, but this didn’t catch on with the collective of web designers and site owners. Many felt that the option of offering up extra “cool” elements was more important than avoiding user frustration.
The debate favors the consumer
Yet with Google making the time it takes a site to load in a visitor’s browser a crucial element in the site’s rank, more people will undoubtedly regard faster load times as important. And faster page load times often start with the provider that hosts the site.
Most hosting providers share servers among many of their clients. The more websites that are hosted on a specific server, the more resources are used up and load times suffer.
While many hosting providers will move a customer’s site to a different server if the customer requests it, other options such as dedicated hosting or virtual private servers will help reduce page load time. The problem is, not all hosting providers have these as options; and usually, discounted or free hosting plans don’t have them.
More than just load time
Page load time plays an important role in a site’s ranking. However, it’s not the only variable that can be affected by the web host. Security, uptime/downtime, and location can also play a large role in how search engines evaluate a web page.
No one wants his site removed from Google, or any other search engine, because it happens to be hosting malware. Yet a report from WhiteHat Security shows that 86 percent of all websites have at least one vulnerability that could allow a hacker to upload malicious code into that site.
Two of the more common vulnerabilities are directly related to the web host: FTP vulnerabilities and server configuration vulnerabilities.
If visitors can’t get access to a website because the server is down, then the search engine spiders can’t get to it either. Web hosts that don’t stand by a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee should not be considered due to the negative impact this could have on a site’s SEO efforts.
Companies that are based in the United States will rank higher for searches done by a person in the United States — if the site is hosted in the United States. Likewise, businesses in other countries or geographic regions should choose hosting plans that are close by, because searches generated from that region will rank local sites higher and more relevant.
Of course, choosing the right host means nothing for SEO if the content and other ranking factors are ignored; but for a company that takes every aspect of their search engine results seriously the right host could give them the edge they need.