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Is Google Really Trying to Make the Web Better?

A while ago, Google put a patent on analyzing domain registration as a part of a site’s authority. The result was that the entire blogosphere and SEO industries began advising clients to register their domains for the maximum time. I even wrote about it recently.. and was rebuffed by good friend PJ Hinton from Compendium Blogware (see the comments).

Now Google is being a little more forward in its approach – with Matt Cutts dropping hints that Google might utilize page load times as a factor in ranking sites. While this sounds all warm and fuzzy, it honestly concerns me. Does this mean that only sites with deep pockets will be able to rank well in Google’s index?

Is this Google’s way of interfering with Net Neutrality? Or is it simply trying to save money? Imagine the savings to a company like Google when their crawlers are capable of crawling sites in a fraction of the time it takes now… the numbers are huge.

Part of the issue, in my opinion, is that Google is finding that it needs to be more sophisticated in its crawling methodologies. The web is getting much more complex, with dynamically generated content, use of JavaScript and Ajax technologies, syndication, Flash and Silverlight, and multi-media. If Google wants to remain a viable search engine, their crawl and index methodologies must evolve. That evolution requires a lot more processing, memory and bandwidth. That costs money.

So, as one of the wealthiest companies in the world, Google is beginning to drop the hint… hard. Make your sites faster and we’ll reward you with better ranking. This is fantastic for companies with the infrastructure, capacity and resources… but what happens to the little guy? How does a small personal blog hosted on GoDaddy for a few dollars compete with a company hosted on a platform that costs thousands of dollars with loadsharing, caching, web acceleration or cloud technologies?

In my humble opinion, I think it leans the evil side. Let’s break it down:

  1. The web is becoming more complex.
  2. This requires Google to advance its technologies.
  3. That costs Google more money.
  4. The alternative is penalizing sites that perform slowly, requiring them to spend more and speed up their sites, reducing Google’s costs.
  5. That doesn’t make good PR, though.
  6. Instead, Google does it in under the auspices of enhancing the web experience.

It’s not about you and me. It’s about Google’s bottom line.

That said, site speed is important and I recommend people improve their sites’ performance to reduce bounce rates and increase conversions. That decision is left to your business to evaluate and determine a return on investment for.

When Google begins doing this, it’s no longer a business decision – it’s a business requirement and will simply knock small businesses, regardless of their relevance, off the search engine results page. I don’t believe it’s fair – and it’s the work of a monopoly. Monopolies get to make decisions that impact profit without consequences since there’s a lack of competition.

Google may want to be careful on this one… Bing is looking much nicer every day (and I have it running in Safari!).

17 Comments

  1. 1

    I get it.

    I'll be moving to MediaTemple for my main WordPress website, disabling most of the plugins, hardcoding required functionality into the theme files, getting rid of as much Javascript as possible, and moving as many static pages as possible out of the WordPress database.

    This increases my costs in several ways:
    1. Triples my hosting cost.
    2. Increases my creation and maintenance costs for handling static pages
    3. Increases (vastly) the cost of adding functionality.

    Spiral up. Rich get richer.

    • 2

      And don't forget Dave… after you do that, you can write crap content! No longer do you have to really work on writing better… just worry about faster!

      Oh yea… and don't worry about IE, Firefox or Safari… just make it fast in Google Chrome, right?

  2. 3

    Well written piece Doug. As clearly evidenced here Google is only going to start bumping against the ‘do no evil’ promise more and more. It will be an interesting path forward form them and I can’t help but think about the similarities with Yahoo! In the 2001-3 as their brand started to tarnish for the first time. Look where they are now.

  3. 4

    That's interesting. Google started off by telling us which sites were most linked to. It's straying away from harnessing the voice of the people and instead imposing it's own rules. They are deciding what's right for their customers, not letting the customers decide for themselves!

  4. 5

    I hate being a detractor, but when Google usually makes a change, the SE world gets paranoid – "paranoid" in that CNN way where they make a mountain out of a molehill to up viewership and ad revenue. Google rarely makes pinpoint accurate changes that overhauls the landscape. Usually, Google's changes are made with a broad brush. And if this upload change becomes a factor, it'll probably be within a range that most can subscribe to. I think even the boys of Mountain View are mindful of their market share and know that if they don't appeal to the masses they could lose their share.

    Besides, no one should really be using GoDaddy to host content anyway (speaking from experience). I'm convinced their upload time hurts my user experience even when I'm not on their sites (which is hopefully all the time).

  5. 7

    Yup its true Google is trying to take over the web – and they have been doing so fo quite some time now. But like everything, the more used something is the more people complain about it.

    Only time will tell… 🙂

  6. 8

    I think we are dealing with a double-edged sword. On one side, you have a corporation that is behaving as…well…a corporation. Costs is always going to be a consideration and they are going to do what it takes to maximize their return, and in this case the slower sites will get screwed. On the other side, Google is making an effort to maximize their service, making it more efficient for the user thus enhancing the web experience. With the web becoming more complex, Google has to protect its product and adapt to changes that will affect the quality of its service. Internet users value their time, and filtering out sites that aren't particularly efficient adds value to Google's service. I don't see this as a particularly evil act. Making a website faster isn't necessarily an expensive process, as there are many ways to increase speed without having to shell out large sums of money.

  7. 9

    I think this is one of the least evil things I've seen Google do in a long time. They are in a position to influence the web for the better. Even if the weight of page speed doesn't affect rankings substantially, the result will be an increased awareness of site speed across the industry. A faster web benefits us all.

    Designing a website that loads quickly isn't even that difficult. Given the current state of the web, the average site (even most of the big-boys) are doing things so horribly wrong that there is a *ton* of low hanging fruit. Install the YSlow and Google PageSpeed plugins in Firefox, and then follow through on some of the recommendations they give you. Even just following a few of them you can make a substantial improvement in almost any site in a couple of hours.

    • 10

      Again… you're missing the point. 99% of companies do NOT have the resources to optimize their sites for speed – they're simply trying to stay in business. I don't disagree that speed is important… I made the effort with my own site to integrate with Amazon to get my page load times under 2 seconds. I just argue that this is an option for everyone. It's not!

      • 11

        Doug, what's the URL to the site that you optimized with Amazon to get the page load time under 2 seconds?

        I understood the point you are making perfectly, but I disagree with you. Many of the optimizations that YSlow recommends can be done by someone that has the technical competency to write basic HTML. A company selling online should have someone who can edit HTML, otherwise they've got alot bigger problems than not ranking high in the SERPs 🙂

        YSlow has tons of documentation to walk you through the process, and there are even books like "High Performance Websites" that are well written and quick reads that give you more than enough to understand the process. I spent an afternoon reading through that book a year or so ago, and I highly recommend to anyone who even touches a website.

        I guess all I'm saying is, don't be so quick to judge what the impact on website owners will be without understanding the full process.

        • 12

          Hi Dan,

          I moved all my images and theming files to Amazon S3. The combination of their power and loading from multiple subdomains reduced my load times from 10 seconds+ to under 2 seconds a page! Re: "A company selling online…" – everyone sells online now Dan. Everyone has a website… and most don't have the time nor the resources to make those changes.

          Doug

  8. 13

    I'm not sure I see this as a bad thing. As a search engine user I want any link I click on (whether from a search engine or anywhere else) to load very quickly. If two pages were even in all other aspects of the search ranking algorithm, it makes sense to me that the one that loads quicker would be higher.

    I didn't catch all of the Cutts interview. Does he actually say that page load times will be a stronger factor in search rankings then relevance, authority, or any of the other factors we're currently used to?

  9. 14

    It's a known factor that faster page load time equate to better conversion rates.

    As a web site owner, you want that… From Google's perpective, it's an algorithm leg up, because the faster loading pages do provide a better experience.

    Doug, you've worked as SAAS before… if something is slow, it's often blamed on the application not the dependent factors. How annoying is it to your experience when you have to wait 10 seconds for content to load after searching… I think it's valuable for page rank to add this to the equation and not "evil" like everyone says. Google's page are loaded with technology and bandwidth — but's it's dang fast and they want people to build pages and apps more like that…

    • 15

      No disagreement on speed as a factor, Dale. I simply disagree that a search engine should concern itself with speed. And not all of Google's pages and apps are fast. I had to rewrite much of Google Map API's KML parser to actually get it to work beyond a couple dozen records. Will they drop folks using Google Maps if Yahoo! Maps has faster load times? Me thinks not!

  10. 16

    I agree with Christophe. Actually, Google is used by millions of people worldwide, so yes it's not perfect, but it has achieved great things so far. Google wants money? Who the hell doesnt today; Just because they' re one of biggest company in world means they could, I dont know, be kind and not be greedy? 21st century!

  11. 17

    But how fancy do small business’ webpages have to be anyway? Most small businesses will have simple websites, which shouldn’t take long to load. On the other hand, monoliths like Microsoft have huge websites with heaps of content, which therefore takes a lot longer to load than your average small business website. Therefore a large business will have a disadvantage when it comes to reducing page load times.

    I don’t think there’s a huge reason for Google to use page times as a ranking factor, but I certainly don’t think it’s evil. And even if it is, it’s only going to affect large businesses anyway.

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