As reported in November, Google's Matt Cutts indicated that page load time may make its debut as a search ranking factor in 2010.

And now there's a new hint that page load time could become a ranking factor next year: Google has added a new section called Site Performance to Google Webmaster Tools.

Site Performance is, as the name suggests, designed to help website owners track how well their sites perform:

On Site Performance, you'll find how fast your pages load, how they've fared over time, how your site's load time compares to that of other sites, examples of specific pages and their actual page load times, and Page Speed suggestions that can help reduce user-perceived latency. Our goal is to bring you specific and actionable speed information backed by data, so stay tuned for more of this in the future.

Site Performance data is culled from Google Toolbar users who have enabled enhanced features, which means that for websites with minimal traffic, data may not be available.

Many of the suggestions Site Performance provides are identical or similar in nature to those provided by Google's Page Speed add-on for the Firebug Firefox plugin, which is already a popular tool used for testing load times and identify certain types of performance bottlenecks.

But even though Site Performance may not really be necessary for those who are already using tools like Page Speed, Site Performance does have one notable advantage: global data. Because Site Performance tracks the 'experiences' of a wide range of users around the world who are using the Google Toolbar, the data may paint a more useful portrait of average performance, likely making it useful to every website owner in some fashion.

The real question, of course, is whether Site Performance is a prelude to Google adding page load time as a ranking factor. Much of what's offered in Webmaster Tools gives website owners information related directly or indirectly to their place in the SERPs, so it would make sense for Google to offer something like this if page load time is going to become a ranking factor. For now, however, Google is only saying that "a small step in our larger effort to make the web faster".

Ranking factor or not, website owners can themselves benefit from helping Google make the web faster, and if Site Performance helps encourage more websites owners to do so, all the better.

Photo credit: dodge challenger1 via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 3 December, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (5)



Hi there, great post, thanks for the update, its good to know what Google has planned and what requirements they are looking for

Thanks for the heads up

over 8 years ago


Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Google is great at doing free things - but I wonder about the validity of the web Site performance data derived from the Google Toolbar.

Firstly - RIA and AJAX pages are lost.

Why? AJAX /Silverlight / flash technology in pages means that the user sees more than 1 view of a page as they click + AJAX etc does their stuff:  but all happening with:

i) the same URL in the browser

ii) no page refresh happening.

Without page refresh to trigger the  Google tool bar  - these views are invisible to it.

But those pages are vital to the user's experience  - and sites are becoming more and more dependent on AJAX.

(It's a similar problem to Google's spider: Google search shows 1 page per URL: regardless of the range of different aJAX driven views that users actually experience.)

Secondly, using Google tool bar from real users PCs is not a repeatable source of reliable data: It aggregates data taken from around the clock: a real user hitting your site at 3am will get a  faster page than one at 7pm.  Google averages them.

And also:  if a user visits your site at the same time as a teenager in the house is downloading videos, then hey presto Google logs a datapoint as your pages being very slow. Or when a visitor browses from a slow mobile 3G link. So you will get pretty noisy data, that Google averages to make it readable, but averaging a noisy data set is not great maths.

Thirdly: the most important money making Journey  - Checkout - is the least accurate - because Google has the least data to go on.

Checkout is a journey that not many of your visitors follow. And given that the percentage of your visitors using the Google Tool bar will not be huge: the Google data will be from a tiny sample size : so each week it is likely to vary widely because of the issues above: all without anything happening on your site!

You will be in danger of winding up your tech team, if you send them data each week that varies independently of any changes they are making!

To really now about user experience - you can't beat proper User Journey monitoring : sampling your checkout journey every 5 minutes night and day, from a consistent test point and test bandwidth.

That is statistically meaningful - it doesn't require 'averaging away the noise' - and ensures consistently valid data, that is actionable by the tech team.

Sorry if I've used the word 'statistically' too much!

But would hate marketers to lose credibility with tech teams, by not understanding the data issues.


over 8 years ago


Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

hee hee -  well spotted Tommy.

over 8 years ago


Tommy Newman

They do recognise that in a later blog post though!

"For example, some servers return uncompressed content for Googlebot, similar to what would be served to older browsers that do not support gzip-compressed embedded content (this is currently the case for Google Analytics' "ga.js"). "

over 8 years ago



Does anyone know when Google will release an operating system for download?

over 8 years ago

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