A Quick and Dirty Primer for Benchmarking Your Site’s Speed

There are a lot of compelling reasons to care about how fast your site is: conversion, revenue, ad clicks, productivity. Site speed has a direct impact on all of these things. And now we can add search engine optimization to the list.

As Shopzilla senior architect Tim Morrow says, when it comes to Google and search rankings, “If you’re already focused on site performance, you don’t really have much to worry about.”*

But what if you’re not already focused on website performance?

Yesterday I talked about how we here at Strangeloop saw one site improve its speed and, as a result, dramatically improve its interaction with Googlebot. Today I want to talk about how to benchmark your site’s speed against your competitors in order to get a sense of if and how your site could be affected by Google’s new search algorithms.

Some speculation about Google’s new algorithms

To recap what I said yesterday:

  • Google considers a site fast if it’s in the top 20% of its class.
  • There’s a general assumption that these top-performing sites will get some kind of ranking boost.
  • There’s another assumption that middle-of-class sites (those performing at 20% to 60%) will probably not see any change in their ranking.
  • And yet another assumption that sites at the bottom of their class – 60% and lower – will probably be penalized somewhat.**

How to compare your site to your competitors

Here’s a quick-and-dirty four-step guide to getting a sense of where you rank against your competitors:

  1. Identify the ten biggest players in your industry. If your site is focused domestically, choose domestic benchmarks. If your industry is enormous, consider widening your survey to twenty companies or even a hundred. This will take more time, but consider it an investment in need-to-have data.
  2. Run each site through a third-party tool that tests page load times. We like Pagetest for our performance diagnostics. See Google for links to other tools.
  3. Run your site through the same test.
  4. Rank the results using the parameters I outlined above.

If you show up in first or second place, you’re probably golden. If you place between third and sixth place, you’re okay, assuming you’re fine with the status quo. (Though, hey, why not see this as an opportunity to improve your site performance and shoot for first?) And if you trail at seventh, eighth, ninth or tenth, it may be time to take a hard look at why your site performs poorly and how to fix it.

Related note: This week, Google launched its new search index, Caffeine, which promises to provide “50% fresher results” due to the fact that it analyzes the web and updates its search index continually, rather than every couple of weeks. I think we can take this to mean that site owners who make speed improvements now should expect to see results on Google fairly quickly.

*Tim also provides the most cogent breakdown of how Google measures site speed – definitely worth a read.

**Again, credit for these assumptions goes to Eric Enge, who postulated these numbers in this post on Search Engine Land.

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