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Search success hinges on site speed

When it comes to getting your site organically to the top of Google Search, you must care as much about how your web server performs in response to requests, demand, load, and even denial-of-service attacks as you do about responsive design, meta tags, keyword density, social signals, inbound marketing, content marketing, or the perfectly-turned page title.

If you don’t get your server side sorted, you’ll never make it to the pole position even if your site fully deserves to be #1 on Google. No, I am not talking about the fact that you’re number one when you search for your own name — I am impressed — but when you deserve to be in the number one spot in a competitive search.

If you’re not Kim Kardashian or Kanye West there are very few people searching for your name. That $4.99/month site is fine most of the time; however, if you’ve just came out with a best-selling book and your publicist plans to get you onto a bunch of radio interviews, on TV, and maybe a couple of national broadcasts, you will need to be concerned with sudden spikes in visits and visitors.

Since most people won’t actually ever put actual fully-formed URLs into their browsers, most of your visitors will invariably reach your site through search instead of the double-u double-u double-u dot my site dot com you shared over and over in your interview and even had plastered on the screen along with your Twitter handle — they’ll always reach you through search, be it Google, Bing, and Yahoo!

So, Google monitors how swiftly your site responds to search pass-offs. Google spends billions of dollars innovating ways of pre-masticating every single variation of every single search well before you need them. Everything is cached, even things like “what type of flower did my grandmother wear as a corsage to prom?” Improbable but still believe that Google Search may very well have precog twins or The Hybrid on their staff so they may very well be able to cache even the most individually unique search well before you search it, in anticipation.

So, after all those billions of dollars, Google doesn’t want to get in a three-legged race with you if you’re slow and fat. Okay, maybe the three-legged race isn’t the best comparison, maybe it’s more like a relay race. If Google’s been training all year and loses the race because the baton passoff resulted in miss, a drop a stumble, and a fall, Google’s pretty likely to want to put you into a less-critical and less important leg of the race — or maybe even bench you.

In this analogy, the #1 spot on Google is the final leg of the race, the one that breaks the tape and gets the gold. You might look great in your running kit but if you can’t nail the speed and win the race after the passoff, nobody will actually ever visit your gorgeously-search-optimized in the first place.

Google needs to be smart about all this. There’s a geometric progression in search. Search result #1 enjoys not just a linear increase of visitors over #2. The top result receives exponentially more visitors than #2 and #2 receives exponentially more visitors than #3.  The potential number of visitors’ difference between #10 and #1 is astronomical.

If your site can’t handle the traffic, Google will demote you. You’ll need to make sure you optimize for speed as well as for content.

First, test your site speed. Next, explore Google’s PageSpeed page. If you run your own server, make sure you understand that there’s a world of technology behind your installation of WordPress. Remember that if you are running a database-backed website (like WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal surely are), you need to address the fact that these sorts of sites don’t handle loads very well at all. Plus, the more plugins you have, the more resources your blog or website require and the more likely your site will bog down under load.  Could your site survive a guest appearance on Coast-to-Coast AM with George Noory?  If a million people search for you at 2AM in the morning, would your site crash? Google wouldn’t even notice, would you?

Check your host for things like caching, a Tier 1 connection to the internet, built in tools for caching and content distribution network (CDN) distribution as well as shielding against a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack (and knowing the difference between a DDoS attack and your appearance on Coast) are important things to look for in a web host.  Fireblade is one company that offers many of these things in one place, though there are quite a few hosting companies that offer similar services. You can also puzzle all the pieces together ad hoc by setting up caching on WordPress using tools like WP Super Cache and get a hosting companies that will back you if your traffic really spikes.

The thing is, none of this is simple. There are a million different ways to address site speed and performance. Even Google wants to help you. You can actually lean on Google’s PageSpeed service if you were lucky enough to get in before they closed their limited field trial. Maybe they’ll open it up again and you can try it out yourself.

Long story short, don’t forget that your website is a combination of “front office,” the part of your site the people, spiders, and bots visit, and “back office,” all the code behind the scenes: the MySQL database that can be corrupted; the dozens of plug-ins that make your site do some very cool things, slowly; the Apache (or whatever) web server that actually takes the requests and calls and tries very hard to deliver fully-rendered web sites to your browsers; there’s the RAM (memory) and Hard Drives (storage) that needs to perform well and quickly (and not be corrupted) and the more the merrier; there’s the physical wires and power supplies that keep everything online and hopping (your uptime) and there are those pipes that connect you to the Internet. How close are you to the backbone? Are you sharing your hosting space with a dozen porn sites? Is your discount web host a couple pizza boxes in someone’s basement connected by DSL?

These are some of the questions you really need to answer; and, if you don’t know what I am on about at all, you need to stop writing carefully-optimized copy and find a fat guy with a beard and ask him to help you optimize your backend, if you will.

Good luck! Go git ’em, Tiger!

Chris Abraham

Chris Abraham, digital strategist and technologist, is a leading expert in digital: search engine optimization (SEO), online relationship management (ORM), Internet privacy, Wikipedia curationsocial media strategy, and online public relations with a focus on blogger outreachinfluencer engagement, and Internet crisis response, with the digital PR and social media marketing agency Gerris digital. [Feel free to self-schedule a 15-minute call, a 30-minute call, or a 60-minute call with me] A pioneer in online social networks and publishing, with a natural facility for anticipating the next big thing, Chris is an Internet analyst, web strategy consultant and adviser to the industries' leading firms. Chris Abraham specializes in web technologies, including content marketing, online collaboration, blogging, and consumer generated media.  Chris Abraham was named a Top 50 Social Media Power Influencer by Forbes, #1 PR2.0 Influencer by Traackr, and top-10 social media influencers by Marketwire; and, for what it’s worth, Chris has a Klout of 79 the last time he looked. Chris Abraham started doing web development back in 1994, SEO in 1998, blogging in 1999, influencer engagement in 2003, social media strategy in 2005, blogger outreach in 2006, and Wikipedia curation in 2007. Feel free to self-schedule a 15-minute call, a 30-minute call, or a 60-minute call. If you want to know the services that Chris offers check out Services If you want to work with Chris use the Contact Form You're welcome to follow me via Social Media You can learn more about Chris over in About Chris writes a lot so check out the Blog Chris offers webinars so check Events

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