If It Ain't Broke...Perhaps It's Slow
Google states that this initiative will: 1) improve user experience and 2) help advertisers improve conversion rates. Google plans to roll this out over the coming weeks and provide advertisers with load-time calculations for review. Site owners will have 4 weeks to review their load-time stats and make changes before Google will integrate load time into the Quality algorithm.
What does this all mean?
First, it is important to note that this is Google's first foray in analyzing and weighing landing pages beyond visible content. Secondly, if you are an advertiser unwilling or unable to play by Google's rules, you are going to pay them more...perhaps a lot more, based on their own words.
Given the high prevalence of broadband connections, this recent adaptation has advertisers and brands scratching their heads about what Google is thinking. Is this a turning point for how Search Engines define "relevancy", now extending to factors beyond visible content? Will they be penalizing sites with abrasive color schemes next? Or is this perhaps just a weak attempt to keep the needle moving?
Who will this impact most?
There are primarily two major types of advertisers who will be forced to either make site changes or see their Quality Scores slump. The first demographic to feel the impact of this change will be the deep-pocketed big branders, who love rich media and heavy coding.
The second and vastly different group that will be impacted is small businesses with limited resources and shared server bank plans. Both of these organizations have limited ability to bring about site changes to meet Google's new level of landing page compliance, and will likely spend the next four weeks scrambling to minimize damage.
Should you be worried about your own site?
Without question, everyone should be reviewing their own page load times. When Google releases Quality Score algorithm changes, they usually launch with visible error and often without warning. Advertisers are then forced to pay significantly more until the new algorithm settles down. Don't expect a refund if you get caught in the middle--be proactive. There are numerous free solutions online; one of my favorites is Pingdom which not only gives summary timing, but also outlines each element causing issues.
What should I be looking out for?
Many might categorize this change as a toothless attempt at an algorithm improvement. Irrelevant ads by search arbitragers continue to be the thorn in Google's side to deliver relevancy and increase click interaction with Paid Search listings. These actions appear to be a temporary band-aid aimed at charging its advertisers more per click. This addition would have been better received in 2002, when a sizable population of Internet users was still using dial-up connections.
With the prevalence of broadband users today, this type of algorithm change will have a minimal impact on improving relevant search engine results and improved user experience, while financially penalizing advertisers implementing rich media experiences and small businesses trying to take advantage of what the Web has to offer.
As the Internet strives to become more and more interactive and dynamic for end users, could Google be stagnating innovation? As they say, it is often the strong that move slow.