Research reveals that the faster a page can load in a mobile browser, the higher it tends to rank in search engine query results. Sites that appear on page one of Google display their primary content in 1.19 seconds on average, while those on page two display primary content in 1.29 seconds.
Google in July 2018 announced that speed is a ranking factor. The latest data from Searchmetrics suggests that websites that rank higher in Google search results tend to load more rapidly and provide a better experience on mobile devices.
Higher-ranking sites in search engine query results also are more likely to use the latest web technologies such as image formats and HTTP/2 web protocols.
The research also suggests that many sites appearing near the top of the search results are not doing enough to make their content accessible to people with disabilities -- especially the visually impaired, a recent topic that Microsoft publicly addressed.
The Searchmetrics Google Lighthouse Ranking Factors 2019 whitepaper details the level of technical optimization of ranking websites on Google. The research tested the top 20 search results on google.com for 10,000 keywords, analyzing how pages list in the results. It focused on four categories: Performance, SEO, Best Practices, and Accessibility.
Several factors highlight the importance of website speed and responsiveness to determine rankings in search engine query results.
Some 80% of results on pages one and two in Google search results had what Searchmetrics refers to as a Time to First Byte, which measures the time it takes for the first byte of information from a website to hit the searcher’s browser after they have clicked on the search result, of below 0.6 seconds -- what Google suggests is necessary for an acceptable user experience.
The findings also show a correlation between the use of modern web technologies and better ranking positions in the Google search results. '
The report highlights that 86% of page one results and 85% of page two results now use next-generation image formats such as WebP, JPEG2000 and JPEG XR, formats that load faster and use up less mobile data, compared with JPEG and PNG.
Higher-ranked pages also are more likely to use the HTTP/2 web protocol. On average, 71% of page one results and 66% of page two results use this modern protocol that supports faster loading times for web pages than the traditional HTTP.
And finally, findings in the white paper suggest that websites neglect accessibility for the visually impaired.
The study notes that many highly-ranked sites on Google are not doing enough to make their pages accessible to people with disabilities, especially the visually impaired or the blind.
The average overall score for accessibility for sites that appear in the top 20 positions on Google was 66.6 out of 100, the lowest score of the four website categories analyzed.
The score is based on how sites perform on tests that measure areas such as color contrast. This is one reason that companies like Google and Microsoft have pushed dark-mode browser.