A New Tool for Optimizing Page Speed: Google's Page Speed Online

It's been close to two years since Google released their video "Let's Make the Web Faster."

About a year after that, and following a slew of tools and technical advice, Google apparently didn't feel that enough people were paying attention to site speed so Matt Cutts came out and stated that the search engine was indeed using the speed of your site in it's ranking algorithms.

Although it's not one of the biggest ranking factors, from a user's point of view it is extremely important -- and that's the root of all good search engine optimization (SEO) anyways, right? Creating something that's good for the user and therefore the engine. That's a key point that constantly gets reiterated but very few seem to put into practice as it's easily overlooked.

Google's Need for Page Speed

Just like clockwork, another year has passed and Google would again like to remind you that the speed of your site plays an important role in how the search engines and users see, interact, and rank your site.

Previously Google had rolled out it's Speed section of Google Code and there, quietly it's been amassing a plethora of information and developer tools focused around making your sites and web apps as quick as possible. They even soft-launched a new glossy image format to compete with JPEG called WebP, which is now native in Chrome and Opera.

Simon Heseltine skillfully wrote "3 Tools for Optimizing Page Speed" in February 2010, and it quickly grew to be one of Search Engine Watch's most popular articles of the year. One of the main tools mentioned was Yslow, which is basically just a prettier version of Google's own Page Speed plugin that runs on top of Firebug in Firefox. That has been my go to tool for a long while now and it's a fantastic way to quickly identify problem areas of various sites from a technical standpoint.

Up until last week I'd been teaching and having people install this plugin as part of their technical SEO research toolkit. Not anymore.

In an attempt to make this information even more accessible, that plugin's functionality has been released as it's own web app: Google's Page Speed Online. That's right, you can now rip apart your page speed from any browser on any device. Perhaps I should add it to my iPad SEO Apps list?

What is Google's Page Speed Online?

"Page Speed Online analyzes the content of a web page, then generates suggestions to make that page faster. Reducing page load times can reduce bounce rates and increase conversion rates."

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A nice new feature added to this tool is the ability to check the performance of a site and get suggestions from a mobile standpoint. Previously all speed suggestions were focused around a desktop scenario and this new option will give scores and suggestions customized for the mobile browsing experience.

Regardless of which test you run, the output is given in a clear and orderly fashion, prioritized in order of importance. Items marked as "High Priority" are the ones that will likely have the largest ramifications on your page speed with the least amount of development effort (more bang for the buck) while those marked as "Low Priority" may have a less drastic effect. I recommend working from the top down.

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One interesting thing to note is that in doing an apples to apples comparison with the Firebug Page Speed plugin yields differing results. A test of my Greg Habermann profile here at Search Engine Watch gave different overall scores and some different suggestions.

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The new tool adds the suggestion of Enable Keep-Alive on the website. As this feature can easily boost site speed, perhaps that is why it gives a lower score as compared to my older plugin as it works this into its factors.

I've already heard people asking about how they can enable this on their site and what it means. In short, Keep-Alive allows long-lived HTTP sessions to handle multiple requests over a single TCP connection.

According to Apache, enabling Keep-Alive has in some cases sped up site performance by as much as 50 percent. Unfortunately, this isn't something you can do through .htaccess. You will have to talk to your hosting provider as it is a setting within Apache or IIS that needs turned on.

Summary

Overall the new Google Page Speed online tool is nice and an easy way for you to check the performance on any page from any device. The new mobile suggestion is a handy addition as well and definitely worth looking at.

For the most part I'll probably stick to my Firebug plugin as it is more feature-rich overall. Here's hoping an update is coming soon to bring it more in line with the current speed grading factors.