On January 17, 2018, Google announced that page speed will become a ranking factor in mobile searches, effective July 2018. Couple that announcement with the mobile-first search index that began rolling out late in 2017 — a rollout that will cause Google to favor mobile versions of websites in its search engine results pages — and it quickly becomes clear that businesses of all sizes need to optimize the mobile experience they’re offering to prospects and customers. Here are six steps for SMBs to take to stay competitive online.

Step One: Ensure Your Site is Mobile-Friendly

Google offers a simple way to check: their Mobile Friendly Test. If your site passes the test, that’s great. If not — and if you use a content management system (CMS) such as WordPress, Drupal, Magento, Blogger and the like — you can find CMS-specific guides to optimizing your site for mobile. If you don’t use a CMS, Google offers this Mobile SEO Guide.

Step Two: Evaluate Your Page Speed

A fast and easy way to check the speed is through Google’s PageSpeed Insights, but there’s a catch: only sites with enough traffic (exact number unspecified, but the bar is still pretty high) will receive ratings. If your site gets enough traffic to qualify, you’ll receive an overall rating for mobile: fast, normal or slow. You will also receive a page load distribution chart that will allow you to see what percentage of your site’s pages are considered fast; how many as normal; and how many as slow.

There will be two bars in this chart, one for FCP and one for DCL. FCP is short for First Contentful Paint and measures how quickly a visitor to your site would see a visual response. Amazon, for example, has an FCP rating of 1.3s. DCL stands for DOM Content Loaded and measures the speed at which HTML was loaded and parsed. For Amazon, that number is 1.5s.

If data is not provided for your site at PageSpeed Insights, you can estimate your page speed via a synthetic performance audit using an open-source tool called Lighthouse. As another option, you can determine how quickly your site loads for visitors with a 3G connection at TestMySite. Yet another site with free page speed tests: GTMetrix.com.

Don’t stress out if you don’t have a perfect score. Most websites don’t. What is important: comparing your page speeds scores with your competitors and making continual improvements to stay ahead of them.

Step Three: Analyze Problem Areas

At PageSpeed Insights, even if you can’t get mobile speed ratings for your site, you will still receive information about page elements that are preventing your site from rendering as quickly as desired. If you test your speed at TestMySite, you can download a free report that offers recommendations to address problems.

Review your site’s search console, looking for crawl errors that might be slowing you down. Carefully sift through the Mobility Usability report, as well.

Step Four: Determine if AMP is For You

Webmasters have the option to “AMP” their pages by using Accelerated Mobile Page technology. With AMP, you are stripping down code to its basics and, because the pages are pared down to their bare minimum, they are lightning fast when loading. There are advantages and disadvantages to AMP-ing pages, and you should note that you can create fast-loading pages without using AMP technology. But, it can’t be argued that this technology is succeeding in creating streamlined pages that render quickly, indeed.

Step Five: Optimize, Compress, Minify and Remove

Google offers advice on the following areas:

Now is the time to create a plan to prioritize and fix problem areas. Developer tools are available from Google here.

Step Six: In-House Versus Outsourcing

If your SMB has an inhouse IT department, you may have all the resources you need to tackle these fixes. But note that some areas may be outside the scope and/or expertise of your team and, in that case, it’s important to outsource any work you decide to take on to the right developer. Google provides tips on how to choose a developer to make your site mobile friendly and it never hurts to ask for recommendations from professionals you trust.

More about the Speed Update

Page speed has been a ranking factor for nearly eight years with desktop searches so, if you’ve been focusing on speed for desktop and have created a responsive mobile site, you may already be in pretty good shape. Google has said that this update will only affect a small percentage of queries, those with the slowest loading experiences.

Benefits of faster-loading pages will go beyond the ranking issue, though, as site visitors also prefer fast loads. According to Kissmetrics.com data:

  • 47% of them expect a web page to load in two seconds or less
  • 40% abandon sites that take more than three seconds to load
  • 79% of shoppers who have a dissatisfying experience because of website performance are less likely buy from that site in the future
  • 52% of shoppers say that quick page load is important to site loyalty
  • A one second delay (or three seconds of waiting time) decreases satisfaction by customers by about 16%
  • 44% of shoppers will tell friends about bad online experiences
  • A one second delay can result in a 7% drop in conversions

How much work you need to do to remain competitive depends upon two main factors: how much you’ve already done, and how much your competitors have done and are currently doing. As a final tip, regularly check your site in site speed tools to see what recommendations remain and continue to prioritize the most important.