On Friday, Google invited Web site publishers to share its obsession: The company announced that it has begun considering site speed as one of many signals it uses to determine the relevance of a Web page in search results.
Sites that fail to optimize for fast loading now face a greater likelihood of ranking lower on Google search results pages.
However, Google says that the speed signal does not carry as much weight as a page's relevance and notes that less than 1% of search queries are affected by the change.
"Speeding up Web sites is important -- not just to site owners, but to all Internet users," explained Google Fellow Amit Singhal and principal engineer Matt Cutts in a blog post. "Faster sites create happy users and we've seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there. But faster sites don't just improve user experience; recent data shows that improving site speed also reduces operating costs. Like us, our users place a lot of value in speed -- that's why we've decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings."
There are a number of free tools available to Webmasters who want to evaluate the speed at which their Web sites load.
These include PageSpeed, an open source plug-in that works in conjunction with Firefox and Firebug, YSlow, a page load time optimizer from Yahoo that also hooks into Firebug, WebPagetest, a site that performs speed test, and the Site Performance service that's part of Google's Webmaster Tools.
Currently, the site speed signal only applies to search in English on Google.com.