Killing Two Birds With One Stone: Why Page Speed’s Influence On PageRank Is Strategic To Google
Final edit updated Nov 28, 2009 22:40
Some days I’ll be thinking about a topic, and suddenly an unexpected connection appears. That just happened as I was reading two posts, one about potential changes to PageRank and another about a new protocol that Google is pitching to speed up web page loads. The PageRank discussion seemed to be completely about the marketing impact of this change on search engine optimization strategies, while the protocol discussions were centered on technology and global standards issues. It seems that these two apparently separate things may be very tightly coupled indeed.
PageRank, Page Speed And Marketing Effects
PageRank is supposed to measure the authority of a page, to determine whether
it is “the best” trusted and primary resource to answer the user’s search query. It is hard to fathom how response speed has anything to do with authenticity, authority, correctness of data or trustworthiness. It seems to be much more strongly linked to the cash position of the person or organization who authored the page, and how much they have invested in having the right page design, hardware and network infrastructure (either their own or hosted) to provide fast response.
One quasi-altruistic reason for adding or emphasizing page load in the PageRank calculations may be to nudge the web community to think more about page load speed when designing sites. However, sites that cause high abandonment rates ought to be somewhat self-correcting by themselves, not needing such external pressures to cause a strategy rethink.
In Should Page Speed Influence Google PageRank, Om Malik discusses whether emphasizing page load speed in PageRank is a good idea. Matt Cutts, who works at Google, hints that over time page speed might be more important in PageRank. I think that the deeper motivation for this emphasis lies elsewhere.
SPDY – A Technical Thing That Could Speed Up The Web
Google has lately been pitching their SPDY protocol, a protocol that aims to reduce page load network overhead by 2x, in parallel with some apparently similar IETF work. The SPDY protocol page implies that Google’s goal is to to replace http with SPDY.
The code behind SPDY is supposed to be open in some fashion, but so far as I know it is not part of the IETF standards process. I wonder if specifics of SPDY are optimized for Google’s search infrastructure, such that they would get a differentially faster result from SPDY search clients than other search vendors could achieve (at least until they reverse engineer the implications – which they perhaps already have.)
Maybe SPDY Is Not Just Altruism
What could Google accomplish if SPDYsignificantly displaces http? Oops, did I say that? How could Google pull this off, given the dispersed and voluntary nature of most standardization efforts?
What if they realize they can use their PageRank search algorithms to convince people to implement their strategic vision? Insiders might see this as an “end-run” that bypasses Internet standards bodies as opposed to “just capitalism at work”
Well, if Google is thinking about SPDY in this way, what might we see them do to influence the end game? Maybe a tweak to PageRank so that page load speed is a strong enough factor that you could not maintain your current SEO ranking without implementing SPDY. Maybe just enough so that, if just one of your competitors implemented SPDY, they’d outrank you in Google search results—unless you had a very strong advantage in some other SEO category.
If SPDY generates strong benefits in real life operation, then with just the right amount of emphasis in PageRank’s calculations, that competitor could instantly displace your SEO position. Such an overnight change of search positioning might cost large companies millions of dollars.
Watching The Dominos Fall – A Likely Scenario?
If you find your company instantly displaced in the Google search rankings by a competitor who chose to implement SPDY, would you hold to principles of openness and standards and stay with http? I’m guessing you’d get SPDY up and running as quickly as humanly possible. Thus it starts: all of the other dominoes topple in sequence and SPDY becomes the global de-facto standard.
If this scenario plays out, Google ends up with a quasi-open protocol that is the de-facto standard, to which they hold the design and evolution keys. With PageRank in hand, and a completed demonstration that slight changes in algorithm can cause the global business community (and probably everyone else) to follow their technical lead, will they continue to hold to the company’s credo of “Don’t Be Evil?”
Maybe It’s Three Birds?
As a side thought, smaller organizations may not be able to pay to compete on page load speed. Being on page two is pretty much “not present in Google.” Depending on the size of their user base and hosting arrangements, they may opt to spend more on AdWords to try to improve their search results placement.
When We Are The Network discussed the topic of whether Google could or would maintain its “Do No Evil” ideology I didn’t anticipate that I would stumble on something else to write about on this topic so quickly. Hopefully I’ve missed something obvious, and this end game is not as probable as it seems to me at the moment.
I look forward to your comments, pointers and clarifications. Thanks for taking the time to read through to here, as I realize this has been a longer than normal post.