How to Improve 3 Google Ranking Factors with a CDN
February 12, 2016 | Robert Gibb
SEO expert Brian Dean recently analyzed 1 million Google search results and found several correlations between 11 website factors and higher Google rankings. Three of these factors can be instantly improved by implementing a CDN. These factors include page load speed, bounce rate, and security (HTTPS).
Page load speed refers to how quickly a page is presented on a person’s device; bounce rate refers to people who visit your website and never venture beyond the first page; and HTTPS refers to websites that secure content during transit with SSL/TLS.
While Google doesn’t consider CDNs a ranking factor; it most definitely does take the effects of a CDN into account when determining the order of search engine results. This is because, with a CDN in place, your website is faster and your bounce rate is lower. A CDN also reduces the time it takes to establish a secure connection via HTTPS.
Both site speed and HTTPS are officially considered ranking factors by Google, and Brian Dean’s research confirms this. His research also shows a correlation between lower bounce rates and higher Google rankings (Note: Bounce rate isn’t an official Google ranking factor, but sites with lower bounce rates do rank higher).
In this post we’ll show you how you can direct all three of these ranking factors with a CDN to rise higher in Google search results.
Ranking Factor #1: Page Load Speed
People expect your website to load immediately. Unlike you, they often have no existing ties with your website and are simply browsing.
If the page takes too long to load, well, it’s the Internet and there are other pages with similar content that load much faster. People will bounce from your site and explore these other pages instead. (More on bounce rate and its correlation with higher rankings below.)
If you’re one of the few who doesn’t already know page load speed matters, consider this study by Google. It found that when search results increased from 10 to 30 on Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs), traffic and searches on the experimental pages dropped by 20%. This was attributed to a mere half-second increase in page load time for the extra 20 results.
This study just confirmed what Google already knew: faster is better. So it’s not a big surprise that Google rewards websites that load quickly. According to Dean’s research:
Now the obvious questions is: How can a CDN improve page load speed so I can rank higher in Google SERPs?
A CDN improves page load speed by storing copies of your website on servers that are closer to Internet users all over the world. For instance, if your main server is in the US, a CDN lets users in Europe pull website content from European edge servers instead of your main server. This reduces latency and, consequently, page load times.
While you can and should make other changes to improve page load speed – optimize images, minify JS and CSS, etc. – a CDN offers the greatest benefit in the least amount of time. Depending on the complexity of your site, you can integrate a content delivery network in as little as 10 minutes and instantly see page load time drop.
Ranking Factor #2: Bounce Rate
Based on a case study one of our customer’s put together, bounce rate and page load speed are directly connected to one another. So improve your page load speed and you’ll improve your bounce rate. And based on Dean’s research, you just may improve your Google ranking.
A story by the New York Times discusses how Google found that visitors are only willing to wait 400 milliseconds for a site to load before bouncing. That same piece discusses how Google has determined that customers will visit a competitor’s site more often if the competitor’s pages load 250 milliseconds faster.
So again, it’s no surprise that Dean’s research shows a correlation between low bounce rates and higher rankings:
Bounce rate is defined by Google as “the percentage of single-page sessions (i.e. sessions in which the person left your site from the entrance page without interacting with the page).” In other words, if a person arrives to your page then immediately leaves it, your bounce rate suffers.
There are other reasons for high bounce rate aside from page load speed. Poor design, irrelevant content, and plain old crappy content all contribute to high bounce rates.
Implement a CDN and make UX improvements and I guarantee your bounce rate will drop. The CDN will help make sure people don’t bounce before the page even loads, and better design and content will entice users to interact with the page.
Ranking Factor #3: HTTPS
You can’t necessarily “improve” HTTPS with a CDN, but you can go about implementing HTTPS in a responsible way that makes pages load faster. (Notice how everything ties back to page load speed.)
Ilya Grigorik, web performance engineer at Google, talks about the benefits of using a CDN to improve the speed of SSL/TLS, the secure protocol that puts the “S” in HTTPS. In chapter 4 of High Performance Browser Networking, he says:
“A nearby server [part of a CDN] can also terminate the TLS session, which means that the TCP and TLS handshake roundtrips are much quicker and the total connection setup latency is greatly reduced. In a nutshell, move the server closer to the client to accelerate TCP and TLS handshakes!”
By responsibly implementing HTTPS across your website, Dean found that you could very well improve your chances of ranking higher in Google SERPs:
Because Google is a user-focused company, it makes sense that it rewards secure sites in SERPs.
Google understands the importance of securing content in transit as important personal and financial information are transmitted over the Internet. Nobody wants this information intercepted by parties with nefarious intentions.
Takeaway: Improve Speed, Rank Higher
Every ranking factor we talked about today deals with page load speed in some way. You can improve page load speed with a CDN.
If your website is awesome from a UX perspective – great design, great content, etc. – you have the hard part down. Now you just need to take a dive into page load speed. And while there are many optimization you can make to improve page load speed, a CDN offers the most bang for the least amount of effort.
I would like to thank Brian Dean for the amazing research he conducted.