During PubCon Vegas 2009, Matt Cutts hinted that Google will start considering page load time in their organic search ranking algorithm in 2010.  Google already factors the time the pages on your site take to populate into its quality score, a metric used for Pay Per Click customers to reward higher quality sites with top placement and lower bid requirements.  Search engines care about the speed of your site because fast load times improve the user’s experience and increases their productivity, something you should be concerned with as well if you hope for loyal customers.

Google is obsessed with speed.  They have been not so secretly developing a next-generation architecture for Google’s web search, dubbed Google Caffeine, that aims to “push the envelope on size, indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness and other dimensions.” Google does not, however, want to leave your site in the dust.  In fact, they recommend several tools to improve your page load speed and thus the quality of your site.

Since 2006, Google Webmaster Tools has been offering up diagnostic information on your site such as crawl errors, checking robot.txt, and content issues.  Now, under the Labs tab, Google has added a Site Performance page that delivers “information to improve the speed of your site and create a faster experience for your users.”  Here you’ll find your average page load time, how it changes over time, and how it compares to other sites.  You can also view suggestions on how to improve your site’s performance based on a tool called Page Speed.

Page Speed is a Firefox Add-on that requires a popular developer extension calledFirebug.  It performs several tests on a site’s web server configuration and front-end code.  This tool will analyze the performance of each page of your site and advise best practices to implement organized by a priority score: High Priority, Medium Priority, Working Fine or Low Priority, and Informational Only.  Page Speed will also give you an overall quality score out of 100.  For the more advanced, run the Page Speed Activity option to view a timeline of all browser activities, including network events and JavaScript processing.

Even though page load time has not traditionally been part of the natural search ranking equation, Google intends to factor speed into its organic search algorithm, and so you should factor it in to your SEO strategy.  Google is doing its part to create a faster world wide web, but they need the help of webmasters, site owners, and webhosting services to usher in a higher standard of web surfing.  With these new tools, now you can keep pace with search engine ingenuity and the demands of your site’s visitors and, ultimately, win the favor of both.