Will We Have to Start Paying Google for Better Search Rankings?

Two interesting things have happened in the Google camp recently and they may add up to make a change of huge importance. The end result is that we may eventually have to start paying Google if we want our sites to rank well in the SERPs.

In April 2010, Google frontmen Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts posted an item on the Webmaster Central Blog stating that slow-loading sites may be penalized by Google’s ranking algorithm. This change supposedly affected less than 1% of all search queries, and only English queries at that. But pay attention to their final words in that post:

We encourage you to start looking at your site’s speed… not only to improve your ranking in search engines, but also to improve everyone’s experience on the Internet.

Okay, so we know for sure that site load speed is now a factor in ranking, though not as important as something like page relevance. Whether it’s going to become more of a factor over the course of time is unclear.

Now let’s flash forward more than a year to July 28, 2011, when Google announced a new product called “Page Speed Service”. Basically, the service acts as a middleman between your site and the user. You point your DNS to Google’s server (rather than to your own Web host) and it “fetches content from your servers, rewrites your pages by applying Web performance best practices, and serves them to end users via Google’s servers across the globe.” The result is a faster-loading site, sometimes 25-60% faster than normal.

Sounds great, but if you consider the fact that page load time is now being considered as a ranking factor you can see the potential problem. Unless you are using Google’s service, you’re going to be at a disadvantage over those sites that are using Page Speed, which are likely to rank better by Google’s algorithm.

Right now, the Page Speed Service is in beta testing and you can apply to join the program for free. But it won’t be free forever. According to spokesman Ram Ramani, ”Pricing will be competitive, and details will be made available later.”

If load time becomes a major ranking factor by the dominant search engine and you have to pay the same company for a service that speeds up load times, expect yet another Google antitrust suit.

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