Facebook Penalizes Websites Without Mobile Optimized Design

SILICON VALLEY— Facebook, this week, announced new algorithm updates to their newsfeed that impact media, eCommerce, and business websites’ appearance in News Feed. The move, Facebook officials say, is motivated by users’ frustration over websites that load slowly on mobile devices.

According to the official release:

“We’ve heard from people that it’s frustrating to click on a link that leads to a slow-loading webpage. During the coming months we’re making an update to News Feed to show people more stories that will load quickly on mobile and fewer stories that might take longer to load, so they can spend more time reading the stories they find relevant.”

Facebook says the update will “take into account the estimated load time of a webpage that someone clicks to and from any link in News Feed, on the mobile app.”

For website owners, understanding that estimate can be tricky. Free tools, like Google Tools and Pingdom are available to test your website speed. However, Facebook is likely to use their own software for testing, and results may vary.

“There are hundreds of things that contribute to a slow website,” says Conor Ashcroft, CEO of U.K.-based web design firm Metal Potato. “In no particular order, things like the size of images being loaded, amount of content on a particular page, the size of the website’s database, the type of servers being used, site structure, content management system, and the number of plugins being used in addition to how frequently they are updated. Interestingly, the biggest factor that seems to affect search engine optimization these days is responsive design, and site speed.”

“Load speed is important for two reasons,” adds Ashcroft. “One, Google hates slow websites and will penalize your ranking if your site doesn’t load quickly enough. They test on both desktop and mobile. Two, users won’t wait more than a few seconds for a site to load before hitting the back button and going to your competitor.”

Ashcroft says Google has penalized slow-to-load websites for years. Now, it appears Facebook’s News Feed will follow suit. “It’s a real signal to site owners. Facebook jumping on the bandwagon is a big deal,” says Ashcroft.

The announcement lends some insight into Facebook’s typically vault-tight News Feed algorithm secrets, notably that the social network adjusts content display depending on your connection speed.

“For years, we have taken many factors into account to make sure people quickly see relevant stories to them — including the type of device you’re on or the speed of your mobile network or wifi connection,” Facebook says. “For example, if you are on a slower internet connection that won’t load videos, News Feed will show you fewer videos and more status updates and links. And to help load stories faster for people on slow or poor network connections, we prefetch stories by downloading mobile content before someone clicks a link, which we’ve seen can shorten load time for webpages by more than 25%.”

Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild says the algorithm update will be rolled out gradually over the coming months. Most Pages, they say, are unlikely to see significant changes to their distribution in News Feed. However, web pages that are particularly slow to load could see decreases in referral traffic. Check out Facebook’s Best Practices for Improving Mobile Site Performance for a list of tips to improve your load times.