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Site load speed has been a ranking factor in Google’s algorithm for a while now. I had suspected it was a factor for some time, and then back in April 2010, Google confirmed it.

I was surprised the other day when I learned that Google had removed the site performance data from the Labs section of Google Webmaster Tools. I had fully suspected this would be made into a full-fledged feature, but instead it was removed entirely.

While the site load times shown under site performance were somewhat flawed, it was still useful for getting an overall impression of how fast Google perceived your site to be. If they showed your site as exceptionally slow, then at the very least, it was an indication that something needed to be done.

So now that this tool is gone, what can you do? If you have the latest version of Google Analytics tracking code installed on your site, you can find significant data on actual load times experienced by your site visitors. This is incredibly valuable in finding slow pages on your site for pinpointing areas for improvement.

Using Analytics for site speed you can learn how Google sees your site, but using these times is somewhat useless in regards to SEO as you have no industry benchmark to compare to. If your site takes 5 seconds to load but your industry average is 10 seconds, then you can probably sit tight, but if the industry average is 1 second, you’ll have some work to do.

So where to start? The process is relatively simple. The first step is to find a tool. There are a number available that will do the job well but I recommend Tools.pingdom.com. This tool is very easy to use and offers additional breakdown of where the bottlenecks on your site may occur.

To start, check the load times for the top 10 or 20 competitors that rank well in your industry. Compare their load times to yours. Are you faster, slower, or about the same? If you find that your site is considerably slower than your top competitors, you should definitely consider taking steps to correct this.

If you find that your site needs improvement where do you start to fix it? If you don’t know where to start, consider utilizing one of the many tools out there that can offer suggestions on improving site load times. Again, there are many options, but consider starting with Google’s PageSpeed Insights. Since Google is the one you are trying to please, you may as well check out what they suggest.

One thing to remember, while a faster site will get you a bit more love from Google, it will also get you considerably more love from your site users, and in some cases can result in higher conversions and more money in your pocket.