Google teams up with WordPress to speed up the web!

This week, in the next step of Google taking on speeding up mobile internet, saw Google announce the beginning of a new partnership with WordPress. But why is it such a big deal? Should we have seen it coming?

Over the past few years we’ve seen Google turn their attention to page speed for mobile users. Take a quick look around you and it’s easy to see why. We use mobiles for general browsing more than ever. You may even be reading this on a phone right now. Unsurprisingly, total browse time for mobile users has even surpassed that of desktop users, and is projected to continue growing by 6% per year.

And yet – many websites still aren’t accessible for mobile users. Sites optimised for desktop, or even those adjusted for mobile view, are typically large and slow to load when not accessed via WiFi. For example, even over a 3G connection average mobile loading speed is 19 seconds. This may not sound like long but over 53% of users abandon a site if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. For online businesses, this is a massive loss. But for Google it’s a huge opportunity to access a large, growing and poorly tapped market.

Google’s biggest effort over the past few years is Accelerated Mobile Pages or AMP. This technology aims to optimise sites for mobile access by improving loading time. AMP primarily achieves this by banning bandwidth heavy JavaScript in favour of a narrow set of web technologies and hosting via dedicated AMP servers, among many other processes. And, it’s successful: AMP sites have been shown to load up to 85% faster on 3G than non-AMP sites. As expected, since its release in February 2016, AMP users have steadily increased, this has been incredibly successful in increasing mobile traffic and has been shown to be associated with a 20% increase in sales.

To improve mobile access, Google already gives priority positions to sites that utilise AMP (keep an eye out for the grey lightening symbol!). And at some point in 2018, mobile page speed will begin to be incorporated into Google’s ranking factor for websites.

Which is where we get to WordPress. Like mobile customers being an untapped market, it seems that the same can be said for WordPress. Currently, WordPress have almost 60% of the market share and about 1/3 of all – all – published content online utilises WordPress CMS (content management system). Despite its size and popularity, WordPress is often found by users to be slow and buggy. In WordCamp US 2017 – one of the biggest events in the WordPress calendar – Google presented a complete overview of WordPress ecosystem performance metrics. And it was a sad picture. Among some circles it even has a reputation for being less secure but there’s not a lot of evidence for this notion. Yet, if Google can turn their attention to improving the web experience for WordPress users, they have the potential to reach a massive part of the market and potentially help it to grow.

So yes, maybe we should have seen it coming.

It’s thought that Google’s interest in WordPress isn’t just about speed though. It’s about pushing Progressive Web Apps (PWA) or the ‘’appification’’ of the web. Like AMP, this technology incorporates app like features such as push-notifications, security features and identity management, among others. It aims to standardize user experience across different websites by making them fast, app-like and consistent across all platforms. Yet, PWA is still in the early days and needs a lot of work. Right now, PWA have been poorly deployed effectively, perhaps because they are code heavy and difficult to develop. Yet with WordPress 4.5 release, working PWA simply into the core code looks like a realistic possibility. And for Google, working in tandem with WordPress allows them to roll out Progressive Web Apps as well as AMP to up to a 1/3 of online content.

To kick-start their partnership with WordPress, Alberto Medina, a developer working for the Web Content Ecosystems team at Google, announced on his blog last week that Google will be expanding their team to include a core group of WordPress experts who will work on generating PWA plugins for WordPress while simultaneously working with Google to improve speed, performance and (most likely) AMP compatibility.

 

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