Google (news, site) recently unveiled its Page Optimization Service, promising anywhere from 20% to 65% page speed improvement. Currently on a free, limited trial, the service supposedly improves page delivery and loading time by distributing the load across Google servers worldwide. But at what cost?

Google's Page Speed Service combines services and applications that Google has previously offered to help site speed optimization. As the service launches, it resembles a content-delivery network (CDN) and a cloud-hosting facility, and some webmasters have pointed out that the Page Speed Service is actually more of a hosting service rather than an optimization service. However, the main point of contention here is control.

As a web publisher, will you be willing to cede control of your website to Google?

Who Owns Your Data?

This is exactly what had been on the mind of several webmasters lately, with the launch of the service. Page Speed Service basically requires publishers to point their domain's DNS to Google's servers, after which Google will fetch the content for redistribution. In a nutshell, the process goes like this:

  1. User gains access to
  2. Your domain registrar directs the client to Google's servers.
  3. If the website content has not been updated for some time, Google will fetch the content from your own webhost. Static content -- such as images, scripts and other media -- will be cached in Google's datacenters.
  4. Google will do some processing and tweaking, if necessary.
  5. Your website is delivered to the client.

Now it's step #4 that webmasters are concerned about, and the fact that your domain's nameservers point to Google's datacenter in the first place. Users are wondering about their privacy and control over their websites. Thom Craver of Search Engine Watch expresses concern about ceding control to Google. Because your content will essentially be on Google's servers, what's stopping it from snooping around and doing all sorts of unwanted modifications to your site?

What Google is now offering is tricked-out hosting, not a page optimizer. You have to set your DNS to point to Google instead of your current Web host. This means when someone types in your website, Google's servers will answer, not yours."

Google responds via eWeek that it only uses the website data for the intended purpose, which is for page speed optimization.

We don't use the information collected from serving these websites toward improving search results or targeting advertising to users. We may, however, use the information collected to improve the quality of Page Speed Service itself, including making pages serve even faster."

Does It Really Improve Page Speed?

The concern about ceding control to Google still remains the biggest hurdle that Page Speed Service would have to overcome, alongside functionality. Recall how the latest Search algorithm change -- codenamed "Panda" -- affected some legitimate webmasters adversely, to the point that some have lost their web traffic and online businesses altogether. With Panda leaving a bad taste in the mouth, it's not likely that experienced webmasters would be quick to trust Google with their websites and data.

Web publishers contributing to the Webmaster World Forum are reporting anywhere from marginal speed increases to actual decreases in speed. This might be due because participants are already doing some optimization in the first place, whether through CDNs, streamlining their markup or both. But for a website owner not too well-versed with the technicalities of web optimization, will Google Page Speed Service suffice? Will the privacy and control issues be as big an issue?