snail moving off of a blue stick
PHOTO: Pascal van de Vendel

Google is committed to keeping the open web relevant for the next decade and beyond, not out of altruism, but rather self-interest. Which is good — it’s more dependable. Google’s search and ad display revenue depend on a vibrant web ecosystem, so it takes it very seriously. One of its priorities right now is improving the mobile web experience.

A Push to Improve Mobile Quality Benefits Everyone

In addition to delivering more and more features to drive web/app parity via Chrome — from payments to “instant app” capabilities — it's using its full array of incentives to encourage website operators to prioritize mobile performance. It has done this successfully in the past by driving HTTPS as a standard, and now it's raising awareness around site speed as a key performance indicator.

Here’s the thing: this makes perfect sense. Emerging markets (along with younger users everywhere else) are mobile-first markets. In the US, mobile web traffic is finally poised to cross over 50% in the year 2020. And the mobile experience for websites? Let’s just say that it is still pretty … uneven. 

This concern is what drove the creation of AMP, which was initially greeted with a great deal of skepticism. That said, theories about a GooglePlex power-grab are overblown. The truth is there’s an existential threat to the open web if the global user-base withers away because we collectively missed the boat on this major evolution. 

In other words, it is in everyone’s best interest to raise the bar of quality across the board, and Google has the means to push that message. 

The most recent addition to emerge in Chrome is the mobile website “badge of shame,” designed to give end users an understanding of what’s going on if they click a link and nothing happens right away:

google site speed evaluation

This is just the latest in a series of speed-centric nudges from Google, which has arrived at the conclusion that performance is the bedrock of a good user experience. Moreover, it has the data to back it up, and it is using every tool at its disposal to get the web community in general to sit up, pay attention and fix their mobile UX.

Related Article: Is Google AMP Really a Silver Bullet for Mobile Content?

'All Fast Websites Are Alike'

At the end of the day, if your website isn’t fast, you’re doing a disservice to yourself as well as the end user — everyone misses out. That said, having a fast website isn’t rocket science. More than ever before, we know what a truly fast website looks like and, more importantly, how it works. Getting your website up to speed no longer requires a rockstar engineering team or a big enterprise budget to deliver a delightful user experience. Instead, you just have to follow the recipe.

family fast site quotes

I stole this quote from Kyle Mathews, CEO of Gatsby, which is a rapidly growing web framework designed to make fast user experiences the default. As someone who spent the middle decade of my career focusing on website performance, it rings very true. It comes down to this fundamental concept: all fast websites are alike, and every slow website is slow in its own way.

Fast web experiences share the following core attributes:

  1. All the assets for the site are optimized and compiled.
  2. Everything needed for the initial experience can be delivered to the user from a content delivery network (CDN).
  3. Things that don’t need to be seen right away are loaded afterwards.

Whether you’re talking about social media apps or first-rate media pages, they all follow this pattern. As recently as a few years ago, it was pretty much only tech or media titans who could afford the software and infrastructure complexity needed to hit all these marks.

If the whole web was as snappy as Twitter.com or the NYTimes, a lot of that existential threat would go away. But unfortunately a lot of site operators still struggle with performance.

The good news is that not only is the recipe for speed well-known, it’s also increasingly within reach for any and all websites:

  • Next generation frameworks like Gatsby, and approaches like AMP (now an open and independent standard), are making fast the default while simultaneously driving the technical complexity of these sites down.
  • Access to modern CDNs which can distribute complete websites is ever more broadly available. CloudFlare provides a great baseline service for free, while Fastly is democratizing access to features that used to be exclusively enterprise-only.
  • The rise of WebOps platforms allow customers to easily adopt the “recipe for fast” for their existing sites, including those built with popular CMS tools like WordPress or Drupal.

So, what is all of this going to mean? It’s simple: if you care about your website being seen in 2020, there’s no excuse to be slow. Certainly there are people in legacy industries or who serve mostly offline populations who don’t need to care about the web, but that’s a dwindling niche. If you’re not part of the 1% who can afford to write off the web, you need to take this seriously. Google is only going to ramp up the shame, and customers will vote with their feet, or swipe with their thumbs as the case may be.