Tech

If your site loads slowly Google's going to punish you

The new "page experience" criteria score websites on load time and responsiveness to clicks.

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Google is adding new factors to its search engine algorithms that downrank websites that offer poor user experience. The company already penalizes websites over things like displaying annoying pop-ups and autoplaying videos, but today's updates to the "page experience" criteria will focus on load times and websites' responsiveness.

Coming to page experience are three new signals to rank the quality of a site: loading performance, interactivity, and stability of content as it loads. Google isn't expected to apply the new criteria to rankings until sometime in 2021, giving web developers time to update their sites.

To hell with those annoying interstitials — Google thinks most of a page's content should load within 2.5 seconds of the page beginning to load. For interactivity, Google uses a metric called First Input Delay (FID) to measure how quickly a visitor can begin interacting with a page. To pass muster, that measure should be within 100 milliseconds. Finally, Cumulative Layout Shift (CIS) measures how much the objects on a page move around as it loads. If you've ever started to read an article but a big interstitial advertisement suddenly pushed it down the page, that's what this last one covers.

Google and the open web — Google has received some pushback over the years for the control it wields over the open web. For instance, through its Chrome browser, Google blocks advertisements across the web that don't meet its standards for quality — its own ad network meets the standards, of course. The vast majority of searches today happen through Google, so the company can really mold the internet to match its vision with changes like those announced today.

The changes, in this case, aren't hard to argue with, however. We're all better off if the open web remains vibrant as ever more information gets locked inside walled gardens like Facebook and Twitter, which have even greater control over what we see. Moves like blocking Flash by default and pushing the web to JavaScript and HTML5 turned out to be a net good in hindsight.

It's not just about browsers — Unfortunately, Google's stranglehold over the web isn't weakened by competition in the browser space from the likes of Microsoft Edge. For a start, Edge is built using Chromium, the same as Chrome. That's not the problem though. Even people who use Firefox still tend to direct their search queries to Google (and use other Google-owned products like Gmail, Google Maps, and so on).

Google's new rules might not make the web more competitive, but they should make using it more pleasant. And that's good for everyone.