Google's New WebP Image Standard Is All About SEO

Google's New WebP Image Standard Is All About SEO

Summary: WebP is Google's latest endeavor to speed up the Web. But why should they care in this broadband-filled world? I explain two great reasons why they do -- and why you should, too.

TOPICS: Google, Browser

One of the most important aspects of on-page SEO (Search Engine Optimization) these days is site speed (on-page SEO consists of the factors you change/implement on your Web site itself, such as changing title tags, posting content, etc.). In other words, how fast does your Web site load when someone visits it? Is it image-intensive? If so, do you extend the courtesy of letting your visitors click on a thumbnail to load a full image instead of you loading it for them? Even if you think you're doing them a favor by resizing an image via HTML or CSS, if the full-sized image is what loads, you're not giving your visitors the most optimal browsing experience. With that said, there have been a number of case studies that aim to show just how important Google considers your site's load speed to be. It's definitely a metric Google considers in regards to how they rank you in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), but it's not clear just how much weight they give to this metric specifically. Well, now Google has pretty much spelled it out under no uncertain terms that they absolutely care about how fast your site loads. This means that you should, too.

As I pointed out above, one of the most detrimental factors to a site's load speed is images. But as one of my ZDNet colleagues just noted in their opinion of WebP (pronounced "weppy," by the way. Obviously, right?), we live in a day and age where many people enjoy broadband connections. So why is Google so worried about reducing an image by any given number of KBs? Well, I can think of two major reasons off-hand that play well with Google's endeavor:

Mobile Devices: Mobile phones with Web access are profoundly ubiquitous these days. As such, until all cell phone service providers make their data packages unlimited, the difference between a 2MB JPEG and a WebP file that's compressed up to 39% more with no noticeable quality loss can add up quickly. Heck, any image that can be reduced by 39% will help save bandwidth and money for everyone from Web masters (hosting costs) to end users (data plans). If there's one thing that's worse than trying to visit a site that's not developed for mobile on a mobile device, it's a site that loads full-sized images, regardless of if they're re-sized to appear smaller or not.

SEO: As I mentioned earlier in this article, Google cares about how it can provide both relevant and speedy results to searchers. But it's not just about that. To set an example for you, let's say you set up two pages on your Web site that are *exactly* the same with the exception of one page containing JPEGs and the other containing WebP images. Now, the theory is that if Google's spider crawls your site and bases its opinion solely on the on-page content of both pages, it's going to rank higher the page that loads faster. Again, take into consideration that if you're loading thumbnail-sized images that are actually just HTML- or CSS-re-sized images, a search engine's eyes will still only see the full file size of the image that loads.

So, while the two aforementioned points are a quick perspective of mine as to why I feel WebP is a relevant endeavor, the more important takeaway is my theory that SEOs, Web masters, and business owners with Web sites alike should take note of "weppy" due to the order in which Google has listed the purposes of using WebP:


Personally, I don't think it's a coincidence that Google listed what they did in the order that they did. Let me clarify that I'm simply noting the apparent importance of site speed in Google's eyes. So, even if you don't opt for using WebP to make your Web site experience faster (I should probably clarify that WebP isn't going to become a widely-adopted standard any time soon -- if at all, so by all means, go with a more popular image format but consider the use of real thumbnail images and not coded ones), take note that Google cares about making the Web a faster (hello, mobile!) and less expensive (hello, hosting and data plans!) place. This means that they are most likely going to notice and reward those of you who make it your priority to care about the same things. That's not to say that making your site faster is the only thing you need to do to rank higher, because it's not. It's just one more factor to consider when optimizing your Web site. Hello, SEO!

Google's WebP Home Page: Click Here

Topics: Google, Browser

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  • RE: Google's New WebP Image Standard Is All About SEO

    Making an image appear small in a web page by the use of the img tag's width and height dimensions has always been a classic beginners mistake.

    But I've rarely seen it in main stream sites, only in amateur sites. Who quite frankly aren't going to change over to the webp format any time soon.

    But as you say if Google think it's worth speaking out about then we should sit up and take notice. Just not very much.
    • RE: Google's New WebP Image Standard Is All About SEO

      @ProfQuatermass Honestly, I've seen this happen on the side of a few non-beginners, so my perception is skewed a bit more towards considering that there are many other non-beginners who make this mistake. For all I know, the 3 or 4 I've noticed are the *only* 3 or 4 non-amateur sites that are doing it wrong, but it's still something I think everyone should be made aware of... or at least reminded of! Especially if Google is trying to introduce a new image format. Not to mention, if beginners are the only people to read my site, then this will be a very value-add point for them to consider! :)

  • No metadata?

    Surely any Google-designed image format includes metadata fields that make it searchable. i.e. "Subject: Senator Foghorn cuts ribbon on Highway to Nowhere" so that even if no text on the page mentions Foghorn, Google finds it anyway.
    Robert Hahn
    • RE: Google's New WebP Image Standard Is All About SEO

      @Robert Hahn

      How many people actually fill in the meta data fields in images these days? It's definitely something to consider for SEO purposes, but I'm pretty sure they made that decision based on studies and not just carelessness (though I may very well be wrong). Who knows, perhaps this is insight into how their search engine currently considers images (i.e. not taking image metadata into consideration very often)!

      Personally, I agree with you that I would like to have the ability to populate images with meta data -- I'm just being the devil's advocate in that paragraph above. :) Thanks for your feedback! Very good point, indeed.

    • RE: Google's New WebP Image Standard Is All About SEO

      @Robert Hahn<br><br>I'm downloading the conversion tool and have not used it yet, but Google has set up the new format to handle seo metadata - <a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"></a>
  • Hosting Costs?

    I think the biggest problem they will have is that this talk of hosting costs will fall on deaf ears, simply because hosting is stupidly cheap these days. People can purchase so called unlimited hosting plans for as little as $3 a month, so why would the average small to medium site owner care from that point of view? Obviously unlimited isn't really unlimited, but even using the cost of hosting as an arguement of any type doesn't make sense to anyone with a site small enough to fit on shared hosting. To those with their own servers and and massive sites of course it matters, but this really isn't the majority of website owners.

    • RE: Google's New WebP Image Standard Is All About SEO


      Yeah, I agree. It was worth mentioning in the article since it may apply to *someone* out there, but I agree with you wholeheartedly.

  • Maybe it is the beginning of google actually "reading" images

    Is to too far fetched to consider that this is the first step for google to be able to "read" images by what is actually shown in the image? For example, if I do a post about say sharks, and the images in the post are actually showing sharks, then my post gets a better ranking accordingly because the content and the images are complementary, not because I have the image title, alt tag etc optimized, but because google is implementing the ability to actually read the image as a shark?

    Doug Beckers
    • RE: Google's New WebP Image Standard Is All About SEO

      @dougbeckers That's certainly an interesting consideration, but I think they've been well on their way to that prior to WebP and that WebP is something separate altogether. For instance, when you do a Google search and you set your filtering, Google will filter images based on what it thinks are appropriate for your level of filtering. It's advanced stuff, but in the grand scheme of things, I think it's very new and complicated space. My thought is that they will simply buy out a company or an individual one day who has already made significant progress on recognizing what the contents of an image are via an algorithm.

      But even if they get to the point you're suggesting, they will still have to find a way to establish relevance for their images! For instance, if you have two domains that are similarly ranked in Google's eyes (via on-site and off-site SEO factors) and they both have pages with no content and only one image of a dolphin, how does Google rank which dolphin is the one you're going to want to see instead of the other? This is just another scenario where I feel the space of image recognition and ranking is a complex one. For now, I think WebP really is a face-value product. The sure way to know would be to get a reverse-engineering mastermind to look at the code of the application and see if there appears to be any code that looks to establish the contents of an image solely based on the image itself.

  • RE: Google's New WebP Image Standard Is All About SEO

    Google has a better idea than .jpg or .png, and they are promoting it. Faster pages are a better experience, and Google will rank them higher, other factors being equal. Their browser will be the first to support this, most likely. Given traction, it's a way to wrest further market-share from MS's mind-control. It's all good.
    Elwood Diverse