Google's New WebP Image Standard Is All About SEO

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.
Written by Stephen Chapman, Contributor

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

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