Like the Cold war or The War on Drugs, Google is waging an ever-lasting campaign against slow mobile pages. The latest offensive to hit mobile page speed is a badge on the loading screen, telling users that this page loads slowly.
Pages considered fast won't get their own message identifying them as fast sites but they will get a green progress bar instead of the cold, blue line that ticks along the top of slow mobile sites.
This may make it seem like a punitive measure, designed to divert readers away from slow pages, but the real-world implications may be more positive for sites struggling to catch up.
What is the difference between fast and slow?
Speed is usually measured in increments but Google appears to want to make the distinction between fast and slow into a binary equation. Speaking in the Chromium blog, Google has stated that this forms part of the 'Plan to identify sites that are fast or slow'. In the future, there will be fast, slow, and no in-between. Publishers will have a certain threshold, measured against the average user perception of 'fast'.
There is a possibility that this could help publishers move away from constant optimization of multiple, complicated metrics, like time to interactive, total blocking time, and more.
With the introduction of Core Web Vitals, to simplify mobile performance, this move could see the start of less, but more effective performance optimization concentrated on the real user experience.
What does this mean for publishers now?
Unsurprisingly, every publisher is going to need to ensure they are in the 'fast' category. No publisher wants to be marked out as a slow site. It's a mark of shame for any major news publication.
In addition, if Google ranks your page as 'slow', that will bring with it a whole other host of problems. Slow websites will be pushed down the search rankings. Every second of loading time adds double figures to your bounce rate and can wipe millions off eCommerce sites. Users hate waiting so Google is trying to force webmasters into eradicating slowness wherever they can.
But, there may also be a counterintuitive effect to this change to contend with. By telling users that the site usually loads slowly, it may actually keep them on the page for longer.
It tells users that this slowness is not a sign of a larger issue. It may give users a slight pellet of reassurance to power through more slow loading sites. They know the site will eventually load so it will probably be better to wait rather than start the process over again.
In short, it's better for users to wait a few moments longer to get the result they want than to bounce from a loading screen and return to the search results page. So as Google separates the mobile internet into camps of 'fast' and 'slow', it will always pay to be on the side of speed. But, this move is unlikely to be the sole motivation that forces the hand of publishers to act.
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