HTTP/2 & SEO—The Connection, The Benefits and The Rewards

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A perfectly complimentary match; HTTP/2 created to provide a faster, secure internet and SEO enabling websites to achieve better search rankings. Based on Google’s SPDY protocol and still, in its process of implementation, HTTP/2 is slated to and is already improving browser-server communications thereby reducing load times. Redundancy was done away with in many areas and multiplexing was brought in. Consequently, websites that typically rely on multiple files have hugely benefitted from HTTP/2.

So, what is HTTP/2?

An ever-changing internet landscape which sees the transfer of a variety of information in myriad quantities brought to the fore 3 important observations:

  • Presence of larger and complex content formats,
  • Significant rise in mobile internet usage and
  • Ever-growing populace of global internet users.

To cater to the demands of such a scenario, Google engineers developed SPDY which provided the platform for the development of HTTP/2. This protocol is built using the same syntax as HTTP(1.1) It is thus an HTTP protocol refresh or up-gradation; not a total re-haul.

HTTP/2 changes the way responses and requests travel over the internet. It makes a single connection to a server and processes multiple requests and responses using it. Thus data interweaving can be done more efficiently and servers provide browsers with data as and when required. Network connections are, thus, never idle.

Implementing HTTP/2

Making the switch from HTTP(1.1) is quite easy and there have been no downsides as yet. It is not the code that needs to be updated; it is the servers that will need to speak the HTTP/2 language. Any browser that does not support this protocol can also opt for HTTP(1.1).

If a server is HTTP2 compliant, it is just a matter of downloading simple software and facilitating the changeover to HTTP2. There is no migration required as was the case with HTTPS. The URLs do not change and neither are there any redirects.

But there is one caveat; most browsers need a secure connection to support HTTP/2. If the same is not available, then the switch to a secure connection will have to be done. This is just a small requirement when compared to the advantages associated with HTTP/2 like:

  • It is binary, not textual,
  • It is multiplexed instead of being ordered and experiencing head of line blocking,
  • It utilizes one connection to enable parallelism,
  • Header compression helps reduce overheads,
  • Servers can actively “push” responses into client cache.

The Serve Push is a highly anticipated change. It enables servers to provide multiple responses for a single request.

What do these upgradations mean for SEO?

Any changes made to an internet protocol are bound to indirectly impact SEO. While Google did not factor in HTTP/2 readiness into its inherent algorithms, websites facilitating an efficient user experience are always rewarded. Since there is a definite increase in the page speed load, it can be rightly said implementing HTTP/2 will only help enhance the SEO performance of a website. Thus HTTP/2 is a real boon for networks that experience slower connectivity. Needless to say, this will also improve mobile performance.

It needs to be mentioned here that changes ushered in by HTTP/2 are widespread and long-term. With Google basing its website ranking largely on user experience, website speed and security, this internet protocol will enable better rankings for SEO websites enabling this.

HTTP/2 has brought about an improvement in certain key criteria that have a bearing on a website’s SEO like:

  • Speed: The website speed has always been one of SEO ranking factors. Today websites are getting bigger and inclusion of several assets like JavaScript, HTML, CSS, images etc., website loading times have become slower. But the mobile-first index introduced by Google takes a critical view of the website loading speed to rank it. Thus with the introduction of the faster and quicker HTTP/2 SEO rankings of websites will get a definite boost.

File compression is another inherent feature of HTTP/2 that will further help to increase the website loading speed.

  • Latency: This deals with the time taken for a user request to reach the server and for the response to come back. The longer the latency, the longer is the response processing time. Introduction of a CDN helps reduce latency but browsers, till date, were only able to handle a limited number of connections simultaneously. This tended to negate whatever reduction in latency occurred. But with the introduction of the multiplexing feature of HTTP/2, websites are now able to process numerous multiple connections together. This has helped bring down the latency considerably thereby positively affecting a website SEO.
  • Prevention of head of line blocking: This was a major factor in the slowing down of response time in the previous HTTP versions. A large or slow resource being downloaded stopped all other resources from being downloaded until the previous resource download was complete. This was frustrating for the user. With HTTP/2, browsers can download several 5KB images parallelly over the same connection and display the results as and when they finish. This made for better user experience and had a positive bearing on the website SEO rankings.
  • Security: This is another website search ranking factor extensively used by Google. For reasons of compatibility, HTTP/2 can only be used over an encrypted and secure HTTPS connection. Thus user security is enhanced resulting in better website search rankings.

Faster websites are capable of enhanced user engagement, they promote and further sharing and link building and help improve user experience. The SEO impact may be indirect as yet, but with Google making on-site engagement signals an inherent requirement of its ranking algorithms, it will be felt.

Widespread browser support for HTTP/2 has led to its adoption over laptops, PCs, tablets and even smartphones. While the move towards HTTP/2 has not been significant as yet, adoption of this new technique is only increasing as older versions of browsers age and fade.

A look at the analytics data of any website clearly shows that their visitors mostly come from such browsers as Chrome, Microsoft Edge or Firefox; these are already HTTP/2 friendly browsers. Thus it is not very far that almost all businesses will make the switch to HTTP/2 and reap the effects of the advanced features this internet protocol offers.

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