Google is ubiquitous when it comes to an online presence. Users turn to Google search to find information on a wide variety of topics. Webmasters are constantly trying to stay on top of traffic altering algorithms, optimizing their site for performance. One of the most popular tools for webmasters is Google Search Console, previously known as Google Webmaster Tools. Google Search Console is helpful for submitting and checking sitemaps, writing and checking a robots.txt file, getting notifications on penalties, and optimizing visibility of a website. In an ongoing refresh of the Search Console tool, Google now offers Web Light appearance to the list of features.
At the beginning of 2018, Google announced the biggest update to Google Search Console in 12 years. A new Search Performance report, Index Coverage report, AMP Status report, and Job Postings Status report were all added as new features. In addition to these four new features, Google says it will continue to add functionality throughout the year. True to its word, on June 14th, Google announced on its webmasters Twitter account that the Search Console Performance report now includes filters for Web Light search appearance.
What is Web Light?
Web Light is a technology from Google that shows “lighter” pages faster to users on slow connections. This is especially useful for those browsing on mobile networks. Google converts web pages in real time into an optimized version. This new version loads faster on mobile networks and uses less data. With Web Light, Google preserves most of the content and provides users a link to the original version. Tests show these versions of pages load four times faster and use 80% less data than the original page. The increase in speed increased traffic by 50% to Web Light pages.
This is an even lighter version of web pages than AMP can provide. AMP pages can even be turned into Web Light pages. Web developers are able to create AMP versions of web pages. This cannot be done with Web Light. Google creates these pages automatically. To see what a this version of a page looks like, you can enter this URL on a mobile device: http://googleweblight.com/i?u=[your_website_URL].
There are a few important caveats for Web Light. Google Analytics has limited support of these versions of web pages. To keep pages small, it currently only supports page view statistics. Event tracking and some other metrics are not supported. Pages are only converted for users on mobile phones. Users on desktop or tablets will not see converted versions of a web page. Currently only Chrome and Android browsers are supported. Web Light supports ads from several networks, and Google is working on adding more. The increase in traffic resulting from faster pages will help drive ad revenue. You are able to opt out of Web Light, but Google notes that traffic from slow connections can decrease.
Google Search Console Web Light Appearance Update
As previously mentioned, Search Console is a very useful tool for Webmasters. Google made it even more useful at the beginning of the year with the release of a new beta version. Several new features were added with this realase and Google made promises of even more more later in the year. Glenn Gabe and Barry Schwartz were among the first to notice the most recent feature addition.
So what exactly does this Search Console update provide? A filter has been added in Search Console that gives you the ability to filter for Web Light users of your site. This is the first time Google has given webmasters the ability to see how often these pages are being shown to users. With the new filter, webmasters will be able to gain insight into how this traffic impacts performance metrics like ad clicks. Barry Schwartz reports that one of his sites is showing Web Light results 22% of the time in search results. He says that this particular site sees a significant amount of traffic from India and other countries with slower internet connections.
Concerns with Web Light
While it is designed to give users on slow connections a better overall experience, Web Light does raise some concerns. The page conversions aren’t always great. Sometimes in the conversion, web page menus and social media icons are broken or do not display well. Web pages displaying poorly will negatively impact the user experience and conversions.
Another concern is that web pages are opted in by default. While Google provides instructions to opt out, it requires a change to the HTTP header and isn’t the most user-friendly thing to change. Experienced publishers likely will not have much of an issue with this, but more novice publishers may find opting out difficult.
Is Web Light for you?
Overall, Web Light is a tradeoff. In order to serve pages to users on the slowest of mobile networks, stripped down versions of your web pages are served. The resulting version does not provide the greatest user experience. However, it enables users to visit your site that may not visit if this option were not available. For websites with a significant amount of traffic from India, Africa, and other areas with slow mobile networks, this is an option worth considering. The increase in traffic may be worth the limited user experience. The newest feature addition to Google Search Console helps you make a more informed decision. It provides more details into performance and how much of your traffic is being shown Web Light versions of your web pages.