How Switching To HTTP/2 Can Boost Your Marketing

  • April 15, 2016

    Digital marketing can be a peculiar beast. While many marketers come from creative and arts backgrounds, once they head into online territory there’s a wealth of technical “stuff” to get to grips with which may have never appeared on their radar before, from analytics to trackable links (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg).

    HTTP/2 is one such “techie” concept. But, again, it’s a simple one which could play a positive role in your digital marketing. This article will give marketers the low-down on HTTP/2 covering:

    • Exactly what HTTP/2 is
    • Why HTTP/2 matters to marketers
    • How HTTP/2 affects SEO (search engine optimisation)
    • What changes you need to make for your website to benefit

    So, what is HTTP/2?

    HTTP/2 is “Hyper Text Transfer Protocol 2”, it’s the new incarnation of HTTP/1.1 which was invented in 1997 to transfer data across the web. In a nutshell, HTTP is a set of standards which tells your browser what actions to take when it displays a website.

    The web has been using HTTP/1.1 for 17 years, which is aeons in digital terms. To put things into perspective, HTTP/1.1 was implemented before Google arrived online. The technology was outdated – which gave rise to HTTP/2, formally approved by the IEFT (Internet Engineering Task Force) in 2015.

    While HTTP/1.1 only allowed one “request” (or message) per connection, HTTP/2 (which is based on Google’s SPDY protocol) now allows for multiple requests to be sent per connection to a browser from a website. This is known as “multiplexing” and in practice it means that lots of information can be processed much more quickly, speeding up websites and page load times.

    HTTP/2 includes numerous other improvements which make a positive difference to speeds including using push responses to allow servers to make speedier data transmissions, introducing prioritisation so servers know which requests to process first, transferring data to binary format and compressing headers. You can read about these technical aspects in more detail here.

    Why does HTTP/2 matter to marketers?

    It all comes down to speed. The new version of HTTP is far faster, particularly for websites using HTML, CSS, Javascript or heavy visuals (which means pretty much all websites, ever). As brands and organisations work to give users an ever-richer digital experience, websites are getting increasingly “heavy” which, via HTTP/1.1, often means clunkier, slower loading.

    Sadly, as websites get richer, users get less and less patient. We all know the pain of the rotating “loading” circle of doom, but for brands it’s not just an annoyance, it’s a serious problem. Slow-loading sites have huge bounce rates as visitors are too impatient to wait for websites to load. From a high bounce rate, to shopping cart abandonment, there are any number of negative knock on consequences of slow sites – all of which are a direct route to reduced revenue and lead generation.

    But HTTP/2 could change things. The new protocol both reduces the pressure on network resources and makes websites load faster and more efficiently in many cases. In fact, HttpWatch found that HTTP/2 boosted transfer speed by 20%.

    How does HTTP/2 affect SEO?

    HTTP/2 doesn’t have a direct impact on your SEO, however it could have plenty of indirect knock on effects. Site speed is thought by many to be a ranking factor in Google’s algorithm, bounce rate meanwhile most certainly is. If your bounce rate is high (a problem frequently triggered by frustrated visitors confronting a slow-loading page), your website’s rankings will suffer as the figures strongly suggest that it is not a high quality website.

    Here’s Google’s John Mueller’s take on the connection between HTTP/2 and SEO:

    “HTTP/2 is for speed. Fast sites make users happy, happy users recommend websites, so it’s very indirect.”

    The link may be “indirect” but it’s certainly potentially powerful. Earlier in 2016 Google updated to allow bots and crawlers to support HTTP/2, which means that all systems are go!

    Do I have to make changes to my website?

    No. Well – maybe. Ultimately, you don’t have to make the switch to HTTP/2, but the benefits outweigh the very small effort required to make the change. This guide lays out some key questions to ask yourself if you’re wondering whether to go ahead with HTTP/2 including the all important question: Does user satisfaction matter to your brand?

    If you do decide to switch (along with the majority) there are very few changes you’ll need to make before you go ahead. There’s no need to change your URLs or domains (which means limited disturbance) and even visitors using old browsers will still be able to see your site. The only cases in which you’ll need to shake things up slightly include:

    • If your website was over-optimised for HTTP/1.1 (just ask your developer!). HTTP/2 will make a big difference here, but it is best practice to set any hacks back to the normal settings before you update.
    • If you haven’t yet switched to HTTPS most browsers (including Chrome and Firefox) need websites to have a secure connection to support HTTP/2, which means now is the time to upgrade. Here’s how it’s done.

    Time for a change

    Ultimately, there’s no reason not to make the switch to HTTP/2. It’s faster, more efficient and after over a year live online, it’s clear that this is a tried and tested protocol which digital marketers shouldn’t ignore. Let’s pick up the pace!

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