Chrome for Android will show ‘Fast page’ labels based on Web Vitals

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Google today announced Chrome for Android’s context menu will show “Fast page” labels for webpages determined to have good performance. The label will be determined using Google’s Web Vitals, an initiative the company announced in May to provide web developers and website owners with a unified set of metrics for building websites with user experience and performance in mind. Core Web Vitals, Google’s attempt to spell out the metrics it considers critical for all web experiences, will help determine how the company measures a webpage’s responsiveness and visual stability.

Also in May, Google shared plans to make a webpage’s experience a ranking factor in Google Search overall and in the Top Stories feature on mobile. Google has promised not to make the ranking change this year and to give six months’ notice before it does, but wouldn’t commit to specific timing due to general unpredictability thanks to the coronavirus.

Born online, Google’s revenues are directly tied to the web. The company has a vested interest in improving the web’s user experience. Given Google’s reach, including over 1 billion Chrome users and over 2.5 billion monthly active Android devices, not to mention Google Search, anyone with a website needs to track what Google prioritizes for the web. If the search ranking factor wasn’t enough for web developers and website owners to pay attention, the Chrome changes should make them reconsider.

Chrome for Android changes

Starting with Chrome 85 for Android (currently in beta), Google will label fast links via the link context menu. The Chrome for Android changes are part of a larger plan of having Chrome “highlight high quality user experiences on the web.”

The labels are based on signals from Core Web Vitals metrics, which measure dimensions of web usability such as loading time, responsiveness, and the stability of content as it loads. Google says that links to pages that have historically met or exceeded all metrics thresholds for the Core Web Vitals will get the new “Fast page” label. You’ll see the label when you long-press a link prior to navigating to a page.

Here is Google’s justification for the change:

The changes that site owners make to improve on these aspects work towards making the web more delightful for users across all web browsers. Investing in these critical user-centric metrics helps to drive usability improvements for users and helps businesses see increased engagement.

Google says the “Fast page” label may appear on a link if the URL or URLs like it “have been historically fast for other users.” In other words, it may not necessarily be fast for you. The labelling is based on aggregated historical data from a site’s URLs with similar structure when the URL data is insufficient to assess speed or is unavailable. That can happen, for example, when the URL is new or less popular.

Google loves using labels

Google has a long history of using labels to encourage certain behavior. In November 2014, Google started labeling sites as “mobile-friendly” to denote pages optimized for phones. The company then experimented with using the label as a ranking factor, ultimately pushing those changes in April 2015 and increasing the effect in May 2016. Google removed the label in August 2016, noting that most pages had become “mobile-friendly.” In 2018, Google Search started ranking faster mobile pages higher.

The company went through a similar exercise with Chrome and HTTPS. Chrome 56, released in January 2017, started marking HTTP pages that collect passwords or credit cards as “Not secure.” Chrome 62, released in October 2017, started marking HTTP sites with entered data and all HTTP sites viewed in Incognito mode as “Not secure.” Chrome 68, released in July 2018, marked all HTTP sites as not secure. Chrome 69, released in September 2018, removed the “Secure” wording from HTTPS sites. And so on and so forth. Today, Chrome users now spend 97% of their browsing time on HTTPS.

Now the company wants to do it all again based on Web Vitals.

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