Optimising Your Website for HTTP/2 Crawling and SEO

From November 2020 Googlebot is supporting crawling over HTTP/2. Initially this will be for ‘select sites’, with a plan to gradually increase its coverage.

But what exactly is HTTP/2, what are its benefits and how can you implement it on your website?

What is HTTP/2?

Most servers are currently configured to HTTP/1.1, which has been used for the last 20 years or so. HTTP/1.1 only allows you to make single server requests, one at a time, meaning that the client has to make multiple requests for resources in order to successfully render the page, which can take a lot of time if there are a lot of resources.

There are two types of HTTP server requests, GET and POST. GET requests are usually used to request information from the server to the browser (like a web page or an image). POST requests are usually used for more secure requests such as receiving a form submission from a contact form.

HTTP/2, also known as ‘h2’, allows you to make multiple requests for different file types, such as html, jpeg, css, js, etc.

According to Google:

‘it’s the next major version of HTTP…HTTP/2 is much more robust, efficient, and faster than its predecessor, due to its architecture and the features it implements for clients (for example, your browser) and servers.’

Benefits of using HTTP/2

Search Engine Land has called HTTP/2 ‘one of the greatest advancements in web technology in the past 20 years’. 

And there are some pretty significant benefits to consider, which you can see briefly outlined here:

  • HTTP/2 reduces the number of requests to the server, reducing the resources a server needs to use
  • It reduces load time, so offers a better user experience and the SEO benefits that entails
  • It reduces latency (the time it takes for a network connection to open over a distance – one of the main issues affecting web speed and a major reason for Google to develop HTTP/2) 
  • It enables much more efficient crawling for websites and saves crawl budget

How to implement HTTP/2

If your server supports HTTP/2 and Google already crawls a lot from your website, you might be eligible for a connection upgrade already, without having to do anything. 

But if you want to make sure you can take advantage of the expected benefits of HTTP/2, you’ll need to ensure the following:

  • Your website is already on the HTTPS protocol. If not you will need to move from HTTP to HTTPS
  • Your web server is able to support HTTP/2
  • Your server is configured to use HTTP/2 

This post from Cloudflare details lots of ways to check whether your site supports HTTP/2. 

It’s also worth noting though that Google have said they will not be crawling every HTTP/2-enabled site over h2, if there is ‘little to no benefit…for example those with limited qps’ (queries-per-second).

Summary

HTTP/2 will be with us very soon, and although Google state there’s ‘no explicit drawback’ to remaining on HTTP/1.1, the benefits mentioned above suggest that it’s well worth getting on board and moving to HTTP/2 now, so that your site can be in the best position to embrace this next step in the evolution of web technology.

Further Reading

Introduction to HTTP/2 – Google

An introduction to HTTP/2 for SEOs – Distilled

HTTP/1.1 vs HTTP/2: What’s the Difference? – DigitalOcean

Why Everyone Should Be Moving to HTTP/2 – Search Engine Land

Tools for debugging, testing and using HTTP/2 – Cloudflare

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