On October 6th, 2021, Bartosz Góralewicz spoke to Martin Splitt from Google about Rendering SEO – a topic they’ve been covering and exposing to the SEO community for a while now.
Rendering matters for ranking
Bartosz opened the discussion up with a fundamental question to many SEOs, and Martin’s reply was pretty straightforward: Yes, if something goes wrong when Google is trying to render your page, it can hurt you.
Even the most minor bug in your code can lead to a portion or even a whole page rendering improperly, both in your users’ browsers and for Google’s Web Rendering Service. The consequences of that may vary from the page not getting indexed because Google can’t see the content to some parts of that content not getting indexed, which may, in turn, damage your rankings.
For instance, you can make Google’s job easier and thus speed up the indexing process by using image dimensions for all your images. This allows Google to skip rendering images and use the provided dimensions for generating the layout tree. It also helps with your crawl budget, because the image files won’t have to be fetched!
Google cares about CPU consumption when rendering
Bartosz asked Martin how SEOs can make the rendering process easier for Google when optimizing resources. His reply was interesting, and I think it’s something that’s not mentioned very often:
“Google Rendering Service does not care about pixels, so we are not painting, so if you see something that is very paint-expensive, you don’t have to worry about that. We are not using any GPUs to paint any pictures, and we don’t care about anything paint-related.
Expensive layouts are tricky, especially layout work that happens on the main thread – layout work that causes CPU time which is precious to Google.”
So what you can do is minimize the amount of the main thread work needed to render your pages. While this may not play a role for a small website, if you have millions of pages, the CPU cost adds up, and it may potentially slow the indexing process down for your website.
Using CMS platforms comes with rendering pros and cons
Martin had a fascinating thing to say about how CMS platforms might influence the rendering of your page:
“The nice thing about platforms is whenever they optimize the actual platform you get this optimization for free. You don’t have to actually do anything about that, so that’s nice. If you build your own thing, then you have to do the optimization work, and never ever is some optimization magically falling into your lap.”
But this comes at a cost. Using a CMS platform means your website has to ship some redundant code that you might never use. The platform may provide an out-of-the-box feature that you’ll never even use, but it may be impossible to get rid of the code that makes the feature possible.
Rendering SEO helps both Google and your users
When you optimize rendering, you often simply make your pages lighter. For Google, it means less CPU consumption and less resource fetching, which is excellent because these are the things Google spends very conservatively.
But it’s equally as great for regular users, primarily if they use lower-end devices with a poor connection.
As Martin put it:
“The more expensive you make it, the worse it is for us as an experience. Google Search doesn’t really care, we just need to invest in resources that we need and we do a lot of optimizations to make sure we are wasting as little time and energy as possible. But obviously, if you’re optimizing that, a nice side effect is that your users will probably also be happier because they need less battery, their old phone will still work fine with what you put out there, and they will be able to consume your web content and maybe not your competitors’ because your competitors just don’t care and actually produce something that is less convenient to use on their phones. So this is not something where you pit Google vs UX, this is kinda like the same problem or the same challenge, and we’re all facing it, including Google Search, so that’s a nice one.”