Hey Google, Why PWAs?

December 18, 2018

If you were to live in a country where it was hard to find fuel, it wouldn’t make much sense to buy a car. Just like if you lived in a country where the internet was slow, it wouldn’t make much sense to download and use a bulky native app or rely on browsing the Internet. Yet billions of people across the globe are now in this situation, depending on the Internet to learn, build communities, and grow their businesses. It has become so integral in everyone’s day to day life that Internet access is now considered a human right. But not every country has the infrastructure to provide the fast service that other countries depend on, which creates an unleveled playing field worldwide. Google and other leaders within the internet community have sought to solve this problem by making the web leaner and faster – thus the concept of the progressive web app was formed.

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For Google, Internet Accessibility is a Social Responsibility

Progressive web apps look like websites, but use far less bandwidth to operate. This enables all people, even people with extremely limited 3G internet connections to use the web without much load time. This is important in developing areas.  Since 2010 internet usage in Africa has grown by 10,199%. Yet no country on the continent has Internet speeds that surpass the 10Mbs which is the basic speed one needs to fully participate in a digital society. The simple fact that progressive web applications use less data allows billions of new people to use the internet who otherwise couldn’t afford it.

How Do Progressive Web Apps Help Everyone Else?

In 2012 Google did a study and found that the load speed of any given webpage correlated to how much use that website got. The slower the page, the less traffic that website earned. As little as a 250 milliseconds load time could determine which website got traffic and which didn’t. If this sounds crazy, just think about the last time a website didn’t instantly load. You probably rolled your eyes and quickly hit the “back” button, right? You’re not alone, in fact 53% of mobile web visits are abandoned if a site takes more than three seconds to load.

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Google figured out that it didn’t matter how good your website’s SEO was, what truly mattered was the speed, along with how mobile friendly the site was. They incorporated this knowledge into their search algorithm, but kept asking questions about its meaning, too, leading to the development of the progressive web app. Because progressive web apps use less data, they are inherently faster, which will help businesses lower bounce rates and gobble up new traffic.

If you’re thinking that your website is great and that you don’t need to change to a progressive web application, you might be right. But you should see how your website rates against a PWA with Lighthouse, an open source and automated tool by Google. This tool will also look at how your website conforms to what Google considers to be the best practices for web content, and give you some valuable insight on what your website should be doing.

More Google Tools to Help

Google needs the internet to keep on keepin’ on. So, they have dialed in on the metrics to see the Web grow and find success. For Google, one key desired characteristic of this growth is speed of browsing on mobile devices. In fact, this is why they have recently introduced accelerated mobile pages, or AMPs. Basically, an accelerated mobile page means any website can become something like a progressive web application when accessed on a mobile device. This allows businesses or organizations to share content using as little data as possible, and means Google can serve the most relevant search rankings without worrying about compatibility or functionality.  

However, converting your content to an AMP can be… a little inelegant, to say the least. If you are a company that doesn’t rely on 2G networks, it’s probably best to skip accelerated mobile pages and go straight for a progressive web application. AMPs also come with a spot of controversy. Some people accuse Google of rolling out AMPs in order to have more control over content that exists on the Internet. Google continues to claim that fair and equal access to the best content on the web for all users is their only goal.

Whatever your opinion is of this, it’s hard to argue that through the conception of progressive web applications Google has become the standard bearer for the free and equal Internet. Along the way, they’ve also broken technical ground that makes progressive web apps a great idea even for those who don’t share their values.