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Google’s Priority Hints Improves CWV

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Google published an article encouraging developers and publishers to use the new (and experimental) “importance” priority hint attribute which can help improve Core Web Vitals and the user experience.

The Chrome browser team shared an example where a background image loaded with the Priority Hint HTML attribute saved 1.9 seconds in download time, just in that one image.

The Problem that Priority Hints Solves

Publishers can speed up the discovery of web page resources using <link rel=preload> and can also direct how and when scripts are downloaded and executed with the use of the “async” and “defer” attributes.

But publishers cannot send a signal to tell the browser which resources are important and which are not.

Google provides these examples of the problems Priority Hints solves:

“Hero images inside the viewport start at a low priority. After the layout is complete, Chrome discovers they are in the viewport and boosts their priority (unfortunately, dev tools only shows the final priority – WebPageTest will show both).

This usually adds a significant delay to loading the image. Providing the priority hint in markup lets the image start at a high priority and start loading much earlier.

The browser assigns CSS and fonts a high priority, but all such resources may not be equally important or required for LCP. You can use priority hints to lower the priority of some of these resources.”

The Importance Attribute Resource Hint

In HTML, the parts that make up a web page are called Elements. That would be the div, headings, paragraph tags, image tags, the link element, etc.

I’m pretty sure everything that’s called an HTML tag is actually an HTML element, that’s an easy way to remember what an element is.
Every element can be modified with what’s called an Attribute. Remember the nofollow attribute? The nofollow attribute modifies the <a> element.

The importance attribute modifies web page elements by giving the web browser a hint about whether a web page element is important, not important or to just let the browser decide.

The importance attribute is called a Priority Hint. The attribute gives the browser a hint that a specified element is important (or not important) and to give it a higher (or lower) priority.

The values that the “importance” attribute can communicate are:

  • High
  • Low
  • Auto

The importance attribute resource hint is applicable to the following elements:

  • link
  • img
  • script
  • iframe

How the Resource Hints Improve Core Web Vitals

Browsers automatically compute priority levels for downloading resources.

Current tools like the “preload” attribute help give resource hints to the download of important resources like, for example fonts and images.

Other resource hints are async and defer.

All of those help speed up the download of the total document and make the document viewable and interactive faster.

But the browser still has to decide which one is more important.

According to Web.dev, a preloaded image will download but will still be assigned a low priority by the browser and delayed.

This is the explanation:

“Take a Largest Contentful Paint image, which, when preloaded, will still get a low priority.

If it is pushed back by other early low-priority resources, using Priority Hints can still help how soon the image gets loaded.”

An example of how the importance attribute is helpful is when a web page has an image carousel at the top of the viewport (the part of the browser that the site visitor currently sees).

If the carousel contains five images, all of them can be preloaded. But if the first one is assigned the “high” importance attribute and the others given the “low” attribute, the web page will display faster because the browser will now know to give a high priority to the first image.

Another example given by Google is the featured image at the top of the web page. Browser give the image a low priority and only renders it after the rest of the web page layout is completed.

Google explains:

“Providing the priority hint in markup lets the image start at a high priority and start loading much earlier.

Note that preload is still required for the early discovery of LCP images included as CSS backgrounds and can be combined with priority hints by including the importance=’high’ on the preload, otherwise it will still start with the default “Low” priority for images.”

The same thing happens with scripts that are downloaded as async or defer, they are both assigned a low priority.

By adding a Priority Hint to the important scripts the browser will be able to render the page faster and provide a better user experience.

Faster Loading Will Be Experienced by Site Visitors

The Priority Hints is undergoing what Google calls an Origin Trial. Chrome ran a trial two years ago but it didn’t get much attention.

Chrome is rolling this out in Chrome 96, which is scheduled for release on November 21, 2021. Priority hints is already available on Chrome Canary, which is the testing version of Chrome.

These features can be enabled in current versions of Chrome by typing the following in the address bar:

chrome://flags/

and then scrolling down and enabling the section labeled: Experimental Web Platform features

Screenshot: Experimental Web Platform Features

Screenshot of Chrome Experimental Web Platform Features

Screenshot of Chrome Experimental Web Platform Features

How to Review Resource Priority Level

Priority levels of resources are available for review in any version of Chrome, in the Dev Tools under the Network tab.

Click the three dots (ellipsis menu) in the top right hand corner, > More tools > Developer tools (then select the Network tab).

From there you load up a web page, right click one of the columns (like Time or Waterfall) and select Priority and you can view the priority levels.

When registered for the Priority Hints trial you can use Chrome Canary to view the updated priority for the resources and also in Chrome version 96 when it rolls out.

When you participate in this trial the priority hints will be shown to your site visitor browsers and any improvements to Core Web Vitals will be reflected from that.

However, it’s important to note that these are priority hints and not a directive.

That means that the browser does not have to strictly follow the priority hints. The browser may choose to ignore the hints and assign and computer its own order.

This can be checked in Chrome Dev Tools under the Network tab as described above.

How to Sign Up for Priority Hints Trial

Publishers need to register with Chrome to participate in the origin trials for priority hints.

The Priority Hints registration form is here:

https://developer.chrome.com/origintrials/#/view_trial/365917469723852801

Priority Hints Origin Trial

This is the second version of this origin trial. The first time it was tested there wasn’t much response. But this time could be different because of Core Web vitals.

The trial is open for registration now and it runs until March 22, 2022. The purpose of the trial is to measure developer interest and to see if it results in meaningful improvements.

Whether the feature continues after that date depends on your feedback. This is a great opportunity to improve the user experience and to be one of the first to use this new feature.

Citations

Read the Announcement of the New Priority Hints Origin Trial

Optimizing resource loading with Priority Hints

Register to Participate in the Origin Trial

Priority Hints Registration Page

Follow the Chrome Priority Hints Progress

Chrome Priority Hints Status Page

Read the Priority Hints Explainer in GitHub

Priority Hints

Download Chrome Canary for Developers With Newest Features

Chrome Canary

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Google to pay $391.5 million settlement over location tracking, state AGs say

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Google to pay $391.5 million settlement over location tracking, state AGs say

Google has agreed to pay a $391.5 million settlement to 40 states to resolve accusations that it tracked people’s locations in violation of state laws, including snooping on consumers’ whereabouts even after they told the tech behemoth to bug off.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said it is time for Big Tech to recognize state laws that limit data collection efforts.

“I have been ringing the alarm bell on big tech for years, and this is why,” Mr. Landry, a Republican, said in a statement Monday. “Citizens must be able to make informed decisions about what information they release to big tech.”

The attorneys general said the investigation resulted in the largest-ever multistate privacy settlement. Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, a Democrat, said Google’s penalty is a “historic win for consumers.”

“Location data is among the most sensitive and valuable personal information Google collects, and there are so many reasons why a consumer may opt out of tracking,” Mr. Tong said. “Our investigation found that Google continued to collect this personal information even after consumers told them not to. That is an unacceptable invasion of consumer privacy, and a violation of state law.”

Location tracking can help tech companies sell digital ads to marketers looking to connect with consumers within their vicinity. It’s another tool in a data-gathering toolkit that generates more than $200 billion in annual ad revenue for Google, accounting for most of the profits pouring into the coffers of its corporate parent, Alphabet, which has a market value of $1.2 trillion.

The settlement is part of a series of legal challenges to Big Tech in the U.S. and around the world, which include consumer protection and antitrust lawsuits.

Though Google, based in Mountain View, California, said it fixed the problems several years ago, the company’s critics remained skeptical. State attorneys general who also have tussled with Google have questioned whether the tech company will follow through on its commitments.

The states aren’t dialing back their scrutiny of Google’s empire.

Last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he was filing a lawsuit over reports that Google unlawfully collected millions of Texans’ biometric data such as “voiceprints and records of face geometry.”

The states began investigating Google’s location tracking after The Associated Press reported in 2018 that Android devices and iPhones were storing location data despite the activation of privacy settings intended to prevent the company from following along.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich went after the company in May 2020. The state’s lawsuit charged that the company had defrauded its users by misleading them into believing they could keep their whereabouts private by turning off location tracking in the settings of their software.

Arizona settled its case with Google for $85 million last month. By then, attorneys general in several other states and the District of Columbia had pounced with their own lawsuits seeking to hold Google accountable.

Along with the hefty penalty, the state attorneys general said, Google must not hide key information about location tracking, must give users detailed information about the types of location tracking information Google collects, and must show additional information to people when users turn location-related account settings to “off.”

States will receive differing sums from the settlement. Mr. Landry’s office said Louisiana would receive more than $12.7 million, and Mr. Tong’s office said Connecticut would collect more than $6.5 million.

The financial penalty will not cripple Google’s business. The company raked in $69 billion in revenue for the third quarter of 2022, according to reports, yielding about $13.9 billion in profit.

Google downplayed its location-tracking tools Monday and said it changed the products at issue long ago.

“Consistent with improvements we’ve made in recent years, we have settled this investigation which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago,” Google spokesman Jose Castaneda said in a statement.

Google product managers Marlo McGriff and David Monsees defended their company’s Search and Maps products’ usage of location information.

“Location information lets us offer you a more helpful experience when you use our products,” the two men wrote on Google’s blog. “From Google Maps’ driving directions that show you how to avoid traffic to Google Search surfacing local restaurants and letting you know how busy they are, location information helps connect experiences across Google to what’s most relevant and useful.”

The blog post touted transparency tools and auto-delete controls that Google has developed in recent years and said the private browsing Incognito mode prevents Google Maps from saving an account’s search history.

Mr. McGriff and Mr. Monsees said Google would make changes to its products as part of the settlement. The changes include simplifying the process for deleting location data, updating the method to set up an account and revamping information hubs.

“We’ll provide a new control that allows users to easily turn off their Location History and Web & App Activity settings and delete their past data in one simple flow,” Mr. McGriff and Mr. Monsees wrote. “We’ll also continue deleting Location History data for users who have not recently contributed new Location History data to their account.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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5 Tips to Boost Your Holiday Search Strategy

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With the global economic downturn, inflation, ongoing supply chain challenges, and uncertainty due to the Ukraine war, this year’s holiday shopping season promises to be very challenging. Will people be in the mood to spend despite the gloom? Or will they rein in their enthusiasm and save for the year ahead?

With these issues in mind, here are five considerations to support your search engine optimization strategy this holiday shopping season:

1. Start early.

Rising prices are likely to mean shoppers will start researching their holiday spending earlier than ever to nab the best bargains. Therefore, retailers must roll out their holiday product and category pages — and launch any promotions — sooner to ensure their pages get crawled and indexed by search engines in good time.

Some e-commerce stores manage to get their pages ranking early by updating and reusing the same section of the website for holiday content and promotions, rotating between content for Christmas, Mother’s Day, Valentine gifts, Fourth of July sales, etc. This approach can help you retain the momentum, links and authority you build up with Google and get your holiday pages visible and ranking quickly.

2. Make research an even bigger priority.

With all the uncertainty this year, it’s vital to use SEO research to identify the trending seasonal keywords and search phrases in your retail vertical — and then optimize content accordingly.

With tools such as Google Trends you can extract helpful insights based on the types of searches people are making. For example, with many fashion retailers now charging for product returns, will prioritizing keywords such as “free returns” get more search traction? And with money being tighter, will consumers stick with brands they trust rather than anything new — meaning brand searches might be higher?

3. Make greater use of Google Shopping.

To get the most out of their holiday spending, consumers are more likely to turn to online marketplaces such as Google Shopping as they make it easier to compare products, features and prices, as well as to identify the best deals both online and in nearby stores.

Therefore, take a combined approach which includes listing in Google Shopping and at the same time optimizing product detail pages on your e-commerce site to ensure they’re unique and provide more value than competitors’ pages. Be precise with product names on Google Shopping (e.g., do the names contain the words people are searching for?); ensure you provide all the must-have information Google requires; and set a price that’s not too far from the competition. 

4. Give other search sources the attention they deserve.

Earlier this year Google itself acknowledged that consumers — especially younger consumers — are starting to use TikTok, Instagram and other social media sites for search. In fact, research suggests 11 percent of product searches now start on TikTok and 15 percent on Instagram. Younger consumers in particular are more engaged by visual content, which may explain why they’re embracing visually focused social sites for search. So, as part of your search strategy, create and share content on popular social media sites that your target customers visit.

Similarly, with people starting their shopping searches on marketplaces such as Amazon.com, optimizing any listings you have on the site should be part of your strategy. And thankfully, the better optimized your product detail pages are for Amazon (with unique, useful content), the better they will rank on Google as well!

5. Hold paid budget for late opportunities.

The greater uncertainty and volatility this holiday season mean you must keep a close eye on shopper behavior and be ready to embrace opportunities that emerge later on. Getting high organic rankings for late promotions is always more challenging, so hold some paid search budget back to help drive traffic to those pages — via Google Ads, for example. Important keywords to include in late season search ad campaigns include “delivery before Christmas” and “same-day-delivery.” For locally targeted search ads, consider “pick up any time before Christmas.”

The prospect of a tough, unpredictable holiday shopping season means search teams must roll out seasonal SEO plans early, closely track shoppers’ behavior, and be ready to adapt as things change.

Marcus Pentzek is chief SEO consultant at Searchmetrics, the global provider of search data, software and consulting solutions.

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Google Home App Gets an Overhaul, Rolling Out Soon

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Google Home app

Google refreshes its Home app with a slew of new features after launching a new Nest gear. This makes it faster and easier to pair smart devices with Matter, adds customization and personalization options, an enhanced Nest camera experience, and better intercommunication between devices.

This revamped Home app utilizes Google’s Matter smart home standard – launching later this year – especially the Fast Pair functionality. On an Android phone, it will instantly recognize a Matter device and allow you to easily set it up, bypassing the current procedure that is often slow and difficult. Google is also updating its Nest speakers, displays, and routers – to control Matter devices better.

Google Home App New Features

  • Spaces: This feature allows you to control multiple devices in different rooms. Google has listed a few things by room: kitchen, bedroom, living room, etc., although it’s pretty limited right now. Spaces let you organize devices how you see fit. For instance, you can set up a baby monitor in one room and set a different room’s camera to focus on an area the baby often plays. With Spaces, you can categorize these two devices into one Space category called ‘Baby.’

Google Home app Spaces

  • Favorites: This one is pretty self-explanatory. It allows you to make certain gears as a favorite that you frequently use. Doing so will bring those devices into the limelight within the Google Home app for easier access. 

Google Home app

  • Media: Google adds a new media widget at the bottom of your Home feed. This will automatically determine what media is playing in your home and provide you with the appropriate controls as and when needed. There will be song controls if you listen to music on your speakers. There will be television remote controls if you’re watching TV. 

Google probably won’t roll out this Home app makeover anytime soon. But you can try it for yourself in the coming week by enrolling in the public preview, available in select areas.

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