Should You Update Your Website to Use HTTP/2?


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Do you want to stay ahead of your competition and ensure that your website has the best opportunity for marketing success? The digital landscape is constantly changing, and it can be hard to know what updates to pursue and which to avoid altogether. If you’ve heard about HTTP/2 already, you may be wondering if it’s worth implementing, or if you should wait to adopt this fairly new technology.

In a nutshell, yes, everyone should update their websites to use HTTP/2. There are simply too many pros and hardly any cons. But if you’re still feeling a little uneasy and have the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, I’d like to take the time to make a case for HTTP/2. Before we dig into its features and benefits, let’s first take a look at what it actually is.

What Is HTTP/2?

HTTP/2 is the long awaited update to HTTP. Technically, it’s the newest version of HTTP (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol) since HTTP version 1.1 (RFC 2068), which was released way back in 1997. It really is surprising HTTP 1.1 lasted so long without any updates, because in computer years, it’s as ancient as a dinosaur. HTTP/2, however, was then officially ratified in May of 2015.

By now, you may be wondering what specifically is different between the two protocols. HTTP/2 doesn’t change the majority of HTTP syntax, and instead changes client/server communication techniques. Basically, it’s slimmer, more lightweight, and requires far fewer requests before the protocol can effectively render a web page for the client, which brings me to HTTP/2’s first major benefit: speed!

Speed Enhancements of HTTP/2

HTTP/2 overcomes many inefficiencies that were inherent in the previous version. Because it overcomes these technical hurdles, it can deliver web content faster than its predecessor. That feature in and of itself is more than enough of a reason for me to adopt it, and I hope you feel the same way. As you may already know, Google uses page load speed as a ranking factor in its search algorithm. In fact, a new Speed Update that rolled out last month weights the speed metric more heavily, which is even more encouragement to adopt HTTP/2.

Additionally, not only does it improve performance for desktop pages, it also improves performance for mobile devices. And as you may well know, mobile devices typically have less bandwidth than desktop devices, especially in low coverage areas. On such a connection, maximizing the efficiency and speed of your pages it crucial, so HTTP/2 provides massive benefits for mobile users.

Improved User Experience

The improved speed of HTTP/2 also has an ancillary benefit because faster web pages improve the user experience. I know that “an improved user experience” can, at times, sound a little like fluffy jargon that doesn’t mean anything concrete – but it’s really quite the opposite. User experience should be your first, second and third priority with regards to how you design your website.

Why is user experience so important? Because improving the users’ experience is Google’s primary goal as well. Every update to the search algorithm was focused on reducing or eliminating pain points, bolstering the quality of search results, and even attempting to shave off fractions of seconds to serve up the highest quality results in the shortest amount of time possible.

Backwards Compatibility

Furthermore, I would like to point out that deploying HTTP/2 does not exclude people from accessing your site. It is, fortunately, backwards compatible with the previous version of HTTP. So, for instance, if a client were to make an HTTP 1.1 request, they would then be served the older HTTP version of the web page. This feature drastically mitigates any risk of rolling out the new protocol, because you won’t alienate a chunk of your visitors.

What If Your Server Cannot Deploy HTTP/2?

If, for any variety of reasons, your hosting provider or server does not have the capability to upgrade to HTTP/2, then you do have the option of using a CDN (Content Delivery Network) that does already employ HTTP/2. It’s not as ideal as a full upgrade, but it’s better than nothing. And a CDN can help reduce the demands placed on your physical server, which in turn can alleviate congestion and speed things up, which is always an advantage.

Drawbacks of HTTP/2

What’s the catch, you ask? Well, there really aren’t any. There do seem to be a lot misunderstandings and presumptions about HTTP/2 that simply aren’t true. In fact, I personally think the largest drawback to HTTP/2 is that it is not available on every platform. Some systems simply don’t support it yet, so there is a chance that it’s unavailable to you, depending on how and where your server is hosted.

Also, some people tend to think that moving to HTTP/2 is a migration task, which would require downtime. The good news is that this isn’t the case, because it’s not technically a migration. Lastly, I did want to point out that enabling HTTP/2 on your website won’t directly affect SEO. As far as we know, Google (or any other search engine, for that matter) does not yet use HTTP/2 availability as a ranking signal to the search algorithm. Instead, it will indirectly affect your website by improving speed and providing a higher quality user experience.

Final Thoughts

If you’re on the fence regarding whether or not you think it’s a good idea to adopt HTTP/2, I would like to encourage you to do so. Typically I avoid adopting new technologies when they are brand spanking new and still in their early stages, because that’s typically where the most bugs are, especially when considering new software. After a few iterations of updates, the majority of the kinks and bugs are usually worked out, and it’s safe to use.

However, HTTP/2 technically isn’t a software application, and is instead a protocol; a protocol, I might add, that’s already been introduced to the Internet for over three years. If you’re not already using it, it’s another box to tick to ensure you’re using the latest and greatest technologies.

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