Interview with Otto van der Schaaf of We-Amp and IISpeed
Ever wonder how search engines perceive your website? We don't know all the answers, but we do know bits and pieces--enough to know these days that slow websites make for a poor user experience which means that search engines don't want to rank those websites high enough to contribute to that poor UX. We sat down with Otto van der Schaaf who has been working on two separate (but related) projects on page speed, and who boasts, among his partners, Google. Here's his story.
I've spent a lot of time researching solutions in the past at previous companies, seeing complex solutions for web brands that desired better performance. We-Amp is a support consultancy while IISpeed offers an actual service on page speed improvements. IISpeed is also the company where we plan to license other tools in the near future. For example, we're working on a very specific type of fast cache, a substitute for what Google Page Speed comes with by default.
HostAdvice: Can you describe the importance of page speed for searchability and user experience?
Page speed is one of the signals that Google considers when it comes to page rankings. No one likes waiting for slow pages. Also, Google linking to slow pages degrades the user experience of the search rankings, making this an important consideration for Google.
Page speed is dependent upon the technical quality of the HTML and the resources it references. Those are meaningful factors on timely deliverability to ensure end users receive fast page speeds, which is a big part of user experience.
HostAdvice: Clearly you've worked in other environments on page speed issues. What brought you there and how did that iterate to We-Amp and IISpeed, your current endeavor?
It's a long story, but let me get you the short form! In the past at my previous company, I've done a lot of web work, and over there, we noticed a lot of similar problems between different projects and they were all related to web performance. With IISpeed and We-Amp, we started out offering a generic solution to that.
HostAdvice: How do your businesses work?
We offer niche expertise on the subject of web server technology including post processing and server output. We're also focused on web performance optimization solutions, and there's been a lot of demand for that. There's been demand for our consultancy services as well.
We also offer automatic optimization software where we charge a little bit of money but it's a pretty good deal considering you can get just about 1 hour development capacity for what we charge and you won't be able to get that kind of mileage elsewhere. IISpeed is mostly reliant on a pull strategy; we're doing well there through initiatives such as content marketing.
HostAdvice: Do you think there are different technologies to employ for page speed enhancements across different web infrastructures?
We try to be neutral with regard to the platform we are working on. We are actually working on Google PageSpeed itself and all the other ports of it that are public - and even proprietary ones. So we're neutral there and can cover all the infrastructures. If you look at different web architectures, you have proxies (forward, reverse, transverse) and the HTTP2 protocol, and you look at those things through the glasses of web performance, there are differences such as with mobile rendering, etc. Therefore, yes, there are different dynamics when optimizing for those.
HostAdvice: What tips do you suggest that all webmasters consider for their sites to have the lowest possible page speeds?
One obvious recommendation would be to check Google's speed tool. They make websites comply with their own recommendations. We currently have a relationship with Google and also help maintain this tool. Also, embracing the new HTTP2 protocol would be a quick win for most.
HostAdvice: Does location factor in loading websites? Do you feel that most datacenters now are fast enough to accommodate all types of traffic, regardless of origin?
Yes, locations still play a role in website load time. It's one of the reasons CDNs have a business. If there's a large geographical distance between a server location and an end user, you're going to have latencies. To combat those, you can use a CDN.
HostAdvice: How do you suggest someone build relationships with companies like Google?
In our case, I ran the technology when it was very young and it aligned with what they were doing. What I noticed is that Google is very friendly to developers and those who are trying to start something that syncs with what they do. For me, it was a matter of reaching out and making a good effort. I approached them because I had some questions - back then, I was working on integrating their work into Apache Traffic Server and it was different than what they were doing. I had good suggestions for them and they appreciated my outreach. What I was doing was interesting to them and what they were doing was interesting to me. The bottom line, find something that you could support and reach out.
HostAdvice: Are you seeing a heavier emphasis on page speed for SEO rankings, and if so, what exactly are you seeing?
I can only say about the past. When I started, PageSpeed wasn't a thing. In the last 2 years, it really started increasing with the work we're now doing. I can't say more because there are few people who really know about rankings! Page speed as a phrase has trickled through the industry and through Webmasters Tools is enough to show that it has made an impact in rankings.