What is Google Web Light?

Recently, while looking through our Google Analytics data for bad referrals and other spam traffic to exclude from our reporting, we noticed a new hostname in one of our profiles for: {example-website}.com.googleweblight.com. Curious if this was spam traffic or something from Google, we did some digging. If you see this data in your Google Analytics profile, do not be alarmed as it is actual users visiting your site. However, you should take the term “visiting your site” lightly as they are viewing a version of your site that Google has created for users on very slow mobile internet connections.

What Is Google Web Light?

Google Web Light is a new feature Google has added to their search results pages for mobile users with slower internet connections. If Google detects a slow internet connection for a user trying to perform a Google search, it will send the user to a version of that page on their googleweblight.com domain that will load much faster than the version on the normal domain.

To do this, Google takes content from your site and only displays the important parts of the page with little to no styling. They are trying to get the bare bones of the page for these users to save data and load pages faster. Users who are shown these pages in search results will typically have a mobile internet connection speed around 35 Kbps or the equivalent of a 2G network. While most users have faster speeds than this, Google found that traffic to these pages increased 50% due to the faster load times for these specific users.

Comparing Load Times of Google Web Light

Google has provided a tool to see how effective the new versions of these pages would be for any page you want to test. After running a few tests, we found that speed increases of 50-75% were fairly normal. The Google Web Light version of each page typically loaded within 10 seconds for users with slow internet connections.

The testing tool shows a side-by-side comparison of the normal domain’s loaded page versus the Google Web Light version. A video of both versions loading side-by-side is also provided to give you a better idea of the loading experience of these pages for users on slow internet connections.

How Google Web Light Data is Shown in Google Analytics

When users view your site on the Google Web Light version, their traffic is being recorded in the latest version of Universal Google Analytics. When a user visits a page using Google Web Light, the page name will stay the same in your Behavior. You can set up a filter to change the page name for your reports like one that appends the host name.

The host name is set up to be: hostname.com.googleweblight.com in reports. This allows you to easily isolate this traffic with a report filter or by creating a segment. All other aspects of Google Analytics reporting should look the same as your normal traffic.

If you have a host name filter set up on your Google Analytics account, make sure to check the filter against the host name field to make sure it matches your domain. If you have an exact match set up on your domain name, you may want to update that to a regular expression match or at least a “Starts With” match and simply have your basic domain name and the top-level domain as the value in this filter field. Updating this to be a little more lenient to pick up this traffic will allow you to access information you may be missing in your account data.

How Does Google Web Light Work?

When a user tries to visit your site from a Google search results page on a mobile device with a slow internet connection, Google will give them the option to view the page in Google Web Light. Google will typically only transcode this page as it is requested and the page will only be cached as is for a few seconds. Google mentions that it may cache JS and CSS files for longer periods of time but will typically re-transcode a page each time it is requested to make sure it has the most up-to-date content available.

Google Web Light is only set up to work with users on extremely slow networks. It will not work for users on a tablet or desktop computers and is only reserved for mobile devices. Currently, Google Web Light will only work for users using the most recent version of the mobile Chrome browser or the Android browser. Mobile users on fast network connections will not be shown the transcoded Google Web Light version of a page. It should also be noted that Google Web Light only works in certain countries where Google has enabled it.

Are All Pages Transcoded with Google Web Light?

At the time of this writing, not all pages on every site will be transcoded. Currently, pages on video sites, pages that require cookies, and pages that are technically challenging to transcode are not typically transcoded with Google Web Light.

What If I Want to Opt Out of Google Web Light?

If, for some reason, you believe that Google Web Light is not right for your website or you have pages on your site that you feel make sense should be fully loaded as is, there is a way of opting out of the service for certain pages on your site.

If you would like to have a certain page not included in Google Web Light, you can set the HTTP header “Cache-Control: no-transform” on the page and Google will transcode the page. It is important to note that if you opt out of Google Web Light for a page, users on mobile devices that see this page in search results will get a notice on the listing that this page may take longer to load and may use more data.

What If I Notice an Issue With a Transcoded Google Web Light Page?

Fortunately, Google has given us an easy way to report any issues that we find with any of our pages loading with Google Web Light. If you notice an issue with a particular page or want to send feedback about a page, you can email googleweblight@google.com with a link to the URL in question along with some information about the issue and they will look into fixing it. As with most Google requests, this can be hit or miss, but at least the option is there.

So…Google Web Light Is Not So Bad

If you are seeing Google Web Light data in your Google Analytics reporting, do not be alarmed. It is just Google’s way of trying to help both webmasters and their users. It is helping their users by giving them a better user experience while trying to find answers they are looking for. At the same time, it is also helping webmasters by giving them a free option for serving a better user experience for users on very slow mobile internet connections. It is a win-win for all involved.

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