Google planning a new ‘Badge of Shame’ for slow websites

Google has announced plans for a new badging system that would let users know whether a website typically loads slowly. In a post detailing the thought process behind the planned feature, the Chrome team explains that “In the future, Chrome may identify sites that typically load fast or slow for users with clear badging”.

The post goes on to explain that there are many different iterations that the team is looking at, and the language (the word “may” is used frequently) suggests that there will be many iterations of this that will evolve following input from devs and users. The Chrome team explains that “we are being very mindful of our approach to setting the bar for what is considered good user experience and hope to land on something that is practically achievable by all developers.”

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Source: Chromium

Early looks show one option being the ‘Badge of Shame’ showing on a splash screen as a slow website loads. Another displays a green loading bar for a website known to load quickly. The idea behind these UI decisions is that a badge would let a user know quickly if a site is loading slowly due to a problem on their end (network issue, internet is down, etc) or if the website is known to be built in a way that loads slowly.

The Implications of the ‘Badge of Shame’

At face value, this visual marker would provide a very clear and urgent incentive for developers to build their site in a performant, optimized way using today’s best practices. We’ve discussed in the past that having a website that loads slowly will reduce revenue, increase bounce rate, and lower the number of visitors your site receives. A badge placed on your site would likely increase this likelihood of these issues. It would become imperative to fix the situation causing your site to receive a badge.

The Chrome team cautioned that “badging is intended to identify when sites are authored in a way that makes them slow generally”. This means that sites would typically only be badged as a slow loading site if they were built with no regard for optimization in the first place. If you’re using best practices and keeping web performance in mind, you shouldn’t need to worry about being badged.

One group of people that this might negatively affect are those that pay for bloated WordPress themes. These are themes that are loaded with Javascript and stylesheets. Unfortunately, some business owners don’t understand that buying a theme and implementing it isn’t the end of the process. Something like a badge of shame may, however, be the push that gets these theme makers to make some changes. If a certain developer’s themes are consistently receiving this negative mark, they would have a strong incentive to change things.

Reactions from the Web Dev community

Reactions to this announcement have been predictably mixed. While it is seen as a positive for users to be able to quickly see if the site they’re loading is slow, the ethics of such a program become a little murkier. With its search engine being easily the most used on the internet, Google has an incredible influence on the web. A move like this strikes some as ‘gatekeeper’ influencing. In short, play by our rules or don’t play.

When Google announced that it would begin to give a ranking boost to SSL-secured websites, for example, it became imperative to get your site secured. Those who had been holding out because their site wasn’t handling sensitive data, now had no choice. The badging program could very well have a similar effect. This begs the question of whether any company should have that much influence on the state of the web.

A thread on Reddit provided many examples of the initial concerns. Most stemmed from Google exercising too much power with this move. Others were leery that this badge system is being employed as a way to force developers towards using Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) framework. Increasing AMP’s reach would bring more websites and content into Google’s ecosystem, centralizing the sites using that platform.

That’s not to say that there weren’t also positive reactions. Many mentioned that when a website doesn’t load, visitors are often left wondering if their device or internet is the problem. A badge or a colored loading bar would eliminate that confusion. Additionally, sites that are being built with no regard for their performance, would now be held to a higher standard. Developers and designers who are skilled in building with performance in mind would likely be in higher demand.

Wrapping up and looking forward

There is currently no timetable set for a rollout of the ‘badge of shame’. However, Google’s announcement signals its continued emphasis on the performance of the web. If this is implemented properly, badging should be a useful tool and a powerful incentive. There also doesn’t appear to be any one way that Google is looking to use badging. The goal is simply to create an element of Chrome’s UI that gives useful information in a quick, intuitive way.

The team’s blog post seems to suggest that careful consideration will be taken when rolling this out. By taking feedback from other users and developers, Google can implement a system that will grow in a positive manner. It also sounds like the program will start out with only the worst offenders receiving a ‘Badge of Shame’. For example, those that use massive, un-optimized images and videos throughout their site may see a badge displayed.

While there is certainly some concern that Google may have ulterior motives with Badging, the underlying idea is solid. Allowing visitors to know where the issue lies in a slow-loading site is good information to have. The idea that this move will punish small e-commerce shops because they can’t afford custom development is a concern, but ultimately may be no worse than what is already occurring. Bloated themes and page builders are already being marketed to business owners as a way “build a website without learning to code”. If you’re running an e-commerce site, speed is already a factor in how successful you are. There are also many low-cost ways of creating a site that loads quickly, whether you use WordPress or build from scratch.

What do you think about Badging?

We want to hear your opinions on this as well! As a user of the web, is this information something that you would find valuable to your browsing experience? As a developer/designer, do you find that this is a good punishment for those who don’t follow best practices? Maybe your worry is simply that Google has its fingerprints on too much of the web as it is. Let us know in the comment section!

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