How HTTP/3 Helps Feed SEO’s Need For Speed

The development of the web never stands still.

As new technologies develop, consumer behavior changes and the basic infrastructure that underpins the Internet is forced to adapt.

The HTTP protocol – used to transfer data between clients and servers – has gone through several different iterations, all of which have enhanced core functionality with new and exciting features.

The adoption of HTTP/1.1 in 1997 and the . After a gap of 18 years between HTTP / 2 In 2015, development has picked up pace, draft proposal Submitted after only three years for HTTP/3.

What is HTTP/3?

At its core, HTTP/3 is an overhaul of the underlying transport layer Used to manage file transfers.

It represents a step away from TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) to UDP (User Datagram Protocol), addressing many TCP limitations and improving performance and security for users.

Although it is still awaiting final review before publication, 73% Web browsers already support the protocol.

That number will increase significantly once Safari makes this a core feature; Currently, it is experimental and has to be enabled through the developer menu.

http3 browser support caniuse
Screenshot from HTTP/3 support, April 2022

25% of the top 10 million websites, including Google and Facebook, are already using the HTTP/3 protocol.

In fact, if you’re using technologies like Google Analytics, Tag Manager, or Fonts, you’re already partially using the protocol.

What are the main advantages of HTTP/3 over HTTP/2 and HTTP/1?

To fully appreciate the benefits of HTTP/3, it’s worth understanding how HTTP/1.1 works, and the problems HTTP/2 was designed to solve.

When sent, files (HTML, JS, CSS, images, etc.) are broken up into smaller, separate packets with the data being transmitted over time.

HTTP/1.1 was designed to give each file its own connection. As websites became more complex, more files were required to load each page.

total website requests over time
Image from HTTP Archive, April 2022

Browsers limit the number of parallel connections available, creating a bottleneck and slowing down loading times. This resulted in several essential solutions to maximize performance, such as domain sharding And image sprite,

By introducing multiplexing, HTTP/2 solved the problem caused by connection limitations, allowing multiple files to be transferred over a single connection.

The other major improvement was the introduction of better header compression, along with some other features, which have proven less successful in practice (see Ruth’s excellent HTTP/2 Guide for more information).

Yet these enhancements did not fix all problems with the TCP protocol.

TCP transfers packets chronologically, meaning that if a packet is missed, the entire connection is halted until the packet is successfully received. This problem is known as head of line blockingThis negates some of the benefits of multiplexing.

Another challenge with TCP is that it is completely separate from the TLS protocol.

This is by design, as sites can be both secure and insecure.

As a result, a server and a client must make several round trips to negotiate a connection before transmitting data.

How does HTTP/3 solve these problems?

Moving from TCP to UDP, HTTP/3 introduces three main features that differentiate it from HTTP/1.1 and HTTP/2.

independent byte stream

HTTP/3 solves head-of-line blocking by introducing independent byte streams for individual files. Data is blocked only for an individual stream, while lost packets are resent, not the entire connection.

To make this more clear, it’s worth thinking back to the spectacular truck analogy. tom anthony used in original presentation over HTTP/2 (now updated for http/3,

The basic premise is that with HTTP/1.1, you queue multiple trucks to go on the same road (connection).

truck http1.1 limitScreenshot of @TomAnthonySEO, Introduction to HTTP/3, April 2022

In contrast, HTTP/2 allows multiple trucks to be grouped together in the same lane.

htt2 truckScreenshot of @TomAnthonySEO, Introduction to HTTP/3, April 2022

Unfortunately, with TCP, if a truck stops, the entire road is blocked until the truck starts moving again.

http2 truck tcp packet lossScreenshot of @TomAnthonySEO, Introduction to HTTP/3, April 2022

With HTTP/3 and UDP, other trucks can just drive around it.

TLS integration

By incorporating TLS 1.3 into HTTP/3, instead of the two separate protocols operating independently, only a single handshake is required, increasing the number of roundtrips from two (or three if using TLS 1.2) to one. decreases.

This change means faster – and more secure – connections for users.

One consequence of this change is that HTTP/3 can only be used on a secure site because TLS and UDP are closely intertwined. Interestingly, this was not the case with HTTP/2, which can technically be used on an insecure site – although none of the major browsers allow you to do so.

connection migration

Instead of using IP to route packets, HTTP/3 uses the connection ID instead.

By doing so, it can handle network changes without the need to re-establish a connection.

This is extremely beneficial in a mobile-first world, where users often swap between WiFi and cellular networks in terms of both speed and connection stability.

Going back to our truck analogy, it’s like coming to a junction and queuing again before moving onto the next road.

With HTTP/3, there is a slip-road, allowing you to exchange seamlessly between the two.

Are there any disadvantages to HTTP/3?

Although HTTP/3 has some clear performance advantages, its detractors have emphasized several disadvantages.

First, the protocol will offer limited benefits to users on fast connections, with the slowest showing most of the gains ranging from 1% to 10%.

But, as far as Core Web Vitals are concerned, it can actually be very beneficial.

CWV scores are global, so it is entirely possible to nail them down by a specific subset of users from a distant geographic location.

Equally, in the mobile-first world, even users with fast devices and close geographic proximity can suffer from temporary network issues, which can have an adverse effect on CWV.

The more mobile your users are, the more likely it is to have an impact.

Another complaint is that switching to HTTP/3 requires a fairly major server upgrade because it fundamentally changes the way the transport layer works.

Additionally, using UDP also introduces higher CPU requirements, which can put more strain on the server.

Both arguments are reasonable, but CPU usage is currently being optimized.

Also, as we’ll see in the implementation section below, many CDN providers are already providing relatively simple HTTP/3 solutions that can be easily done with stationed on the shore,

Does HTTP/3 matter for SEO?

While Googlebot has supported HTTP/2 since November 2020Half of all URLs are now crawled using the protocol, this Not currently supporting HTTP/3,

HTTP/2 is used only when a clear advantage To do so, that is, there would be significant resource savings for both the server and the Googlebot when using HTTP/2.

This will undoubtedly continue to grow over time, but given the five-year gap between the publication of the HTTP/2 protocol and Googlebot support, HTTP/3 is still likely to take off.

That said, implementing HTTP/3 can still have an indirect SEO impact – if better than what the protocol supports. core web vitals numbers

Upgrading your server infrastructure to support HTTP/3 — or, for that matter, HTTP/2 — is one of many potential enhancements you can take advantage of to ensure that your website is as functional as possible. Demonstrator.

And the benefits of having a performing website go well beyond SEO, including lower bounce rates, increased time on site, and higher conversion rates.

To see what protocol Googlebot is using to crawl a site, you can use a Notification in GSC or check your Googlebot requests within server access log,

While formats vary, the protocol used is usually listed in the HTTP request, found within quotation marks, along with the request method and URL path. [18/Apr/2022:10:00:00 -0100] "GET /seo/technical-seo-auditing/ HTTP/1.1" 200 684 "" "Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; Googlebot/2.1; +"

Example of an Apache request (combined log format).

How to check if a website is HTTP/3. supports or not

If you’re not sure whether a website supports HTTP/3, you can check using an online tool like: h3 checkScreenshot of, April 2022

Alternatively, both Chrome and Firefox display the protocol per request within the dev tools network tab.

These fields are not visible by default, but can be enabled by right-clicking on the navigation bar and selecting “Protocol”. HTTP/3 requests are labeled “h3”.

network tab chrome http3Network Tab Chrome http3, April 2022. screenshot from

It is also possible to check using command line and curl,

curl --http3

Since many sites will only have HTTP/3 enabled for page resources (usually hosted on CDNs), using dev tools will give a more accurate picture and allow you to better assess the opportunities available.

How can I implement HTTP/3?

By far the easiest way to enable HTTP/3 is a cdn,

Several major providers, including cloudflare, google cloudAnd fast Already support the protocol.

According to W3Tech, 22% Among the top 10 million websites use Cloudflare, where you can easily enable HTTP/3 in the dashboard.

enable cloudflare http3Screenshot of Cloudflare Dashboard, April 2022

If you’re unsure what tech stack you’re working with, use BuiltWith or Vapalizer and see if the CDN is listed.

Vapalizer CDN CloudflareScreenshot of Wappalyzer, April 2022

If a site is using Cloudflare and all requests are HTTP/2, you’ve got an easy and effective recommendation.

If implementation via CDN is not possible, a server change is required.

Different implementations are availableDepending on the language used, but not universally adopted by web servers.

Therefore, the feasibility of implementing HTTP/3 is likely to depend on the type of software you are using.

server http3 supportServer HTTP/3 Support, April 2022

Unfortunately, 32% web servers use apache, but it is just to start Working on support due to limited dev resources.

Similarly, enabling the protocol on the node need a solution due to lack of OpenSSL Support,

Windows (IIS) is the latest provider to natively introduce the protocol, but it requires Windows Server 2022 and Windows 11 or later.

wrapping up

HTTP/3 is another important step forward for the web and will provide a much-needed performance boost to support its continued growth.

As SEO and digital marketing professionals, we need to be aware of the benefits that the protocol brings before its imminent publication, so we can start recommending its use and see our users reap the benefits for years to come. can allow.

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Featured Image: VectorHot/Shutterstock

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