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Addressing Google's Mobile Update - How Akamai Optimizes Mobile Performance

Last week, Google officially rolled out its mobile friendly update, which "boosts the ranking of mobile friendly pages on mobile search results." A long time in the making, the update is a response to the increasingly mobile world we live and work in. This update underscores Google's focus on mobile customer experience. For companies scrambling to respond to this development, fret not. Akamai, the leader in optimizing mobile performance, is here to help. In this post, I'll discuss what drove Google's focus toward customer experience, identify a solution considered a Google best practice, and highlight the specific ways Akamai can provide a seamless experience across devices that meet consumers increasing performance expectations.
So, what led to Google's focus on mobile customer experience? I discussed several mobile and retail data points in a previous blog post that display the ubiquity of mobile device, so I'll only key in on a few here that really drive the point home.

  1. 93% of users who research a product or service on mobile go on to purchase (Google)
  2. 66% of e-mails are opened on mobile devices (Moveable Ink)

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  3. The amount of shoppers who made a purchase on a mobile device increased 2.5x from 2009 to 2014 (Akamai 2014 Consumer Web Performance Expectations Survey)

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  4. 1/3 of all requests on Akamai's Intelligent Platform are from mobile devices, with asset requests growing 1% a month.
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The increase in mobile use has not happened without some growing pains, however. Sites designed for desktop users are often difficult for mobile users to utilize requiring pinching and zooming which leads to poor customer experience. To further complicate the issue mobile networks were primarily designed to carry voice and the performance for data can be slow or impacted negatively due to high network latency (the time delay between requests and responses) and packet loss compared to broadband networks. The affect on users is real: mobile users are 15% more likely to have a dissatisfying experience than desktop users, and are least likely to return to a website where they had a dissatisfying experience (Akamai 2014 Consumer Web Performance Expectations Survey).

Google laid out the groundwork for how to help make sites more mobile friendly when it officially recommended webmasters employ Responsive Web Design (RWD) and deemed it an industry best practice. Though I've touched on RWD in past blog posts, I would be remiss to not cover it at a high level. RWD operates on a single code base, so the same HTML is delivered to all devices, and CSS is used to render the display depending on device characteristics. However, while RWD is a great solution to the display portion of the user experience problem, it can negatively impact performance in the form of over downloading, specifically on mobile.

RWD downloads all of the content on a page even things that may be hidden via CSS, which could end up downloading a lot of unnecessary content. Compounded with the issues facing mobile networks mentioned above, the performance losses can be significant, as are the impact they have on end user experience. Don't just take it from me - Google has made it clear that it's not all about being mobile friendly, mobile performance will be a key factor as well. They are currently testing the "slow" tag, which will mark slow performing websites with a red tag to serve as warning for users.

It's not all doom and gloom - Akamai has the experience and expertise to solve your mobile woes. In fact, Akamai serves more mobile traffic that any of our competitors serve in total. We accomplish this in two primary ways, 1) Performance optimizations that provide fast, quality experiences across devices, and 2) Akamai's unique platform positioning inside mobile operators - Akamai is connected to 99% of all the mobile networks globally - that make these optimizations even more effective. I like to think about Akamai's performance optimizations into main categories - acceleration and optimization. Akamai's acceleration capabilities focus on improving the responsiveness (read: speed) for mobile experiences over both Wi-Fi and cellular networks. Optimization is focused on delivering the right experience for each type of mobile device and browser, specific to device characteristics and network connection.

Let's go deeper into just a few of the ways Akamai can help you optimize your customer experience on mobile:

  • Akamai's caching optimization improves cache ability of content by enabling multiple versions of an object to be cached. Akamai's edge servers deliver the correct version based on incoming device characteristics, meaning a faster and more targeted response for the end user.
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  • Akamai's automated Front End Optimization streamlines and speeds up existing web content in real time. A range of techniques are used to reduce requests, reduce bytes, and accelerate rendering, and Akamai's FEO analysis engine determines appropriate optimizations given the content and device, which the edge server applies dynamically by request.
  • Akamai's Enhanced Protocol detects high-latency, high-packet loss environments and adjusts TCP parameters accordingly. It also allows for HTTP pipelining, enabling multiple requests to be made over the same connection reducing delays from multiple round trips on mobile networks.
  • Akamai's Device Characterization deciphers characteristics of requesting devices, such as such as screen size, GPS for location-based services, JavaScript, and more, from the browser's user agent. This information is then used to make real-time decisions to deliver unique pages depending on the category of device, providing improved user experience and reduced page weight.
  • Adaptive Image Compression adjusts compression parameters in real time based on changing end user network conditions, delivering the optimal balance between image quality and download time. This way, users enjoy high quality images when network conditions are good without suffering from slow performance when conditions are poor.
  • Akamai's Image Converter Cloudlet reduces infrastructure investment by dynamically manipulating image dimensions, format, crop, and more in the cloud, tailoring images for specific use cases to provide rich, scalable web experiences to end users.
So there you have it. While Google's mobile update means big changes for mobile delivery, Akamai has you covered. We're here to help guide you through this, and future developments in our increasingly mobile world. Learn more here and stay tuned - I'll discuss additional Akamai optimizations that provide end-users with high performing web experiences on any device, anywhere, in future blog posts.

Jason Miller is Akamai's Chief Strategist of Commerce