25th April 2022

Are your customers ready for WebP images?

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James Gardner
Head of SEO
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What are WebP images?

WebP is the next-generation image format that is taking over from the venerable JPG format.  Typically, a WebP image of the same visual quality as a JPG-compressed image can be 25 – 34% smaller in file size.  Against the lossless PNG format it can be a quarter smaller.

What are the benefits of WebP images?

It is usual for images to constitute the largest element of a web page’s weight.  So, if we can make the image files on a page significantly smaller in size, then we can load the page faster in the user’s browser.

We know that pages that load faster produce higher user satisfaction and higher conversion rates.  For this reason, page speed has becoame a major factor in Google’s Core Web Vitals which became one element of Google’s ranking algorithm from May 2021.  

Any big names pushing WebP?

Google has been the driving force behind WebP and Google’s PageSpeed tool has long been advising websites to “Serve images in next-gen formats. Image formats like WebP… often provide better compression than PNG or JPEG, which means faster downloads and less data consumption”.

snip from Google PageSpeed tool
Source: https://pagespeed.web.dev

In March 2022, the Wordpress Performance Team proposed enabling WebP images by default from WordPress 6.0.  This has caused some consternation across WordPress’ vast user base and now looks like it will be introduced as a user option.

Whilst Chrome has supported WebP since 2014 and mainstream browsers such as Firefox and Samsung following suit more recently.  The laggard has been Apple which finally started to support it in November 2020 on its MacOS platform and Safari browser.   Apple’s support for WebP mean that all major current modern browsers now support WebP as shown in the chart below from caniuse.com   

Chart showing which browsers support WebP
Source: https://caniuse.com/webp

Let’s just check our facts

As an SEO agency we’d love our clients to move to WebP and make their websites faster.  So we decided to carry out research across our clientbase to view how close we are to recommending a migration to WebP images.

Our research covered a range of ecommerce retailers and B2B sites operating in UK and across the EU and US we discovered that 13-25% of visitors in March 2022 are using technology that still cannot view WebP images.  

The vast majority of these are using MacOS v 10.15 Catalina – the last MacOS for the Intel chip architecture.   Although these users are nearly all using Safari 15, they are unable to view WebP due to their operating system’s limitations.   

The first MacOS to support WebP was v11 Big Sur released in November 2020. MacWorld advises that the lifespan of a Mac or MacBook these days is 5 – 8 years.  This means that as an industry we are probably looking at 2025 before we can start to say a slow goodbye to JPG.  Until that time all websites will need to continue using JPG.

But you can start to use WebP now

WordPress 6.0, and likely other mainstream CMSs, will start storing every image as both a JPG and a WebP and serving the most appropriate version depending on the user’s device.

If you are not already using a content distribution network (CDN) to augment your website server, then you probably should be considering it.  They offer many advantages including speed and security.  Cloudflare’s built-in image service ‘Polish’ offers the ability to automatically generate WebP images from a website’s JPGs and PNGs: serving the WebP version if the user's browser supports it (and the WebP image is smaller).    

The future is WebP!

If you would like our help to optimise your website for users and search engines please get in touch today!



Image credits:  image of WebP logo used under CC BY 4.0