James Parsons is the CEO of Content Powered, a blog management and content marketing firm. He’s an SEO expert, developer and entrepreneur.
Several years ago, Google created Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP, to help mobile devices browse the internet quickly. They meant it to be an open-source way to speed up the internet and serve content quickly. It could almost be seen as retaliation (paywall) against Facebook for Instant Articles — another speed-enhancing project. Over the last several years, as web infrastructure and code improved, content delivery networks (CDNs) grew more widespread and Google’s attention to page speed metrics grew more sophisticated (such as with Core Web Vitals), interest in AMP has dropped.
One of the biggest problems with an AMP page was the URL. When a web publisher pushed a piece of content via AMP and a user on a mobile device browsed it, the user would see a URL that looked like this:
“Laundering” URLs through Google to gain AMP relevance was at best inelegant, and at worse, actively detrimental to every site other than Google.
A new initiative and technology called signed exchanges, or SXGs, was designed to take its place. SXGs are essentially a single exchange of HTTP call-and-response that includes a cryptographically authenticated data set. This data verifies the integrity and authenticity of a piece of content.
SXGs solve the URL problem by removing the information from the URL instead of sending it through an HTTP exchange. Since the parties involved — the server for the news platform and the server for Google — trust each other, the verification of page integrity is complete. Google can then serve you the news page from their servers. It’s sort of similar to how a CDN works without needing to pull media from different CDN servers.
How Signed Exchanges Help SEO
While the exact ramifications of SXGs on SEO require some technical know-how, the short version is relatively simple. The primary benefit is simply using Google’s servers as a faster method for storing and serving your site content than your servers. You still have to have your content on your servers, of course. However, with SXGs, Google can use their scraped and indexed version of your site to show to visitors, mainly when it would be beneficial to Core Web Vitals and page speed to do so.
Not everyone is given the Google version of your page, and you must opt into using SXGs to take advantage of this benefit. However, as page speed becomes more and more important to Google’s search ranking, the choice becomes clear for many people.
One significant benefit of signed exchanges over AMP is that they’re already gaining more widespread adoption. SXGs were developed in part via a partnership with Cloudflare — hence their similarity to CDNs — and Cloudflare already has a one-click integration option to enable SXGs for a website. Those who don’t have or want to use Cloudflare can still enable SXGs on their site with some custom code.
Are SXGs valuable enough to pursue?
Every time a new technology or search optimization tool is developed, one question stands above the rest: Is it worth using? Some technologies only benefit fringe sites or sites in specific situations, and others have more broad applications. Where do SXGs fall?
In general, signed exchanges promise a broad-spectrum SEO tool with benefits for nearly anyone. However, the most significant benefits will be to sites that directly receive most of their traffic from Google search. SXGs only work when a user visits your site via a referral from another more prominent content distributor that could serve your content faster than you can. Google and Cloudflare are the big ones, but others will likely adopt the technology moving forward.
When it comes to drawbacks for SXGs, organic traffic reporting can be a little squirrely when monitoring analytics. Some visitors can show up under traffic referrals as from your-domain.com.webpkgcache.com, which is the Google cached version of your website hosted on their servers. This will be new to people who want to try this technology for themselves. Additionally, SXGs may not be ideal for websites that are highly dynamic and that change multiple times per day. This is designed for mostly static pages that aren’t changing much, such as blog posts.
Ultimately, SXGs are a low-impact way to boost site speed for some portion of your users. If that’s of benefit to you, then implementing SXGs should be on your radar.