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Google and the billion-dollar HTML tag

Marissa Mayer, Google's guru of user experience, has found that focusing on speed in Web development can really pay off.

Google's Marissa Mayer reminded Velocity attendees that pretty rounded corners on HTML images are counterproductive if loading speed is reduced.
Tom Krazit/CNET News

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Those who think HTML tags are low-level technology should realize they can have a huge impact on the bottom line.

By finding an HTML tag that allowed Google to offer ads on the right hand side of its search page without delaying page loading times, Google was able to cash in without harming the user experience, said Marissa Mayer, vice president for search products and experience, at the O'Reilly Velocity 2009 conference. There aren't a whole lot of "billion-dollar HTML tags," as Mayer put it, but she spent about 45 minutes Wednesday morning encouraging Web developers to focus on speed.

Google laid the seeds for Mayer's talk Tuesday with the launch of a new Web page that gives Web publishers some help in making their pages load more quickly. Expanding on ideas she presented last year at Google I/O, Mayer told the crowd that "small changes can make a big difference" in how visitors perceive the speed and quality of a Web site.

For example, Google began compressing images in Google Maps, which improved load performance by two to three times for users on slower connections, which still comprise about 12 percent of those who use Google Maps, she said. Likewise, switching from an image version of the Google Checkout shopping cart to an HTML version saved time despite the complicated code needed to properly display the graphic.

As always, Google's goal in sharing these tips with Web developers is to improve the user experience of the Web at large, which Google believes will lead to a greater number of searches on its site, and therefore more money, Mayer said.