WebP Google SEO: “Will I Lose Rankings From JPG to WebP?”

For WebP Google SEO, it’s important to do this if you don’t want to lose rankings when going from JPG to WebP.
SIA Team
November 29, 2021

For WebP and Google SEO, there’s a situation that many people are in: they have a lot of .jpg images. They know that, with WordPress 5.8 adding WebP support, WebP is gaining increased acceptance. 

But, what do they do with their .jpg images? 

Can they safely change them to WebP, without losing rankings?

These are the types of questions that someone like John Mueller, who’s a Search Advocate at Google, may be able to answer, or at least respond to.

And, he did just that. During the English Google SEO Office-Hours from November 26, 2021, at roughly 6 minutes, 41 seconds in, a participant, who said that her site’s traffic was adversely affected by the Core Web Vitals update, posed this question: 

“If I convert from JPEG to WebP, is that going to impact those rankings?”

(The video below is queued to the appropriate position.)

John’s response (edited for clarity) was:

“Potentially. So, what I've seen is [that] some people just use the same image extensions and make them WebP files. And if that works, then that would essentially save you the trouble.

“Because then [if you do that] you just swap out the content, but keep the same URLs and all of that will continue to work. 

“Whereas, if you change the image URLs, or if you change the URLs of the landing pages for the images, then obviously, for image search, that takes a little bit longer to pick up.

“But the thing to also keep in mind is that not all sites get significant traffic from image search. So sometimes, it's something where, theoretically, it's a problem if you make these kinds of changes, and it takes time. 

“But if, from a practical point of view, you get, I don't know...maybe 5% of your traffic from image search, then maybe that's not your highest priority.”

To this, the participant responded: “OK. I get substantially more from image search, so I need to try to get this right.”

2 Approaches to WebP and Google SEO

So, John said 2 things, basically:

  • Keep things as unchanged as possible (if you want the best chance at maintaining rankings). “Use the same image extensions and make them WebP files. 
  • The more you change (URLs, specifically), the more chance you take at losing rankings. 

One Thing John Said That May Be Perplexing

Did John say to use the same image extensions as in, uploading a WebP file (which would normally be the .webp extension), but, instead of using the .webp extension, keep it unchanged (so that, presuming that the WebP image was replacing a .jpg, the WebP file would have a .jpg file extension)? 

I have seen some software play, or open a file that had a wrong extension, but that was because the media was the same (that is, an .png file incorrectly given the .jpg file extension), and the software was able to open various file formats of the same type of media (.jpg, .webp, .png, and other image formats). 

So, if that’s what John meant, then that’s great--assuming that other browsers would be able to open the WebP file.

It’s something to think about. 

So, when it comes to converting from jpg to WebP, a good Google SEO method would be to try to keep as many variables as unchanged as possible. 

Source:  Google Search Central YouTube channel