The Internet of the 90s moved about as quickly as a sloth running the London Marathon on a hangover, and that was just dandy. The screech of the dialup connection reverberated through the house and everyone knew what was going down. Grab your shades ’cause you are goin’ surfin’… on the World Wide Web.
But fast-forward 20 years and the environment has changed beyond recognition. People want — nay, expect— lightning-fast load times and a frictionless online experience. What’s more, these expectations only keep rising, as more and more people move online to do their shopping.
For every millisecond you shave off your site’s load time, you boost customer trust and confidence in your site. You sow the seeds that will encourage customers to tell others about your brand and what you do.
Today I’m going to delve into how you can increase conversion rates and turnover by addressing — and optimising — the speed of your website.
The cost of snail’s pace
A slow site impacts your online success in three key ways:
- Conversion: A slow website kills conversions. 47% of customers expect a website to load in two seconds at the very most. 40% will abandon it altogether if it takes longer than three.
- Usability: The load time of your site and its responsiveness to user requests directly impact customer loyalty. It’s pretty straightforward: better site performance → enhanced user satisfaction → increased customer base and brand strength
- Visibility: Google uses site speed as a ranking factor on the search engine results page (SERP). Load time therefore directly affects how easily search engine users can find you. This makes sense: Google wants users of their search engine to have the best possible customer experience, as it directly reflects on the aptitude of Google themselves.
First impressions matter
Let’s say a customer needs whatever it is you’re selling immediately, so they’re willing to not bounce back onto the SERP this time. Sure, you gained their custom on this occasion — but a slow load time can still deter them from a future return.
79% of people wouldn’t return to a site that had previously performed poorly for them. For 52% of people, a short load time actually impacts on their site loyalty. A further 44% would advise their friends against sites on which they’d had a negative user experience.
So what is a good load time?
According to Google, best practice is to aim for a three-second load time between SERP and page. They also said, though, that most sites come nowhere near that mark. After analysing 900,000 mobile ad landing pages spanning 126 countries, Google found that over 70% took almost seven seconds to fully display visual content above the fold.
It wasn’t always the case that Google considered speed when ranking pages on the SERP. This became even more relevant, though, since December 2017, when overall SERP rankings became based on the speed of the mobile versions of pages.
Mobile sites lag behind desktop sites in a number of key engagement metrics, such as pages per visit, bounce rate and average time on site. For retailers this can be particularly costly, because 30% of all online shopping purchases now occur on mobile devices.
On the one hand, then, there’s a lot to do to get your site up to scratch — but, if you put the work in, you’ll be way ahead of the competition. By utilising the benchmarks set by the world’s biggest search engine, you can set goals, measure performance and achieve great success.
Why is my website slow?
Site speed can be impacted by a myriad of issues, but it’s easy to understand the basics without indulging in (much) technobabble.
The typical webpage contains around 100 assets hosted on different servers, sometimes dozens. Many of these assets are, unbeknownst to the site owner, unmeasured, unoptimised and unmonitored. This makes page loads unpredictable and volatile.
By setting a performance budget for each page, you decide how long you want it to take to load (say, three seconds, which then becomes the page’s ‘budget’), then use that standard to prune those elements that are unnecessarily extending load time.
Two-thirds of the ‘weight’ of the average retail page comprises such graphic elements as logos, favicons and product images. The result? A cumulatively slow page load. However, there is so much you can do to fix this. Don’t go deleting your pics just yet!
Consider saving your images as .jpeg files rather than .png. This can cut file size by over 50%. You could also think about compressing your images. The trick with this is to balance size with quality. For a .jpg file, a compression of 60–70% is ideal.
Use a content delivery network (CDN)
A CDN is a set of web servers distributed across several geographical locations, all of them providing web content depending on where each end user is located. Hosting your website on a single server means all user requests are sent to the same hardware, which often leads to a queue. This gets exacerbated when users are physically far from the server.
A CDN, meanwhile, redirects user requests to the nearest server, leading to faster content delivery. Sure, this can cost a bit, but by Jove it’s an effective way of optimising load time!
Reducing load time can make a big difference, and you’ll see that, when you break down what you need to do into three steps; site slowness is not an insurmountable issue!
- Check and evaluate the key factors of site success, considering the following three key factors: conversion, usability and visibility.
- Test your current speed, then prioritise the features and pages that require the most attention regarding these three factors.
- Optimise the elements that are reducing speed the most, then focus on those pages that most define your conversion success.
Still not convinced that speed is important?
In 2006, Google’s SERPs unexpectedly began to load 0.5 seconds more slowly — and traffic promptly dropped by 20%.
When Amazon ran A/B tests to observe the change in user behaviour caused by load delays of just 100 milliseconds, they found significant and costly decreases in revenue.
If the number of shoppers using two of the world’s most esteemed and reputable websites can drop by one fifth because of a delay of half a second — even a tenth of a second — chances are they won’t be hanging around for your site, either.
Let’s turn this around for a moment and consider another huge company — but one who realised the importance of speed and took action. The business in question? Walmart.
Walmart found that users of their site who converted had visited pages that loaded twice as fast as the pages visited by lost leads. After conducting website speed optimisation, Walmart observed a notable increase in both conversions and revenue. For every 1-second increase in load time, the website experienced a 2% increase in conversions. For every improvement of just 100 milliseconds, revenue grew revenue by 1%!
So get your skates on!
Getting your load times where you want them is a challenging endeavour, but it can have a significant and positive impact on your overall site performance. Slowness will cost you money and damage your reputation. Improve your load times and you’ll see better-qualified leads, more return visits, increased conversions, higher engagement, enhanced user experience… need I go on?
As seen in The Drum