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You know that scene in The Sandlot? The one where Benny laces up a pair of PF Flyers so he can run faster, jump higher and ultimately outrun The Beast. Your site needs to be wearing those shoes.
Not literally, of course, but you get the point because when you consider that 57 percent of viewers leave a Web page if they have to wait more than three seconds for a page to load, it’s obvious that slow site speeds lead to the closing of windows—and lost opportunities to make some dough.
Why is that? Well, consider the steps that normal individuals take when purchasing something online, reading a blog, watching a video, or doing some other activity.
- They search for the product or content they want.
- They find that product or content.
- They click to view that product and content (this is where users expect speed).
- They buy that product, subscribe to the site, or complete the action the site owner wants. The website gets an actual conversion — as long as step three (site load speed) is hassle-free.
So return to step three (where users click to view the content). This is very influential in whether or not a site makes a conversion. Typically, if the site’s slow, users have one of three reactions:
- Some users have so much patience that they should be applauded — slow-clap style. They wait for the site to load and the speed really has no impact on their decision.
- Others get distracted by random thoughts (food in the fridge, their friend’s upcoming birthday party, how the zoo’s elephant house smells, etc). In turn, this leads to them closing the window.
- Another portion gets angry, and makes a point of never going to the site again. This is the reaction site operators do not want. And this reaction is quite common. Think about this: eighty percent of those who experience slow speeds at a certain site never return there again. That should be alarming enough for you to go check whether your site is running as quick as it should be.
Making Your Site as Quick as a Hare
You’ve heard the famous fable about how the tortoise catches the hare eventually. You’ve been told that slow and steady wins the race. Well, when it comes to site speed, that lovely fable is a bunch of crap. User experience and site speed are closely tied together. For your users to be satisfied, they must be able to see what they want quickly.
Of course, adding speed to your site requires a careful balance of understanding, research, and implementation. Assessing needs are also important. The process to getting your site some fast legs goes like this:
- Learn why slow and steady isn’t the way of the Web. It’s fast and steady.
- Understand how your slow site can impact your business. Some stats are so scary you won’t sleep until your site is ready for an Olympic track meet.
- Research what site speed is suitable for you. Not all sites need to be rocketing to the stars, but there are standards to meet.
- Assess your site’s performance. There are many resources to help with this. We use SpeedCurve as it provides continuous feedback and analysis of front-end performance, and even does comparisons with the competition (screenshot below). This lets you easily assess where you can improve and what you need to do to outperform competing sites.
- Implement the changes you need to reach desired Web page speeds. When optimizing your site, place focus on front-end development and ensure the back-end is working properly. Also, consistently monitor your site, as this will help you continually improve performance.
Learn: Slow Site Speed Is Common, But Not Accepted
Slow websites are all too common on the Web. It’s striking how many people, especially those using a mobile device, have experienced slow site speeds. Consider these statistics:
- Six out of every ten mobile Internet users experience at least one issue (crashing, freezing, receiving an error) within a given year.
- Nearly three out of every four mobile users have said they’ve experienced a website that displayed content too slowly.
- One half to two-thirds of online shoppers say that the slowness of such tortoise sites plays a significant role in their decision to abandon the purchase. When you see too much of something you don’t like, that something gets old and frustrating real fast. Don’t be that old and frustrating site.
Moreover, users don’t accept slow site speed. Web surfers want to view information and content seamlessly—regardless of whether they’re on their smartphone or desktop. It’s notable that 47 percent expect to wait less than two seconds. You can’t even pick your nose that fast. But that’s what your consumers want: speed!
That puts pressure on your site to run smoothly and without delay, because 75 percent of people have no problem giving their business to a competitor if your site doesn’t run the way they expect. Loyalty sides with speed.
So a failure to meet expectations can spell doomsday for your site, and while doomsday movies are awesome, doomsday for your business is not.
Understand: Speed Leads to Success
Any website owner knows the value of search engines. Eighty-nine percent of consumers use search engines (especially Google) in some way when they go to buy something online. What does this have to do with site speed?
Well, Google’s site ranking algorithm considers over 200 factors, and one of them is site speed. Hence, slow page speed can spell trouble for your site as potential clients may never even see your page.
This may have you cursing Google, but hey, they know what works and what doesn’t. When doing an experiment on itself, Google purposely reduced search result speed by 100 to 400 milliseconds. The result? A decline in the amount of searches by -0.2 percent to -0.6 percent. So if it can happen to Google, it can happen to you.
In addition to less views, slow speed also affects bounce rates and conversions. If your site has a load time of three seconds and your competitor’s site only has a load time of one second, your bottom line will be far different.
You will have a bounce rate that’s 50 percent higher and you’ll have 22 percent fewer conversions. The slower your site is, the worse those differences get. When it comes down to it, a faster site means a lot, including:
- More visitors
- Happier visitors
- Higher search engine rankings
- More subscribers, more followers and more revenue. That calls for a hooray!
If your site runs like the fastest hare on the planet, folks will be tossing business your way. If you value such things, then you should value site speed.
Research: How Slow is too Slow?
There’s no clear line between what speed is fast for a site and what speed is slow. All you know is that you want people to feel your website is seamless. First, it’s important to figure out at what speed your website’s performance (subscribers, followers, purchases, etc.) is negatively impacted to an unacceptable degree. Then draw the line at that speed.
Research in 2012 showed that sites with pages that took an average of four seconds to load saw a 40-percent decrease in conversions, and those that took six seconds saw a 50-percent decrease. As time goes on, customer expectations will get higher, and slower pages will see even larger decreases in conversions.
Above you read about the difference that one and three seconds in load time makes for conversions. Obviously, you want your site to run as quick as possible, but with certain content forms, pages that load as fast as 100 milliseconds just aren’t possible, especially if video is a big part of your site.
The point is that the content on everyone’s site is different, so a two second load speed might be blazing fast for your site when considering your page content, your friend’s bare bones site might realistically be able to attain a one second load speed.
When drawing the line between what speed is manageable and what isn’t, try the following:
- Identify metrics that are important to you.
- Gather data from pages with different speeds over different time frames.
- Analyze and compare that data and then figure out specifically how speed is impacting your website.
Then you’ll have a tangible site speed goal. But before you go putting this research to work, you need to examine what needs to be tweaked. Resources are available to help, too. Check out this guide from Dan Norris over at WP Curve.
Assess: Why Your Site Isn’t Flying
There’s a lot that goes into running a site. So it could be any number of reasons why your server isn’t as responsive as it should be and why your site isn’t moving at eagle-like speeds. So take some time to inspect what’s going on, and soon your Time To First Byte (TTFB) will be at a desirable speed.
- Too many page redirects are lengthening the HTTP request and response cycle.
- You lack a database index. That equals slower data retrieval.
- Code is too bulky and isn’t optimized and subsequently content is being converted too slowly.
- You are not using a content distribution network and thus your storage data takes too long to travel to faraway visitors.
- You have too many ads. Not only does this increase loading time, it’s also is a turn-off for many visitors.
- Images haven’t been optimized, videos are overused and there are too many icons. All of this can greatly slow a Web page. As images increase in size and numbers, your site has too much to carry and thus decreases in speed.
Knowing that faster pages lead to more conversions should be enough motivation to clean up your site’s pages and improve your site’s overall speed. So go analyze the situation.
One reason for your slow site speed could simply be because you have a Facebook like button on every single page (it downloads 84Kb of data or takes 1.34 seconds to load!). When you consider how much that affects page speed, some social media buttons may not seem as necessary.
Monitor and Implement: Making Sure Your Site Flies as High as It Can Go
After you’ve identified and corrected speed issues and have your site running faster than a cheetah on meth, your visitors are less likely to become distracted or frustrated by your site.
In turn, this leads to a lower bounce rate, more page views per visit, more likes, more subscribers and more purchases. However, while a solid conversion rate is strongly linked to your site speed, the success of your site extends even further.
Users want to see your content quickly—that’s for sure. So you have to ensure your back-end is working smoothly and supports the front-end effectively. But what if that content is utter garbage? What if it’s so unattractive or unorganized that readers get a migraine just looking at it?
It’s estimated that top performing sites spend roughly 80 percent of their time on front-end performance, versus 20 percent on the back-end.
This is because the front-end is crucial toward optimizing site information and making sure visitors are given the best possible experience. So make sure your front-end development is geared toward the user’s experience and that it not only looks pleasant but is also simple, intuitive, and solution-oriented.
Additionally, the front-end must be tested, along with your website’s speed. Doing both synthetic and real user monitoring can provide you with valuable info into how your website’s performance is being impacted by front-end coding and website assets.
Synthetic testing utilizes servers in data centers and provides you with a range of useful data, including a thorough examination of assets, performance waterfall charts and video of the user experience.
Real user monitoring measures real experiences across a diverse geographical area and gives helpful data on key performance indicators.
Therefore, in addition to speed, it’s also important to understand how your front-end and website content is impacting performance. Once you have all the data, optimizing your website—in every aspect necessary—should be much easier.
- Learn why you need to make site speed a priority.
- Understand how your site’s speed can negatively influence your success.
- Research and make a suitable speed goal for your site.
- Assess problem areas. Formulate a plan (think minimizing pictures, creating a database index, optimizing code, etc).
- Continually monitor performance and implement a plan to get your website looking groovy and running like the wind. And enjoy the results.