Speed matters! More specifically, website speed matters to your business.
Sites that load quickly perform better across a range of marketing metrics, whether you look at organic search results, site engagement, or conversions. It may not be the sexiest thing to focus on in your digital marketing, but site speed certainly delivers valuable benefits for your business.
A Forrester Consulting study commissioned by Akamai found that:
- 47 percent of online shoppers expect a web page to load in two seconds or less.
- 40 percent will abandon a retail web page if it takes more than three seconds to load.
- 52 percent say quick page load is an important factor in their loyalty to a site.
- 79 percent who experience a dissatisfying visit (including pages that took too long to load) would no longer buy from that site.
If you’ve ignored site speed up to now, hopefully these stats are waking you up to the importance of a fast website. Although the Forrester study was focused on online retail, site speed is important to the success of your website whether you are a B2B consulting firm, SaaS platform, or socially-minded non-profit.
The study is reflective of the greater online population. After all, no one enjoys sitting around waiting for a page to load. Often the experience results in frustration and a negative brand experience.
Impact on User Experience
Stanford University professors Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass in their studies found that people react to technology identically to how they react to other people. It’s why you feel uncomfortable and awkward if video quality is choppy and slightly delayed in a video conference – regardless that the technology is not human, you react as if it were.
Think about how you operate online. You visit a website, and it’s as if you’re interacting with a person. The site either delights you and gives you some sort of satisfaction, or it frustrates and annoys you. But the reality is that a website is merely bits and bytes. It has no inherent emotion. Regardless, as a human, you react emotionally. This is why, when faced with a really slow website, the interaction can transform into a full-on emotional meltdown.
Many times, as users, people will jump to a competitor’s site when faced with slow loading pages. Or they jump to the search engines. Or they may even just walk away from their computers, frustrated and angry. Regardless, the emotional damage is done, and that negative feeling is then associated with your brand.
Impact on Organic Search Rankings
As you can see, slow loading pages negatively impact the user experience. Now, let’s dive deeper into the benefits of site speed for your business from an SEO (search engine optimization) perspective, as well.
In 2010, Google applied for a patent related to the inclusion of site speed as an organic search ranking factor, and the patent was eventually granted on February 4, 2014 (US Patent 8,645,362). Google also publicly announced in its Webmaster Central blog in 2010 that site speed would play a factor in organic search rankings.
It’s clear that Google cares about site speed. And this focus can be seen in many Google initiatives, from Google DNS to Google Hosted Libraries, Google Fiber, PageSpeed Tools, AMP Project, and Google’s contributions to the latest web performance standards and protocols.
Within Google Analytics, under “Behavior” there are even options for Page Timings, Speed Suggestions, and User Timings. Google is on a mission to make the web faster for users.
The SEO software company Moz ran a study related to speed, and found that the time to first byte (TTFB) is a noticeable ranking factor for Google. Interestingly, though, the study did not find that the actual full load speed had a noticeable correlation on rank.
Although it’s unclear just how significant a factor site speed is on your organic search rankings currently (relevancy is still a more dominant factor), it is clear that it’s part of Google’s algorithm and signs point to load speed increasing in weighting given Google’s extreme focus on speed.
When looking at your site speed, pay special attention to mobile. Mobile users are often on slower internet connections, yet even so, 85 percent of mobile users expect pages to load at least as fast as on a desktop, according to Usabilla.
Last year at the Search Marketing Summit in Sydney, Gary Illyes, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, confirmed that Google would be updating its page speed ranking algorithm to look at a mobile site’s speed independently from desktop speed. (Historically, Google’s algorithm had factored only the desktop site’s speed, even if the mobile site was much slower.)
Google has stated that over 50 percent of searches are from mobile devices, and last year HitWise came out with a report stating that the figure was closer to 58 percent.
For certain industries, mobile represents the vast majority of searches, with mobile representing 72 percent of the searches in the Food & Beverage industry, for example. Given the trend towards greater percentages of mobile computing, expect mobile-specific website speed to play a much larger role in mobile organic rankings moving forward.
Impact on Conversions
UX and SEO are not the only benefits of a faster loading website. As with any business, you want your UX and SEO to lead to conversions, whether you are looking for site visitors to translate into sales, leads, sign-ups, downloads, or any other type of conversion. Here again, page-loading speed can have a major impact on your results.
Consider the following studies
- Amazon and Walmart each increased revenue by 1 percent for every 100 milliseconds of improvement in page load time. (Source: GlobalDots)
- Amazon calculated that a page load slowdown of just one second could cost it $1.6 billion in sales each year. (Source: FastCompany)
- A two-second delay in load time during a transaction results in abandonment rates of up to 87 percent. (Source: Radware)
- Making each page in a transaction two seconds faster results in more than double the number of completed transactions. (Source: Radware)
- 51 percent of online shoppers in the U.S. say that site slowness is the top reason they’d abandon a purchase. (Source: Brand Perfect)
- Mobile pages that are one second faster experience up to a 27 percent increase in conversion rate. (Source: SOASTA)
- The Telegraph, a British publication, measures its conversions in terms of page views. It found that a four second delay reduced page views by 11.02 percent, while an eight second delay reduced them by 17.52 percent. (Source: Optimizely)
- For every incremental improvement in site speed that Intuit achieved, conversions increased. Conversions increased 3 percent for every second reduced from 15 seconds to 7 seconds in load speed; 2 percent for every second reduced from 7 to 5 seconds; and 1 percent for every second reduced from 4 to 2 seconds. (Source: Norberth Danson, full-stack senior software engineer at Intuit, at Velocity 2013)
Optimizing Your Site Speed
To speed up your website, there are a number of techniques that can typically be applied, no matter the site. Some of these general techniques include:
- Use a fast web host. For WordPress websites, WP Engine is lightning fast.
- Use a CDN (Content Delivery Network), which is a network of distributed servers that deliver web content to a user based on geographic location, providing a higher degree of availability and performance for accessing web content.
- Reduce the number of HTTP requests. When someone visits a web page, the web browser pings the web server, requesting the files that make up the content for the respective web page. When the server responds with the requested files, the browser renders the content on the page. The browser makes a separate HTTP request for every file on your page. The more files on the page, the more HTTP requests, and consequently the longer your site takes to load.
- Optimize images. Large file size of images is one of the most common impediments with page load speed. Make sure you minimize the file size without reducing image quality too much. You want small image files but you also want to avoid an amateurish-looking website.
- In the case that you have many images on the page, use lazy loading of the images. Lazy loading delays the display of images, where the images will not load (ideally fading in rather than just suddenly appearing) until the user scrolls down to their location on the page.
- Minimize the number of plugins used, and for the ones installed, switch off the plugins that are not in use.
For more optimization information and for a list of Google’s speed rules, check out Google PageSpeed Tools resource center.
Analyzing Site Speed
Although the general recommendations listed above are a great place to start enhancing site speed, you’ll benefit by uncovering the specific page load impediments slowing down your own site so that you can take corrective actions customized for your own situation.
To that end, there are a number of tools that you can use to analyze the site speed of your own website and to retrieve corresponding optimization recommendations for fasting loading pages, including: