We’ve all heard that a faster website is better, but knowing why speed is critical will help you understand why speed optimization needs to be at the top of your To Do list.
The bottom line is that your customers are expecting to be able to navigate pages quickly, and if your website can’t deliver, your bounce rates will skyrocket and conversion rates will plummet. That is, if they were high to begin with—if you are starting with a slow website, the good news is the only way to go is up!
Speed Is Critical in Competitive Markets
In a competitive market, a website that loads in two seconds or less is far more likely to gain visitor conversions than a website with load times of 3+ seconds. Even a one second delay (especially for mobile users) can mean high abandonment rates and losing business to your competitors.
Akamai Technologies, Inc.—a Massachusetts-based technology company specializing in video, dynamic transactions, and business applications—released a study in the summer of 2010 focused on the impact of load times on travel websites. The study found that 57% of online shoppers will wait 3 seconds or less before abandoning a site, with 65% of younger consumers (18-24) expecting load times of 2 seconds or less.
Mozilla published a two-part blog post in 2010 chronicling changes to their landing page speeds(admirably owning up to their terrible load times), and revealing how reducing their load times from 7 seconds to a sub-par 4.8 seconds still increased their conversions by 15.4%. Imagine if they had reduced load times to 2 seconds or less!
Tools for Testing Website Speed
There are a few free tools you can use to test your website and find gaps you can close. Each of the options below will provide you a report (some more helpful and actionable than others). Use all three to get a clear picture of where your site is slowing down so you can take the right steps to fix the problem.
Google PageSpeed Insights
Use PageSpeed Insights for a breakdown of mobile vs. desktop scores, as well as an easy list of actionable items to address. PageSpeed Insights breaks results down into “Should Fix” and “Consider Fixing” categories with links for more information on each topic.
YSlow Browser Extension
YSlow, a Yahoo! project, is available as a browser extension for all major browsers. Install, visit the website you’re evaluating, and run the YSlow tool. YSlow will give you a grade as well as a filterable list of issues related to load times, such as GZip compression, expired headers, HTTP requests, and DNS lookups. Links are offered in each section to provide more information about each topic.
Pingdom’s report is very helpful for more technical users, providing a clear waterfall graph that shows which page elements are holding up load times—however, it may be confusing to new users. It’s a good test to run regardless for comparison’s sake, and it can help you identify any major red flags (e.g. your homepage graphic takes 6 seconds to load, or you are seeing 404 errors for elements on the page) that can be fixed quickly and easily. You can check out the Performance Grade and Page Analysis reports as well for some additional reading over at Google, as well as other helpful summary reports.
Each website has different optimization needs, but as a general rule you want to make sure that your site:
- Is on the right server with the right resources. Share hosting can be inexpensive, but you get what you pay for. You’re running a business — webhosting overhead should be part of your annual technology costs with a reputable webhosting company on a semi-dedicated server (or virtual server) environment.
- Uses a CDN if possible. Loading images, scripts, and other media files via a CDN is an additional cost, but it means additional simultaneous HTTP requests at load time (i.e. faster load times!), as well as loading resources from local servers for each visitor—again, speeding up load times and converting your visitors faster.
- Is free of errors! Visitors experiencing errors, blank pages, or other technical difficulties on your website (especially if they are first-time users) are far less likely to return.
You can still do business on the web without optimizing your website for speed, but why wouldn’t you? Ensuring a speedy, error-free website will help ensure your visitors have a painless, easy experience with your business. Put your best pixel forward and get those load speedsdown< and conversion rates up!