Long gone are the days of dial-up internet, when you would sit twiddling your thumbs waiting for a website to load, and when it finally did you had to get off the internet because someone needed to use the phone.
Nowadays, as people are increasingly time-poor and impatient, we demand immediate results. Whether it’s reading a news article, purchasing clothes or paying a bill, the expectation is the instant ability to do so. Any friction in the process means the user grows frustrated and often abandons the site.
So, What is a Good Page Load Time?
It varies from industry to industry, but a good rule of thumb (and the figure often given by Google), is that under 3 seconds is optimal. The further from that you get, the more severe the impact. In fact, 53% of mobile site visitors leave a page if it takes longer than that to load.
Despite this, in 2018, the average load time for a mobile landing page was a sluggish 15.3 seconds. Clearly, there is still a great deal of room for improvement.
However, improving page load speed is frequently overlooked in favour of more tangible site enhancements such as page design, SEO, paid advertising and social media. The impact of page speed has often been underestimated, but it’s important to understand the effect it has across all aspects of digital performance.
Page Speed Impact on SEO
A digital media buying agency starting a list with SEO? Stick with us. It makes sense.
In 2010 Google announced that site speed would be factored into their search rankings. While the algorithms Google uses to rank sites are a closely guarded secret, it does seem that site speed has become an increasingly important factor since its introduction.
The simple fact is that sites with fast page speed can expect an SEO boost, while those with slow loading times are penalised or not ranked at all. Google indicated that the inclusion of page speed was to improve user experience, although it also points out that increasing site speed reduces operating costs.
In July 2019 this went one step further when Google announced they would be moving to mobile-first indexing. The change was made because most online browsing is carried out on a mobile device.
But what if you’re a B2B site and the majority of your traffic and leads come from desktop? Well, we have some bad news; it doesn’t matter how fast or optimised your desktop site is, if your mobile site is slow it’s going to negatively impact your ranking.
Page Speed Impact on Paid Search
So, if your page speed is slow - meaning you can’t rank well organically - you can just use paid advertising to avoid the issue, right? Wrong!
Website speed is also an important factor in PPC, as it makes up a major component of quality score. One of the elements that impacts keyword quality score is ‘landing page experience’. Therefore, a slow-loading page will negatively affect your score.
All of this means that as well as paying more for each click, you are unlikely to work your way into those coveted top positions in the SERPs. And if the quality score is too low your ads won’t be eligible to show at all.
Page Speed Impact on Social Media Ads
Unsurprisingly, Facebook favours a positive user experience too, and in 2017 they announced they were tweaking their news feed algorithm to take into account site speed (John Loomer, 2017) and prioritise pages that load faster. This means that, among other factors, how fast your web pages load will determine how high up the page your ads show.
Page Speed Impact on User Experience
This is probably the single most important factor when looking at the issue of site speed. As discussed above, the fundamental reason site speed is valued across paid and organic mediums is the impact it has on overall user experience.
So, what happens when a user does click onto your site and experiences slow page loading?
Not only is a high bounce rate an issue (generally speaking), in that a user is leaving your site without viewing more than one page, it also has a knock on effect on SEO and paid search.
If a page has a high bounce rate it’s likely that users don’t find it useful, which directly affects organic performance. In fact, in 2017 Google carried out research looking at how page load speed impacts bounce rates:
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that if a user is bouncing off your site then they likely aren’t converting. However, if they do get beyond that landing page, how do slow loading pages affect your conversion rate?
Well, research by Google found that conversions dropped by 12% for every second of load time. Similarly, Akamai carried out research in 2017 which discovered that a 1 second delay in load time decreased conversion rates by 70%!
Additionally, each slow loading page a user must get through increases the drop off rate - the longer it takes the more time they have to change their mind about that purchase or enquiry.
Most websites want returning visitors, but this is most prevalent for eCommerce websites. According to research by Business Insider, returning customers have lower bounce rates and higher conversion rates than new customers and represent 48% of all transactions.
If a user has a bad experience on a website the likelihood of them returning in the future is low. In fact, 79% of web shoppers who experience problems with a website’s performance say they wouldn’t return to the site. This could mean a significant amount of lost revenue.
8 Ways to Improve Website Speed
It’s clear that website speed is of paramount importance and could directly affect the overall success of your website. But what can you do about it?
1. Benchmark Current Performance
First things first, you need to benchmark your website’s current performance. There are several online tools you can use to find out, these include Pingdom, GTMetrix and Google’s own Page Speed Insights.
The results should give you some clear indications of where improvements can be made in order to speed up your load time.
2. Enable Compression
3. Optimise Code
4. Optimise Images
Ensure you are using the correct file formats (PNGs for graphics and JPEGs for photographs) and that your images are no larger than they need to be. It is also important to make sure images are web compressed, this way you reduce load time without compromising image quality.
5. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
CDN’s are a highly distributed network of servers that help to minimise delays in loading web page content by reducing the physical distance between the end-user and the server.
Essentially, copies of your website are stored at multiple geographical locations so that users can have faster and reliable access to your site.
These are essentially files that stop a web page from loading as fast as possible, as they must be downloaded and processed by the browser before the page can be displayed. Google offers recommendations on removing or minimising their use.
7. Reduce Redirects
Every time a page redirects to another page it adds additional waiting time for the user by slowing your page load.
8. Improve Your Server Response Time
The optimal server response time is under 200ms. It is affected by the amount of traffic your site receives, the resources each page uses, the software used by your server and your hosting solution. Common issues include slow routing, lack of memory and slow database queries. You can learn more about how to optimise response time here.
Site speed can have a major impact on user experience and the overall success of a website. Consumers are demanding a fast and frictionless browsing experience and page speed is not an issue that should be pushed down the list of priorities when it comes to optimising a website.
If you’d like to chat to one of our conversion optimisation experts, well versed in the trials and tribulations of website speed, just get in touch and let us know what the issue is.