To win new website customers—and ensure they keep returning—you have to provide an excellent user experience. The length of time it takes for your website to load its pages is critical.
Research shows that customers who visit a department store are less likely to return if they regularly experience long waiting times at the cash desk when they want to pay for their goods. The same thing applies to online stores, where the average user now expects a website to load in less than two seconds! In many cases, potential customers will abandon a website if the initial load takes just three seconds. These visitors will not return to the website, and they cite page load times as the cause. And, they are also very likely to share their poor experience with others.
Moreover, a one second delay in page load can lead to an overall seven percent reduction in sales. According to Kissmetrics, “If an e-commerce site is making US$100,000 per day, a one second page delay could potentially cost you US$2.5 million in lost sales every year.”
Lawrence Jones MBE, CEO of UKFast, one of the UK’s leading managed web hosting providers says, “Speed is the unknown quantity where people can fall down. Whilst you can build a beautiful website that looks great and you can have the perfect product and efficient delivery, none of that matters so much when people get tired of waiting for a slow site. A slow site, that takes seconds to load, completely undermines all of the other good work—putting speed as one of the absolutely crucial aspects of any online business makes perfect sense.
“We’ve all done it. We type a search term into Google, click on the link, and before five seconds has passed we’re clicking back to try another site. You never get a second chance to make a fast impression.
“Google has worked out that fast sites keep people engaged longer and that people bounce off slow sites, they get bored and click away or go and do something else. Google wants to keep people engaged online. They have focussed on writing fast, optimised code.”
So, it is very important that e-commerce website owners care deeply about page speed. Also, low website speed can also affect your search engine ranking.
Moreover, the increasing number of mobile users accessing your website should indicate to you the ever increasing importance of page speed. Today’s mobile e-commerce users expect a fast-loading, error-free experience when visiting your site and studies have shown that up to 75 percent of users surveyed say that they regularly revisit websites that perform well on mobile devices (1).
Considerations for speeding up your website:
- What kind of hosting service are you using to serve up your website pages? Due to the proliferation of start-ups and personal websites there are an unlimited number of hosting companies offering cheap solutions, often on over-loaded shared platforms. Quality is often an afterthought in the push to reduce hosting costs and a side-effect can often be slow loading web pages.
- Optimise your media! If not compressed efficiently and formatted correctly you may end up with very large image and video file sizes that slow down your web pages. It’s an easy problem to fix when optimising the speed of your website.
- Poorly written code is another major factor in reducing speed. If, for example, your online shop is making multiple requests to your product database when one request should be enough, it will need more time to process each transaction leaving your customers waiting.
- The number of http requests that a web page makes to the server can in many cases have more impact on page load than the actual file size of each webpage element. This has resulted in some very clever techniques that overcome this problem, thereby, reducing the number of requests that a web page makes each time a page is loaded.
- Don’t overuse plugins as they slow down page loading—some of these plugins are unnecessary. In particular, WordPress websites quite often have many additional plugins that need to load before the first page is available to the user. Unfortunately, this is a legacy of WordPress being an open-source with many developers contributing to its growth from simple blogging software to a full-blown content management system (CMS). Indeed, there are many WordPress plugins that perform poorly and contribute to slower page loading.
- Web pages with multiple advertisements tend to be very slow. The advertisements are often making multiple calls back to the affiliate’s host server and this inevitably affects page performance. When websites prioritise advertising over performance, users lose interest and rarely return!
Supercharge your website
Images and video should be used sparingly and they need careful consideration if you are going to use them for conveying important information. Also, all media should be optimised using the latest industry standard compression techniques. This will shorten the amount of time that a user has to wait for assets to download from your website—and if there is a delay in waiting for an image to load, the alternative text that the user sees should contain the most important information.
You may have heard of The Speed Index. This is a way to measure how quickly the different, visible elements of your website render and display. It’s really an abstract measurement for visual incompleteness—100 per cent is a blank screen; 0 per cent is for a fully displayed screen, so it’s not directly measuring the time it takes to render the page. Once you have the percentage you multiply it by the number of milliseconds it takes for displaying the page. You add up both numbers and that gives the Speed Index score.
What you are looking for is as low a score as possible, which is an area that can be tested and optimisation steps can be taken to achieve it. However, you need to be aware that small changes won’t necessarily change much and Speed Index really takes into account the distribution of colour and how that plays in visual completeness of the website. And, importantly, just because you get a nice Speed Index score it does not mean that you are actually displaying compelling content as it cannot distinguish between what is important and what is less important.
Stay on top
In today’s world of internet-ready mobile devices and instantly available goods and entertainment, it is essential to stay ahead of the curve. You must provide your customers with a fast and efficient service at all times. Everyone has multiple options at their fingertips and anything that marks your website business as being less efficient will inevitably mean a loss in revenue. And the damage of a poor website review can be far-reaching and instantly damaging. Therefore, pay attention to page load time. It is a key area for a good user experience, because their expectations are high and if you fail to deliver your business will suffer.
1 Think with Google, “What Users Want Most from Mobile Sites Today”, (2012). https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/research-studies/what-users-want-most-from-mobile-sites-today.html