In the spring of 2010, search giant Google added a new dimension to its page-rank algorithm: website speed. According to the company’s official statement, “Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there.” Data reported by Mashable indicate 57 percent of users will abandon a site if load times are longer than three seconds; in other words, there’s a measurable need for online speed. How do companies make sure they’re not in the slow lane?
How Fast Is Fast?
Google.com and Yahoo.com often load in a second or less; Amazon.com takes around five seconds; and other e-commerce sites, such as eBay, can take 10 seconds or more to completely load. Using Google’s PageSpeed Insights gives Amazon a score of 87/100 for following the search giant’s “speed rules,” while USA.gov comes in at 71, and Apple’s iTunes website ekes out a meager 66. Bottom line? Under three seconds is the ideal load time, but that isn’t always easy to achieve.
What Affects Site Speed?
Some speed factors are beyond a company’s control; as noted by WebProNews, network infrastructures across the globe mean varied load times in different countries. The average load time for a page in the United States is just over five seconds, while in Mexico, the same page takes around eight seconds. Most speed problems, however, are the result of poorly designed or poorly optimized websites. For example, part of the reason Google.com takes very little time to load is because they’ve simplified the site’s presentation to an image and a text input box. In comparison, Amazon.com contains a host of images and other media, which bog down the loading process.
The NullWords Blog discusses common mistakes many companies make when designing their websites. The first is a lack of indexing. Developers often use a very small data set to test website functionality; this returns great results but isn’t indicative of live-use volumes. As a result, the site slows to a crawl when multiple users simultaneously request data.
Next is caching. Properly implemented caching allows dynamic web pages to reside in server-side memory, greatly reducing load times.
As noted above, loading multiple images can also hamper a site’s performance. To improve speed, it’s a good idea to use CSS sprites, which combine all background images into a single, larger image.
Low Speed, Lower Revenue
It’s easy to talk about why sites get bogged down, but does a slow site really mean monetary loss? Web development firm SmartBear found that a one-second increase in load time could result in 11 percent fewer page views as well as a 16 percent decrease in customer satisfaction and a 7 percent drop in conversions. Applying this one-second rule to retail giant Amazon gives an estimate of $1.6 billion lost every year. And according to Econsultancy, loss isn’t limited to the United States: Slow loading sites in the United Kingdom cost retailers almost $3 billion.
The Mobile Transition
As discussed at Web Performance Today, mobile-website load times are also critical. In 2010, the surge of smartphone users prompted businesses to design mobile, or “M-dot,” sites, which loaded more quickly than a full page on smartphones but didn’t have as much content. Unfortunately, many of these sites still take between four and 10 seconds to load, because users are being redirected from “real” websites to mobile versions.
Ideally, a company’s mobile website should be an optimized version of the desktop version, featuring the same functionality but with the ability to intelligently scale and respond. Achieving this goal, however, means stripping down website load times to their bare minimum or risk losing consumers on the transition to mobile.
Slow website load times mean lower Google rankings along with lost revenue from desktop and smartphone users alike. Getting up to speed means using the right web host and making load times a priority; while a one-second difference doesn’t promise a first-page search result, it improves all aspects of the consumer website experience.
[image: Nabeel Zytoon/Hemera/ThinkStockPhotos]