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Posted by Graeme Wilkinson on 29 July 2015

Find out why website speed matters - and the steps you can take to improve your site

Why does speed matter?

A queue of people

It’s pretty simple really; nobody likes to wait, for anything, ever! When people are forced to wait for something, especially when they can’t see a reason for it they start to get annoyed.

Think about it, have you ever called a family member or friend and had to wait for them to answer. If they haven’t answered after 3 - 4 rings you start to wonder why, 4 - 8 and you start think it’s on purpose and if it goes to voicemail; well, we’ll just leave it there.

Apply this to your website and you are giving your customers a really easy reason to go straight to a competitor. 

The stats back this up - according to surveys done by Akamai.com and Gomez.com, 47% of web users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less, and 40% will abandon a site that takes more than 3 seconds to load.  With 79% of web shoppers saying that they won’t return to a site if they have performances issues and around 44% telling a friend if they had a poor experience shopping online it’s evident that website speed issues have serious consequences with regards to loss of sales.  Your business isn't just losing conversions from site visitors, but also future business through negative word of mouth as unhappy users spread news of their poor experience. 

The issue of potential lost sales is illustrated by the fact that ecommerce giant Amazon has calculated that a page load slowdown of just one second could cost it $1.6 billion in sales each year - a fairly scary statistic...  

Testing and measuring

So how do you test and measure your site’s load time while squeezing every drop of performance out of your website? Here’s how:

How do I know if my website is slow?

The obvious method is to simply go to your website, load a few pages and get a general feel of how quick your website is. However, this can be misleading as there are hundreds of factors than can lead to a slow website, some of which may be unique to you alone.

What you ideally want is a number of samples from various locations over a period of time as this will give you a much better idea of the overall speed of your website. Doing this manually is time consuming and probably impossible unless you have unlimited air miles, but luckily there are plenty of tools available that you can use. Here are two we use at Status.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics screengrab

Under the Behaviour -> Site Speed -> Page Timings area you can find a timings data for all your pages, be careful however as Google Analytics only samples 1% of your traffic so the results can be a little misleading unless you configure it differently (see SiteSpeedSampleRate)

Pingdom Real User Monitoring (RUM)

Provides both mean and median averages for the speed of your website over various periods than can be broken down by pages, browser, country and others. You simply add a JavaScript snippet to your website and it does the rest.

What makes a website slow?

Pretty much everything affects the speed of your website and it's not always constant either, the speed of a website will change hour by hour, day by day; but generally there are 3 key factors:

  • Implementation
  • Infrastructure
  • Customers

Implementation

This is how the website is built; it’s the code and content used to get your message across to customers. The choices that designers and developers make during the implementation will affect the speed of your website, ranging from the algorithms a developer uses to what imagery is chosen by visual designers.

Infrastructure

Where and on what you host your website. Again the choices are staggering: shared or dedicated hosting, single server or web farm, cloud or no cloud, CDN, caching and location. All of these can affect the speed of your website.

Customers

Believe it or not, your customers even affect the speed of your website. The mobile device/browser and its connection to the Internet can make someone think your website is slow, they certainly won’t blame their 3 year old smartphone which is being used in a tunnel.

What can I do about it?

There is almost an unlimited amount of tweaking you can do to improve the speed of your website but ultimately it comes down to cost and potential gain, measured against the business objectives of your website. We would advise looking to improve the following 3 areas:

  • Implementation
  • Infrastructure
  • Content

Implementation

Run a page on your website through Pingdom Website Speed Test, it can give lots of recommendations on how to implement things differently to improve performance. The suggestions are all based on industry best practice and should generally be followed by your developer.

Infrastructure

Switch to a dedicated server, upgrade your server, introduce a Content Delivery Network (CDN) or cache content that does not need to be dynamic (for example once published how often does a blog article change?).

Content

Look to reduce the size and amount of content on a web page, are you using large images that could be significantly smaller? Consider your use of images throughout your website - for instance if using an image carousel - do all of the images get viewed by visitors? If not remove them as there is no need to make visitors download content they are unlikely ever to see.

Advice

Before you race off to your developer or hosting provider and ask for lots of changes to your website we would suggest you put some monitoring in place and review the performance of your website regularly, taking the time to identify where you can make changes and how much an improvement they would deliver – for instance investing in development time to merge all your website’s CSS into a single, compressed file might not actually be necessary, it makes sense to explore other options first such as replacing large images with smaller ones and assessing the performance.

If you need any advice on website speed issues then please do get in touch

Reading list 

And if you would like to explore this topic further why not take a look at the following:

Comments:

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