The world is fast paced these days, and it only seems to be getting faster with new technologies allowing us to get places more quickly, download movies in minutes instead of hours, travel to far shores quicker than ever and generally expect things to happen “right now”.
And this trend is absolutely evident online, where consumers want websites to load fast, whether they are viewing them on their fibre connection at home or out and about on their phone or tablet using a mobile network, whatever they are doing, it needs to be happening fast.
So it's no wonder then that having a slow website is going to annoy the heck out of every visitor, and not only that your chances of turning them into a customer drops rapidly if your site doesn't load quickly. And that's not even taking into account the penalty that you'll get from Google and other search engines before the user even arrives.
People expect things to happen fast online
Here are some facts about what people expect when it comes to their online experience (courtesy of Neil Patel):
47% of consumers expect a page to load within 2 seconds or less
40% abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load
52% of online shoppers state that quick page loading is important to their site loyalty
Granted if you're a well established brand and/or you are providing a specific service, then you are likely to get cut a little slack by customers. But us smaller businesses don't have that luxury, we need to get on-board with optimising our site to ensure the customer experience is great and maximise our chance for success.
Oh, and let's not forget that when people are out and about using their mobile device, they still expect sites to load quickly and while they may be a little more patient, they're still not going to let you get away with taking forever to get the answer they're looking for.
The graphic to the right shows us that:
- 19% of people will abandon a web page if it takes more than 5 seconds to load
- The next 30% will wait up to 10 seconds before leaving the site
Meaning you've lost 49% of visitors if your site takes more than 10 seconds to load on a mobile!
- And 80% of people who arrive at your site will abandon it once 20 seconds have passed… rightly so!
If you want to view the full infographic, then you can access it directly here:
Having a slow website will impact your conversions
Having read through the stats above, this probably seems like a no-brainer, people like things to happen quickly regardless of how they are accessing your website, if they can't then they are more likely to head on over to someone else's website to buy that product or service (or make a booking etc).
But how can we translate this into real, tangible numbers, dollars and cents so to speak.
Well, one of the statistics on the full infographic was this:
A one (1) second delay in page response can lead to a 7% reduction in conversions
So what you may ask, well here's how that equates for your bottom line.
If an e-commerce site is making $100,000 per day, a 1 second page delay could potentially cost you $2.5 million in lost sales every year.
Holy sh*t, can you afford to lose even a fraction of that amount each year.
It's even worse if you're a really big site, with Amazon stating that in their testing, if they slowed down by even 1 second, it'd cost them $1.6B every year.
Now, you're not likely to be in the same league as Amazon, or selling millions of dollars of goods each year, but in my opinion you have even more to lose, as each and every dollar that you miss out in sales is going to have a much larger impact on your bottom-line percentage wise, than it will for these big players.
Let's look at some numbers on a smaller scale shall we?
Imagine you're getting 100 visitors to your website per day and your site is taking 5 seconds to load, according to the statistics above, before you even get to talk about how great your product or service is, you've lost 40 visitors! You've instantly reduced your chances of making a sale by 40%!
Over the course of a week, we're talking about 280 people, in a month, roughly 1,200 and over the course of a year this adds up to nearly 15,000 lost opportunities. If you're conversion rate is 3%, then that's 450 sales you would have made if your site had loaded in 3 seconds or less (on a $100 product or service, that's $45,000!).
Makes you think doesn't it?
How you can test the speed of your website
There are a number of great tools, that are freely available, which can help you to understand how quickly your site loads and this is the first step when it comes to improving the experience for customers.
Page Speed Insights
Google has a great speed testing tool to help you understand how your site is performing and what you can do to make improvements to your website, so you can't say that aren't out there trying to help people make the web a better place (even though their constant algorithm tweaking can be a pain).
And not only do they make recommendations about what changes you can make to improve your site performance, they also give you an indication of which ones are going to have the largest effect, meaning you can concentrate on doing these things first to see the greatest return on your investment.
Check out Page Speed Insights.
Pingdom has a nice, clear and easy to use speed testing tool that can show you how your site is performing from multiple locations around the world. So, if you know that most of your visitors originate from NZ then you can test using location close to where they come from (in this case Sydney).
You get a good set of recommendations for making changes and how your site is currently performing, as well as some useful graphical information about how long it takes for different files to load and other queries to occur. You might be quite surprised how long it can take for certain activities to occur (or even what's being loaded in the first place).
The one thing I find with Pingdom is that it is not as detailed with it's recommendations as other options on this page, so you may find better guidance using one of the other tools if you're looking for specifics.
Check out Pingdom.
I've used the Webpage Test site quite a lot while testing this site and while it may not be as pretty as some of the other options here, it does provide a wealth of information that can be acted upon if you're looking to improve the speed of your website.
The tool also runs multiple tests of your website at once, which can be helpful because the internet is not always the most stable place, so you can see how your site performs “on average” rather than receiving a spectacular result on one test that doesn't really reflect reality.
Check out Webpage Test.
This is another site I've used a fair bit, although it's fair to say I've used all of the ones on this page, I do like the fact you get multiple results and some very specific advise as to how to fix any issues that you find. An example from my experience was the fact that I was loading some script in the wrong order and with GTMetrix it was very specifically identified for me, so I could make the necessary tweaks.
Check out GTMetrix.
So you've done some testing, now what?
There are a number of factors that can impact the speed of your website; from your hosting provider or your choice of CMS, through to whether or not your images are optimised or you are using a Content Delivery Network, so fixing your site speed can be quite specific to your site (i.e. one size does not always fit all).
However, in saying that, here are some areas you can take a look at to see how they affect your site.
Optimise Your Images
There are a couple of aspects to this, the first is ensuring that you are shrinking your images to their smallest possible file size without completing trashing how they look on a screen. The second is using images of the appropriate size for the space they are taking up on the page i.e. don't use a large image when a small one will do.
Starting with the first point. Unfortunately, while most modern image manipulation software does an okay job of optimising images when they are saved, not everyone makes use of the right settings to get the best outcome. You don't need to export your jpgs out at 100% quality because in reality it's hard to notice the different between that and 80%, or sometimes even 50%.
I use a program called Affinity Photo, however Photoshop and other tools will have this option, take a look at how the file size changes dramatically when I lower the quality level of the image I am trying to export.
And this is before you even add in any optimisation when I upload the image to my WordPress site (which automatically optimises them even further using Optimus).
Secondly, you need to make sure that the images you are using are sized correctly for how you will display them. For instance, if I want to put an image on this page that takes up 50% of this central column, that works out to be approximately 450px wide, minus any padding or whatnot.
So, there's no point in uploading an image that's 1000px wide and then shrinking it (using CSS) to only take up 450px, as this forces a user to download a much larger image than required. If you do this a number of times on a single page then you can quickly blow out the page size, which can have a big impact on download speed, especially for mobile users.
Use a caching plugin
This is not specific to WordPress as other content management systems also use the concept of plugins or extensions to add functionality to their website, however for the purposes of this article I am going to concentrate on WordPress as it's pretty popular and what I use on this site.
In simple terms, a caching plugin creates a static version of your website to show to visitors when they land on it. This means that your browser doesn't have to dynamically generate each and every page that you visit, increasing the speed at which the pages are able to load, which in turn increases customer satisfaction.
And while it may seem like you are updating your site with new content and new products (if you sell online), the reality is once the posts or pages are created it's relatively unlikely that they will change again in the future, so serving up a static version of that page is not going to cause an issue.
Even if your pages are updating frequently, you can set your cache to expire meaning if a visitor returns after a specific time period they will download a new version of that page to ensure they see the latest updates. But I suspect that in reality there are many pages on your website that haven't been updated in a long time.
There are a number of WordPress caching plugins available so you'll need to test and do your research. Depending on your hosting setup there may also be plugins that work in tandem with your server, so don't forget to look into how your site is hosted and finding out if there is a specific tool that is recommended.
Use a content delivery network
A content delivery network takes the various assets that are used to make up your website and distribute them across a network of high performance servers, all across the world. This means that your content can be served up by a server that is closest to your site visitor, which can reduce the time it takes to load on their device.
If you have a website with an international audience (which is quite common these days) then being able to serve your content from a network of servers across the globe achieves multiple things, firstly your content is physically/digitally located closer to the end user and yes that does make a difference (it still takes time for data to pass across a network).
Secondly, using a CDN can reduce the amount of bandwidth usage on your hosting platform, as well as reduce the load on your servers overall, so if you're using a shared hosting platform or you have restrictions on the amount of bandwidth you can use each month, this will make a difference.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, browsing the internet these days, everyone expects it to be a fast and pleasurable experience, information should be at our fingertips, not at the end of constant delays and waiting for pages to load. We're all impatient, so we need to ensure we're doing our best when running a business, to provide users with a fast loading website, to satisfy their needs.
I've made some changes to this site recently to improve loading times and in my opinion it's been worth it. While the results of testing vary depending on the site I test on, I'm happy to say I've cut over a second from the loading time of my homepage (over 25% improvement) and I haven't sacrificed anything in terms of the experience (the site uses the same theme, imagery etc).
Yes, I have utilised some more advanced optimisation techniques, like ensuring I am using a fantastic DNS provider, optimising the load order of page assets and using things like lazy loading to reduce the initial amount of server requests and page weight, but they've been worth it (and relatively simple to implement using WordPress).
Whether you use WordPress or not, there are techniques that you can use to make your website load faster, and while it may not seem like it, this will make a difference to your bottom line as your customers reap the benefits of completing their journeys faster (word of mouth can be a powerful tool).
So, take a little time to check out how your site is performing and make a few changes as I advised, and then check out your new results. It can be quite rewarding to watch your page load times go down and your scores on the testing services go up, so enjoy the fruits of your labour.
And of course, if you're running a WordPress site and would like someone to take a look at it for you and make some recommendations, don't hesitate to get in touch and I'll be happy to help. Whether it's making a few small changes, through to a wholesale rebuild of your site for maximum performance, I'm sure it'll be worth it.
Until next time.