Customers Hate Slow Websites. Here’s How to Fix Them.

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One second. That’s how fast people expect a website to load and expectations are only growing, said Josh Koenig, chief strategy officer for the web platform company Pantheon. Yet, it wasn’t that long ago that website speed was a luxury. 

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Koenig still remembers the days, just 10 or 15 years ago, when websites would slow to a crawl or crash because there were too many users on the server. Or before that, when people would wait 10 minutes for their dial up to connect just to check AOL.

But today, users expect near instantaneous load times whether they’re browsing on their phone or desktop thanks to the advancements Amazon and Google have made in web speed, Koenig said. They may stick around for up to three seconds for the images and text to slot into place, but anything more than that and impatience sets in.

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3 Quick Ways to Improve Your Website Speed

  • Optimize your image sizes. High-resolution images can take up a lot of resources that slow your website down.
  • Eliminate old JavaScript tags.
  • Remove old, third-party plugins. Even if you aren’t using a third-party plugin, it’s still one more thing that your website has to load.  

It’s not just a bad user experience that’s on the line when it comes to running a slow website — it can also impact a company’s brand and revenue. Waiting for a slow website to load is as stressful as watching a horror movie, according to a 2016 report from telecommunications company Ericsson. 

And in a survey of 1,250 people, half of the respondents said they would abandon their shopping cart on an e-commerce website if it takes longer than six seconds to load a page, according to digital.com, a small business software review website.

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Still, it’s not easy to build a fast webpage that can compete with the likes of major companies like Amazon or Google. For many companies, just how fast is fast enough?

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The Need for Speed

There are two primary developments that have led to the arms race for impossibly fast websites: Amazon and the rise of speedy online shopping and mobile browsing.

Whether it’s reasonable or not, people subconsciously expect all websites to be as fast and responsive as Amazon, Koenig said. Meanwhile, people browsing on mobile devices don’t have the attention span to stick around for a website that isn’t instantaneous.

So, what does fast mean in today’s world? More than half of respondents (53 percent) in digital.com’s survey reported that they expect a website to load in one to three seconds. And slightly more than 50 percent of people surveyed will abandon a website if it takes longer than six seconds.

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When websites fail to live up to those expectations, it can also significantly impact the company’s reputation. In fact, 45 percent of respondents in digital.com’s survey said companies with a slow website left a negative impression on them.

“It lowers the trust scores because people are so used to a fast checkout that it could seem a little unprofessional if the pages don’t load quickly.”

A speedy browsing experience is now synonymous with professionalism, trust and security, according to Huy Nguyen, who works as the digital marketing executive at digital.com. When an e-commerce page takes too long to load, people start to worry about whether or not the company is reliable. They wonder just how protected their data is and question the business’ ability to deliver products on time if they can’t afford a fast website.

“It lowers the trust scores because people are so used to a fast checkout that it could seem a little unprofessional if the pages don’t load quickly,” Nguyen said. “It damages the reputation of the brand, and … customers may recommend it less.”

A realistic goal for most companies should be no longer than three seconds, Koenig said.

“Reacting within one second is a pleasant user experience. I clicked the thing and I got the thing,” Koenig said. “Once you hit 10 seconds, you’ve lost everybody. People have either stopped waiting for your thing to load, swiped it away or they opened another browser tab and started another task.”

More on ProductWhat Are Vanity Metrics? How Can You Make Sure Your Company Isn’t Using Them?

 

Prioritize a Fast Homepage

First impressions are everything when it comes to browsing the web, and few experiences can derail a customer’s perception of a company like a slow homepage.

Imagine for a moment that you’re scrolling through Instagram and you stumble across an advertisement for winter boots, Koenig said. You just happened to be looking for boots (thanks personalized ads), and you click on the link, only for the page to take several seconds to load.

Maybe you wait, but more likely, you’re going to abandon that page and find another winter goods store, Koenig said. All of the money spent on building a social media presence is wasted because of a slow first page.

“If that didn’t work right away, then I’d be like, ‘Ugh, whatever. I’m bored,’ or, ‘This doesn’t seem credible’ … That first impression is a credibility marker.” 

“If that didn’t work right away, then I’d be like, ‘Ugh, whatever. I’m bored,’ or, ‘This doesn’t seem credible,’” Koenig said. “That first impression is a credibility marker.”

Once you get someone browsing your website, your secondary pages can have two- or three-second load times. But the homepage should be as fast as possible, as it sets the browsing expectations.

The best way to have a fast homepage is to take a page out of Google’s book and streamline your content. The fewer images and text you have to load, the faster the page speed. Still, not every company can rely on their brand name and a barren background to capture users. They still need some content and images to establish their brand.

But there are a few areas that may be slowing down your webpage speed that often get overlooked: image sizes, outdated JavaScript tags and expired third-party plug-ins.

 

Optimize Your Image Sizes

One of the biggest mistakes Nguyen sees e-commerce companies make is failing to optimize their product photography for the website. They take detailed, high-resolution images and upload them directly into their content management system.

Not only are the files too large to display properly on the website, but the images are also huge resource hogs slowing down your website, Nguyen said. Optimizing your photo resolution is an easy way to cut down on load times.

It’s also worth considering how many images and videos you need to include on your homepage. Even if the files are optimized, it can take a while for them to load. Consider putting some of those detailed images on a secondary page and caching them, Nguyen said.

 

Eliminate Old JavaScript Tags

On any given website, Koenig estimates that there are typically 30 or 40 JavaScript tags running at any one time. Some common tags include Google Analytics, heat mapping to see where customers spend the most time on a page, a customer data tracking application, pop-ups and infinite scroll.

Some of these tags give the company important user data, but they also come at the cost of web speed. If you’re a UX leader taking charge of an existing website or perhaps working on an existing one, Koenig suggests running an audit of those tags.

Often, you’ll come across tags that have accrued over time and are no longer applicable to the current website, Koenig said. It could be one tied to an advertising network that’s no longer in use but hasn’t been cleared from the codebase. Those tags don’t do anything but bog down load times.

 

Reduce Plug-Ins

Another common drain on web speed are third-party API plug-ins. Platforms like WordPress or Shopify provide an extensive marketplace of these plug-ins to allow users to customize and improve their website.

While some of these plug-ins can be helpful — like adding a search bar or PayPal for easy checkout — Nguyen often sees companies get carried away with downloading free trials and experimenting. As a result, they often end up with a backlog of plug-ins that are disabled but still take resources to load.

Take the time to sift through your plug-ins and prune the weeds.

More on Web SpeedHere’s Why SEOs Shouldn’t Worry About Google’s Page Experience Update

 

Find Your Optimum Speed

So, how fast should your website be?

While one second remains the user benchmark for a fast website, it’s not always a feasible goal. Website speed requires a leaner build and often comes at the cost of content or data tracking that a company relies on to grow its customer base, Koenig said. Context also matters. If you offer a unique product or conduct a complicated service — like an energy website — web speed isn’t as important because users don’t have another option.

For everyone else, however, Koenig recommends targeting at least a two-second load time — “especially if they’re optimizing around engagement metrics,” Koenig said. At that point, the customer experiences the website largely in real time. Any faster requires a lot of work and doesn’t drive much value, Koenig said.

“You don’t have to be Amazon or Facebook or Google with those resources to do a really good job … It comes down to making it a priority.”

“You don’t have to be Amazon or Facebook or Google with those resources to do a really good job,” Koenig said. “It comes down to making it a priority — thinking about it as a business priority not just a technology thing and finding out what it does cost to do it well.”

Still, a fast website can have a large impact on the company’s bottom line. In fact, 15 years ago, Amazon found through A/B testing that for every 100 milliseconds of latency, it cost them 1 percent in sales. That’s only proven to be more true today.

Web speed is also an integral factor in Google’s SEO rankings, which drives traffic to your website. When evaluating the speed of your website to maximize its SEO reach, it’s important to take into account:

  • The time it takes between the first click and when the user sees content.  
  • The time it takes for the full website to be accessible. Companies will often defer loading images or features like infinite scroll to speed up their initial load time, Koenig said. If too many features take too long to load, Google will ding your website.
  • The amount of content that moves. The more pop-ups or images that move around on your page after the initial load, the lower Google will rank your website.

“If you can nail all those, then you’ve got a really good user experience,” Koenig said. “But you start with the first. If you can’t deliver something quick, then they’re not going to stick around to see what comes afterwards.”

Web optimization tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights can help you see where you rank in speed compared to your competitors, and customer surveys can help you see just how much web speed is affecting your customers.  

Ultimately, it’s not easy to build a fast website. It’s important to set realistic goals and experiment. Koenig suggests setting a time budget. If your goal is three seconds and you come in at 2.5 seconds, experiment with how you want to use that extra half-second. Maybe you add more content to engage users or implement another data tracking tool.

Just don’t overlook the importance of a fast website — your customers aren’t.





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