Why website speed matters

Why website speed matters

Sarah Miles

Sarah Miles
5th July 2017

Do you remember how frustrating it was when slow dial-up was the only way to connect to the internet? The noise was rather annoying too. Most of us can now take super-fast connectivity for granted, but this doesn’t mean you should be complacent about the speed of your own site.

Contrary to belief, site speed is separate from internet speed and is something that site owners can and should look to optimise.

In today’s article we’ll look at

1. Speed is a ranking signal

Google examines hundreds of different elements belonging to your site in order to determine where it should appear in search engine result pages (SERPs). Not only does it measure things like relevance, it also measures quality by assessing the number of backlinks and technical performance, such as speed.

Back in 2010, Google announced that mobile speed was to become a ranking factor that could either improve or hinder your site’s ability to rank highly. Because Google is quite literally obsessed with ensuring that it serves only the most relevant pages that also provide a great user experience, it made the decision to factor website speed into its algorithm, penalising thousands of sites that didn’t hit the mark.

2. Speed impacts performance

It is proven that speed and performance are linked:

  • Data by Alexa showed that pages from a fast-loading site ranked significantly higher than pages from slow-loading sites
  • Kissmetrics found that 52% of online shoppers say that page load speed is important to customer loyalty
  • Firefox reduced its page load time by 2.2 seconds which increased downloads by 15.4%

Additionally, poor load speeds negatively impact performance and conversions:

  • Walmart reported that conversions declined dramatically when page load time increased to 4 seconds
  • Amazon famously reported that a slowdown in page speed by just 1 second could cost them $1.6 billion in lost sales each year
  • 79% of dissatisfied customers will not revisit an underperforming site

3. Slow loading times can increase bounce rate

Bounce rate is defined as being the percentage of visitors that navigate away from your site after viewing one page and can be measured in Google Analytics.

There are a number of different influencing factors, including poor design, lack of call-to-actions (CTA), intrusive adverts and yes, you’ve guessed it, website speed.

Compass conducted in-depth research into the correlation between bounce rate and page load speed and found that bounce rate increases to 50 percent when a page takes just 2 extra seconds to load. They also suggested that because bounce rate is only measured once a page has fully loaded and then exited, the actual abandonment rate is likely to be much higher.

Kissmetrics also reported that 40% of users will abandon a site that takes more than 3 seconds to load and a study by Search Engine Land shows that the probability of bounce rate can increase by 123% if a mobile page takes up to 10 seconds to load.

The obvious implications of having a poor performing website is that people will simply abandon your pages which could impact on your ability to achieve sales, retain customers or even attract subscribers.

Additionally, some SEO experts argue that bounce rate is measured and considered by Google as a ranking signal so, sites with a lower bounce rate could rank higher in SERPs.

4. Customer expectations

SEO concerns aside, website users, have extremely high expectations when it comes to site performance, and this is demonstrated by a Kissmetrics study which reports:

  • 47% of customers expect pages to load within 2 seconds or less
  • And only 16% percent are willing to wait up to 5 seconds for a mobile page to load
  • 44% would a report a poor experience to a friend

5. Mobile speed is even more important

Mobile use now accounts for over 50% of all searches, a trend which has led to Google making two significant changes:

1.  In 2015, Google began to reward mobile-friendly sites making them more visible. This was known as Mobilegenddon. Although the effects of Mobilegenddon were not as dramatic as the name suggests there were a number of major sights that reported a temporary drop in rankings, while other sites with better mobile sites improved.

2. Mobile First indexing is a more recent update which ranks and indexes sites based on the site’s mobile version – no matter what device is being used for the search. This update reiterates Google’s dedication to enhancing the user experience for mobile users which is why site owners should follow suit.

Although these updates don’t just consider mobile speed – design and usability are important too – Google is constantly emphasising the importance of speed on not just user experience but, as a ranking factor too. This can be demonstrated by their AMP project which looks to accelerate mobile pages by allowing them to load quickly.

How to test your speed

There are a number of great, free tools for testing website and mobile speed, including:

Tips for increasing website speed

In light of how much website speed matters, there are some things you can do to improve your site’s speed and how fast it performs on mobile devices. You might need to speak to your website developer for some of these tips.

1. Simplify page templates

Remove any unnecessary plugins, tracking codes, advertisements and on-page widgets. All these will eat into your page load speed.

2. Compress images

Large images can take a long time to load, but there are several things you can do to optimise images to improve loading speed.

  • Resize images for the web design: Many web builders or WordPress themes will specify image sizes for headers, personnel photographs, internal post images etc. Look through the documentation for your template and resize images to match the dimensions given, as supplying images larger than the recommended sizes will certainly add to loading time.
  • Compress images: Although there is no definitive rule about file size, images should be compressed using a photo editor like Adobe Photoshop. This ensures that files can be minimised while retaining quality. In Photoshop simply use the option ‘save for web devices’ to compress images into the desired format.
  • Choose the right format for images: PNGs are generally the preferred format for graphic files like illustrations, infographics and logos. JPEGS are better for photographs or high quality images.
  • CSS Scripts: If you use the same images throughout your site (logos, banner images, social share buttons and icons), it’s worth using CSS Scripts. These work by combining all the images into one large image template. You can select which images you want on display on each page. Images in a template will load all at once; reducing the number of HTTP requests and therefore reducing load speed.

3. Change browser’s cache:

This stores website resources (stylesheets, images and JavaScript files) on a local computer. Sites that have already been revisited will be remembered so it doesn’t have to reload all of the content on subsequent visits.

Use a tool like YSlow to analyse the expiration date set for your cache. Unless you are making regular, major changes to your website you could set the cache to expire after a year. For more information Google has a great developer’s guide on Leveraging Browser Caching.

4. Site compression

Gzip is a software application for file compression. It can be used to compress the size of HTML, Javascript and CSS files that are larger than 150 bytes. For the tech savvy, I would recommend reading this in depth guide to Gzip compression.

5. Refrain from using nested tables in your design

Nested tables (tables in tables) are used for more complex web designs. Avoid using a table in table design or keep them to an absolute minimum. Use CSS for tabular layouts or visit this article for designing faster loading tables.

Tips for increasing mobile speed

1. Consider connectivity

Because mobile users are roamers a good wifi connection may not always be possible and your mobile site should also take into account data usage requirements. Disable any unnecessary images or data heavy videos.

2. Think about a separate mobile site

If you have a complex or e-commerce site it might be worth opting for a separate mobile site. A responsive design works by delivering the same code to the browser on a single URL and then adjusts the display to fit devices, so although these sites are easy to maintain they don’t necessarily offer a good user experience.

Mobile sites on the other hand, are entirely separate sites. These offer a quicker, enhanced experience because they are built around a mobile centric user experience. Here’s a good resource if you’re not sure which version to go for.

3. Image compression

If you’ve already compressed your images for website and you use a responsive design for your mobile version then you don’t need to do this again.

4. Minify code

Unlike a Gzipping code which is zipped and unzipped on request, minifying code is essentially the act of making it cleaner and easier to read.

Minifying code compresses code without hindering operation. Using Minfycode.com select the appropriate minifyer for your code e.g. Javascript, CSS or HTML and copy and paste your code into the box and hit minify to get perfectly minifyied code.

5. Limit the number of redirects

If you have to use redirects make sure that they are limited to three in a chain (a page redirecting to a page that redirects to another page). Because each redirect is a separate HTML request this will massively impact on page load speed which can have a bigger impact on the mobile user.

6. Loading above the fold

If you have a responsive design rather than a separate mobile site, think carefully about what appears (and must load) above-the-fold (ATF).

ATF refers to the information that appears on screen before a user is required to scroll down. Websites typically have a large banner ATF so it might be worth considering removing this on your mobile version.

The internet is no longer a new phenomenon; it’s a place where people are encouraged to play, shop and even work online. As this trend increases, users’ expectations for enhanced experiences and super-quick sites will only increase, meaning that we must all be ready to adapt.