Google Provides One More Reason Why Site Speed is Critical
On Friday, Google announced that site speed is now part of its search ranking algorithm — that is to say your website will perform better on Google search results if it loads faster. But that’s not the only reason to pay attention to your site’s load time. Faster site performance also results in better user experience, more page views, more sales, and even lower equipment costs.
Back in the ’90s, when dial-up was the only way consumers went online, we learned that the faster a site loaded, the better its traffic. There were so many things we were dying to do on our websites, so many beautiful graphics, but bandwidth just didn’t allow for it. We pared our pages down and looked forward to the day when everyone had broadband.
Well, that day has come: As of December 2009, broadband penetration in America has reached 94.5%. And webmasters have gotten drunk on bandwidth. Between 2003 and 2008 page size more than tripled, bringing average page load time of the 100 most visited sites on the Net to ~3.5 seconds. That’s the average of the best of the best. Nytimes.com, bbc.co.uk, and cnn.com from that list take more than 6 seconds to load.
during 1-second response times, users retain the feeling of being in control of the interaction…. For Web usability, this means that new pages must display within 1 second for users to feel like they’re navigating freely; any slower and they feel held back by the computer and don’t click as readily.
Here’s why it matters.
Load Time Affects Users’ First Impressions
First-time visitors form an impression of a website in as little as 50 milliseconds. They decide whether that site is relevant to them within two or three seconds. Naturally, site visitors expect the site to have completely loaded by then. If a page doesn’t load in time, the judgment won’t be good. Research bears that out.
Load Time Affects User Satisfaction
- Research has shown that download speed is the most important Web design feature to Web users.
- Site speed is one of the most important factors affecting visitors’ sense of flow on a site — flow meaning “an optimal experience where users are fully engaged in an activity.”
- A 2009 Forrester study found that 23% of dissatisfied online shoppers attribute their dissatisfaction to slowly loading web pages.
Load Time Affects Page Views
As you might imagine, satisfied visitors read more pages.
- AOL found that the slower the load time the fewer page views per visit, no matter what channel.
- Bing and Google found delays of even 100 to 400 milliseconds reduce people’s usage of those sites — on that visit and in future visits.
- Wikia has found that exit rate drops as pages get faster: ~15% for a 2-second page to ~10% for a 1-second page.
Load Time Affects Revenue
So it doesn’t require a lot of imagination to think of what all those extra page views amount to.
- First of all, faster load times keep shoppers from leaving an e-commerce site in frustration. That Forrester study found that 14% of online shoppers will go to another site if they have to wait for a page to load.
- Speed also increases sales. When Shopzilla redesigned its site to load 5 seconds faster it saw increases of 25% to its page views and 7-12% to its revenues. That performance improvement also resulted in a 50% reduction in hardware!
- Bing reported that a 2-second slowdown reduced revenue per user by 4.3%.
- Similarly, in 2007 Amazon.com saw sales decrease by 1% for every 100 milliseconds slower a page loaded.
- That same year, Google revenues decreased by 2% for every 500-millisecond slowdown.
How to Speed Up Your Site
Convinced? Google offers these resources to help you speed up your site’s load time (thus improving visitor satisfaction, page views, revenue, etc.):
- Page Speed, an open source Firefox/Firebug add-on that evaluates the performance of web pages and gives suggestions for improvement.
- YSlow, a free tool from Yahoo! that suggests ways to improve website speed.
- WebPagetest shows a waterfall view of your pages’ load performance plus an optimization checklist.
- In Webmaster Tools, Labs > Site Performance shows the speed of your website as experienced by users around the world as in the chart below. We’ve also blogged about site performance.
- Many other tools on code.google.com/speed.
Google says site speed will not matter as much as page relevance to search results, adding that “fewer than 1% of search queries are affected by the site speed signal.” But if you’ve read this far in my post, you know that’s just one of many reasons to pay attention to load time.
- Powers of 10: Time Scales in User Experience, by Jakob Nielsen
How time frames from 0.1 seconds to 10 years affect people’s perceptions of their Web experience.
- Velocity and the Bottom Line, by Steve Souders, O’Reilly Radar
Summary of statistics from the Velocity 2009 conference.
- Flow In Website Design, by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
(This post originally appeared April 13, 2010 on Future:Media:Change.)