You may think that the awesome content on your website, or the fantastic products you're selling, or the colorful web design will make Internet users want to visit your site and stick around.
You would be wrong.
People don't have all the time in the world, and they have even less of that to spend on one site. Therefore, it is imperative that they get to what they want quickly, or they will lose interest and move on.
The World Wide Web is the very definition of a free-for-all, and only the best pages will survive and continue to attract visitors. By "the best", we actually mean the fastest. Definitely, when it comes to websites, the faster the load time is, the higher the conversion rate.
If you will be honest with yourself, there are times you have pressed Backspace on your phone or computer because a site was taking too long to load. Well, what goes around certainly comes around. You're not the only one that does it. Millions of visitors do the exact same thing every single day. In the battle to attract people to sites and convert them into loyal customers, both common sense and cold statistics indicate that the race belongs to the swift.
Not convinced? Just ask Google and Amazon, two behemoths of the internet. Google discovered that a mere decrease of 0.5 seconds in website loading speeds leads to a 20% drop in web traffic. When you consider that millions of people use Google every day, that's a crazy number.
And what about Amazon? I'm sure they were feeling pretty confident when they decided to see what happens if the loading speed was delayed in 100 millisecond increments. The result was a "substantial and costly” fall in revenue. It's safe to say they aren't going to be fiddling with their page loading speed anytime soon!
People Are Not a Patient Bunch…
This is not a remarkable observation. In this fast-paced world, everyone is always in a hurry but nothing seems to get done in time. In the banking hall, everyone complains that the tellers are too slow in attending to customers. In the airport, luggage checks and ticket verification seem to take too long. Even at work, talking to some employees, one would think the chain of command above them extends into infinity.
At least on the web, users have the freedom to abandon what isn't working for them. And it is a freedom they exercise to the fullest extent. A website that takes too long to load will simply be abandoned in favour of a faster one. Now, you'd think users would at least wait for a dozen seconds before calling it quits. Again, you would be wrong.
Research indicates that the average time the end user is willing to wait before leaving a page is three seconds or less. In fact, 47 percent claimed they expect a page to load in under two seconds and a remarkable 40 percent give up on a page that hasn't finished loading after the 3-second mark.
The statistics only get more interesting. A mere delay of 1 second on a shopping site decreases user satisfaction by an astonishing 16 percent. The same duration of delay can result in a 7 percent decrease in a site's conversion rates. For an eCommerce site, that's millions of dollars in lost revenue because of a fractional increase in loading time.
For Websites, Faster IS Better…
It is easy for the rookie site owner to fall into the trap of thinking that the content of the website is more important than its loading speed. Of course, content matters since that is what will keep end users coming back for more. But they first need to land on the page, and the faster the page loads, the faster people get to see what the site has to offer.
Not only that, website load speed is important if you wish to be ranked high in search engines like Google. Loading speed is one of the considerations that determine what separates the rest from the best as far as Google Search is concerned. This is true for desktop and truer for mobile. As the world moves irrevocably towards a more mobile user experience, how websites perform on phones and tablets takes extra significance.
The bottom line here is that your various SEO strategies that you have painstakingly crafted in combination with your in-house content team won't yield as much result as you would expect if the website itself takes an age to load. And remember that we're talking in terms of seconds here. Every extra millisecond of speed gained means more eyeballs on the site. More eyeballs mean more conversions. More conversions mean more revenue. The equation couldn't be any simpler than that, give or take a few extra considerations.
Targeting the Right Speed
By this point, you must have started having a rethink about how you have set up your website. Maybe you have decided that some of those extra elements should be done away with or reduced so your page can load faster.
The question still remains about what degree of speed users will find acceptable. How fast is fast enough? Is there such a thing as being too fast or too slow? How is speed even measured and by whom? Obviously, you would want some sure footing in regard to these questions so that you could make your speed-optimization plans with a high degree of confidence.
The very best place to start is with the boss of search engines — Google. The company pretty much relies on ad placement to make money so the rate at which users view those ads becomes of instant interest to them. Based on the research they conducted into internet user behavior, the company has come up with a benchmark study on the subject.
The results make interesting reading on the one hand. On the other, you can use them to get an idea of how best to bring your site to the attention of as many people as possible.
The study found that the probability of a user bounce increases steeply for every extra second of page load time:
- From 1s to 3s, the probability of a user bounce increases by 32%
- From 1s to 5s, the probability of a user bounce increases by 90%
- From 1s to 6s, the probability of a user bounce increases by 106%
- From 1s to 10s, the probability of a user bounce increases by 123%
Apart from this discovery, the research found that the "Average time to first byte" plays a critical role in whether visitors stick around or not. The average time to first byte is the time taken for the server to respond to requests from the mobile or computer client. For mobile servers, Google recommends that the time be kept under 1.3 seconds. This makes sense: the faster the server responds, the faster the website elements are loaded. Google recommends that the mobile site should be fully loaded under 3 seconds, and a very responsive server will surely help the cause.
Given these results, the importance of optimizing your website cannot be overemphasized. This holds doubly true for mobile sites. According to Google, although the web traffic pendulum has swung irrevocably in favour of mobile platforms, desktop still retains higher conversion rates. In other words, it is harder to retain visitors on mobile sites than on their desktop counterparts. Thus, the sooner you implement load-speeding strategies, particularly on mobile, the better for your business (or pleasure, for that matter).
How to Speed Up a Slow Loading Website - The First Steps
Before you start to overhaul your website design to optimize the speed, you should be aware of the different elements of the loading process. When the user hits Enter on an address, the page banner usually shows up first before the rest of the content gets loaded. There are actually multiple processes that together make up what is meant by "site loading". Below are the ones you need to know.
- First Paint (FP): This one indicates that something is happening. When you navigate to the page via the address bar or clicking a link, FP denotes the precise moment that the screen is altered in any way to reflect that the loading of the page is actually happening.
- First Contentful Paint (FCP): This denotes the moment any bit of page content is displayed. This may be the page banner, a picture, an icon, or text.
- First Meaningful Paint (FMP): This is the time taken for meaningful content to show up on the page. Meaningful content includes texts or images that are critical to your purpose of visiting the web page. If you're loading a news page, for example, the first meaningful content is usually the headline.
It is here that the virtues of optimizing your website really begin to be felt. If you've cluttered up the page with too much content, the FMP may take too long to appear. By that point, the user might have decided they are better off loading another website.
- Time to Interactive (TTI): This parameter measures the time taken for the loaded page to become interactive. This is when the user can do things on the page like scrolling up and down, clicking a link, expanding a guide, or enlarging a photo.
Steps to Speed Up a Website
With these parameters at the back of your mind, you can go to work optimizing your pages for the best user experience. Whether you wish to increase loading times on the desktop version of your page or are trying to increase website speed on mobile, following the tips below is a guaranteed way to keep high user bounce rates at bay.
1. Minimize Image Size
Your page may be full of line upon line of text, but a single oversized image can undo all the good work and reduce loading speeds. You should avail yourself of compressing techniques to keep those necessary photos at reasonable sizes.
Image size should be tailored to your page. Too large and they won't be as responsive when loading. Use Auto Height and fixed width and be aware of the different image formats suitable for different occasions. JPG images give you the best overall quality, PNG should be your go-to for icons and logos, and GIFs should be a definite no-no in most cases.
2. Use a Theme That Suits the Page
Theming is to websites what fashion is to people. The right apparel can enhance the appearance, while an over-the-top wear can make one a laughing stock. The same goes for website themes. Be judicious in your selection and only choose colors that match the subject of the web page. This will improve the user experience and make visitors more likely to hang around.
However, a note of caution: don't go for themes with a lot of graphics and other UX elements when a simpler one can do. You would just end up decreasing your loading speed -— and for what?
3. Go Easy on Ad Placement
Obviously, if you can make money online through advertising, you should. While you're doing so, kindly note that the average user doesn't care about your need to make money. They just want fast loading speeds and minimal browsing interference.
So, eschew the use of humongous ad types, such as videos that play automatically, unless you don't have a choice. Try not to overload a single page with plenty of promotional material. That would just annoy the user on top of the decreased load times. Also place the ads in strategic positions where they don't interfere with whatever the site visitor is trying to do.
4. Use the Right Fonts and Plugins
Look and feel plays an important role in capturing the attention of online users. A website should have a nice font that somehow conveys a sense of welcome. Eschew fonts that are too bold, too light or too stylish. Your main job is to attract viewers – not display your prowess in font selection.
The more page plugins you have, the more the speed is affected. Tone down the plugin craze by removing the unnecessary ones that contribute to page slowdowns. Use a trusted Plugin Performance Profiler to audit your plug-ins and take necessary action on those that are useless, outdated or dragging down page speed.
5. Get Rid of Those Extra HTTP Requests
6. Use a Fast Connection
When the user's browser sends a connection request, a DNS lookup takes place. After that, your server processes the request and responds. The so-called Time for First Byte happens in the wake of your server's response.
However, the speed of your own connection can affect the speed of your server response. If your connection is slow, the server takes a bit more time, giving the illusion that your page loads very slow, even if that is not the case. Get a reliable and fast connection and you should have no issues on that front.
7. Enable Caching
According to Tenni Theurer, formerly of Yahoo:
That's a lot of time spent downloading elements. However, with caching enabled, the client browser will simply save most of these elements in a local cache. The next time the user loads your site, the browser simply loads these elements from the cache file, saving valuable time.
However, for that to happen, you have to enable caching for your website. If you haven't already done so, you don't need us to tell you what to do next.
8. Use a Reliable Hosting Service for Large Files
If you operate a site that uses large files as part of the operations, we recommend you host some of these files on an external file-sharing platform.
Imagine you've made a ton of how-to guides, each one up to several megabytes by itself – uploading everything to your site could be counterproductive. Apart from the fact that this might take a lot of server space otherwise used for other things, it can slow down your page loading speed and affect user experience as well.
When multiple users try to access media hosted on your own server, you better hope that you have plenty of bandwidth. Otherwise, they might be in for multiple lags and playback issues that can scare them off and keep them from visiting your site ever again.
Instead of going through all that trouble, you can simply host the video on a platform like YouTube and embed it on your page. Users simply click the embedded video and they are taken to YouTube.
You can host other types of larger files in the same vein on platforms like Google Drive and Dropbox.
But what if you wish to share content for a limited period of time? Don't worry, there is a solution for that as well.
FileWhopper is a service that allows you to put a password on your important files such as documents, videos and photos. You upload the file to the platform and get a personal link, along with a password, which you can make available to multiple users based on parameters you must have already set. This is a useful option for administrators of secure websites such as portals that need a safe and easy way to share important files with a select group.
You may think that these steps on how to make a website faster are overkill, but they really are not. Given all the research that demonstrates just how even a second's difference in load speeds can generate a significant dip in visitors, it is in your best interest to do everything you can to make sure your page loads faster. This guide offers several steps in the right direction.