Note: I originally wrote this for the Table XI blog.
At the most basic level, a faster site will do two things: save money and increase revenue. Since those tend to be the two things that boost any company’s bottom line, page speed is increasingly becoming a concern for businesses, especially now that Google’s counting it toward search rankings.
It’s true that to be successful now, your site has to be fast. People just don’t have the patience to wait for a site to load. The basic attention limits have been the same since Robert Miller wrote his 1968 paper: Anything under 0.1 seconds seems to happen instantaneously. Anything that takes less than a second allows users to keep their trains of thought and doesn’t require special feedback. Anything over 10 seconds, and users have pretty much forgotten all about your site or app.
More people viewing sites and apps from their phones — and over slower mobile networks — has made site efficiency a greater priority with the rise of smartphones. At Table XI, we start every project thinking about site performance, so it’s baked into all our apps by design. For one of our clients, fitness equipment company Keiser, we even did a page speed benchmarking comparison at the start of the project to make sure our target page load speed would be faster than any of Keiser’s competitors. We also see the opposite, companies that don’t take site speed into account until the site is already slow, and we work with them to update their infrastructure and code so it can perform. Here’s what improved site speed can give your business …
A chance to convert new customers
The second someone clicks on a link to your site, they’re having their first experience with your business. If they get is a blank page struggling to load, they’re going to get a bad first impression, and they’re probably going to bounce altogether.
Multiple studies have shown that the longer it takes your site to load, the more likely visitors are to abandon the page. A 2009 study by Akamai and Forrester found that 40 percent of consumers abandoned pages that took longer than three seconds to load.
No one is willing to wait for a site to load when they have access to so many other options. To have a shot at converting visitors into customers, you need an opportunity to get your company’s message across. That means a site that loads fast enough for visitors to stick around and hear it.
Happier customers — and more referrals
A fast site generally means a better user experience. Think about Google’s search capabilities. You get exactly what you’re looking for the instant you start typing. No waiting, no fuss just instant results. That same principle of immediate feedback applies to an e-commerce site, a mobile app, really anything. No one wants to be kept waiting. An efficient site will give users what they want and make it feel instantaneous.
That great user experience means you'll get returning customers. According to that same Akamai-Forrester study, 52 percent of online shoppers said that quick load times improved their loyalty, while 79 percent said they’re less likely to buy from a site again after a dissatisfying visit. A fast site will help you earn repeat business — and the referrals that come with it.
A better conversion rate
Amazon has the classic proof that increasing page speed increases conversions. Its analysts found that for every 100 milliseconds users had to wait for a page to load, sales dropped by 1 percent — that’s a 10 percent loss for every second of delay. Since that 2006 study, dozens of others have proven the same thing: The less time I spend thinking, the more likely I am to keep going down my current path. In 2014, Walmart [earned a 2 percent conversion rate](earned a 2 percent conversion rate increase) increase for every second of improvement on its mobile load time. In 2011, the Obama campaign netted an additional $34 million when it made the site 60 percent faster, increasing donation conversions by 14 percent.
The examples are nearly endless, but the logic is always the same. Getting people through the conversion funnel faster reduces dropoffs. The less time users have to think about making the decision to convert, the more likely the are to do it.
Better search ranking
Google is notorious for keeping its search ranking formula secret, but back in 2010, it announced that page speed would affect where sites rank in search results. While it’s unclear exactly which aspects of site speed Google is using to determine rank, it appears that at the very least the time to first byte affects search rank. Time to first byte is the amount of time it takes a browser to receive the first byte of information from your server, a.k.a. how long it takes your server to receive, process and respond to a request.
Usability is also a factor in Google’s search ranking, though again the company won’t reveal specifics. Just know that if your site is fast, your users will like that, and Google will rank you higher because of it.
A leg up on your competitors
Speed reduces alternatives. It’s not just that a better user experience will make users prefer your product or make Google rank your product higher, though both are true. It’s that a fast site won’t encourage your users to turn to a competitor. If Netflix takes five minutes to load or is buffering, what are you going to do? You're not going to watch Netflix, you're going to pull up cable. A fast site reduces the alternatives to your service.
This is how Amazon has succeeded. Amazon's speed and performance are why I keep purchasing with Amazon instead of a competitor. If it takes me two minutes to add something to my cart on an e-commerce site, I'm going to get bored and just go to Amazon, because I know I'll be able to check out in 10 seconds. Sites that can’t quickly get me to my goal can’t compete. Fourteen percent of online shoppers surveyed by Akamai and Forrester said they would begin shopping at another site if pages took too long to load. To prevent that from happening, every page in your sales funnel needs to be quick.
A more efficient infrastructure can save you from your site going down. By optimizing everything on the frontend and streamlining everything on the backend, you’ll reduce server load for your site or app. With less stress on the system, you won’t have to worry about outages happening as often, and you won’t have to pay to get them fixed as frequently, meaning you get to sleep at night.
More opportunities to earn money from advertising
If your business is ad-supported, site speed is even more crucial to your success. Ad units can be one of the biggest elements your product needs to render, and one of the last to load. Try to run them on a weak infrastructure, and ads can drag down your load time significantly. So much so that 36 percent of people who use ad blockers do so to improve page-load time and reduce bandwidth usage.
Without the full ad loading and the tracker firing, your company won’t be paid for the view. Your infrastructure needs to be capable of loading the entire site or app — with ads — before your users move on.
Lower costs for hosting and storage
A high-performing site can also save you money. If you have an efficient site, generally you’ll end up paying less for hosting and storage. Amazon Web Services has made storage pretty cheap, but saving one million five-megabyte photos requires an order of magnitude more storage space than saving one million optimized images. Optimizing your assets will also save you on the fees AWS charges for data transfers.
An efficient site also means lower infrastructure costs. If you have a high-performing site, you’ll likely have low server utilization. Say a company with three servers makes infrastructure improvements. Now it can process site activity so much faster that it suddenly only takes two servers to handle all of the traffic. Being able to cut a server saves the company a third or more of its hosting costs.
Think of a thousand people trying to move through a single door at the same time. To get everyone through the door quickly, you can either increase the size of the door — in this case by adding more servers — or you can have them go through the door faster. If we can make each action on the site as quick and efficient as possible, we can get people through the door faster, so we don’t have to add additional servers to handle the load.
A more scalable future
The storage and infrastructure savings above become especially important as your company starts to grow. You may not notice huge cost savings when you have 200 people using your site, but you definitely will when that number grows to 2,000 or 20,000. An efficient site makes growth possible by reducing the waste in your infrastructure. Inefficiencies multiply, and they can completely take down a system when the number of users reaches a tipping point. It’s important to optimize the site at the beginning, so you can enjoy all the other benefits of a fast site as your company grows. An efficient site will handle growth.
What you can do to improve your site speed
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos advises companies to look at what’s not going to change in 10 years. For Amazon, he says, “It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon, I just wish the prices were a little higher [or] I love Amazon, I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’” I’d add that it’s impossible to imagine 10 years from now people will want a slower application or website. The time you spend on site speed improvements now will only help your business going forward.
If you’re ready to improve your site speed, start by looking into where your site is lacking now. Google’s PageSpeed tool is a great way to see how fast your site is and what you can do to improve your site speed. Here’s full documentation of the rules PageSpeed uses to determine whether your site is fast enough.
If the fixes look like they might be too much to tackle on your own — or if you want to make improvements to your backend infrastructure — email me and I’ll see how we can help.