The Trouble with Slow Websites
Slow-loading websites are still one of the top annoyances for internet users today. But when can a website be called slow, and does having a slow website really turn off users?
The loading speed of a website is integral to a user's experience of that site. However, the consequences of a slow loading site are not limited to user experience alone. It can also have a negative impact on your site's SEO (search engine optimization). Let's take a closer look at slow websites.
When Is a Website Slow?
To start off, it is important to understand when a website is slow or fast. These seem like subjective terms, and sure enough internet users' expectations have changed over time. Users nowadays expect websites to load much faster than they did a decade ago. In addition, users' experience of what is “slow” depends on the type of website that they are using and the results they expect to get. That is why, for example, an airline website can have a slower loading speed than average (more than 1.5 seconds) because users expect that the compiling of tables of information out of a database takes longer. When a website provides proper feedback during the loading sequence, the wait has little negative effect on user experience. On the other hand, those very same users expect the homepage of that very same site to load instantly when requested.
Because loading speed is a subjective experience, there is no one right answer to the question of when a website is slow. There are, however, a few guidelines to help website owners keep their website loading speed on track. Usability expert, Jakob Nielsen, has said that interruptions of maximum 1.0 seconds are acceptable: “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.” Google developers say that a website is experienced by users as slow when the loading speed of pages exceeds 1.5 seconds. Google's vision is an “instant” web, and they provide information and tutorials for performance best practices on the Google Developers website.
Effect on User Experience
During the design process of a website a lot of attention goes into content, structure, functionality, and visual design. The speed of a website, however, is also an essential part of user experience. In fact, when a website is experienced as slow by a user, it suddenly becomes the overriding factor in that user's experience of the website. A few extra seconds of loading time can be enough to leave a long-lasting negative impression with most users. It is important for website owners not to underestimate the impact of slow loading speeds. The majority of internet users are extremely impatient.
Naturally, a few slow-loading web pages don't always translate to users abandoning their virtual shopping carts en masse. However, when users experience a website as being slow structurally, chances are that they will look out for an alternative. Your site's conversion rate can drop because of this, and the probability of users visiting your website again in the future also declines.
Consequences for SEO
Another possible consequence of a slow-loading website is that it will impact your site's SEO. A year and a half ago, Google officially announced that the loading speed of a website was a factor that influenced a site's ranking in Google Search. Since then, the weighting given to this factor has increased. What is more, loading speed doesn't just affect organic SEO, the quality score of ads in Google Adwords are also influenced by the loading speed of their landing page. In other words, a slow website has a direct influence on your visibility in search engine results, and this goes for organic results as well as paying results. This means that the chances of internet users finding your site while using a search engine declines.
As we have seen, ads in Google Adwords that point to slow landing pages get a lower quality score. Because of this low score, the price per click for the website owner will rise if he or she wishes to maintain the same position in the search results. Simply put, this means that with the same budget you won't be able to buy as many visitors. On top of that, a low position in the organic search results means less incoming traffic. Hence, slow website have a lower conversion rate. Research conducted by analytical tools provider, KISSmetrics, has demonstrated that one second of delay can lead to a seven percent decline in the conversion rate.
Before you start an optimization project, you will need insight into the current loading speed of the website. This information can be found out by using tools like the Google's Site Performance, available from the Webmasters Tools Lab. According to Google, this experimental tool “shows you the average page load time for pages in your site, the trend over the last few months, and some suggestions on how to make the pages load faster.”
With Site Speed, in Google Analytics, you can see how long it takes an average user to download a particular page. This information on page level is more action directed and enables you to identify pages that are above the average. When you have identified problematic pages, you can start to improve the loading time. Most problems are of a technical nature, and Google has compiled a list of articles on to remedy the most common ones. After implementation, you should of course re-measure your web pages to see if the problem has been resolved.
It is clear that a slow website can have far-reaching consequences. Slow websites get in the way of internet users moving along at their preferred speed. A negative user experience will impact on your site's conversion rate, and that together with lower organic traffic will ultimately be reflected in your business turnover. It may be a cliché, but customers really are only a mouse-click away from your competition. By speeding up the loading time of your web pages, you will keep more users on your own website, where these potential leads can be converted into assets for your business.
-Nielsen, J. (2009) Powers of 10: Time Scales in User Experience, Accessed at useit.com/alertbox/timeframes.html
-Google Analytics support.google.com/analytics/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1205784
-Google Webmasters Central support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=158541