Why Site Speed Matters and How to Improve Loading Times
(10 Minute Read)
A second goes by.
Still, you find yourself staring at a blank screen.
At this point it feels like you could make a cup of coffee and the site would still be loading. Rather than continue waiting, you click the back button and onto the next result.
This exact scenario is incredibly common.
Nothing is more frustrating than to be slowed down by loading times. Online users may have tolerant of slow pages in the past but expectations have changed dramatically. Users now expect pages to load quickly and are simply more likely to click out than stay.
Even a few seconds delay is enough to leave visitors with a negative impression. With an ever-competitive landscape, you simply cannot afford for that to happen.
Here we’ll look at compelling reasons why site speed needs to be a priority if it isn’t already.
Slow Pages Kill Conversions
It’s a scenario that most of us are all too familiar with:
You’re in the market for something maybe a new coffee maker. You do some research online to see what your options are. Next you click through to what seems like a promising product. But after what feels like an eternity, the page is still loading.
What do you next?
There’s a good chance you’ll click back and make a mental note not to return. Data from Google has found that 53% of mobile users abandon a web page if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.
That’s bad news if your website is on the receiving end.
Each time a visitor bounces out, you lose a potential sale. And until you address the issue you may as well throw money at your competitors. Because you can bet that users who abandon your site will be clicking through to competing sites.
Let’s look at a real-life case study:
Walmart is one of the largest retailers in the world. Yet their site suffered from poor performance due to a number of issues from slow third-party scripts to having multiple hosts. All of which meant that pages took an estimated 24 seconds to load for the slowest 5% of users.
For a company known for its optimised supply chain, the same couldn’t be said for its site. Something had to be done so a dedicated team was assigned to optimise page performance.
Here are some of the results from the Walmart study:
Conversions were at their highest when pages loaded within 1 second. But those rates saw a dramatic drop when loading times went down to 3 to 4 seconds. Extensive tests revealed that every 1 second of improvement led to a 2% in conversions. Even 100 millisecond improvements led to a 1% growth in incremental revenue.
Amazon has conducted a similar study and found that a page slowdown of just one second would cost the company $1.6 billion in sales a year.
The bottom line: Every second counts.
Site Speed Now a Ranking Factor
Let’s talk about another reason to take site performance seriously: Google.
Ranking for target keywords positions your brand in front of prospects searching for products or services your business offers. Optimising on-page SEO factors of your site and building a relevant link profile will give your pages a huge advantage in the search results.
But these aren’t the only factors that Google considers when determining rankings. The search algorithms are constantly evolving to adapt to online usage patterns.
Internal studies from Google found that slower sites lead to users engaging less with those pages. So to improve user experience across the web, the search giant announced in 2010 that speed would be part of the ranking algorithm:
“As part of that effort, today we’re including a new signal in our search ranking algorithms: site speed. Site speed reflects how quickly a website responds to web requests. Speeding up websites is important — not just to site owners, but to all Internet users.
Google didn’t just stop there.
These sweeping changes were also expanded to include mobile sites dubbed the “Speed Update”. That means that your ranking could suffer in both the desktop and mobile search results because of slow pages.
As a majority of mobile searches are done on the go, users are searching for immediate answers and have little patience for slow pages. Recent data from Google has found a strong correlation between bounce rates and page load times.
While loading times have improved over the last few years, the average loading time for mobile pages sits at about 15 seconds. That’s good news for two reasons—optimising your load times gives your pages an extra edge over slower competing sites and reduces bounce rates.
Hopefully that should get your attention.
Let’s look at what you can do to boost loading times.
How to Improve Your Site Speed
Most online users will not hesitate to abandon a site if it takes more than a few seconds to load. Even a strong value proposition won’t be enough to keep users on your site if it suffers from poor loading times.
Here’s what you can do to change that:
1. Establish a Baseline With PageSpeed Insights
Start by heading over to PageSpeed Insights—a free online tool from Google that measures loading times for the mobile and desktop versions of any site. Simply enter your URL and click “Analyze”.
We’ll use Reddit as an example:
Google indicates that the mobile version of the site ranks in the fastest third of all pages with an overall score of 81 out of 100. It’s a good start but there’s still room for improvement.
Now let’s head over to the desktop tab:
Things are looking much worse here.
Google ranks the desktop version in the middle third of all pages with an abysmal score of 51 out of 100. It’s clear the website developers prioritised the mobile experience. If the data on loading times and bounce rates is anything to go by, the site has likely lost an untold number of users.
Reddit will be fine though seeing as it’s one of the most visited sites online. But the loss in traffic for your own site could mean the difference between surpassing your sales goal or falling short of it.
Fortunately, Google offers optimisation suggestions further down the page:
Clicking on the links shows exact areas of the site with the most room for improvement. Let’s take a closer look at each along with additional suggestions for even better performance.
2. Optimise Your Images
Poorly optimised images are one of the biggest culprits for slow loading times. The more resources there are on a page, the longer it takes to load them. So reducing image file sizes drastically improves overall site performance as it saves on bandwidth.
There are a number of WordPress plugins that make image compression effortless. One of these is WP Smush which automatically compresses your images on upload and can even be used on older files.
Alternatively, you can also use image editing software like Photoshop to compress your images before uploading them.
3. Leverage Browsing Caching
When you first visit a site, the browser has to download the CSS files and other resources before they can be displayed. Browser caching is a way to store certain files in a user’s browser. Retrieving files locally will always be faster than requesting them from a remote server.
The next time the same user returns, the browser only needs to download updated content. Browsing caching helps to reduce bandwidth usage and can be enabled by editing HTTP headers.
Here’s an example from GT Metrix:
The parameters set expiry times for certain files. Instead of doing this all manually, there are also WordPress plugins available to streamline the process.
4. Minify Resources
Google provides recommendations on resources to minify your code.
5. Enable Compression
Enabling compression reduces file size which cuts down loading times even further. Gzip is one of the most popular software applications for file compression and is even recommended by Google to reduce transfer sizes.
The following example from CSS Tricks shows just how much compression reduces file sizes compared to minifying code:
Gzipping is much more effective but enabling both would be ideal.
6. Use a Content Distribution Network
Every time you visit a webpage your request is fulfilled by a remote server. The delay in loading the content is known as latency and is impacted by how far you are physically from the server. A Content Distribution Network or CDN helps to reduce latency by serving content through a vast network of servers that is closest to a user’s location.
As your business continues to expand you’ll definitely want to consider investing in a CDN.
Once you’ve taken steps to optimise loading times, return back to the PageSpeed Insights tool and enter in your URL. How do the results compare now to the initial baseline you established? If you’ve implemented at least one of these suggestions you should see a major improvement.
Data from the Nielsen Norman Group found that users leave a web page in 10 to 20 seconds. The first few seconds are key to engaging with your visitors which is why site performance is so crucial. Even a one second delay has been shown to increase bounce rates and reduce conversions.
Google has also made loading times part of its ranking algorithm across desktop and mobile search results. All of which are compelling reasons to make site performance a priority.
So keep your visitors happy by implementing the suggestions here to improve loading times.