Website Loading Speed – Why its so Important

23 August 2017

In this great article we take a look at website loading speed, and why there’s a need for speed in respect of search engine rankings and user experience.

The Importance of Website Loading Speed

What is the average website loading speed?

One of the fundamental causes of a slow loading website is the server and traffic of where the website is hosted.

So to get an overview, we looked into the home page speed analysis of the top 100 companies to work for. Now of course these high profile companies have things sorted when it comes to taking care of their employees, however when it comes to their company’s website page load speeds, the results may surprise you…

Please note for this website speed analysis, we used 2 top rated website speed test tools.

Average Website Loading Speeds

Average loading time across all 100 websites: 7.4 seconds
True average: 6.78
Expected loading time by the user: 2 seconds

How fast is my website?

Today’s users don’t hope for instant gratification they expect it, so if your website takes longer than 2 seconds to load, a user will have already started to loose interest in your business. However if it takes longer than 7 seconds, a potential customer will more than likely given up waiting and started searching for other alternative website results.

Due to this instant gratification consumer behaviour, a number of studies have been conducted however Jacob Neilson in his book “Usability Engineering” claims “People live to be in control of their destiny and not subjected to the computer’s whims”, therefore Nielson believed there was a fragile relationship between the delay after a users action and the users reaction at three important time limits…

0.1 seconds
Nielsen believed that if the given application responds instantaneously to the users commands, it gives an impression of direct manipulation. This therefore gives the user the impression that the result was generated by their command and not by the computer itself. Nielsen quoted “This phenomenon of direct manipulation is believed to be a great key to increase user engagement.”

1 second
If the response interval time reaches up to 1 second, then they will acknowledge the delay, however small, and feel like the system is generating the website rather than them. However as this is only brief they will focus more on their train of thought , in which they retain their own sense of control. Nielsen stated that web pages should ideally take no more than one second to load to give the users the comfortable feeling that they can navigate more freely and retain a sense of control over the computers whims.

10 seconds
Due to the prolonged period the user will acknowledge the delay and will no longer feel in control, and instead feel manipulated. Often during this time, the user’s mind will wander from their train of thought and they will, most likely, abandon the website. Many people consider it important to notify the users (whether it is via progress bar or percent indicators) as to approximately how long they would have to wait if the programme is deemed to take more than 10 seconds to load. This way the user will know what to expect and therefore gain a sense of comfort.

What about Google?

Of course, we also have to factor in Google and how fast is fast enough for the search engine giant.

Understandably Google has high expectations for website load speed and according to Maile Ohje, a well respected Google representative acknowledged “two-seconds is the threshold for ecommerce website acceptability. At Google, we aim for under half a second.” So basically they are looking for a blink of an eye webpage load speed.

To help websites achieve their best possible speed, the search engine has developed a programme entitled PageSpeed Insights which measures the performance of a page on both mobile and desktop devices. It does this by twice locating the appropriate URL, once with a mobile user agent and then again via a desktop user agent. The programme then checks (using updates and recommendations made by Google) to see if your web page has applied best practice and then gives your website a score from between 0-100 points. Then taking the results into consideration, Google will advise what action is needed in order to increase your score; as higher the score, the faster the user experience.

Will my website loading speed affect my ranking on Google?

The short answer is yes. Google, as part of their search ranking algorithm, will check your website load speed along with how this translates into user experience. The reason for this according to the search engine giant is “Speeding up websites is important, not just to site owners, but all internet users. Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our international studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there. But faster sites don’t just improve user experience, recent data confirms that improving site speed also reduces operating costs. Like us, our users place a lot of value in speed, that’s why we’ve decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings.”

Website speed optimization

To help you improve website page loading speed and improve user experience, here are our top 8 tips…

  1. Simplify your design: According to Google, by limiting the amount of HTTP requests for each individual element of your website including images, stylesheets and scripts, you could spare 80% of the time it takes to download a website. Therefore a very effective technique is by simplifying your design, whether by streamlining the elements of your website, using CSS in the place of images or combining multiple style sheets or reducing scripts.
  2. Get the right server: As previously mentioned, web servers response time is an important website loading time factor. With this in mind, Google recommends you aim for a server response time of less than 200 ms, which to put that into some context, it takes approximately 500 ms to blink. There are many hosting companies and many types of servers available, from dedicated servers to cloud-based shared hosting servers and everything in-between, for a full list and for further information visit this article.
  3. Compress the design: Compression is a web design technique which not only reduces the bandwidth of your website, but also decreases the HTTP response time via a tool called Gzip. This application reduces the size of slow and bulky images (usually high definition pictures), therefore reducing the download time by unto 70%. Plus as most of today’s internet browsers support Gzip, it’s a sure fire way to give your website an extra boost and help avoid website speed issues.
  4. Utilise a Content Delivery Network or CDN for short: A CDN is a system of connected servers which are responsible for speedily delivering static pages and other web content to a user. This is done by the CDN duplicating a website across a network of servers, so when a page request is made; the CDN system will establish the geographical location of the web visitor and connect them with the closest CDN server.Ideal for businesses with global reach, a CDN also provides resilience against spikes in website traffic by quickly redirecting a request from the originating site, to a CDN server containing the cached web content. Providing a seamless experience, unless the CDN’s URL is different to the original URL, the user will not be aware they’ve accessed the web content via a Content Delivery Network. As a result, the closer the CDN server is to the user, the faster the appropriate web content is delivered. Checkout Amazon Web Services for more information.
  5. Check your plugins: Not only can a lot of plugins slowdown a website, research has shown too many can cause security issues and the offending website to constantly crash. To avoid this happening to your business, simply consider deactivating any unused plugins. However for a more thorough approach, strategically disable any plugins while you test the website load time, as this will ascertain which plugins are causing a problem in respect of slowing the load speed down.
  6. Use the right images: Images bring a sense of intrigue, excitement and dynamism to a website. However an oversized image or bad choice of format such as a GIF, BMP to TIFF can seriously affect the load speed time. After all, if your hilarious image of a miserable cat takes 10 seconds to load, it’s unlikely a visitor to your website will have the patience to see it. Therefore optimizing images is essential. In order to reduce the load time, reduce an images colour depth, remove any comments and crop the image to an appropriate size.
  7. Clean up your code: Messy code can slow down your website page loading speed. So in order to make the code as lean as possible, (once coding is complete) remove any extra spaces or line breaks that add to the size of the page.
  8. Streamline above the fold: If you don’t want to strip important content from your website, consider prioritising the above the fold section (the visible part of a webpage before having to scroll). By streamlining this part, your website will not only load faster but also be accessible to users quicker. However due to the design technicalities involved, we recommend you seek guidance from a professional web developer before pulling any content as this action may also affect your search engine ranking.
  9. Help your website load quicker: When you visit a website for the first time, your computer will cache the appropriate files and remember them, therefore the next time you visit it will load the website considerably quicker. However by default there is an expiry date in the file header that determines how long the data will remain on your computer. To prevent this, you can configure the date so it remains on a users computer for longer than 24 hours, however this time period must not exceed Ofcom guidelines of 12 months.

By taking a good look at how and why you should improve website speed, we hope this article will help you achieve the best possible speed results and help your business in respect of search engine rankings and user experience. However for more ways we can help, please do not hesitate to get in touch.