Website speed plays an essential role in overall website functionality. It's typically the first step in defining user experience. If a website's landing page has trouble loading, or if too many plugins cause sections of it to appear or function at a slower rate, that tends to give users a poor first impression, if it doesn't lose them altogether.
There are ways to ensure optimization for website speed that not only increase user satisfaction but will also increase search engine visibility, which leads to more visitors in the future. This positive feedback cycle can be nurtured by implementing best practices and monitoring the users' response.
The Value of Site Speed
The desire for speed has always been a primary factor, especially in fast-paced Western society. However, the capabilities of the Internet seem to have spoiled people and lifted users' expectations through the roof.
According to a 2012 Google blog post titled "Global Site Speed Overview: How Fast Are Websites Around The World?" the average global load time for a webpage was 2.5 seconds (4.5 for mobile). In the US, the average load time for a webpage was reported to be 4.5 seconds.
While those numbers may sound fairly swift, a failure to beat the average may spell doom for webmasters and businesses that hope to attract, acquire, and retain customer traffic. Research also shows the average user will abandon a website if it takes more than 3 or 4 seconds to load.
This means increasing site speed and appealing to users' expectations for swift action is of the
utmost importance when looking to optimize the effectiveness of your site.
Why Site Speed Matters
Site speed matters for a variety of reasons, and they're often personal and unique to each individual user. However, it generally comes down to either choices or demands, or both.
Choices. As an individual becomes increasingly familiar with the capabilities of the Internet, he or she will find plenty of choices and alternatives. If one site doesn't satisfy the person's needs or meet demands, there are probably a half dozen others that can. Slower sites will almost invariably be dumped for faster ones.
Demand. Site speed is particularly important when it comes to online shopping and e-commerce sites. Consumers use online shopping expressly for its convenience and speed, and a lack of either will dissuade a customer from making a purchase. According to a Radware case study, 51 percent of online shoppers do not complete a purchase if the site is too slow.
What Factors Affect Site Speed and User Experience?
Dozens of unique and interconnected factors can affect your site speed. The key is to determine which factors play a role in your situation. Consider some of the following potential issues when you're attempting to identify your site's underlying problems.
Site hosting. The very first place to look is your website's host. An unreliable host is akin to having a poor foundation for your home. Everything else can look good, but you're eventually going to have some major problems. According to Paul Mosley of Bluehost.com, "A cheap host will probably save you some money up front, but down the road it will cost you far more than it's worth. You always get what you pay for."
Plugins. Widgets and plugins are great, but they come at a cost. Installing too many of these tools can hinder your site speed; they become more of a detriment than an advantage. It's best to limit the number of widgets and plugins you install on your site and stick to ones that truly add value.
Advertisement overload. The ads you allow to run on your site may pay some of the expenses, but they can also block you from keeping and converting visitors. Large ads will increase your site's load time as well as hinder smooth scrolling and navigation for your users.
Unoptimized images. If you believe you can slap any image onto your site and expect it to perform well, you may need to take a second look. Images that aren't properly optimized for your site can hold it back significantly. For example, photos should be in JPEG format, while icons and logos are best used in PNG format. It's also vital that you eliminate extra data in your image files and include proper DEFLATE compressors.
Too flashy. Flash may be visually appealing, but it doesn't play nice with all browsers and devices. If you choose to go with flash, keep in mind that you could be limiting who can get access to your site.
Design and theme. When investing in intricate design themes, consider the positives and negatives. While your site will certainly be viewed as attractive and high quality, will the benefits be enough to outweigh the burden of snail-pace downloads? Depending on your industry and customers, the answer could be either yes or no, but make sure you give it serious consideration.
Practical Tips for Increasing Site Speed
As a way of summarizing the factors mentioned here, let's take a look at the most practical tips and takeaways.
Find a superior server. The first step to improving your site's speed is to ensure you have a suitable server and host. The move from a subpar to superior server can singlehandedly help you improve.
Limit extras. While you want a good overall user experience, limit the amount of plugins and extras you have installed. Only include what's absolutely necessary.
Constantly review. The key to improving site speed is a willingness to constantly and consistently review your page's performance and make changes. The numbers don't lie, and you will often uncover problems just by looking.
These tools essentially work by testing simulated traffic from around the world and running head-to-head comparisons. They then provide recommendations on what needs to be fixed and how to improve future speed for a better overall user experience. You can find out more about these free tests by clicking here.
About the author
Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.