The Need for (Page) Speed

The Need for (Page) Speed

Author: James Greenwood — Read time: 8 mins

I feel the need. The need for speed!

Tom Cruise was right. We need speed. It makes life worth living, and living less of a drudge.

Whether it’s hurtling head first over 2,000 km/h in an F-14 Tomcat, or buying a fluffy beige rug through a quickie online checkout. In this age of instant gratification and ever growing impatience, being faster than your rivals is even more vital.

When do we want it? Yesterday!

Remember the days of dial-up internet? The screeching sound it made as it connected, the drop off every time someone picked up the phone, and the swearing and arguments that followed. Considering it’s not that long ago, it’s funny how it sounds so Victorian. In the late 90s, the web was a lousy place to play - images took what felt like light years to appear, words didn’t have any style applied and, generally, it was only used by a few early adopters.

As speeds picked up and we moved into the broadband era, web developers and designers found themselves with a bigger toolbox that allowed them to create richer websites. Images got bigger, design got better and video turned up. Then came the biggest curveball to strike the industry - smartphones. In a way, they’ve thrown us back in time. 3G is the broadband of a few years ago. 4G is superb … if you’re lucky enough to be in area where you can get it.

Even now, in this era of super-whizzy-cor-blimey connections, it can always be faster, always be better. Yes, speeds may be rising all the time, but so are expectations. We expect good-looking sites with images and video., and we expect them to work instantly on every device. If they don’t, we leave.

Just think about your own browsing. If something doesn’t load in a few seconds, do you stick it out patiently? Or do you start muttering abuse at the screen while frantically stabbing the back button? Glad it’s not just me then.

When I say speed, what do I actually mean?

There’s a dictionary-style explanation and a user explanation. Let’s have a look at both.

What Wikipedia says: “Web performance refers to the speed in which web pages are downloaded and displayed on the user’s web browser.

“Some aspects which can affect the speed of page load include browser/server cache, image optimization, and encryption (for example SSL), which can affect the time it takes for pages to render.”

What your customer says: “Your site takes ages to load.”

Hang on Mr & Mrs Customer, aren’t you expecting a bit much?

This is what an average customer in 2018 expects from your eCom site:

“I want to find what I’m looking for quickly and easily.”

“I want your site to look cool, modern, trustworthy.”

“I want the best price.”

“I want free delivery.”

“I want choice.”

“I want pictures.”

“I want videos.”

“I want descriptions”

“I want my order tomorrow.”

“Oh, and I want all of that to load in a heartbeat.”

A lot, isn’t it? It may seem unfair — especially if you’re a small, niche retailer competing with the ‘big boys’. But the reality is this: the eCommerce giants are spending millions on improving all of the above. They keep spoiling their customers with better, faster, richer sites. So, naturally, customers keep expecting more and more and more. From every site.

But here’s the good news. Your site can be measured and it can be made better with just a little bit of effort. Plus, there’s tons of evidence that this makes a difference to your bottom line.

Show me the evidence

So, we already know the faster your website, the happier your customers. The real question is:

Does being happier on your site mean they’ll spend more?

Yes, they probably will. And here’s proof:

1 second faster page speed boosts revenue by 7%.

79% of customers who report a dissatisfaction with website performance are less likely to buy from you again.

64% of smartphone users expect pages to load in less than 4 seconds.

47% of customers expect a webpage to load in 2 seconds or less.

📖 Read:

How Loading Time Affects Your Bottom Line

Speed Is A Killer - Why Decreasing Page Load Time Can Drastically Increase Conversions

How Page Load Time Affects Conversion Rates: 12 Case Studies

“OK, I’m convinced. What next?”

The next step is to test your site as it stands today. In my experience, this can be a humbling, terrifying prospect when you realise your site could be better. Just remember, every site could be better. And yes, I include any of ours in that. This is about finding out where we are today and making it better for tomorrow.

So, do you want the truth? Can you handle the truth?

Test with Google’s PageSpeed Tools

Google has a toolkit for testing your site (and any site) in terms of page speed. There are two options. Both return the same numbers, both have the same traffic light score system. It’s just the results are presented differently for different audiences.

If you want technical insights, use this.

If you just want your scores, use this.

Test: Click the links above, enter your site URL and hit the button. You’ll get a score. See you in 5.

👍 Top tip: Test more than your homepage. Run it against all the most important pages in your store: product category pages, product detail pages and any other key pages. You may find slightly differing results depending on types of images, video etc. being used.

💡 Think! You can run this tool on any site. I wonder how your competitors stand up…

Now you’ve got your results… Your mood will be somewhere in the region of:

  1. “Oh, f**k! That’s not good.”

  2. “Hmm, not baaaaaad.”

Or 3. “Get in!”

First things first, 100/100 is unlikely. Humans like the thought of being perfect and it’s not unusual to run the tests and then set yourself the challenge of getting the perfect score.

Is it possible? Yes, it is.

Is it worth it? Probably not.

We’re looking for big, lumpy savings and once we’ve got them (your score will be somewhere between 80-95), the effort doesn’t necessarily correlate with benefit. I’ve managed to get 100/100 once and it cost tons of time with little benefit after the crossover point described above. The laws of diminishing returns are at work here - remember why we’re doing this. We’re looking to save significant time on site speed to aid conversion, not score perfectly on a test.

Stop! Before you make any changes…

Mark it in the calendar and make a note in your Google Analytics data. You need to track the benefit, and being able to see data before and after our changes relies on remembering when we did them. It sounds daft, but it’s easy to forget when changes are made.

I’m technical – what next?

You know your SSH from your elbow. You’re comfortable with using the Network and Performance tabs in Inspector. And you’ve got the suggestions from Google.

So… get on with it! You know what you need to do. Step to it and make changes that save your customers some time and make you more money.

I’m not technical – help!

Do you have someone technical you can turn to? It might be someone in your internal team, an agency you use, your freelance developer or even a friend. Share this article and your results with them, and ask them to start making things better. If you’ve got nowhere to turn, get in touch with me and I’ll be more than happy to suggest ways forward for you.

All done. I’ve a better score now.

Excellent. Your customers will be happier already. That means they’ll likely spend more, recommend more and come back more often. But remember, this isn’t a quick fix. You need to track your data over a decent length of time.

Google’s recommendations may well return an instant benefit, but results may also take some time to appear in your data too - it depends on your start point. And don’t forget to re-check now and again. As new images are uploaded or tweaks made to your site, you might inadvertently reverse some changes.

Page speed is one of those things that can be achieved without much hassle. Given the low effort, high reward ratio, it’s a no-brainer.

And when the money starts rolling in…

Take Tom’s advice.

Check out some more ways to optimise your conversion rate here.