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

Can the speed of your website really have that much of an effect on your sales? Even if your site isn’t loading too slowly, can it still be improved? And how does Google factor into all of this? You might be surprised.

According to surveys done by Akamai and Gomez.com, nearly half of web users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less, and they tend to abandon a site that isn’t loaded within 3 seconds. 79% of web shoppers who have trouble with web site performance say they won’t return to the site to buy again and around 44% of them would tell a friend if they had a poor experience shopping online.

This means you’re not just losing conversions from visitors currently on your site, but that loss is magnified to their friends and colleagues as well. The end result – lots of potential sales down the drain because of a few seconds difference.

So how do you test and measure your site’s load time while squeezing every drop of performance out of your website? Here’s how:

How Fast Does Your Site Load? Here Are Some Tools And Resources:

Websites generally “weigh” around 130 KB, including things like images, scripts and stylesheets. Sites like Web Page Test or Firefox browser plugins like Page Speed can give you a starting point.

Page Speed Online

In April of this year, Google also introduced its own web-based tool, accessible via Google Labs, called Page Speed Online. It’s available as a web-based tool as well as a Chrome extension.

Here is an example of when you run Page Speed Online for the domain KISSmetrics.com:

Pagespeed Online Web Tool

With it, you can quickly get an overview of high priority, medium and low priority fixes that can help increase your page speed. Many of these suggestions are fairly technical, so it’s a good idea to have your web developer by your side when going over them, to see just how many are feasible for your particular site.

Google Analytics Plugin by Yoast

yoast google analytics plugin

If you’re using WordPress and the Google Analytics plugin by Joost de Valk (Yoast.com), you’ll also be glad to know that it now incorporates the Site Speed feature too. Among other things, it can help you understand how quickly or slowly your page loads across different parts of the world and different browsers.

Google Webmaster Tools

google webmaster tools page speed

In addition, you can also check your site load time month by month using Google Webmaster Tools. Check out their “Labs” section for more details.

How to Decrease Page Load Time

Once you find out your page’s loading time, what can you do to shorten it? The following steps can help any site, no matter how fast, trim a few seconds off of its loading time:

  1. Use GZIP compression – You’ll want to ask your web host if they use GZIP compression and deflation on their servers. These are two techniques that can significantly speed up a site, reducing file size by as much as 70% without degrading the quality of the images, video or the site at all. To see if your site is already GZIPPED, click here to run a simple test.
  2. Wrangle Your Javascript and Stylesheets – Have your scripts and CSS load in external files instead of cramping up each and every web pages. This way, the browser only has to load the files one time, rather than every time someone visits each page of your site. Ideally, put your external CSS in the portion of your site, and your external Javascript file as close to the tag as possible. This way, the browser isn’t bogged down wading through all those requests for external files right from the start. The only time you won’t want to do this is if the Javascript needs to load near the top of the page – such as to display a name or load up an image carousel.
  3. Optimize Your Images – In Photoshop or Fireworks, you can use the “Save for Web” option to drastically reduce image size. An image quality slider lets you see the visual trade-offs between graphic file size and crispness. Don’t have a graphics program? Smush.it from Yahoo can do the trick.
  4. Don’t Rely on HTML to Resize Images – HTML (and by extension, WordPress blogs), make it easy to create a smaller version of a larger graphic. But just because you load that smaller size, doesn’t mean it’s taking up any less room on the server. The browser still has to load the ENTIRE image, THEN check the width and height you want and THEN resize it accordingly.
  5. Cache Me If You Can – Content management systems like WordPress have plugins that will cache the latest version of your pages and display it to your users so that the browser isn’t forced to go dynamically generate that page every single time. Plugins like WP Super Cache can take a serious bite out of page load times.
  6. Don’t Confuse the Browser with Redirects – A 301 Redirect is the preferred way to change your site structure without losing any of that valuable search engine juice, but lots of 301 redirects piled together just confuse the browser and slow it down as it wades through the old destinations to get to the new one.
  7. Let the Network Carry the Load – If your site is extremely popular but you’re still having trouble getting your page load down to size, consider a Content Delivery Network (CDN) like Amazon Cloudfront. Content Delivery Networks work by serving pages depending on where the user is located. Faster access to a server near their geographical area means they get the site to load sooner.

So, Why Does Google Care About Load Time?

Google did an interesting experiment with regard to load times. Google Vice President Marissa Mayer asked web surfers – would you rather see 10 or 30 results for your Google search? The users agreed that 30 results per page sounded like a good idea. So Google implemented it on some results pages.

Then the shock came.

Pages that displayed 30 results each had traffic to them drop an astounding 20%. Google tested the loading difference between the 10 and 30 results pages and found that it was just half of a second. If half of a second made that much of a difference in how long users were willing to wait, how much of a difference could it make to your site if you carved a second or two off of load time?

Google, Page Load Time & SEO

Should you panic about your load time affecting your Google rankings? The great Matt Cutts says no – that it’s just one of over 200 signals they use in determining rank. But that’s not to say you should put it off either. Optimizing your page load time is a smart thing to do to help visitors get where they’re going faster, and it’s a better use of your time than obsessively tweaking your meta-tags. According to a recent post on SEOmoz, while site speed is a new signal, it doesn’t carry as much weight as the relevance of a page. Currently, fewer than 1% of search queries are affected by the site speed signal.

Speed Matters

Overall, while load time isn’t a significant contributor to Google rankings, it can contribute to the rise and fall of your conversion rate. Remember that for every second you shave off of load time, you’ll tend to boost customer confidence and trust in your site, and sow the seeds that will make them way to tell others about you. In those cases, a few seconds can make all the difference!

About the Author: Sherice Jacob creates beautiful, high-converting landing pages, in addition to designing blogs and writing compelling content. Learn more at iElectrify or @sherice on Twitter.

  1. There are a lot of other tricks and tips you can take as a webmaster to increase site load time, but it really depends on how well you know your visitors.

    If visitors rarely visit your about page, for example, consider cutting anything “about” page specific from your style sheets, make a dedicate CSS file for just that page.

    Even the smallest of improvements can make a big impact on your visitors experience.

  2. Perfect timing – this article went up on the same day that my friend Josh Fraser posted a video explaining how to do speed optimizations in an automated and real-time way, rather than tweaking and measuring everything by hand:

    http://www.onlineaspect.com/2011/05/10/torbit-bdnt/

    The app he’s talking about is called Torbit and they’re taking beta signups: http://torbit.com/

  3. Also, be aware that when you minify and compress everything, you lose progressive rendering in the browser.

    Progressive rendering allows the browser to display as much of the page as it can, while the remaining parts of the page are loading.

    Thus a fully minified page may show nothing for a second or two, while a progressively rendered page may show readable material in sub-second loads.

    Upshot: there is no silver bullet for site speed. Like SEO, it’s something that needs to be monitored, and adjusted for as desired.

    • Very true. It’s never just a 1 hit wonder type of close, it requires constant monitoring.

    • This is actually not true. There are other things you can do to break progressive rendering, but minification and compression aren’t the culprits. The browser ignores white space so it will execute and render the page exactly the same way whether it’s there or not. The only thing that changes is the delivery of the content and it takes longer when you’re sending down lots of extra bytes of white space and developer comments.

  4. Websites generally weigh around 130 KB, including things like images, scripts and style-sheets. and , The users agreed that 30 results per page sounded like a good idea. So Google implemented it on some results pages.

  5. Interesting stuff. A couple trick that are new to me that I’ll certainly play with. One thing I do find funny is that Google Analytics itself causes me to leave sites before I see a damned thing. As in hitting CTRL-W on a white page after 5-6 seconds.

    Status bar: “Waiting for Google Analytics.”

    While it does happen in Chrome too on my newer PC and Mac, on my older Mac with FireFox it’s just brutal. And it happens 4-5 times a day while I’m bouncing around the web.

    • oh yeah, I know what you mean… I guess it’s sort of ironic how that works, isn’t it? I’ve been using chrome after having an annoying experience with firefox.

  6. 73? You have some work to do – ;-).

    I had our site up to +90 on the Google Test. Then down to 89. It has become an obsession.

    When it comes to determining where to place your efforts first, I’d suggest people look in GA to see where traffic is coming from in the first place. That’s a good start.. And then primary Landing pages for AdWords campaigns etc….. Some of this can be very time consuming.

    Also, great advice from Dave Doolin re Minification & Compression.

    BTW, a very well-researched and written article.

  7. Agree 100% with Tanner on the importance of understanding your visitors. I’m a fan of real user monitoring approaches like boomerang (github.com/yahoo/boomerang) for that reason.

  8. I prefer MaxCDN as Content Delivery Network. Their pricing is awesome and the setup takes like 5 minutes with the W3 Total Cache plugin, if you want to use it for your blog.

  9. Great post! I’d like to add an additional suggestion on how to speed things up!

    8. Get a Tag Management System to load all the third party content into the page quickly!

  10. Well thought out and written article, I tend to agree with you on most of the points. You’ve covered it well, the only thing I’d point out is it depends why people come to visit a website in the first place.
    If the content is unique or special, I think people are willing to sacrifice more of their time in order to see what uniqueness you have to offer.
    But for a website trying to sell an average/highly competitive product your analysis is spot on imo.

    I like to use CMS systems for my websites to deploy manageable-friendly web solutions, but with that of course comes a performance hit, so I’m quite aware of looking at whatever ways I can to optimize. You’ve covered a lot of the key points well, my additional suggestions would be:

    1.
    Dedicated VPS, where you are guaranteed a minimum amount of resources.

    2.
    Nginx. Or at least finely tune Apache or whatever server. I found massive performance increase from using Nginx, including massive amounts of extra capacity. Went from 3-9 seconds a page to 0.2-1.2 seconds a page, and able to hand 40+ times more concurrent traffic. Siege indicated the nginix server had no worries serving up over 7000 pages per minute on a modest VPS compared to 120 or so on the same VPS using apache.

    I actually shifted to Nginx to handle activity spikes, the page load speed was a bonus.

  11. Of course! Speed is important! Why do you think Google became top of their game? It’s all because of speed. If you’re not the techie person who can optimize the speed, you just need to know one thing: keep it simple.

  12. To see if your site is already GZipped you can use GzipDetect:
    http://www.sysadmin.md:3000/

  13. Great post! Great that Google Analytics is now tracking load speeds – I would also recommend http://tools.pingdom.com/ which gives a great visual display of webpage element load times.

  14. Another trick i heared that can be taken is by optimizing your social buttons. Once your page is uploaded, the browser load only an image for every button. When the user presses the button, the java script generated. Did someone try this?

  15. Recently used these techniques to reduce the page load time on my site, but the best 1 I found was removing redundant script which I apparently had a bit of.

  16. We found out that the efficiency of your server is very important. The bigger your webshop is, how stronger your server needs to be. We are splitting up DB, Heavy content delivery, etc. Works great!

  17. Fantastic post.I’ve just posted about a proven way to increase your blog speed.Check it out
    http://www.towhidzaman.com/increase-wordpress-blog-speed-2/

  18. I realize that website load speed is just one factor for seo, but how does it impact indexing? I recently had a large number of pages de-indexed on a directory site and I wonder if it was because my site is now loading much slower than before (from 1 second to 4 seconds). I don’t know if this is the reason, but I think it could be one possible cause.

  19. As what they say, every second counts. Speed is indeed a great factor for your site. Your customers could get a lot with it.

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  21. Thanks for the tip on Yoast’s plugin, I haven’t been using that feature yet.

  22. Really nice article – these tools really are invaluable for getting under the bonnet and seeing just where and what elements of your site are slowing it down. I’d also recommend StatusCake.com’s tool which to me feels a nice alternative to Pingdoms – https://www.statuscake.com/tools/

  23. My blog is slow because it’s waiting and waiting and waiting for something from tkr.kissmetrics.com to finish loading.

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