Count out loud to two. That's how fast users expect your site to load. Add just one second to that, and 40 percent of your visitors are gone. Most of the users who stick around will leave with a negative perception: 79 percent of shoppers who suffer through poor site performance say that it makes them less likely to buy again from that site.
But despite this, sites are getting slower and bigger: Over the past year, average load time for ecommerce sites jumped to 10.7 seconds -- a 49 percent increase -- while page size climbed 67 percent. First impressions are critical, and page load time plays a substantial role in how users perceive your site and your brand. Digital marketers can no longer afford sluggish sites -- it's time to reverse the trend and focus on speed.
Old assumptions no longer apply
Many in the industry have long ignored page load time, operating under the assumption that users could quickly engage thanks to speedy ethernet connections. The exponential rise of mobile computing has changed the game, and new research proves that 10ths of a second affect conversion rates. (For example, Google found that a half-second delay dropped traffic by 20 percent.) These changes are forcing brands to re-think the implications of page load time, and how it fundamentally affects the success of each digital experience.
Slow site speed disconnects you from search customers
Page load time affects your site even before a user has arrived: Pages that load slowly often have higher bounce rates, a metric search engines use to decrease ranking in search results. This is especially important for mobile sites, as poor mobile performance can also affect the ranking of corresponding desktop sites. Simply put: slower page load time means a lower ranking, which decreases your visibility and traffic, and provides an opportunity for your competitors. Some potential customers may never see your site at all.
Speed plays a big role in user perception
Speed isn't just about raw numbers -- it's also about user perception. In one test on the psychology of waiting, a major airport found that moving its baggage carousels farther from each gate reduced customer complaints, because passengers spent eight minutes walking instead of waiting. Even though it took just as long to retrieve luggage, walking felt more satisfying because passengers were actively moving toward a goal rather than passively waiting. The airport found a clever way to alter their customers' perception of wait time, making something that used to be tedious feel quick and easy.
Smart design can make even heavy pages feel fast and simple
Much like the baggage example, users may feel a site is fast if they are able to quickly find their desired content, even if a page has not fully loaded. Google recommends that the visible portion of a site loads first -- so even if you have a heavy page, the user can start reading right away rather than waiting in front of a blank screen.
A smartly structured site also helps users find what they want faster, creating a sense of a speed and ease, by making their next steps intuitive. Building digital experiences with structure in mind forces designers to focus on the most important content, while eliminating or deprioritizing content that may slow down the user's experience -- avoiding both sluggish page load and the frustration of navigating a complex experience.
Site speed is both a challenge and an opportunity
Today's consumers are impatient, more technologically savvy than ever, and often are on the go, with less-than-perfect connectivity. They also have copious experience using well-built websites, which reinforce already-high expectations. This poses both a challenge and an opportunity for digital marketers -- consumers are hard to please, but providing fast and easy experiences can set you above your competitors. You can achieve this by:
- Making site speed a project benchmark -- Focusing on performance from the start underscores its importance, sets a clear goal for the entire team, and yields better results by avoiding significant last-minute re-work
- Understanding the implications of design decisions -- Ensure that creative and development teams collaborate from the start for a great design and great performance
The bottom line: No one likes to wait, and waiting can cost you money. It's time for digital marketers to embrace this challenge and make site speed a priority for every project.
Michael Histen is associate director, experience design at DigitasLBi. Co-author Michael Gauld is associate director, SEO, and co-author Jill (St. Cyr) Baker is senior creative engineer, technology at DigitasLBI.
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