The debate of “form vs. function” has raged throughout history (my wife and I argue about this all the time!). It’s always been something I’ve encountered in working on SEO projects with clients. Many recommended changes for improved SEO have had a cost of sacrificing something in terms of presentation—the visual appearance of the page. Sometimes SEO has won that contest, sometimes Presentation has.
In the past year or so, this decision has come to the forefront again in web design, this time between presentation and page load speed. Page load speed was actually a pretty important consideration about 10 years ago, but with the rapid growth of broadband connections through DSL and fiber expansion, coupled with growing technologies such as Flash, the “weight” of a page (and correspondingly load speed) became less and less of a concern. There was so much bandwidth available; of course we should be taking advantage of it!
However, it seems that all those bells and whistles we’ve been putting in place are starting to catch up with us. Page Load Speed is again on the minds of many web developers, as well as Marketing Professionals with some responsibility for their web sites.
Why Does It Matter?
For the most part, it boils down to Usability (a common theme at Web Site Optimizers!). People like and expect web pages to load quickly, and aren’t afraid to go where they will get that. And as we know well, a poor user experience leads directly to lower conversion rates. And none of us want low conversion rates.
According to Gomez.com, nearly half of the users on the web expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less. A 2009 Forester study showed that the average internet user expected a load time of about 2 seconds. These expectations directly affect conversions. The Gomez study showed that reducing load time from 8 to 2 seconds improved Conversion Rate by 74%. There are numerous other case studies out there that show double-digit conversion increased when reducing page load time.
Another reason your load time is important is that it could affect your ranking in Google. Back in April of 2010, Google announced that they were factoring page load speed into their ranking algorithm. They gather this information based on real experiences of users of the Google Tool Bar. Right now, Google says this actually only affects the rankings for about 1% of web sites, but they clearly value page load speed, and as someone responsible for your company’s web site, so should you.
How Do I Know What My Page Load Speed Is? How Do I Know If It Is Good Or Bad?
If you are a user of Google Webmaster Tools (and even if you’re not a techie, you should be), there is a great new section to get a lot of good information regarding page load speed. You can get all of the details on that here.
Another excellent tool is webpagetest.org. You can use this site to get very detailed page load information for any page, without having to add any code to your site or wait days or weeks for data to be compiled. Webpagetest will give you details as to what components of your page are bogging down the load time. There is also a helpful “Page Speed Score” complete with an A to F letter grade for six different factors. If you are seeing a lot of F’s for your site, you might want to talk to your development team about how these can be improved.
How Can My Page Load Speed Be Improved?
Okay, this part does get a little more technical, but I’ll keep it at a high level. There are many sites out there that can go into much more detailed information on these if you are interested (Webpagetest.org has a lot of good information).
- Make sure your images are as compressed as possible without making quality an issue. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a site with a photo greater than a megabyte that could have been 10k or less. If your site uses photos that are greater than 72 dpi (very few monitors can display at greater resolution) of uses a large file with html code to have the browser size down the photo, you’re just using extra download time for nothing. You can check this yourself by simply looking at the properties of the image from within your browser. If you aren’t sure how, ask me in the comments.
- For blogs, use a caching plugin. Plugins like Super Cache for WordPress will create a static html file that your webserver will serve to your visitors instead of having WordPress dynamically generate it from the PHP scripts and the database.
Page load speed is becoming more and more important. Evaluate yours now, and make sure it is an important consideration for your developer.