Does website speed sound like a boring topic? Maybe something better suited to IT rather than marketing? Something you’ll get to “someday,” if ever?
You might want to reconsider. Quickly. Website speed can have a massive effect on conversions, both good and bad. Every extra second it takes your site to load reduces your conversion rate by up to 7%, according to research from the Aberdeen Group.
Here’s what else happens as a result of just a one-second delay in page load time:
– 11% fewer page views
– A 16% decrease in customer satisfaction
That’s the downside. Consider what happens when you can get this to work for you. Firefox did. When they reduced their average page load time by 2.2 seconds, they got 15.4% more downloads. That netted out to 10 million additional downloads for them that year.
If you could shave one second off your page speed load times, what dollar amount would that mean for your business? Well, according to Strangeloop Networks, if your website is making $100,000 per day, even a one-second page delay could cost you $2.5 million in sales every year.
So… is website speed starting to sound more interesting? I hope so. But page load speed, aka website speed, doesn’t just affect conversions. It’s also been shown to affect:
- Bounce rates
- Order size
- Customer satisfaction
- SEO rankings
If that last one got your attention, it should. (Here’s Google’s commentary on speed as a signal in their search ranking algorithms.) In fact, once you flip over the rock of website speed, all sorts of alluring data appears. This chart (from WebPerformanceToday.com) shows how bounce rates rise depending how long it takes for a page to load.
What’s even more interesting is that different traffic sources are more or less sensitive to page load times. Notice how Facebook traffic is particularly sensitive to page load times in this next chart. Direct traffic and search are still affected, but less so.
Are you motivated to shave off that one-second delay yet? Just in case you’re not, here’s one more case study: A 2012 study by TagMan found that a one-second delay in page-load time resulted in a 7% drop in conversion rate for the online retailer Glass Direct. Here’s how conversion rate shifted based on page load times in that study:
So if you’ve been having trouble with low conversion rates, high bounce rates, or poor engagement on your website, it might not be entirely your web content, or your marketing strategy or anything else. Your site might just be annoyingly slow.
3 Essential Tools to Measure How Fast Your Site Is – and to Optimize It
Before we get too deep into speeding up your site (though there are some super-simple ways to do that), let’s make sure there’s a problem in the first place.
Page Speed Tool #1: Pingdom
The first thing to do is to see how quickly key pages on your site load. There are many free online tools to do this. Pingdom is a good one.
Here’s what the results of a Pingdom test look like:
See that load time of 3.79 seconds? That’s way more than the two seconds or even three seconds recommended. Looks like I might have a problem.
Also note the page size (2 megabytes) and where the site was tested from. It’s not uncommon for companies to think their pages load reasonably quickly, only because their office is on a super-fast connection. How quickly a page loads is obviously affected by how fast a connection you have to the Internet. But how weighty your pages are also affects page load times. We can’t bring everybody on the planet a fast Internet connection, but we can give everybody on the planet a svelte, fast-loading version of our sites.
Page Speed Tool #2: Google PageSpeed Insights
All you gotta do to use this tool is to paste in a URL. Then you click the blue button. Pretty simple, huh? It will show you something like this:
Notice how it gives you a score, and then breaks what you need to fix out into three tiers: “Should fix”, “Consider fixing,” and “Passed”. Also note how it breaks out results for mobile versus desktop. I’m showing you the mobile results, as mobile traffic is now greater than desktop traffic, and that’s only going to grow.
Now, a lot of the suggestions here are going to completely baffle you if you’re not versed in the technical aspects of how websites work. Fixing most of these issues is probably something you’ll need the help of IT for. But if you’re a really small shop, or if you’ve got some web skills, check out James Upjohn’s YouTube tutorial on how to address most of the common issues you’ll see in a PageSpeed report.
His video walks you through an actual optimization of a site based on the PageSpeed results. The video is also less than six months old – critical criteria for a tool that changes often.
Page Speed Tool #3: Google Analytics
There’s one last essential tool you need to check for page load times. It’s Google Analytics. Analytics actually has three different reports related to speed. You can see them by logging into your account, going to “Your View.” Then go to the “Reporting” tab. Find “Behavior”, and then select “Site Speed.”
Here’s what that main site speed page looks like:
Rather than give you a detailed tutorial on how to interpret and use these reports, I’m going to point you to the Google Analytics page about the site speed reports. They can explain them better than I can.
Page Speed Best Practices Beyond the Assessment
So now you know what you’re dealing with. Hopefully, you’ve got a smokin’ fast site, minus maybe one or two little issues. Here are a few more things to keep your eye on to make sure your site stays fast. These are the absolute basics of site speed optimization, but if you’re non-technical, they’re a good start.
1. Optimize your images.
Create images according to the maximum size you’ll need them for. Save them in a web-friendly format and save them at the minimum size they still look good at (as “jpeg medium” for example, or “PNG-8”).
Then, head over to any one of the free online image compression tools. I like Jpeg Mini, but there are many other options. These tools shrink images by a factor of three and still leave them looking good. While you’re at it, remember to save that image with a meaningful, SEO-friendly filename. Every little bit of optimization counts!
2. For WordPress sites, keep plugins to a minimum
It’s easy to feel like a kid in a candy store with all the cool plugins available. We marketers are spoiled for choice. But test things first, and if they don’t work, disable the plugin, then delete it.
Too many plugins can severely slow down a site. Even disabled plugins can slow it down. In fact, there’s a cool plugin (I know, I know… another plugin?) called Plugins Garbage Collector that can clear the slate if you’ve gone a little overboard installing lots of plugins.
3. Minimize redirects.
Do you (or your staff) create, redirect and then delete lots of pages? Consider breaking this habit. Any more than a couple of redirects can slow down a site badly. This is a particularly common problem for companies that use dozens of landing pages.
4. Set up Google PageSpeed on your site.
It’s free, Google approved, and very effective.
5. Install the plugin W3 Total Cache or an alternative.
This plugin optimizes a WordPress site so it’s faster. It’s designed to improve user experience as well as page speed.
More advanced ways to speed up your site
These will probably require significant IT support and resources:
- Upgrade your hosting. One marketer reported an 8.47% improvement in his conversion rate simply by changing his landing page host.
- Use compression or Gzip
- Leverage browser caching
- Use a content distribution network (CDN) to serve up content faster. Options include MaxCDN, CacheFly, and Cloudflare, among others.
- Ask your hosting provider about installing Memcached or Redis. It’s not for everyone, but it can help.
To learn more about how to speed up your site, check out Moz’s resource page on page speed optimization.
Now you know enough to be dangerous
While that’s not enough information to make you into an expert, it is enough information for you to understand how powerful page load speed time is — and to help your website load faster. And while I couldn’t give you enough tech skills to fix everything, with those three assessment tools you’ll be able to determine if you’ve got a problem, where the problem might be, and what it might take to fix it.
I hope it helps. May your page load speeds drop, and your conversion rates soar! Oh – and may you and IT get along famously, forever.
Once you’ve got your website up to speed, be sure to read about the 7 most effective tactics to turn your website into a lead generation machine.