Candid Talks: How Site Load Speed Affects Customer Behavior

Pause whatever you’re doing and grab your phone. Open your web browser and type in the website of your favorite local restaurant. Count the number of seconds it takes to load. Is it one second? Three? Five? Monitor how your patience wavers as the seconds go up – are you tempted to click away?

Although the numbers vary, most studies agree that pages that take longer than three seconds to load loose around 53 percent of mobile users.

“As consumers are becoming more time poor and attention spans are decreasing, pages that don’t load immediately can mean that a customer will refuse to purchase from [that] site,” said Daniel Cheung, content and technical SEO growth consultant at Prosperity Media.  

Plus, Google uses website page load time as a significant factor in determining your site’s search engine ranking – i.e., where you show up on the page. The further down the page, the fewer people will see and click on your site. So, if your site is slow to load, you stand to lose not only current consumers but future users as well. As it stands now, Google’s magic number for the ideal page loading speed is two seconds. Any pages that load slower than that should expect to see a negative effect on their ranking.

The psychology of page load speed

We weren’t always impatient, zombie-eyed consumers tapping through webpages at lightning speed, but we are a product of our environment. The digital age reinforced the necessity and joy of instant gratification, so now many of us can’t go more than eight seconds without some form of external stimulation.

Consumers will often form an opinion of your entire business based on your websiteand how quickly it loads. “Not only are users expecting to see results quickly,” said Diona Kidd, senior internet marketing consultant at Knowmad, “and become disappointed when they don’t, but page speed also immediately affects their professional opinion of you.”

Users will perceive a slow or clunky website as a reflection of how your business is run and how much it cares, and with more than 40 percent of visitors who had a bad experience saying they’d share that bad experience with others, it’s in your best interest to seriously spruce up your website.

How to increase your website page load speed

The good news is that it isn’t rocket science to up your page load speed. Start by taking stock of your website and how it’s performing. You can use Google PageSpeed InsightsGTmetrix or Pingdom to get a breakdown of what needs attention.

1. Compress text and images.

The main culprits of site slowdowns, said Beverly Friedmann, content manager at ReviewingThis, are unnecessary images and video files: “Decreasing or converting your image sizing and scales can help dramatically, as well as removing any video content that isn’t critical to your site’s content.” You can also implement lazy loading, where images will load as the user scrolls.

2. Optimize for mobile.

Making your site mobile friendly is probably the most important thing you should do for your website. A majority of consumers now access the internet via mobile browser, not on a desktop.

“I can’t stress enough that websites in 2019 must be optimized for mobile,” said Yaniv Masjedi, CMO at Nextiva. “It’s all well and good if the ultra-workhorse processor in your desktop can load your website’s pages in 1-2 seconds, [but] most shoppers use mobile to browse.”

Masjedi said to make sure your website is designed so that it is responsive per device and screen size.  

3. Check your hosting provider.

Image compression and mobile optimization mean nothing without a good server behind them. Do your due diligence and shop around to make sure you have a good web host with solid customer support. [In the market for a web hosting service? Check out our best picks.]

“Hosting companies can become too popular, causing an influx of sites hosted on their servers,” said Audrey Strasenburgh, SEO strategist for LogoMix. “A quick switch [to another server] can save you vital seconds.”

4. Cache up.

Caching is the process of storing your information on a user’s device so that information can load faster. This is especially effective at boosting page load speeds for returning users.

“Depending on the software,” said Alex Furfaro, owner of Alex Furfaro SEO Consulting, “a static version of the website can be stored, and that version will be the initial load to a browser and will load much faster.”

5. Reduce CSS and JavaScript.

“Deferring code from the top of the website into the footer will decrease the initial load time for the user,” said Furfaro. “As the top code is loaded first, the user will see the top of the website as normal while the browser is finishing loading the code near the footer.”

Furfaro noted that this is best done by an expert, as this technique can have disastrous consequences if done wrong, namely by parts of the website losing functionality or loading incorrectly. You can also insert a plugin to minimize JavaScript code, which will increase page speed by eliminating “code bloat.” 

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