Instant judgement of your site is hardwired into human psychology. As a business, you’ll want to make sure that your site is inviting, engaging, and delivers what each user is looking for. But what happens if those users are never getting to see that site, and you don’t even know how many, or why? One of the easiest ways to protect your company against undetected loss of online traffic, is to ensure that you have the speed your site really requires.
Consider these stats: Users expect a site to load in less than 2 seconds, and almost half of those will leave a site that takes longer than that to display a page. A three second load actually seems slow, and therefore substandard. 80% of people who experience a slow-loading website (more than 2 seconds) won’t return to that site. Some mobile users may wait one to two seconds longer, but that’s it. There is even less patience for small businesses and lesser-known brands than for bigger brands like Google and Facebook.
The search engine industry has noticed this, and responded with a shift of focus in SEO engineering from a technical point of view, to one of user experience. It has even been suggested that we think not of “Search Engine Optimisation,” but rather of “Search Experience Optimisation” (Matt Cutt).
Part of this shift includes taking into account the psychological reality of the way human beings interact with the web. We tend to be intense, impatient, and ready to give the next company a try without a second thought. With few exceptions, we simply won’t wait.
When it comes to user experience, website speed aka page loading time is the key concern.
You may have put a lot of work into an eye-catching site and receive a lot of feedback that it is worth the wait (I mean come on, it’s only one second, right?), but Google did some revealing experimentation in this area, and the results are worth considering.
Google VP Marissa Mayer asked web users “Would you rather see ten, or thirty results per page when you do a search?” Not surprisingly, the users overwhelmingly chose thirty. When Google implemented this on some pages, though, an interesting thing happened. Pages that displayed thirty results, and therefore took a fraction of a second longer to load, saw a drop in traffic of 20%.
This isn’t people loading it and then leaving; this is people never trying it out at all. But why? How can a slower site keep people from trying it in the first place?
We all know that it’s much more engaging and motivating to listen to someone talk about an experience that excited them and exceeded their expectations. It’s the same with your business as it is for the latest movie or vacation destination – you want your customers to speak highly of the experience of buying your products or services.
If a delay of even one second can drive many people away from your site, it can make even more of them lose that sense of instant gratification, top-quality service, and seamlessly-flowing shopping experience. It might not cause them to speak ill of your site, but it may stifle a significant percentage of referrals, just because the buyer isn’t excited about the experience. They might be okay with it, but it was nothing special.
Over time, this small loss in word-of-mouth marketing will add up, and dampen the growth of your company.
If no one is finding your site, you won’t even be retaining those customers who are more tolerant of slower load times. It’s nothing new, either. Since 2010 Google has been very open about the fact that they consider website speed a factor in determining the relevance of your site to website rankings. In other words, sites that load in under 2 seconds are placed higher on the rankings, and slower ones are pushed to the bottom.
Google estimates that fewer than 1% of search queries are affected by the site speed signal. This seems insignificant, but when you consider that there are more than 3.5 billion searches per day, that means Google is actually saying that about 35 million sites are being moved down the list due to fractionally slower loading times. Is yours one of them?
Google will also reduce the number of crawlers it sends to any site with load times longer than 2 seconds. This means that site updates, including blogs and sale notifications, might not be noticed by Google algorithms at all. The hard work or investment you put into building good content on your site may have no significant impact at all, because it is only effective if it is detected.
Bounce Rates and User Information
Google takes user interaction with your site into consideration when they rank you in their search results. They’ve been doing so since the early 2000’s, and their methods are recently increasing in efficacy due to advances in algorithm technology and AI.
This means that it isn’t just your content that matters, but how people interact with it. If a lot of people click on your site, you have higher traffic. That’s good. If a lot of those people then leave your site – for example they get tired of waiting for a page to load – then that’s bad. This is called a bounce rate, and the higher it is, the lower your site will rank. A high bounce rate is more harmful to your site traffic than if those people hadn’t found you in the first place.
Bounce rates not only affect your rankings on their own, but they also effectively decrease the average time spend by users on those pages. Google sees more time spent on a page as an indication of higher quality content, and will move such pages up the rankings. If someone spends only a fraction of a second on your page, perhaps not even waiting for it to finish loading, then your average viewing time for that page is affected. Someone else might spend five or more minutes on it, but that one bounce cuts that in half. Get almost half of your traffic giving up right at the beginning, and your user engagement – the apparent quality of your site – will drop, even if you are providing excellent content and many people are spending significant time on your site.
If a slow loading experience drives almost half of your online traffic elsewhere, or prevents them from finding you in the first place, then you are losing sales. Amazon ran speed-related tests and determined that they would lose US$1.6 billion every year if they were one second slower than they are. Now you aren’t doing the same volume as Amazon (no one is), but the principle is the same: if your site is slower, you get fewer customers finding and staying on your site. Fewer customers on your site means fewer sales.
You may be concerned about the cost of a high-speed business Internet account, but when you lay it alongside the potential losses in revenue, it suddenly becomes a very reasonable expense. Don’t neglect the invisible benefits of site speed optimisation.
Is your website slow? Learn the ways to speed up your website.