There are some things you should never rush but, when it comes to the speed that your website loads, faster is always better. It used to be our internet connections that were slow but, with today’s superfast-broadband, 5G & fibre-optic internet connections, the problem of load times is more likely to be slow (cheap) web-hosting. There are other potential causes, of course, but if your hosting is slow, nothing else you do will make a difference and those slow load times might have a significant impact on how your customers react to your site. Something as fundamental as good quality hosting is often overlooked when formulating an SEO strategy or considering customer experience.
Why does load time matter?
First, we should point out that there is a difference between response time and load time.
Response time is how quickly a server responds, how quickly it says “yes, I’m here” and is mainly down to the hosting.
Load time is different – it is how long the page’s contents take to load which will be a lot longer, especially if you have large images, video or Ajax content. Up to a point, Google won’t punish you for slower load time, but it does consider how quickly you get a useable page onto the users screen. Your customers also consider how quickly that happens.
The overall speed (response & load times) forms one of the many issues considered in our approach to digital strategy and it’s one the many areas we monitor. From a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) point of view, Google looks at your site’s response time and initial load time as part of the ranking criteria; slow sites appear further down the results. If your competitor’s site has equal keywords, inbound links and authority, response time could be the deciding factor in who comes first in those precious SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) but that’s not the only problem.
A more direct concern than SEO is your customer’s negative response to slow loading pages; if something is slow, they’re gone. Even the big-boys have their own problems when it comes to slow loading pages, as this info indicates:
- At Google, 500 milliseconds of extra load time caused 20% fewer searches (source: Marrissa Mayer, Google)
- At Yahoo, 400 milliseconds of extra load time caused a 5-9% increase in the number of people who clicked “back” before the new page even loaded (source: Nicole Sullivan, Yahoo!)
- At Amazon, 100 milliseconds of extra load time resulted in a 1% drop in sales (source: Greg Linden, Amazon)
That last one is especially informative; if 1/10th of a second delay in a page load time loses 1% of sales at Amazon it’s a big deal to them, or anyone with lot of traffic & a transactional website – But and extra half a second or longer load time might not have the same impact on the website of an SME, or a lifestyle brand that shows big images.
How does your site measure up?
Google offers various tools including Google analytics & Page Speed Insights to give you an indication of your websites response & load times and also what might be causing delays in the page load times. Anything over a half-a-second response time isn’t good. Anything over one second starts to represent a problem.
Slow load times may be (partly) down to poorly-written code or images that aren’t optimised and a few other subtle factors but those can often be quickly ruled out or resolved, but both response time & load time can be affected if your hosting isn;t up to scratch. Most cheap hosting is intended for personal use and sole-trader businesses, only able to handle just a few hundred visitors per month. Some of them are based abroad and the journey is what’s taking the time. If your site uses a CMS and gets more than one or two thousand visitors per month, bargain-basement hosting is not for you. What you need will be down to your own organisation’s requirements so it might be helpful to talk to someone at the hosting company or a web consultant who can help you find the best hosting options answer for your organisation.
Pay attention, but don’t obsess about speed.
The lesson to be learned here is that speed matters. People do not like to wait, so do not make them do so unnecessarily. At the same time, remember that people won’t necessarily desert you if they have to wait a little bit longer, especially if the user experience and customer experience they get afterwards is worth the wait.
Speed is important, and slow sites are unbearable to use, but once you have your site’s speed above a certain point, it isn’t as significant to your rankings or conversions as other factors.
If you don’t believe me, just look at the queue for a coffee in Starbucks or Costa.
Essentially, find a balance, make speed one consideration in your SEO & CX but not the only one.
Edit: We recently wrote a post about the veracity of the popular claim that “40% of visitors will abandon a site that takes longer than 3 seconds to load“.