Does it matter if my website is fast?

Website speed - who cares? We're not on dial-up any more, right? So everyone's using broadband, and some people (who don't live out in the sticks like I do) have fibre connections, and really all this fretting about a handful of milliseconds is just daft. Right?

Well, no, actually. The speed of your website affects the way people experience it. It affects how likely they are to stick around and engage with what you're trying to tell them - which after all is the purpose of your site. And it also affects your search rankings.

We live in an age where people are simply not prepared to wait. If it doesn't load now (and I mean, right now), I'll just do something else.

Storm troopers in M&Ms

Reasons you should care about how fast your website is:

  • Chances are, a really big chunk of your audience are looking at your site via a mobile device. And mobile connectivity is slower and less reliable than broadband. A lot of folks still find themselves on 3G, and, well, we all know what that's like.
  • Web pages are becoming "heavier" (i.e. more data to transmit in order to render the page) with the popularity of certain web frameworks and libraries
  • Popular sites like Google or Facebook are setting the standard of how fast a page can load, which means that...
  • People are easily frustrated with pages that don't load quickly. There's an expectation for things to happen almost instantaneously.
  • Better performance improves conversion rates. Bounce rates are higher if people are made to wait.
  • Page speed also affects search rankings. Google prioritises results that load quicker

Speed and the bottom line

I think most of us know that we don’t want to wait for a website to load, even though in managing our own websites, it’s easy to forget that. But if that's not enough, there is hard data to support the fact that people care about speed, and that it absolutely, totally can affect your bottom line. Last year, the rail ticket retailer, reported some stats on their monitoring of page speed. Like many large organisations, they're very data-driven, and track and test everything, which means when the question of page speed arose, they were well placed to answer it. 

So the story goes that the marketing team wanted to “light the site up like a Christmas tree”, and put loads of cool stuff on it, because “people don’t care about speed”. The tech crowd were less convinced.... so, they tested that claim. And they discovered that when they reduced page response times by just 0.3 seconds across their funnel, they saw an £8m increase in annual revenue. As Mark Holt, the CTO of Trainline put it:

“8 million pounds' worth of customers care about speed”.

Obviously that’s a huge retailer with a huge amount of data – including directly generated revenue – to use as a measuring stick: but it holds true across the board. Slow websites hinder business.

How do I know if my website is fast enough?

Well, one way is to browse it yourself on a mobile device. If it feels a little slow to respond, then there's something worth looking at right there. But there are also tools you can use perform a more structured check, such as Google PageSpeed Insights. The tool shows how your website performs both on mobile and on desktop, and gives prioritised tips for improving its performance. Unless you're a developer you may find the recommendations a little unhelpful, but don't worry, just download that report and task someone else with improving things!

Lots of things can cause websites to be slow, but the usual suspects are:

  • poor quality shared hosting
  • bloated, inefficient code - usually due to very old code, or courtesy of an all-singing, all-dancing WordPress template.
  • failure to minimise the amount of data transferred on each page load

Don't let your website fail to do its job because it doesn't load fast enough.

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