Posted on January 5, 2011 by
Spread the word...

In this post I will explain the significance of having a fast loading website, both in terms of user experience and SEO. Furthermore, I will discuss some methods of making your site faster.

Please note some of these methods would be of basic nature; others would require intermediate technical knowledge to implement.

According to Jacob Nielson who is a renowned international expert in the field of usability and user experience, download speeds are the “single-most important design criterion on the Web”. Performance has always played a huge rule in client retention particularly with ecommerce sites. From a search engine optimisation perspective, addressing performance issues should be one of your top priorities otherwise you might lose search engine real estate which will ultimately have undesirable effects on your internet marketing campaign.

That is because back in April 2010 Google announced the inclusion of site speed as a ranking signal in their search algorithm, the official statement from Google said:

Speeding up websites is important — not just to site owners, but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there. But faster sites don’t just improve user experience; recent data shows that improving site speed also reduces operating costs. Like us, our users place a lot of value in speed — that’s why we’ve decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings. (Google Inc. 2010)

A lot of businesses forget the fact that slow pages can cause visitor abrasion and if performance is really bad then it can cause permanent visitor abrasion. Having a fast loading webpage not only helps your website in terms of SEO but it can help you attract and retain visitors, and offer better user experience which may have a significant impact on the number of page views and conversions you get.

In 2006 JupiterResearch’s surveyed over a thousand online shoppers which gave insight into actions and behaviour of consumers when they are faced with low performing web pages. The research indicated that 33% of broadband shoppers won’t tolerate a wait time of more than 4 seconds for a web page to load, the same survey indicated that 43% of users who use a different connection than broadband will not tolerate a waiting time of more than six seconds.

Poor site performance leads to shopper dissatisfaction and site abandonment. Thirty-three percent of is satisfied online shoppers attributed their dissatisfaction to the Web site being too slow or taking too long to render. Another 28 percent attributed their dissatisfaction to error messages they received. More than one-third of shoppers who were dissatisfied with a retail site’s performance (i.e., Web site too slow, site crash, error message received) actually abandoned the site. (JupiterResearch, 2006)

JupiterResearch recommends that retailers make every effort to keep page rendering to no longer than four seconds. Thirty-three percent of consumers shopping via a broadband connection will wait no more than four seconds for a Web page to render. (JupiterResearch, 2006)

Online shopper loyalty is contingent upon quick page loading, especially for high-spending shoppers and those with greater tenure. Forty-two percent of online shoppers with two or more years of online tenure (i.e., number of years since first accessing the Internet) stated that quick page loading is important to their site loyalty. Fifty-five percent of online shoppers who spend more than $1,500 online per year insist on pages loading quickly. (JupiterResearch, 2006)

Furthermore, other research papers indicate that if your website loads slowly then it is likely to be perceived as less credible (Fogg et al. 2001) and of inferior quality (Bouch, Kuchinsky, and Bhatti 2000). On the other hand, a fast loading website is perceived to be more credible & attractive (Skadberg and Kimmel 2004). So not only does slow pages affect conversion and ranking they can also have adverse effect on branding.

A couple of years ago Steve Souders of Yahoo’s “Exceptional Performance Team” suggested 14 rules for fast webpages. Following these rules will ensure that your site is served as quickly as feasibly possible. Implement as many of these rules as you can and think about investing in others if it applies to you.

Please bear in mind that I had added a few more rules to Souder’s  original 14 rules. The rules that I have added are basic but its always the basic stuff that make a difference.

So without further ado here are the 17 rules of speed optimisation:

  • Always declare image height/width
  • Reduce the colour depth of images
  • Reduce HTTP Requests
  • Minify/combine Javascript files
  • Minimize round-trip times
  • Minimize DNS lookups
  • Avoid 404/410s
  • Avoid redirects for missing content
  • Remove duplicate scripts
  • Combine UI images using CSS sprites
  • Add an Expires header
  • Gzip components
  • Put CSS at the top
  • Put script at the bottom (unless it absolutely needs to put it in <head>)
  • Avoid CSS expressions
  • Make AJAX cacheable
  • Use a CDN (Check out Media Temple ProCDN).

Please remember that some of these rules are interdependent. For example, reducing HTTP request automatically reduces rount-trip times, combining CSS or JS files automatically reduces HTTP requests.

Bear in mind browsers queue assets and allow a limited number of parallel downloads which means parts of a web page have to wait for the queued assets – this can slow pages down. So as ironic as it might sound, in some cases you might need to increase HTTP requests & DNS lookups to circumvent browser’s sequential downloading. A prime example of this technique is domain sharding which is the practice of having resources across multiple host names which help decrease latency as it enables the browser in question to simultaneously download multiple threads per host name – avoiding the whole queuing limitation.

References:

JupitorResearch/Akamai. June 2006. “Retail Web Site Performance: Consumer Reaction to a Poor Online Shopping

Skadberg, Y., and J. Kimmel, “Visitors’ flow experience while browsing a Web site: its measurement, contributing factors and consequences,”

Fogg, B. J., et al., “What Makes Web Sites Credible? A Report on a Large Quantitative Study,”

Bouch, A., Kuchinsky, A., and N. Bhatti, “Quality is in the Eye of the Beholder: Meeting Users’ Requirements for Internet Quality of Service,”

Mehdi Khosrowpour, “Managing information technology in a global economy”