The need for page load speed

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The need for page load speed

Okay, yep, today I’m going to be talking about the need for page load speed. I’m going to be covering three key areas today.

Firstly, I’m going to talk about the importance of measuring page load speed, not only for us as digital marketers, but for online businesses in general. I’m then going to talk about avoiding common pitfalls and mistakes when it comes to actually measuring page load speed data. And then how we use page load speed data to importantly drive insight, action, and change. I’m going to do that via four straightforward steps, and it’s going to help us to make the Web generally a bit of a faster place.

Why page load speed is important

So, to start, I think it really begins with us as digital marketers actually being more mindful of page load speed. Actually, if you step back and think about it, it’s really important in our day-to-day jobs. For example, from an SEO point of view, we all know that page load speed’s a ranking factor, therefore we need to be mindful of page load speed as a metric as part of our SEO efforts.

In terms of paid marketing, you want to avoid spending on pages with very slow load times. So again, being mindful of page load speed is important as part of our paid media and paid marketing efforts.

In terms of UX, we’ve all been there, slow loading pages are incredibly frustrating. It gives a negative perception on the brand. On the flip side: very, very fast loading page? Positive impact on brand. So, it’s really, really important from a UX point of view as well.

Finally, from a conversion point of view, there’s been large case studies done by the likes of Walmart and Amazon which go some way to prove that there’s a very strong correlation between page load speed and conversion rate. So, it has an impact on that end goal as well. It touches a lot of different areas that we deal in on a day-to-day basis.

Why you need to measure page load speed

In terms of page load speed, it’s really important and every second counts. Even just a few seconds difference could make quite a lot of difference in terms of the perception I was talking about.

So, I’m going to set a little experiment going here. On the left-hand side, you’re going to see a two-page user experience with a one second page load between each step. And on the right-hand side you’re going to see an experience where it’s the same experience, but there’s a four second gap between each page load.

I’m going to start that off now. You see on the left? Very, very quick experience. On the right, we’re still waiting and we’re still waiting, we’re still waiting…and there we go, we got there.

We’re talking about a very simple user experience there. It was just two pages, only a three second difference, but already you can see there’s quite a lot of difference there. On the right-hand side there, it’s going to be a lot more frustrating for users. And that could have negative implications on the brand. So, a really, really important thing to bear in mind.

The trouble with measuring page load speed

Hopefully there’s already a couple of really compelling reasons as to why we need to be mindful of page load, why we need to be thinking about it, and why we need to be measuring it. However, on the flip side, page load speed metrics often suffer from a lack of exposure when you come to analysing them.

So, we all use Google Analytics and when we land on Google Analytics we see the audience overview report, as you see here. We’ve got the usual metrics of sessions, page views, you’ve got an indication of traffic quality, but nothing on page load.

In fact, if you want to try and find anything to do with page load metrics in Google Analytics, they’re actually buried three clicks deep within the menu. So, you have to go into the behaviours menu, click on that. Then you see site speed and click on that. Then you’ve got to do an additional click to actually get to a report.

Furthermore, the behaviour menu is actually one of the most populated menus in Google Analytics. So, unless you know that you’re going to go and look for it, it can quite easily be missed.

When you eventually get to a report, you’ll see some data like this. And actually what you can see here is, the data’s quite volatile. There’s lots of spikes and lots of noise going on. And that’s due to one fundamental limitation.

By default, Google Analytics only collects page load speed for 1% of your total audience. That’s a pretty unrepresentative data set – you’re talking one percent out of your whole audience and you are ignoring the other 99%.

At the same time, even if you’re a particularly large website…so, this particular example, this website’s averaging around about 10,000 page views a day. So, in that example, it’s only collecting page load speed data for 100 of those users.

That’s quite a big difference. Of those 100 users where it’s collecting the page load speed data, it only takes a couple of those people in the audience to have had an abnormal experience, and that’s going to start throwing the data around. The result is data that’s not particularly robust, it’s very, very volatile, and it’s actually very difficult to analyse and to get any kind of insight from.

I think you’ll agree with me in terms of the poor sample, and also the fact that page load speed metrics aren’t particularly visible. It’s not really good enough. Things need to change. If we want to use this data to inform business decisions, it’s got to be a lot better. Thankfully, there are ways we can address that. And that’s what I’m going to talk through now.

How to make your page load speed data more trustworthy

First and foremost, we need to make page load data robust and trustworthy. That is really the foundation of everything. If we can get that robust and trustworthy, we can start using the data to inform business decisions. Thankfully within Google Analytics, that can be done quite easily with a relatively simple code change.

Making changes to the code

So, it’s about upping that sample rate from one percent up to a much bigger number. You can do this whether you’ve got a Google Tag Manager or not.

It is slightly easier if you do have Google Tag Manager, but this is an example if you don’t have Google Tag Manager enabled. It’s a very simple code change, it’s just the case at the bottom there, of adding a little bit of extra code. It’s a field called ‘site speed sample rate’, and then you set that to a number anywhere between one and 100. I’d recommend that you just set that to 100. We want to be collecting as much data as we can. More data informs better decisions.

If you are a particularly large website, then just be mindful that the site speed sample rate is limited. It will limit to 10,000 data point collections a day. But that’s still a huge amount of data, and lots and lots of data to drive insight from. So, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue, even for a very large website.

As you can see, it’s a relatively simple code change. So that’s something that a developer could change very, very quickly, so it’s very actionable. And by doing this, it’s going to remove that volatility from the data. It’s going to give us confidence that we can use that data to drive forward change.

Making changes via Google Tag Manager

In terms of Google Tag Manager, it’s even easier, and that’s something you can control yourself without getting the need of a developer to help you. So, in Google Tag Manager you just need to go to your page tag. Then when you go into there, you just go down to more settings, set the field of site speed sample rate, set it to the value of 100. Save it, do your usual quality checks, preview publish, and then you’re all done, all set, all ready to go.

How to use page load speed data to drive business decisions

Now that we’ve got data that we can be confident of using, in order to drive business decisions forward, it’s all about using that data now to drive actions and results. I’m going to go through a four-step process of how you can use page load speed data to really drive those actions and insights.

Step 1: Monitor page load speed in KPI reporting

Step number one. Before we do any kind of deep dive analysis or insights, we need to be monitoring page load speed and KPI reporting. If we’re monitoring it and having that metric ingrained within the business, that’s a really, really good starting point.

If we can measure the top-level performance, we can see what’s happening moving forward. Now every business’s KPI reporting is slightly different, but it forms around two key areas: extraction and visualisation.

In terms of extraction, it may be that you just go into Google Analytics and get the data out in a relatively straightforward way. Or, you hook the Google Analytics API up with tools such as R and Google Sheets to do it in a much more automated way. In terms of visualising that data and really bringing it to the fore within your business, again it could be something relatively straightforward, like using a tool like Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel. Or it could be you’re using a BI tool such as Power BI or Google Data Studio to push that data forward to your audience.

Step 2: Deep dive analysis by page to highlight outliers

Once you’ve got your KPI reporting in place, and you’re monitoring page load speed at a top level, step number two is to do a deep dive analysis by page to highlight outliers. What I’d recommend here is looking at page load speed on a page by page basis.

Use the filters and secondary dimensions in Google Analytics to highlight and isolate pages with a high number of page views, but slow loading times. They’re the pages with your biggest opportunity, and they’re the ones that you should be focusing on first.

Step 3: Run outliers through page speed insights tool

Once you’ve got those pages and you’ve isolated them out, step number three is to run those outlying pages through Google’s PageSpeed insight tool.

Now this is a really useful tool, because it gives Google’s kind of standing and uptake on how fast or how good that page is from a page load perspective. It’ll give a score for mobile and desktop out of 100, but then it will also give you some areas where you could look at optimising. So it gives you that kind of actionable insight off the back of it as well.

And it’s a really, really good starting point as to, if you’re not too sure of where to start in terms of improving your page load speed, ‘these are good pointers to get started’. Then we can look at addressing each of these issues, go through that process again, re-run it through the tool, and see what impact that’s made. Look at the impact it’s made on page load speed as well. So again it’s all fully measurable.

Step 4: Cluster analysis and correlation

Step number four, and this is kind of the icing on the cake really. Once you’ve got into that process of KPI reporting, regular monitoring, identifying your pages with biggest opportunity, improving those, the next step is to be a little bit more sophisticated with your analysis. And we can do some cluster analyses and correlation analyses as well.

So, for example, we could segment all of our pages into fast, medium, and slow page load speeds, so you have three distinct segments. And then you can run those segments in Google Analytics to see how the behaviour differs.

For example, what’s the conversion rate on our slow page load pages? What’s the user engagement? What’s the bounce rate? Those sorts of things. By segmenting them into those three different clusters, there’ll be lots and lots of insights to be had, which can inform business decisions moving forward.

Not only that, you can then take that a step further by looking at those segments, combining that say with Google Search Console data, to see what impact that has on organic traffic, what impact slow page load had on rankings – that sort of thing. So there’s lots of different ways you could go with this data and go deeper and deeper. You’ll get lots of insight to help make these pages load faster, provide a better user experience, and just generally make the Web a little bit faster.

Why we must focus on page load speed

So, in conclusion, these are the reasons why we must all be focusing on page load speed:

    • Firstly, as I talked about right at the start, it underpins all key areas of digital marketing. It’s something we need to be more mindful of on a day-to-day basis, because it affects everything that we do.
    • Also, page load speed links strongly to brand perception. Fast loading pages? Positive brand perception. Slow loading pages? More negative brand perception.
    • Ultimately, traffic and conversion KPIs also depend on page load as well. So quite often in a business, traffic and conversion are real key KPIs, but page load feeds into both of those, so we need to be measuring it.
    • Page load speed’s really important, because you can’t improve what you don’t measure. If you’re not measuring page load speed, you’ve got no way of knowing to improve it. So, let’s measure it, and from measuring it, we know what to do to improve moving forward.
    • As I touched upon within my four-step process, there’s lots of opportunity with this data for analysis and segmentation. Get that data right, get the robustness there by increasing the sample. There’s so much you can do with page load speed data. Lots of deep dive analyses to do, lots of really, really interesting insights. And actionable insights as well, which can really help make your pages faster, and deliver that better user experience.
    • And finally, all of this provides insight that drives change, drives improvement, makes your website faster.

That’s it from me. Thank you.