A Need for Speed: The Truth about Page Load Time

Think about the last time you were shopping on the internet. If you were looking for something specific, chances are you bounced around from site to site a bit to find the perfect item. But what made you bounce?

Forty-seven percent of web users say that they’ll leave a site if it doesn’t load in two seconds or less – and 79 percent of users who abandon a site with poor load time won’t return again. Ever. (Source: Kissmetrics) This is detrimental for conversions, for obvious reasons.

Dive in to page load time with us to understand why and how to make sure your site isn’t losing customers by being too slow.

Page Load Time

What is page load time?

Page load time is how long it takes for a page on a website to fully display its content. Pretty straight-forward, right? Right.

“Page load time” is one of two subcategories under “page speed,” the other of which is “time to first byte” or how long it takes for your browser to receive the first byte of information from the web server.

We’re focusing on page load time for the purposes of this article, however, because:

  • Page load time affects users directly, whereas time to first byte is not a noticeable concept for the average web user.
  • Page speed is often confused with site speed. To be clear, there is a difference between page load time and site speed. Site speed is page load time – page speed – compounded. It is the average speed of a sample of page views on a site.

Why should I care about page load time?

Page load time is important for two reasons:

  • We humans want things fast. A recent survey showed that nearly half of web users will abandon an online purchase if the page or site loads too slowly. In 2016, users expect pages to load within 2 seconds.

In short, if your pages aren’t loading at the speed of light, chances are you’re losing customers just as quickly.

  • Robots expect other robots to get on their level. In 2010, Google told us that site speed is a factor in search engine rankings. This is where “time to first byte” comes in to play. While it is not necessarily the most critical of signals (by comparison to, say, page content relevance), site speed, page load time and time to first byte should still be taken into consideration when optimizing a site for search. Google is using the metrics as a way to gauge usability on your site to determine where your pages should fall on the SERP.

And we all know that those search engine results are pretty speedy.

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Does page load time matter just for desktop, or mobile too?

You’ve heard it again and again – mobile is king. We moved past the mobile tipping point in 2014, which means that the majority of digital media consumption is happening on mobile. Where the average web user spends 5.6 hours a day with digital media, 2.8 hours – or 51 percent of total hours spent – is mobile usage.

Those are some powerful statistics. Don’t worry, we have more.

If over half of the time spent on the web is through mobile devices and 73 percent of mobile users say they’ve tried visiting a site they’ve deemed ‘too slow,’ then mobile page load time should be a high priority for developers, right?

The critical component here, however, is the fact that mobile eCommerce conversion rates are generally pretty low by comparison to desktop – 1.53 percent of global web shoppers convert on smartphones compared to 4.43 percent who do so on desktop.

So, we can safely say that page load time isn’t the only factor that negatively affects mobile conversion rates, but it should certainly be a top consideration when focusing on a mobile-first eCommerce strategy – which, of course, should be a priority given all that unconverted traffic.

How can I test my site’s page load time?

Just like most things, there are plenty of site and page speed tools out there on the World Wide Web. We like Google, so we use Test My Site, which launched in June 2016 and gives mobile friendliness and mobile speed insights for both mobile and desktop all in one test.

We were curious about the performance of a client site (www.pkdcure.org) we recently launched, so we plugged it in to Test My Site. Here are our results:

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I’m not a developer – how do I read these scores?

Like any good test subject, your website will receive scores in mobile friendliness, mobile speed, and desktop speed. Green is good, yellow is decent, and red is bad – with ranges throughout to help determine what key indicators need to be fixed to create a better score. Looks like we did pretty well, all things considered. Those things are:

Mobile Friendliness

The Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation’s website is, as Google puts it, “So friendly.”

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To determine this, Google checks five things:

  • Tap Target Size: Because the average adult finger is about 10mm wide, tap targets – links or buttons that need to be tapped – should be properly sized.
  • Plugin Usage: Special types of web content – Flash, Silverlight, and Java, for example – usually need to be processed by plugins. Most mobile devices do not support plugins, so they’re a big no-no for mobile friendliness.
  • Viewport Configuration: The viewport controls the dimensions for a website’s width and scale on devices other than desktop. Without a viewport, websites that are brought up on mobile will simply be fit to the screen with typical desktop dimensions.
  • Content Sizing: With limited width and height comes limitations for images, text boxes and other content. Scaling content to fit within the viewport allows for a better user experience that does not include being forced to scroll back and forth to see additional content.
  • Font Size Legibility: Mobile devices are smaller than desktops, right? So, font sizes usually need to be increased for full visibility on mobile – otherwise the user is forced to zoom in.

Mobile Speed

We have a bit of work to do to bolster mobile speed on the PKD Foundation’s website:

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This mobile-speed score is determined by eight factors:

  • JavaScript and CSS Usage: For a page to render, or load completely, the browser has to pick apart the code that’s made up primarily of HTML. If the browser finds code that is not HTML – script – it has to follow the path that the script tells it to before continuing to pick apart the rest of the code.
  • Browser Caching: Ideally, a server can hold on to some pieces of a website so that, if a user visits the site more than once, the server can hand over those same pieces rather than having to rebuild them.
  • Image Optimization: Images often require the most bandwidth for download, but there are plenty of things that can be done to make them smaller.
  • Resource data: JavaScript, CSS, and HTML code can oftentimes include unnecessary or redundant data that does not affect the way it loads. To minify means to remove said data.
  • Landing Page Redirects: Forcing a server to find a different version of your site or page when loading on mobile – such as www.domain.com directing to m.domain.com – causes delays called response loops.
  • Compression: Modern browsers respond well to gzip – a generic compressor that can remember previously seen content and attempt to find and replace duplicate data for efficiency’s sake.
  • Server Response Time: This is a measurement of how long it takes the server to interpret all necessary code to get a page loaded.
  • Visible Content Prioritization: Typically, the amount of data that a server can handle at one time is 14.6 kilobytes. If the content that exists above the fold is larger than that, additional communication between the server and browser is required.

Desktop Speed

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Most websites perform better on desktop than on mobile, and the PKD Foundation site is no different:

Desktop and mobile speed scores are determined by the same eight factors. The scores and recommendations differ because of the differences in ability between devices and platforms.

How do I boost my site’s scores?

This is where you’ll need to loop your developer back in to the conversation. If you’re an overachiever bothered by yellow or red on your scorecards, Test My Site gives you the opportunity to download a full report, complete with recommendations for how to make improvements.

In order to push PKD’s mobile speed into the green, we’ll plan on making adjustments to whatever JavaScript and CSS is keeping the page from being able to load faster. We did a quick inspection to see what might be causing the issue before submitting a ticket to our developers.

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You can find out more about each of Google’s rules by following the links below:

Speed Rules

Usability Rules

How do I know how my site measures up?

The one downfall about Test My Site is that it doesn’t give us the actual page load time. There are plenty of other test tools that offer load time. The reason we don’t automatically recommend these tools over Google is that they’re oftentimes geared more towards developers than business owners or marketing managers. Many also have paywalls that either suggest or require you to pay for the results or for continued site monitoring, which isn’t necessary when you have a good web developer and Google on your side.

Here’s what we found when we used a tool called Pingdom to test www.pkdcure.org:

page speed 7

Thanks to Moz, we also know that:

  • If your site loads in 5 seconds it is faster than approximately 25% of the web
  • If your site loads in 2.9 seconds it is faster than approximately 50% of the web
  • If your site loads in 1.7 seconds it is faster than approximately 75% of the web
  • If your site loads in 0.8 seconds it is faster than approximately 94% of the web

You can – and should – use these metrics to determine targets for your own site based on content and responsiveness.

Conclusion

Page load time is a critical factor for creating an ideal user experience, especially when it comes to conversions. While it isn’t a direct ranking factor for search engines, Google does take page load time into consideration when evaluating the user-friendliness of your site. There are plenty of quick and easy tools for business owners and marketing managers that will help determine how quickly your site is loading, complete with a comprehensive guide for what your developers might need to focus on to boost performance.

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