(Lack of) Speed Kills: Why Website Performance Means More than Ever

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Given the rage produced by a two-second delay while loading a web page, it should come as no surprise that site speed has a major impact on the bottom line. So much so, that countless studies have shown that a single second can be the difference between a sale and self-imposed exile. In other words, visitors will never return. So how exactly does speed impact success, and what can your web design company do to ensure you’ve got a smooth-performing site?

In 2010, Google announced it was adding website speed to its list of metrics (first to desktop sites, then to mobile versions in 2013). Since then, website design has become a much more measured and complex discipline, with companies doing their best to strike a balance between the wow factor and the performance factor (at least, that’s what they should have been doing). There’s been a lot of debate about how website speed and page-loading times affect search engine results, with little current evidence supporting a link between the two. However, at least today, the issue in play is not so much whether users will be able to find your slow-moving website, but whether they will stick around long enough to do what you want them to.

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In the past, designing a website meant showcasing the latest innovations and the coolest features. But speed and site performance are continually changing the way websites are created. Now it’s about dumping excess cargo overboard and remaining agile to user demands.

Which elements influence website speed the most?

It’s not hard to imagine how having a laggard for a website could be bad for business. Expectations are only rising, and user experiences will increasingly dictate the success of a site—how often it converts, how low the bounce rates are, how often visitors come back. Short attention spans don’t help, but it’s definitely something that a web design company has to consider when putting all the pieces together.

Here are just a few of the many factors that impact site speed and performance:

  • Image size
  • Amount and placement of JavaScript code
  • Browser caching
  • Placement of CSS (external or internal)
  • Number of page redirects
  • Order in which content is displayed
  • Server response time
  • Presence of plugins
  • Font size (too small being a negative)

Taken together, these factors form the larger picture of user experience. Google’s stated goal is—and has always been—to provide the best possible experience for users, and speed forms a large part of that. Mobile devices further complicate the picture for web design companies.

In 2013, Google unveiled its decision to rank the speed of mobile sites as well, which would impact search engine results pages accessed by mobile devices. Some web designers reacted instinctively by hiding slow-loading pages from search engines, or revamping content to be much less useful. Google, for its part, continued to put the best interests of the user front and centre, reminding designers that speed is only one of 200 metrics and shouldn’t be targeted to the detriment of content relevance and overall user experience.

Find the right web design company to ensure your users don’t have to play the waiting game

There is no magic ratio or formula to determine ideal page-loading time relevant to content and design features. But conversion rates are the most enlightening measure, especially when they show a spike in desertions at a certain page or when accessing the website on a mobile device. And although it’s always better to begin with a swift-moving website, it’s never too late to trim the fat.

When you’re auditioning web design companies to boost your online presence, try not to lose sight of the larger picture. Ask questions about what experience they have in streamlining site performance, including producing clean code, optimizing images and generally adhering to best practices in web design. Will the user experience be strengthened by massive images and media files that take an eternity (in digital terms) to load? No. Are all those advertisements worth it if they chase away frustrated visitors? Probably not. Will a liberal use of JavaScript effects really impress people even if it means waiting an extra second for the page to load? No one has ever stuck around long enough to say.

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