You’ve spent months working with an agency on a new website. The site is aesthetically beautiful and perfectly portrays your company or organization’s branding. Finally its time to launch your site and use it as the cornerstone of your digital marketing campaign. You and your marketing team blast news of your site launch across the digital landscape, confident that the gorgeous design will win over potential customers in droves.
One of these potential customers notices a post about your site launch on Facebook. Immediately interested, they click the link. A second goes by and nothing happens. This is ok, they’re used to it. Another second goes by and they start to wonder what their missing on their Facebook news feed. The third second arrives and your potential customer is getting impatient. After four seconds the user, now frustrated, clicks the back button and returns to whatever they had been doing.
Your new website could have won over this potential customer, perhaps even converted them into loyal consumers, but your site’s slow page load time drove them away before the magic could happen.
I like to think of web performance as the gateway a potential customer or user must pass through to get to your website. If there’s an obstacle in the user’s way, such as a slowly loading web page, they will more than likely turn around and continue their web browsing elsewhere. In fact studies have found that about 37% of users find site performance to be more important than its functionality. Thankfully, there are things your website development team can consider in order to guarantee a well performing site.
In this article we will first dissect what goes into gauging a website’s performance before examining some design and development practices that a team with web performance in mind will follow.
Web Performance Factors
As a topic of web design and development, web performance covers a variety of concerns. As someone part of a business or organization looking to leverage the power of the internet for marketing, the two most crucial aspects are how fast your web pages load and how much bandwidth each of your pages consume.
How long a website loads is commonly referred to as page speed. This time covers the interval from when a user initiates going to a webpage, through typing a URL into the address bar or clicking a link, until the page loads. Over half, about 57%, of potential users will leave a site after three seconds of loading and ten seconds is the limit of the majority of users’ attention spans.
A variety of factors affect the load time of a web page. Factors that we can’t control include the strength of a user’s connection to the internet and the processing power of a user’s device. Factors that we can control include the total weight of a webpage, the amount of assets (script files, images, videos, etc.) a page needs to load, the order in which and how a page loads its assets, and a variety of concerns related to the server or server network your website is hosted on. Page weight is a measure of the total file sizes of all files, including the HTML file, stylesheets, script files, images, videos, audio files, etc., in kilobytes (KB); though many websites now exceed one megabyte (MB), 1000KB.
Thankfully, as we’ll explore later, there are many steps that a skilled web production team can take to reduce the time it takes a site to load.
The Mobile Experience
Bandwidth is the rate at which data is transferred across networks but can also be imagined as the amount of data transferred per connection. Today, most mobile data plans include a bandwidth cap that limits the amount of data a user may access per month. Single person data plans typically are around one or two gigabytes. A single gigabyte equals 1024 megabytes. For users with data plans, the weight of a website can be translated into economic cost. If your site weighs 4 megabytes, a user with 1GB data plan would only be able to visit your site 256 times a month. While this seems extreme it is not considering the data used by native applications, other websites, and features such as Apple’s Facetime.
Page speed is also a large barrier of entry for potential users on mobile devices. Mobile connections are, on average, slower than wired connections. A site that takes a second to load on a desktop computer may take many seconds on a phone. Roaming mobile connections are also far more unstable and the strength of a connection may change suddenly if a user is traveling. A site must load as quickly as possible to ensure that a user will receive your content.
Best Practices for Web Performance
The performance of a website can translate into gains or losses for a business and so its important to make sure that a team knows what they’re talking about when shopping for an agency to handle your digital marketing. Performance is something all digital agencies should be concerned with but there are some signs that you can look for when deciding if an agency knows what they're doing.
One of the best indicators is if an agency mentions performance early on; preferably while their pitching their services to you. Agencies that proudly consider themselves to be mobile first or content first will also put a large focus on performance.
Performance should be considered even during the initial design phase of a website. Its a lot easier to identify and remove assets that may slow down your website prior to the development stage of a site. A good way to ensure that performance is considered through the entire production process is to have your team set a performance budget, based on research, at the beginning of the project and use it to inform all design and development decisions.
There are also many technologies and techniques that a development team can implement to improve a website’s performance. A development team that has a responsive design tool-kit that includes RESS (Responsive Design with Server Side) leverages the power of server-side scripting languages, like PHP to reduce page weight before a site is sent to the server. A development team can also use a variety of responsive image solutions to serve up appropriate image sizes for different browser sizes.
Web performance should be a high priority concern for both an organization and their agency. They must work closely to ensure that a website performs well for their users who may, in time, turn into valuable consumers.