Over the past decade, the possibilities over the internet have grown many fold. Websites today serve everything from a social fascination to utilities. E-commerce has also witnessed an unprecedented growth over the past 5 years. All in all, life today is wired. While user expectations from websites have increased, so has their 'need for speed'. Today, with higher internet speed, users are impatient to say the least.
Effect on Users
With E-Commerce, 41% of users will tolerate a site loading slow once or twice before calling it a day, never to return(Source : Gomez Online). The survey conducted by Gomez on the US audience points out that the average shopper spend in excess of 1000 USD a year on shopping, to lose a customer is to take some good pie and throw it out the window. These shoppers will leave your website and find an alternate retail store meaning, you're piratically handing users to the competition.
Consider this, for every 1 extra second that your site takes to load, results in 5-6% fall in user conversions. It's a proven fact that website with slow load times have a higher bounce rate with users abandoning the website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. 80% of these users will not return. If this wasn't bad enough, these users will go on to spread the message of their bad experience. This is where you do not want to be, period!
Take the Internet's largest and most comprehensive search engine – Google. Google prides itself with speed and page delivery. Notice how users are told how long each page took to load every time they run a search. Fact is, before we read it, see it or hear it, we're already Google-ing it.
With the Mobile web gaining massive traction, having a mobile website that renders quick is a must.
Effect on SEO
As pointed out above, Google loves speed. Here's an excerpt from their webmaster blog.
“You may have heard that here at Google we’re obsessed with speed, in our products and on the web. As part of that effort, today we’re including a new signal in our search ranking algorithms: site speed.”
-Google Webmaster Central Blog
A website's speed has a direct impact on the website's ranking. Yahoo, Bing and Google promote website optimization towards speed and studies show that they favor faster websites.
Strike a Balance
The biggest issue with meeting user expectations is that, as the internet has grown complex, so have websites. Sites today are loaded with scripts, objects, components, social plug-ins & widgets. From 1995 to 2010, the average page size has grown from 15kb to 500kb with an average number of object increasing from 2-3 to a mammoth 75. Now think 2012, we're talking about average page sizes of over 650kb with 80+ objects. Thats a lot to take in. So should we sacrifice the UI & UX for speed? Sometimes, yes but not always.
There are quite a few measures that can be taken at a website & server level that will really go a long way in providing your users with a better experience.
Website – Client Side
Make sure the images on your site are optimized for the web. Optimized images ensure that image heavy pages don't keep users waiting forever. Further, if your website has very large images, add a loading indicator and lazy load the images once the html fully renders.
Ensure that your html files have images that are of the correct size. Don't simply include large images into your files and downsize them to match your layout. Essentially, don't include images that are 500x500 pixels and squeeze them down to 100x100 pixels.
Combining images into as few files as possible using CSS sprites reduces the number of round-trips and delays in downloading other resources, reduces request overhead, and can reduce the total number of bytes downloaded by a web page.
CSS & Scripts
Removing unused CSS elements from your stylesheets goes a long way. Further, using page specific rather than global/common stylesheets helps reduce the overload while rendering pages.
Synchronous resources end up blocking the page load until the resource is parsed. Asynchronous loading of files brings in the same resources without holding up the rest of the page render.
GZIP Compression is by far one of the most effective ways of reducing load time. Effectively, this feature zips content before delivering it on a browser. GZIP compression reduces load time by reducing file size by upto 80%. To check whether compression is enabled on your server, run a simple test at http://www.gidnetwork.com/tools/gzip-test.php
Enabling HTTP Keep-Alive or HTTP persistent connections allow the same TCP connection to send and receive multiple HTTP requests, thus reducing the latency for subsequent requests.
Now that you have the tools, go on, switch on the turbo and see your visitor have a blazing experience on your site