As the digital marketing space becomes increasingly competitive, everyone is looking for techniques that could give them the edge. There is one aspect of digital marketing that is often overlooked, website speed. In this blog, I explore some of the reasons for the common oversight, and the impact that this can have on both user experience, search engine rankings and ultimately, revenue.

A Brief History

When the internet was first gaining popularity in the late 80’s, limited computer processing power and extremely slow internet speeds, meant that website load speed was constantly measured and optimised. Due to innovations in technology we now live in a world of quad-core processors and fibre optic broadband. This coupled with a fierce competition to produce more and more innovative marketing campaigns, website designers and developers are often forced trade off website performance for increased aesthetics and functionality.

It’s true that internet speeds are increasing across the board, however last year Cisco reported that 62% of mobile connections were still limited to 2G speeds (typically loading a web page in around 6 – 8 seconds). The issue is that some people making do with a slow mobile connection could be forced to download the same ‘rich media’ website that wifi users get, but on a connection a fraction of the speed. The result is that load times are excessive, ultimately resulting in those users giving up and going elsewhere.

What’s the problem?

In the mid 90s, during the ‘age of dial up’, slow was the norm, so internet users expected to have time to make a brew while waiting for their download to finish. If a web page took slightly longer than others to load, it could be forgiven. However today, we are living in the ‘age of instant’, and we don’t like to wait. We have come to expect film streams to begin immediately, photos to appear instantly and downloads to arrive within seconds. Web pages are no different, and it’s now the norm for visitors to become frustrated if a site takes longer than a moment to load.

What’s the impact?

Following a study in 2009, web performance specialists, Akamai, found that “47% of consumers expect a web page to load in two seconds or less”. They also reported that “shoppers often become distracted when made to wait for a page to load. 14% will begin shopping at another site, and 23% will stop shopping and walk away from their computer”.

Interestingly the study compared results to a previous study in 2006, where consumers expected a load time of 4 seconds. As technology continues to improve and the bar for internet speeds rise, we expect that the impatience trend will too continue, with even lower load times expected as the norm.

So, we understand it’s important to manage the downside, but what about the upside?

Back in 2010 Google announced that website speed would for the first time be used as a search engine ranking factor. Respected search guru’s MOZ put the algorithm to the test, reporting that faster back-end performance (e.g. faster servers, databases and application code) does in fact directly impact search engine rankings. Check this out here to see the impact of online reviews on various consumer sites.

And although no direct impact could be found, faster front-end load times (e.g. more efficient HTML, CSS and JS) can have an impact too. “A decade of research from usability experts has taught us that faster websites are more enjoyable to use, have more visitors, who visit more pages, for longer periods of time, who come back more often, and who are more likely to purchase products or click ads. Ultimately these happier users are more likely promote the site through sharing and linking, which directly contributes to better search engine rankings”.

What can be done?

The next blog in this series will give you a flavour of the methods and the tools that we use at CandidSky for on-site seo optimisation to improve search engine rankings.