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What Is Site Speed?

Page speed refers to the amount of time between a browser requesting a page and actually completing processing/rendering the page content. 

An often overlooked metric, site speed has become an increasingly important factor in ensuring you’re providing the most optimal experience for users and search engines. 

It’s no secret that when it comes to the digital world, attention spans are low and competition is high. That means every second counts when you’re trying to keep site visitors engaged and converting.

Every millisecond counts too, as a recent study showed that a decrease in page speed by just 500 milliseconds had an adverse affect on user experience!

Who Does Site Speed Matter To?

The simple answer is: Site Visitors & Google.

Google measures your site and content across over 200 factors when determining your page ranking, and it’s safe to say that it cares about speed, and pays careful attention to mobile performance too.

Google tests your site by simulating its performance on 4G, with poor results potentially kicking your website from any significant rankings – that means if you’re not optimising your site speed at all, you can say goodbye to the first page of results with potentially disastrous consequences for your website, objectives, and conversions.

But, Google wouldn’t care about site speed if people didn’t.

When it comes to user experience, speed/efficiency matters. This isn’t just a rule for websites – if you went to meet your friend at a cafe and ordered a couple of sandwiches, you wouldn’t want to wait for a couple of hours for your food to arrive.

In fact, if that happened, there’s a good chance you’d leave, tell people about your poor experience, and refrain from ever going back. That’s what a site visitor is likely to do if your page keeps them waiting…

Why Does Site Speed Matter?

So, now we’ve established that users and search engines care about your site performance just as much as one another, we can dig a little deeper into what this means…

1 – Site Speed Affects Conversion Rates

Whether you sell your products/services online or not, your website will be trying to encourage some form of conversion – be that a purchase, newsletter sign up, or a lead gen form, and site speed has a direct impact on this.

There have been countless studies that demonstrate this – with one survey finding that close to 70% of site visitors believe page speed directly affects their willingness to purchase online.

Studies have shown that anything below 4 seconds is optimal for conversions, with 0-2 seconds being the sweet spot – every additional second of load time drops your conversions rates by nearly 5%!

Users stay on sites that load faster and convert at a higher rate, and even small improvements can have dramatic effects. For example, Walmart are reported to have increased their conversion rate by 2% by decreasing load time by only 1 second.

If you needed any more proof, Portent studied the difference in conversion rates between websites fully optimised for page speed and “slow” sites, finding conversions for sites loading in 1 second are 5x higher than one that loads in 10 seconds. 

They also showed that the website loading in 1 second achieved 3x the conversion rate of one loading in 5 seconds.

Evidently there’s a lot of money being left on the table if your site is lagging behind your competition!

2 – Site Speed Dramatically Affects Bounce Rate

Your website’s bounce rate reveals the percentage of site visitors who abandon your site after viewing only one single page. A high bounce rate is usually indicative of poor user experience (although there are definitely exceptions to this rule) and it can be a good metric to keep an eye on as you try and measure the impact any improvements you’re making.

Site speed has dramatic impact on the bounce rate of your website – slow to load sites have a much higher bounce rate than their swifter counterparts. A great example of this can be seen in how the BBC, arguably the most popular website in the world, reported they were losing 10% of their users for every second it took their pages to load.

They are by no means alone in this – as Google have reported similar results, showing that the probability of bounce increases 32% if your page load time goes from 1 to 3 seconds.

3 – Slow Sites Make Unhappy Visitors

User Experience (or UX) is an important focus of any website looking to promote any sort of conversion and works in tandem with Search Engine Optimisation. We’ve explored this relationship further in a dedicated blog post if you want to dive into the detail. 

It’s all very well having a website that’s designed with UX in mind, but if your site isn’t loading quick enough to encourage visitors to stick around, all that work has gone to waste.

On average, you will see a 16% drop in customer satisfaction for just a single second delay in page load times. 

4 – Speed Is Important for SEO

Google’s algorithm has evolved massively over the past decade to better perform its primary function: provide the best user experience possible.

This means that all Google cares about is delivering the best possible result to a search engine user’s query – what makes a website the best possible result? A combination of hundreds of factors, with page speed/site performance being among them. To read more about SEO, head over to our introduction to SEO article.

A faster loading site means a better experience for the site visitor, and that’s what Google wants to provide – users visit 8.9 pages on average when your site loads in two seconds as opposed to only 3 pages if your website takes 8 seconds to load!

That means optimising your site speed can positively impact your search rankings, giving you the opportunity to drive more organic traffic to your site or store.

How Can I Measure & Improve Website Speed?

Luckily, there are plenty of free tools and resources out there to help you measure your site speed and performance and identify actionable steps you can take to improve your score.

Google offers plenty of resources to help with this process. Tools such as PageSpeed Insight provide you with insight on an individual webpage, providing a score for both desktop and mobile performance (it simulates a mid range mobile device using a standard mobile network to load your site), as well as some handy suggestions for improving your score.

PageSpeed Insight utilises a mixture of lab and real world data to produce its reporting, measuring your site against Google’s “core web vitals” – this gives you the ability to understand how each of the page loading process is performing.

They also have Lighthouse, which is a more holistic tool that measures your entire site, rather than one single page, using lab data under consistent conditions to create a report. This report also audits other important site elements such as SEO and accessibility.

For more information on the difference between Lighthouse and PageSpeed Insights, click here.

If you’re concerned with mobile performance, check out Google’s dedicated resources which can help you create a seamless user experience across all devices.

Google isn’t the only provider of site speed testing tools by any stretch of the imagination, and there are plenty to choose from.

Pingdom is thought of as a more friendly starting point for those of you who are new to performance analysis, and provides a speed score between 0-100 for you to measure against – another popular alternative is GTMetrix.

Both of these tools can deliver key insight and help you record benchmarks as you continue to try and optimise your site performance.

What Factors Affect Site Speed?

Site speed can be influenced by a variety of factors, but there are some common culprits: Page Weight, Network Conditions, and Hosting.

What Is Page Weight & How Does It Affect Site Speed?

Page weight refers to the overall size of your web page. The heavier the page, the more resources it takes to load.

This means that you’re likely going to have to balance providing a rich user experience with ensuring your website isn’t becoming too unwieldy to load in a reasonable amount of time.

You might think that this problem is getting better as the years go by, but that’s not the case. As websites become more interactive, rich and complex, the average weight of web pages is actually increasing due to JavaScript files, video and image content, heavy CSS, bloated plugins, pop-ups and other banners, animations, backgrounds and more.

It’s tempting to try and make your website as visually interesting as possible with animations, videos and interactive sections, but did you know that 50% of site visitors say they’d be willing to give up animation and video if it led to faster loading times?

Content is arguably the place you can make the largest impact on load time – there’s often some low hanging fruit that can be addressed very swiftly to great results. Here are three easy fixes that you could look into:

  • Image Optimisation & Compression – Cutting down unnecessarily large image files can be a swift and effective way to improve page load times – with Google finding 25% of pages could easily save more than 250KB, and 10% of pages can save more than 1MB!

 

  • Clean Up Your Code – Unused code can bog down page speed; rid yourself of any useless code and you may see improvements to your performance.

 

  • Be Lazy – Lazy loading refers to a technique that defers “non-critical resources” at the initial load of your page – this allows the browser to initially load just what’s needed for the page to be visible  and then subsequently load additional content in the background.

How Hosting & Network Conditions Affect Your Site Speed

Network conditions may mean that your website, regardless of whether it is lightweight or not, loads slower than you’d like it to. This is dictated by the equipment used and the quality of the ISP (internet service provider).

It’s also worth noting that mobile devices are likely to be slower than those using WiFi or ethernet – with 5G not yet rolled out nationwide, mobile access is most likely going to be on 4G (82% coverage in the UK) and 3G (98.7% coverage in the UK).

Obviously, you can’t dictate what device or network someone is using to reach your site, but there are some things you can do to try and minimise the impact this will have on your performance such as compression and using Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) to host content.

Hosting can also have a massive impact on your site speed, with variables such as location and type of hosting you’ve used affecting the end result. 

Ranging from shared web hosting, where you’re competing for bandwidth and server resources with other websites on the same server, to dedicated hosting options that give you complete control, hosting packages vary extensively on price, ease of use and performance.

So, when you’re picking a web hosting provider – be sure you take into consideration much more than just price – look at the size of the hard drive, the power of their RAM, what bandwidth is available to you and also consider how much traffic you’re likely to receive.

Selecting a suitable package early on will save you lots of hassle further down the line and enable you to get the most out of your website right from the start.

Can You Help Make My Site Faster?

Yes! We’d be more than happy to take a look at your website and identify areas for improvement – whether that’s discussing a site rebuild or optimising your existing site or content.

For a free audit of your site, drop us a message!

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