Why Page Load Speed is so Important to your business

Earlier this year, Google Analytics released the Site Speed Report which allowed site owners to monitor page speed. Google happens to use page-load speed as one factor when ranking websites and measuring quality score. So now, as well as being able to track usability metrics through bounce rates, time on site and page views, you can also help identify problems using the page-load performance of individual pages.

Optimising  page-load time is not just for search engines

The benefits for your visitors when you optimise page load time are simple. The most obvious being visitors spend less time waiting and hence more time interacting, consuming pages, learning or reading, and, wait for it…. buying. There are plenty of research statistics that support these claims which is the reason why Google is so obsessed with making a faster web , furthermore making page load time a part of their search algorithm.

The studies conducted also show there is a longer-term, negative impact on site-usage with users likely to use the website less even after the load times have been improved.

Your website is your reputation. If a visitor finds your site slow, chances are they’ll move on. Too often I’ve visited a website where pages are loading so slowly that I’ve simply left and found an alternative, not sparing another precious second waiting (we are in the Digital Information Age after all and “business at the speed of thought” was a catch-cry from over a decade ago).

So the question is, what do you need to do?

You need to address where exactly the problems are and installing the page-load tracking snippet for Google Analytics is a good place to start. Without getting too techie, it’s essentially adding a line of code to the Analytics JavaScript tracking tag that you probably already have. Google Analytics can then start to compile data for your report, showing the page load time, page views, bounce and exit rates, helping you find the problem areas of your site. 

Fix the problem!

Speed is affected by many factors and to fix some of these problems, you will need to have an understanding of what contributes to the overall performance of a page. Fortunately, there are resources already available online just for this topic that cover almost everything you need to know. A good start is to improve your vocabulary on some of the terms often used by those who will be implementing the solutions. Here are three of my favourites:

Caching

A “cache” is a copy of files from your website that is saved locally on a user’s browser. You may have heard of the phrase “clearing your browser cache”, well that’s the same cache I’m talking about. Many websites do not allow caching of their files for various reasons, so the solution for this one is fairly simple. Ensure files such as images, CSS, JavaScript and the actual HTML pages can be cached so those files can be served faster.

Compression

Images are not the only thing that can be compressed on the web. Your website’s JavaScript code and HTML can be compressed for size or minimised for efficiency. It may not be necessary to compress everything on your website, but it pays to know which files are contributing the most to the overall page-size so you can address them if necessary.

Latency

This word is a fairly important term which is not addressed enough in relation to page-load times. Simply put, there is a common misconception that file sizes are the main contributor to slow page load time. However latency can have more of an impact. Latency (otherwise referred to by many online gamers as “lag”) is essentially the time it takes for a piece of data to get from you, to the web server, then back to your computer again. Latency can be impacted by the webserver’s hardware, your internet connection, the network you are in, how many other sites are hosted and even the volume of people visiting the websites.

What now?

Since the impact of page-load is now more visible to site owners, thanks to the Site Speed report in Google Analytics, you’ll want to invest more time in tweaking your pages and server to the best of its ability. In some cases, you may want to review your webserver, or servers for performance issues. Get a good hosting provider which has scalable support, someone who can cope with increased traffic even when your site gets very, very busy. Other factors such as server location and transfer speed should also factor in when you’re selecting a good host.

In many cases, tweaking your page assets such as the images, banners, code and tracking tags might be all it takes to improve the performance of certain pages. Using Google Analytics Page-Speed Report, the data you need to tweak and optimise these pages has never been easier.

How fast are your page load times? And how many customers are you helping or hindering as a result?

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