The Connection Between Page Load Speeds and User Experience

October 25, 2018
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Online publishers and eCommerce vendors today have to create the perfect user experience (UX) to keep their clients engaged at all times. This feat is unachievable without impeccable page load times and performance metrics.

Fast page load speeds are at the core of the modern digital experience. Just like a herniated spinal cord destroys the entire purpose of having a muscular and lean body, having the best features and killer content doesn’t mean much if your pages are taking over 2 seconds to load. This key performance aspect, despite its deep implications, often goes neglected.

impacts of Slow Page Speeds

Creating a solid user experience is crucial to creating and maintaining traction in today’s uber-competitive markets. A slow UX often leads to the following issues:

1 – Drop in Conversion Rates

47% of consumers expect pages to load in two seconds or less. 40% will abandon a page that takes over three seconds to load. This means that if your site takes more than three seconds to load, you lose almost half of your visitors automatically. This alone can be a killer blow to your business.

The overall user experience affects your audience’s impression of your brand. Akamai has reported that 75% of online shoppers who experience a page loading issue or encounter a convoluted checkout process will not return to the site. In other words, page speed has become a key factor in creating brand credibility.

“A 100ms delay at Amazon equates to $6.79 million decrease in sales revenue.”

2 – Lower Return Rates

A recent study by Google showed a decrease in searches by users who encountered slow page speeds. For example, users who experienced a 400-millisecond delay performed 0.44% fewer searches during the first three weeks and 0.76% fewer searches during the second three weeks of the experiment.

The same applies to critical errors such as freezing and crashing, which can have a disastrous effect on the overall user experience and customer satisfaction.

3 – Drop in Search Engine Rankings

Page speeds were outed as Google ranking factor all the way back in in 2010, but even mobile performance is affecting results now (July 2018 onwards). Simply put, fast page load times are bumping faster sites higher in the results list. Its important to remember that Android and iOS mobile speeds often differ.

Google basically wants to return results that are, overall, the best experience for its users. Neglecting site speed in today’s internet age is a fatal mistake.

5 Ways to Optimize Your User Experience

There are many ways to upgrade and convert your site into a revenue generating machine. However, there are five essential aspects you simply cannot neglect.

1 – Monitor Your 3rd and 4th Party Tags and Scripts

The modern website is a complex cocktail of code (including JS), some developed in-house and some tags/scripts from 3rd party vendors. This basically means that a large amount of “external” code is running on your site right at this very moment. Do you have proper visibility and mapping of all tags involved?

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

Every 3rd party service code changes on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis due to upgrades and maintenance. There are probably dozens of 3rd party code changes that are potentially affecting your performance metrics right now. Have you ever stopped to think about their business impact?

Another crucial aspect of implementing 3rd party tags is the dependencies that are created with 4th party tags. These “hidden” connections have a direct impact on your page load speeds and other performance metrics. Not having a clear picture of your service ecosystem can significantly hamper your user experience.

Implementing a proper monitoring solution gives you the ability to stay on top of things and attribute performance issues to the correct vendors.

2 – Minimize HTTP Requests

As per Yahoo, 80% of a page’s load time is spent downloading elements like images, stylesheets, and scripts. An HTTP request is made for each one of these elements. The more on-page components you have, the longer it takes for the page to render. The first step is to minimize your requests.

Once you know how many requests your site is making, you can work on reducing this figure by minifying (removal of unnecessary formatting, whitespace, and code) and combining your HTML, CSS and JavaScript files. This process also reduces the file size, a foolproof way to boost performance.

“You can use Google Chrome’s developer tools to see how many HTTP requests your site is currently making. “

3 – Use Asynchronous Loading

If your scripts load synchronously, they load one at a time, in the order they appear on the page. If your scripts load asynchronously, on the other hand, some of them will load simultaneously. Loading files asynchronously can speed up your pages because when a browser loads a page, it moves from top to bottom.

You can also adopt the Deferring technique.

With this methodology, you can prevent big files from loading until other specified elements on the page have loaded. If you defer larger files, like JavaScript, you ensure that the rest of your content can load without any delay. This technique is becoming common practice in large online publishing sites.

4 – On-Premise Test Environment

Your users don’t really care about the number of visitors on the website or you technical limitations. They want a blazing fast user experience, from web, mobile and tablet at all times. Anything less than that can result in brand reputation damage and reduce your chances of growing your customer base.

You must have an on-premise test environment to simulate peak times and other tricky scenarios, such as the deployment of new features. You also need to be prepared to host visitors from all around the world. Simulating user profiles from various geographical locations is another methodology that is often neglected.

5 – Optimize for Mobile

Current estimates put digital retail spending at $1 of every $7, with more and more smartphones and tablets being used to make these purchases.

Today’s online business can’t afford to neglect the mobile aspect anymore. Your site should be stress tested on mobile devices. Also, understanding the user experience at scale is mandatory. Simulating regional differences, diverse network carriers, and user behavior provides a complete picture.

“A one-second page delay in page load times can lead to a 7% loss in conversions. “

Real User Monitoring (RUM) vs Synthetic Monitoring (STM)

RUM tracks, monitors, and registers every interaction every site visitor makes. The data gathered and displayed is based on real pages being loaded from real browsers in real locations. On the other hand, STM involves the deployment of scripts to simulate the path and behaviour of the end user (visitor).

RUM’s biggest advantage is that is doesn’t have to simulate situations, which makes it more reliable for fixing performance issues. As “smart” as Synthetic Monitoring has become today, there is only a finite number of situations and issues that can be simulated in a limited period of time.

STM does have its pros, as it can be deployed fast and has good diagnostic characteristics, but its not ideal for long-term performance monitoring.

If you are above the aforementioned page load speed threshold of 2 seconds or getting complaints about performance issues, it’s time to take action and stop bleeding money. Gain full visibility into 3rd and 4th party tags running on your site to create and maintain the optimal experience for your visitors. If you want to dive deeper into this comparison, I created a full list of criteria on how to choose between RUM and synthetic user testing.

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