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“2 seconds is the threshold for ecommerce website acceptability. At Google, we aim for under a half second.” – Maile Ohye, from Google
How fast should my website be?
Good question. However, while most of the search community preaches a website should load in under two seconds, the answer isn’t really as cut-and-dry as that.
Saying “my website loads in X.X seconds,” is distorted from reality. Why? Website speed is a fluid concept, for two reasons:
- Webpages don’t load all at once—they load piece-by-piece
- Website speed varies from user to user, depending on each user’s browser, device, and internet speed
Having a fast website matters, you’re right about that. But what you should be thinking about—and what I’m going to tell you below—is why it matters, how it’s measured, and ways you can optimize your own site to make it faster.
Why Website Speed Matters on Both Desktop and Mobile Devices
There are two non-negotiable reasons your website’s speed should be your top concern:
Speed Matters to SEO – In 2010, Google made website speed a ranking factor. In their own words:
“Speeding up websites is important — not just to site owners, but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there. But faster sites don’t just improve user experience; recent data shows that improving site speed also reduces operating costs.” – Google
The site speed factor only mattered to desktop devices until January 2018, when it announced the same standards would be used for mobile devices.
Speed Matters to Conversion Rates – 40 percent of users will abandon a web page if it takes longer than three seconds to load. When users aren’t satisfied with the experience they’re getting, they know they can hit the “back” button and try again.
How Website Speed Is Measured
You need to stop thinking of your website speed as a fixed number. Why? Because there’s a difference in what objective data tells you and how it’s actually experienced in the real-world.
Google said it best:
“…load is not a single moment in time—it’s an experience that no one metric can fully capture. There are multiple moments during the load experience that can affect whether a user perceives it as ‘fast’, and if you just focus on one you might miss bad experiences that happen during the rest of the time.”
Take the example in the video below. It shows two examples of a web page loading, and both take thee same amount of time to load completely. However, in the first example the user can see the images loading immediately, if not all at once. In the second example, the user is presented with a blank white screen until the entire page has loaded, leaving the user to wonder if it’s even working.
As you can see, different users have different experiences.
Typically, webpages load each element individually, but not all at the same time. Have you ever clicked on a webpage to find that the top half has loaded but the bottom half is still working on it? There’s a name for that: First Contentful Paint (FCP).
There’s also a name for when both halves of a web page—the top and bottom—have completed loading: DOMContent Loaded (DCL). It’s these two technical terms that you’ll see when you check your site speed.
Google’s Real-Time PageSpeed Insights and What They Mean
If you’re curious how fast your website loads, head over to Google’s PageSpeed Insights. It’s a tool that will help you figure out how others are seeing your website and how long it takes on average for your website to load by averaging users’ FCP and DCL time.
Google then categorizes pages as Fast, Average, and Slow. How it does this is by looking at the median value of the FCP and DCL. But as you saw in the video above, different users experience different load times because not all devices, internet providers, and browsers are the same.
For example, pretend that two people go to the same web page on a smartphone; we’ll call them Bob and Joe.
- Joe, whose internet provider is Verizon, navigates to the website using Google’s Chrome browser on an Android phone.
- Bob, whose internet provider is AT&T, navigates to the website using the Safari browser on an iPhone.
- Joe sees the first image on the website pop up in .42 seconds.
- Bob, (using a different browser and a different internet provider) sees the first image pop up in 1.8 seconds.
Which webpage speed is the accurate one?
To account for all the variables connected to page speed, Google averages the load time every single user experiences—no matter the browser, device, and internet provider—and catalogs it. Each metric is assigned a speed of Fast, Slow, or Average, depending on where it falls in the distribution:
- Fast: The median value of the metric is in the fastest third of all page loads.
- Slow: The median value of the metric is in the slowest third of all page loads.
- Average: The median value of the metric is in the middle third of all page loads.
An overall Speed score is calculated by looking at the categories for each metric:
- Fast: If every metric of a page is Fast.
- Slow: If any metric of a page is Slow.
- Average: All other cases.
The Standard for Web Page Load Times
If you’re married to thinking of page speed in terms of seconds, I’ll give you this: 47 percent of people expect a web page to load in under two seconds. People are impatient, and with the rise of micro-moments they want everything INSTANTLY.
How to Speed Up Your Website
Most of a page’s load time—80 percent, in fact—is spent rendering all the different coded elements on a page. This includes images, plugins, style sheets, scripts, and anything else that makes your website what it is. If you want to speed up your page speed for all users, consider looking for, fixing, and optimizing the following:
- Too many redirects
- Compression isn’t enabled
- Slow server response time
- No cached resources
- Too many resources
- Images aren’t optimized
- CSS isn’t optimized
- Visible content isn’t prioritized
- Using the synchronous version of a script
- Too many plugins
- Viewport isn’t configured and content isn’t sized to viewport
- Too-small font sizes
- Typography isn’t SERP-friendly
Want a Faster Website? You May Need a New Design
Your website design may actually be hurting you if it isn’t completely optimized for website speed. If you’ve done all you can to optimize your existing website and you’re still seeing “slow” in your page speed analysis, I highly recommend you get a website audit done by a professional. They’ll find things you can’t, and get you on the right track to page speed success.
About The Author: Betsy is Blue Corona's in-house Digital Marketing Specialist. When she’s not directing Blue Corona's corporate digital content campaigns she’s urban exploring with her wife, diving into the latest marketing trends, or teaching horseback riding lessons. Twitter: @educatedbets
View more blogs by Betsy McLeod