When you spend a lot of time writing great content, reaching out to well-known sites for guest posting opportunities, and optimizing your site content for Google searches, you can’t help but feel entitled to a larger audience than the one you have now. However, as any blogger with a wide reach would tell you, site content alone doesn’t attract traffic.
More than the content you post on your blog, the user experience you offer to your site visitors plays a key role in generating views and keeping users on your site. If your site is too complicated to navigate, doesn’t look great, or loads too slowly, it will keep people from coming back, which wastes all the time and effort you’ve put into your site.
There are a lot of variables that affect site performance, and page loading speed is one of the biggest factors that could determine if your traffic soars or falls flat on its face. If you find yourself struggling to generate traffic, you might need to take a look at your website speed. Today, I’ll discuss how website speed affects performance and how to track and improve it.
- 1 Why Website Speed is Important
- 2 How Fast Should Your Site Load?
- 3 Mobile vs Desktop Performance
- 4 What Factors Affect Load Time
- 5 Page Speed Statistics: How to Measure Performance
- 6 How to Improve Your Website Speed
- 7 Wrapping up
Why Website Speed is Important
Site speed seems like a trivial thing to care about, but it plays a key role in site performance. Studies show that you lose users for every second that it takes for their browser to open your site. For example, a page that loads in just two seconds will lose just 6% of its visitors, while a five-second delay results in a bounce rate close to 40%:
The less time it takes for landing pages to load on your site, the more secure users feel, especially if you’re using your site for ecommerce. Even the largest sites suffer from high bounce rates when they load too slowly.
High bounce rates have repercussions that go beyond lost traffic. Because users spend very little time on your site, Google and other search engine algorithms might decide that your site isn’t of very high quality and penalize it with low search rankings. This leads to lower traffic and page views and sharp reductions in revenue. Good business acumen dictates that you work on keeping your customers on your page longer.
How Fast Should Your Site Load?
You might be asking yourself at this point, How fast should my site load? While you can find a lot of resources saying your page shouldn’t take longer than 2 or 3 seconds, the number actually comes from an article published in 2011. Internet connection speeds, including 5G networks, have improved vastly since then. So why hasn’t the bar moved for page load speeds?
As it turns out, it still takes a lot of time to fully load a webpage. A study conducted by Backlinko shows that the average page loading speed is 10.3 seconds for desktop users. Because we’re already used to slow-loading pages, it almost feels like a miracle when a site takes less than 10 seconds to load. Which is a pity, really – those are 10 seconds that we could’ve used to do something productive.
Google itself doesn’t have any hard and fast rules regarding page speed. In 2016, Google’s John Mueller and Gary Illyes had conflicting views on page loading time:
If there’s anything that you can glean from the tweets above, it’s that your pages need to be as fast as they can be. If your definition of “fast” means 3 seconds or less, it’s an admirable – but challenging – target. It will also depend on where the bulk of your traffic comes from, as we’ll see in the next section.
Mobile vs Desktop Performance
More than half of all web traffic comes from mobile devices. Because a majority of site visits come from mobile, I won’t blame you if you expect mobile page speeds to be higher. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case:
Why do mobile devices take longer to load pages compared to desktops? Processing power is one of the key factors. Even if smartphone manufacturers claim that their processors are now more powerful than desktop CPUs, they are constrained by two factors: heat and battery life.
Theoretically, a smartphone processor can do everything a desktop CPU can do, but it will literally burn a hole through your pocket. It will also drain the battery a lot quicker. In contrast, laptops and desktops have larger battery capacities and are often plugged into the socket, so they can use as much power as they need. In addition, desktop devices have built-in fans that dissipate the heat produced by processing data.
The type of browser is also a factor in determining page speed. Google Chrome for mobile loads pages differently from Google Chrome for Windows 10. Mobile browsers work best when they load pages with fewer requests even if they’re bigger, while desktop browsers excel at loading pages with more, smaller requests. It just happens that most pages that aren’t optimized for mobile fall into the latter category.
What Factors Affect Load Time
Aside from the type of device and browser being used, there are a few other factors that affect page load time:
The type of internet connection you’re using will directly affect page load speed. For instance, a fiber connection can offer up to 250 Mbps, cable internet could give you up to 100 Mbps, and DSL can go up to 15 Mbps. In contrast, 3G or 4G cellular connections tend to fluctuate depending on the cell coverage in your area.
Many sites have a set bandwidth per month – that is, the amount of data it can send and receive. More traffic means more volume, but it also means your site might use up its allocated bandwidth a lot faster. You need to be ready to adjust your bandwidth if you’re anticipating more traffic than usual, which could happen if you’ve been guest posting a lot.
Your web hosting service provider will have an impact on your site loading speed.
Most small sites use what is called shared hosting, in which one server hosts more than one site. While this drives costs down, it could also result in longer page load time, especially if the other sites on the server use more system resources. If you believe you need more system resources, you could look into virtual private servers, which combines the cost savings of shared hosting and the convenience of exclusive control over server resources.
Once your site grows in reach, you could also consider using a content delivery network. This consists of a network of servers that host your site content and is updated in real time. When a user tries to access your site, their device will load your site from the server closest to their location, which reduces load time.
If your site runs on WordPress, plugins are quite useful in adding functionality to it. However, they could also have a negative effect on your page loading time, especially they aren’t set up properly in the WordPress database.
Whenever a user visits your website, WordPress connects to the database, turns on the core WordPress software, then loads any active plugins. For instance, if your site uses a WooCommerce plugin, WordPress loads the plugin, processes the code on the host server, then sends the page to the browser.
All this happens in a matter of seconds. However, if a plugin is not configured correctly, it affects page load speed. While it isn’t true that too many plugins can slow down your site, too many improperly coded plugins degrade site performance.
File sizes and types
The larger your file sizes are, the longer it will take your browser to load the page. This applies to both media and HTML. Some file types take more space than others. For example, a PNG file, which is a lossless image file format, is larger than a JPEG file of near-identical quality. MOV videos are also larger than MP4 videos of the same length.
Page Speed Statistics: How to Measure Performance
Measuring page performance isn’t comparable to measuring your car’s performance. While you can see your car’s speed, fuel level, revolutions per minute, and engine temperature on your car dashboard, you can’t do the same for your site. However, you could figuratively look under the hood of your site and get a closer look at how it’s performing.
Google’s PageSpeed Insights offers you a way to do just that. It lets you examine a number of real-world metrics that track page speed at different stages of the loading process. It also displays an optimization score that gives you an idea of how you can improve site performance. We’ll discuss a few of these metrics below:
- First Contentful Paint (FCP): The FCP is the time stamp when the browser first renders or displays text and images. In other words, this measures how long it takes the browser to display elements that the user can consume, and compares your site’s performance to other sites. An FCP score of 1.5 seconds places you in the top 1% of all sites.
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): The LCP tracks determines when the main content of the page has been displayed completely on the screen. A fast LCP indicates that the user is able to read or view the content that really matters more quickly. You need to aim for an LCP of 2.5 seconds or lower, which places you in the top 25% of all sites.
- First Input Delay (FID): The FID tells you how much time it takes for the browser to respond to a site interaction, such as clicking on a link or a button. It is a measure of the site’s responsiveness to user input. You need to aim for a FID of 100 milliseconds or lower.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): The CLS measures visual stability by measuring how often the arrangement of elements on the page changes. A good CLS score is 0.1 or less.
If you scroll down the PageSpeed Insights page, you’ll find a section called “Lab Data”:
You might notice that the values, particularly for FCP, LCP, and CLS, are different for the field values that we discussed earlier. According to Google, lab data comes from a computer running under controlled conditions and is less reliable than field data. However, it still gives you a pretty decent estimate of how the site performs in the real world, regardless of the user’s distance from the website host.
Aside from giving you a real-time look at site performance, PageSpeed Insights also generates useful suggestions for improving page speed, along with the estimated page loading time you could save if you execute these improvements:
Finally, you can see what you’re doing right:
Google PageSpeed Insights is a very useful diagnostic tool for determining website performance and the factors that affect it. It gives you a good idea of what can be improved, as well as what’s working.
How to Improve Your Website Speed
Once you know what’s keeping your site from reaching its full potential, you can start performing website performance optimization. Here are some of the most effective ways to may your website load faster:
- Reduce the size of your images: While great images on your website improve engagement, especially if you’re running an ecommerce business, large images tend to slow down a website. You may either crop your images to show only the important parts or use a compression tool such as JPEGmini or ImageOptim. You may also make your images responsive by changing the <size> and <secret> attributes in the HTML code. Implement website caching: If your site sees heavy traffic, you can store the current version on the server and use the same version until you make an update to it. This process, called caching, lessens loading time by eliminating the need for rendering for each new user. You may cache your WordPress website using the W3 Total Cache plugins.
- Reduce redirect requests: Website redirects generate extra HTTP requests that affect site performance. While not all redirects are bad, you need to remove the ones that aren’t being used and leave only those that serve a purpose.
- Compress your files with Gzip: Much of the latency that happens when you load a site is the result of large files being sent and downloaded through the internet. The Gzip utility, which is available in the GNU website, compresses files on the server side before sending them to the user’s browser, which then decompresses the files and makes them visible. Unlike image compression tools, Gzip works with all kinds of files.
All the actions above require a thorough audit of your site coding and architecture. While this is a long, painstaking process, the results (in terms of added traffic) are well worth the effort.
Building a great user experience for your website involves more than adding content and streamlining its appearance. A high page load speed makes users feel safe and secure, while a low page load speed discourages users from staying around.
While there are no set rules for the optimal page loading speed, the bounce rate rises with each second of site latency. Therefore, you need to make your site load as fast as possible, whether your users access it through mobile or desktop.
A tool like Google PageSpeed Insights will give you valuable data on site performance, such as the amount of time it takes for the site to display a substantial amount of useful information. Using PageSpeed Insights will also help you uncover ways to speed up your site.
Optimizing for site performance is just as important as generating content when it comes to reducing bounce rates and improving overall engagements. With each second that you shave off your site’s loading time, your site gets a better chance of converting visitors to customers.