As websites evolve to be fancier and fancier with new technologies, more complicated means of security, higher fidelity images and our users become accustomed to more complicated websites. Your websites potentially get bigger, and the demand on servers and client machines increases.
This means an increase in load time is natural, however as your clients get more demanding with quality and features they also demand data faster. In this article, we will look at the impact of websites speed on user experience, SEO and paid search and why it is some important. We will then look at how to benchmark your website and improve its score.
Lastly we will also look at the importance of website speed in South Africa, a country below average internet speed outside major city's, expensive mobile data, where the majority of user browse on mobile phone however with all this South Africa is an emerging market and you will want to make sure your users have a great experience on your websites.
The first thing to talking about how web speed is how it affects user experience. If your website loads instantly you can make a strong first impression. We naturally associate a speedy stable website with efficiency trust and confidence while we would relate the inverse if the website were slow and unreliable. If we look at the stats 79% of online shopper say they won't return to a website that had loading times, no second chances, first impressions matter.
Next, we look at expectations living in the time we do now, people demand and expect their content and information immediately. 47% of people expect a site to load in less than 2 seconds while 40% of people will abandon a site that fails to load in 3 seconds. On top of this 80% of people expect a mobile site to load faster than its desktop counterpart. Why? Because when you are on your phone chances are you are on the move or in a conversation and don't have time to sit and wait.
Now we understand why it is so important to make a great first impression, we should now look at how browsing experience is affected by load times. One thing we should remember is that every click we make is important having pages load fast can keep users engaged, not letting their mind wander and click off your website. On top of that website, speed hurts conversions. Amazon has come out and with tests that show that they would lose 1.6 billion dollars if their websites were slowed down by just 1 second.
There is also a post mortem effect to your brand even after a transaction. Word of mouth, people are less likely to recommend a slow site. They are less likely to share your content on social media. This is because a slow website lacks credibility and will damage your image over time. And word of mouth like everywhere else is a very powerful form of marketing in South Africa.
Now that we know this will affect your users how does it affect SEO. Google very much takes this into account. This is because it is so obvious as to how the performance of your website will affect the user experience. And with google always trying to optimize the algorithm will recommend websites that provide users with the better user experience.
Even more importantly Google has come out and said that from 2018 they are rolling out a Mobile First index. Meaning that mobile performance is ranked different to desktop performance and it is in your best interests to have a website that is fast on both platforms. Keep in mind that their mobile tests are a lot stricter than their desktop performance tests.
The first thing to note is that the cost per click is how much you pay per click to your website. This is affected by 2 factors first the relevancy to the terms you are paying for. The second is the user experience that your website has this is measured by bounce rate as well as website speed. Having poor scores in these 2 areas will give you a poor quality score and cost you more in the end.
On top of this, other websites driving traffic to your website will also be affected. Meaning that Quality score is something you should really target for when building a site, everything from relevancy to bounce rate to website performance will have an effect on how much Google charges you for clicks.
We will now look at how your website speed matters in South Africa. We have also discussed how a fast website leaves a great first impression and that users expect mobile sites to be faster than desktop. Well in South Africa the majority of the population uses mobile to browse the internet. This coupled with how Google ranks mobile sites means that site speed should really be a top priority.
Next, we take in the fact that a large portion of the population in South Africa have slow internet. Ranging from 512kbps to 4mbps or 3g on mobile phones. Meaning that a slow site taking 12 seconds could actually take 20 to 30 seconds based on the content of the website. These times are outrageous and you should aim to keep them as low as possible.
Lastly, we take the fact that data is expensive in South Africa, both capped ADSL and more importantly mobile data is expensive, so users are very careful with where and how they spend their data, and part of the process of speeding up your website is compressing and minifying media and files alike. So optimising your site can reduce that data used to view your website and put you in good stead with the South African audience.
Now we will look at how to benchmark your website. There are many free tools online that will quickly analyse your website and give you a report on where to improve. There are 3 we recommend. First GtMetrix, PageSpeed Insights and lastly if you are using Google Chrome then you can analyse straight from your dev tools, using Lighthouse. this is especially useful in South Africa and most tool test from Europe and don't give you a true reflection of what your website run like.
Raw speed is the only thing to look at, the size of your website is important. As we have said before South Africans have to pay a lot for data and smaller websites are vital to maintaining a reassuring audience.
Next thing to look at actually speeds on your device. This is because while a website might download fast to your device it might still run poorly and it can be due to a number of reasons. Firstly is the DOM size, it might be just way too many elements and reducing that complexity can help. In Addition, fancy effects can also ruin the performance if your website. Having a slow laggy site that jitters and it does all the fancy effects you are telling it to do can cause you to lose customers due to the poor user experience. On top of this remember that mobile devices have less power than your high-end desktop so test it on your phone, it is a vital portion of the South African market you should optimise for.
The first thing we will look at is server response time, if you are running on dedicated servers, we could write 2000 words on how to set up a server best for your uses case, the best advice we can give if to look up how to set up your server best for software you are running on a framework you are using as well as using a hosting service that you know is reliable and fast. If you are using shared hosting as most people are using today the best thing you can do is your research. Here in South African, we believe the best-shared hosting provider is Hetzner.
If you are building a website from scratch. You can look at choosing a framework that is built for performance. Most websites on the internet use, however, most websites do not use the blog feature which WordPress is built for. SSG is the new hip thing that builds a static site for users needing a static website. It used way fewer resources, is smaller and can be up to 5 times faster than your average WordPress website. Our advice is to always to choose your framework based on your use case.
Next, we will look at reducing the complexity of our website. Try to remove empty elements or redundant elements in your website (this can be done with SVG as well), this will reduce the DOM size and improve front end performance and Google will look kindly on this. We can also remove the excessive effect that take a lot of processing power. Lastly, we can lazy load images this can both reduce the initial size of the website but it can also improve the front end performance of a media-intensive website and only load in images as we require them.
Once we have reduced complexity, we can then look at file compression. First, we will have a go at images. we can convert them to a modern web-friendly format called webp. This is a lossless file format that greatly reduces file size for equivalent image quality, for mobile we can even render smaller images as mobile users do not need massively sized images. We can also consider the use of SVG's over images as they are lossless and can be tiny in comparison to images, be warned however SVG can be complex very fast so it is not a total use case. We then move onto our main file, HTML CSS and JS, these files can be minified to reduce spaces, tabs and line breaks, and can reduce file size by a lot. Last on our list of compression is server-side compression, the most common is Gzip that will compress files of HTML, CSS, JS and fonts can save up to 50% file size. However, a new form of compression is being used and it is called brotli, this provides even better compression and is slowly becoming more available to use on more devices.
Next, we will look at Asynchronous loading. this is where we will load a resource as the DOm is loading. This is especially useful for 3rd party scripts like Google Maps or Google Analytics.
Finally, we will look at caching and CDNs. Caching can be super helpful for sites like blogs that use PHP to generate HTML but don't need to be run on PHP 24/7, caching will process your PHP into HTML files so that when a client arrives they will get their right files without the server having to process. Next is a CDN or content delivery network. This can do so much for you. They host your site on their various access points so that around the world clients can get lightning fast response times, they can cache, minify and compress your files to reduce website speed and last they can have your files up and available for use even if your server goes down. CDNs can be amazing.
In conclusion website speed is vitally important. It can affect user experience, bounce rates and conversion rates. It can affect both your SEO and PPC score making it hard to get a wider reach. In South Africa a country with internet problems and majority mobile users, websites speed can be essential to capturing an audience.
We have looked at ways of testing your website and the many many ways to speed up your website. We hope this was helpful and if you need experts on how to speed up your website. Don't hesitate to contact us, Pixel Friendly.