All Articles Website Speed, Scoring & Optimization – A Marketer’s Guide By Hans Harris In a world where instant answers and 2-day delivery is the de facto standard, website speed is essential. If your service business relies on your website to drive leads and new customers, you will want to understand how website speed and page load time factors into your search result rankings and lead conversions. If you’re an e-commerce retailer, speed is the oxygen your website breathes. Think this is hyperbole? Think again. What we’ll cover: Speed basics you should already be implementing on your website. How speed is fluid. What are Lighthouse DevTools? What’s a good “speed score.” Use the calculator to quantify lost revenue from slow sites. Troubleshooting speed optimization – an overview for new developers Next Steps What Do I Need to Know About Website Speed? This is a practical guide for website marketers, retail site owners, and those with an eye for revenue and conversion. This is not a technical how-to for site optimization, although an overview for a great technical tutorial is included below. For you busy marketing managers and website owners, let’s cut to the chase. Google has been focused on site speed and mobile content delivery because that’s what users want. Quantifying and measuring the minutiae of user experience is so important to Google, that they have a web page to recruit research participants in addition to 3rd party research. Now, let’s make sure you’re up to speed. (Pardon the pun.) Where page speed is concerned, you should be: Limiting your website load times by only installing what you actually need. All those extra mystery plugins that were once a good idea, may be dragging down your site speed. It’s time to review them, delete them, and find alternatives through proper coding. Upload right-sized photos. Those big beautiful high resolution photos can cost valuable milliseconds and thereby increase your bounce rate. Save and upload the minimum size you need for clear rendering. Leverage browser caching. By default, browsers cache information so that when a visitor returns to your site, the browser calls on the cached file and does not have to reload the entire page. For websites which are not constantly changing, Google suggests you set a cache time of up to one year to decrease page load time for returning visitors. Upgrade your web hosting. If your website is on a cheap shared server with dozens of other sites, it could be causing a lag. The old adage, you get what you pay for, may be at work. Slow shared servers will take longer to respond, even if everything else is optimized for quick results. It’s such an important factor, we provide and oversee hosting for key clients for maximum speed control. If you can check off the above, that’s a good start, but you’re far from done. Setting aside the myriad of other technical website issues that can lead to a slow site, there are some practical aspects every marketer should know. It’s important to understand why Google is placing such a high importance on page speed, how your customers experience page speed, and where you stand against your competitors. Did you know there is a transactional value tied to a few seconds gain? Read on. Why Should I Care? For marketing managers, you have to please search ranking algorithms and delight your customers. Having a lightning fast website accomplishes both of those goals. In terms of ranking, mobile page speed weighs heavily. Google believes page speed loading time is so important, it is considered part of its Core Web Vitals for measuring a page. In May of 2020 Google even announced page speed as an important ranking factor for its next major update, giving you twelve month’s notice to make changes. When is the last time Google gave you that kind of advance notice? If you value website traffic and want to increase time spent on your website, you have to understand the exponential effect just three seconds has on bounce rate. As page load time moves from the 1’s to the 3’s, the likelihood of bounce increases 32%. At a load time in the 6 second range visitors are three times as likely to bounce as 3 second load times. If the gravity of this change is setting in, and you’re thinking that you may need a whole new website, well you might. But not necessarily. Speed is Fluid Google partnered with Awwwards to create a mobile speed performance report. One of the interesting findings is the idea that speed is fluid. The study found that external factors can “influence and distort” the user’s perception of time and weigh more heavily than the actual time clocked. Perception of page speed changes with your mood. We see this concept in action when we are in a hurry to get somewhere and every traffic light and slow driver intensifies levels of anxiety. Website visitors who are calm and relaxed report web page load times as “relatively fast” at nearly double the rate as when they feel anxious or rushed. While it is impossible to control visitors’ state of mind, a well designed website, intuitive navigation along with soothing imagery and colors can positively affect mood. Understanding your customer demographics provides insights to their perception of website speed. Some statistics may seem obvious – younger visitors expect a faster site than older visitors. Mobile speed is critical since website visitors who are out and about, use mobile devices. These “on the move” visitors have a heightened perception of speed and are less forgiving of slower load times. Website owners can more effectively manage page load speed through an incremental or “lazy” page load system, whereby the portion above the fold loads first, and the remainder of the page loads as the viewer scrolls. What are Lighthouse DevTools? If speed is fluid, how does Google measure it? Enter Lighthouse DevTools. Lighthouse is an open source set of automated tools designed to improve the quality of web pages and the user experience. There are several options available to run the Lighthouse audit to assess your website speed. The score is determined by the weighted impact of several factors. Let’s focus on three. First Contentful Paint (FCP), at 15% weighting, measures when the browser first renders any text or background image which indicates to the user that the page is loading. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), at 25% weighting, measures when the largest page element is visible in the viewport and often signals when the main element of the page is completely loaded. Total Blocking Time (TBT), at 25% weighting, measures the time between FCP and when the user can interact with the site (Time to Interactive); during this time the user is essentially blocked from interacting with the page. According to Google, The weightings are chosen to provide a balanced representation of the user’s perception of performance. The weightings have changed over time because the Lighthouse team is regularly doing research and gathering feedback to understand what has the biggest impact on user-perceived performance. To get your full Lighthouse report you need to first download the developers tools available in Chrome. Google’s Page Speed Insights provides easier access to a simpler report and still covers core aspects. How High Do I Need to Score? Like speed, understanding how high you need to score is fluid. If your score poorly, yet your poor score is higher than all your competitors, you may be doing alright. But competitive markets never remain static. And site visitors are increasingly measuring their perception of speed not against your competitors, but against the best performing sites across industries. Yes, your small service business is now competing with Amazon – at least where page load time is concerned. To better understand how much seconds affect revenue and conversion, Think with Google has created this nifty tool which measures page load speed and assigns a dollar value for speed improvements. First input your website to determine the page speed. Then see how you compare against a few competing websites. Finally, evaluate the ROI of a faster website by inputting a few data points – website traffic, conversion rate and average conversion value. Toggle the seconds arrows to see how decreasing your page load time can increase your revenue based on your inputs. If a new website is needed but not on the road map right now, don’t worry, you still have options to maximize conversions. Maybe a new landing page built on a separate url or subdomain can solve the immediate problem. Or, with a little bit of troubleshooting, or implementing a few lines of code in lieu of a bulky plugin, you may be able to squeeze a few seconds out of your existing website. Developers, Have You Met Tony? No, I am not referring to Tony Passey, Firetoss’ CEO. Tony the cat needs help speeding up his website, which he receives in this video. Joking aside, the page load performance tutorial from Google Chrome Developers is a great walk-through for new developers to learn step by step troubleshooting for various types of performance alerts. For website owners and marketing professionals, it’s a great way to learn the technical jargon often heard from developers, to facilitate understanding and future website maintenance conversations. The step by step video covers the initial audit, understanding the report, and then experimenting with known solutions, making one change at a time to test speed outcomes. Taking a few minutes to watch the video, will not only improve your technical vocabulary, but provide the opportunity to gain new insights into the methodologies and meticulousness required when undertaking site speed optimizations. Next Steps? If you haven’t already tested your site, that is a good place to start. Start with Google Page Speed Insights or Lighthouse DevTools. After you score your site, it may be worth taking a look at a couple of your competitors. See where they rank for speed as compared to your website. Next, read the page speed report to see if you can gain a few seconds with easy fixes like image size optimization. For a deeper dive into how page speed can adversely affect your SEO, bounce rate, customer sentiment, and conversion metrics, just reach out. We’re here to help.