How quickly do visitors expect your web page to load?
How do they respond when the page doesn’t load quickly?
Three years ago Forrester reported that visitors become impatient when web pages take longer than two seconds to load. When load time is perceived as slow, visitors not only become impatient, they also lose confidence in the web site.
And in 2010 Search Engine Land reported Google’s announcement that site speed counts as a ranking factor. “When we slow our own users down [on Google.com], we see less engagement,” Google Fellow Amit Singhal said. “Users love fast sites. A faster web is a good thing all around.”
More recently, the New York Times published an article last week that explains some of the psychology of why waiting is torture.
- It’s painful when we have nothing to occupy our attention. When we wait for a website to load and have nothing to occupy our attention, the wait seems longer.
- Uncertainty makes it worse. When we don’t know how long it will take for the website to load, the wait seems longer.
Ideally, your visitor should have the feeling of an immediate response. They will respond intuitively to the content of your site with no feeling of “I’m interacting with a computer.” It would feel the same as when you read an engrossing novel and you lose the feeling of “I’m reading a book.”
Visitors to a slow website are not only deprived of this feeling of intuitive interaction, they become reluctant to click on another link for fear that the page will take a long time to load.
How do you measure page speed performance changes?
If you are working to improve performance and reduce website load time, you want to test each change and see which ones really make a difference.
How do you know what works? If you make a change, how do you measure the result?
Here are some free online tools that I found very useful as I experimented with different ways to reduce website load time on the Geonexus site.
1. Google PageSpeed
Start with Google PageSpeed. It will analyze your page and suggest ways to improve your performance. It prioritizes suggestions so you can start with the potential for big wins.
WebPageTest was originally developed at AOL, then was opensourced in 2008. It is currently an opensource project that is being developed and supported by Google.
WebPageTest gives you a thorough evaluation of your page speed performance, including a waterfall diagram of all the elements on your page. You can drill into these views and get much more detail on where obstacles lie in your load sequence and which files are in the critical path.
What I like about WebPageTest is that it gives you varying levels of detail. The summary page includes a simple letter grade for six important factors that affect page speed performance. In the example below you can see that although this page got an overall rating of 93/100, some work still needs to be done to improve the time to return the first byte to the browser. This site is not using a Content Delivery Network, so WebPageTest could not grade that subject. You can click on any of these grades and get much more detail on how to improve those factors.
3. HTTP Compression Test
You can ask the HTTP Compression Test to evaluate the entire page or specific files on the page.
With these three tools, most website owners will find all the information they need to analyze their web pages and find their performance bottlenecks. When you make changes, these tools will give you the feedback to know whether performance improved.