Time is Money: Why Speed Matters

The Symphony team recently celebrated reducing page load times by more than 50% prior to the holiday shopping period.  Although the consequences here are far-reaching, those of us who are not full-stack engineers may not immediately recognize the importance of this improvement, especially when we were starting at a baseline already well under one second.

What is web page load time? In the early days of the web (when it was known by some cynics as the “world wide wait”), users were willing to tolerate seconds for their desired pages to load.  Today, with broadband connections, faster devices, and the competitive race for speed by web platform engineers, less than one half second is considered table stakes.

Web page load time is the result of a complex process involving the optimization of multiple parts, including:

  • speed of the end user’s device
  • user’s choice of web browser
  • speed of the user’s internet connection
  • complexity of the web page
  • number of media, such as images and videos
  • usage of third-party services like Google Analytics
  • the time that the web server takes to serve data back to the user

While the complexity of the process can be hard to appreciate, research about the impact of web page load time is quite straightforward.  Research from some of the largest tech players, including Google and Microsoft, shows that internet users are incredibly sensitive to seemingly small changes.

As an experiment, Google deliberately introduced delays of around two fifths of a second into their search results page loads. Test subjects performed approximately 8 million fewer  searches per day as a result. Worse yet, the bad experience created a hangover of fewer searches over the next months. For Google, fewer searches means less ad revenue.  Other major players have calculated that one second could cost them north of a billion dollars a year.

The surprising aspects of this research are how sensitive users are to seemingly imperceptible differences in load times, and how long the effect lasts.  For users now accustomed to a slick and responsive web experience, it’s: slow page once, shame on you; slow page twice, shame on me.  For anyone selling anything online, the bottom line is that fast web page load times translate into sales and slow load times cost you in dollars and in your net promoter score.

79% of mobile web consumers use their phones to shop40% of those mobile shoppers will abandon a site that takes more than three seconds to load.

To earn the opportunity to sell, your site must zip. This is a subtle but critical dimension of user experience that can uncork a fresh stream of sales you didn’t know you might have missed.