What is loading speed and how does it affect conversions?

Loading speed is the time it takes, measured in seconds, for a web page to download and display on a user’s browser. It’s a strong indicator of a website’s overall “health,” and can be correlated with some actual key performance indicators of the business that owns it. In a fast-paced world, where users have become accustomed to receiving information in a matter of seconds, factors such as loading speed can be critical to a website’s overall performance.

Why is monitoring loading speed important?

For a user, there’s nothing more frustrating than a website that takes its sweet time to load. In fact, because of this very reason, Google considers “speed” a direct ranking factor. While there’s no defined number, and the average loading time varies from industry to industry, a study by Skilled.co found that about 47% of users expect websites to load in 2 seconds or less.

A number of factors can affect the loading speed of your website, including, but not limited to:

  • The server on which the website is hosted
  • The size and the number of files of a website
  • Unresolved Javascript issues
  • Amount of HTTP requests
  • Use of a Content Delivery Network

As a result, marketers need to consistently monitor the performance of their websites using data analytics, identify elements that might be causing bottlenecks, as well as, take the necessary steps to boost loading speed and improve user experience.

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Top tools to check loading speed

First and foremost, users need a reliable tool to evaluate the performance of their websites. The following tools can help do that:

  • GTMetrix is one of the most reliable page speed test tools on the internet right now. Apart from providing the Google PageSpeed and Yahoo! YSlow scores – along with crucial details like fully loaded time, total page size, and number of requests – the tool also provides smart, in-depth recommendations on how to improve said scores. GTMetrix also lets users analyze websites from 28 servers (across 7 geographical regions), set alerts, visualize performance via 3 different graphs, and much more.
  • Pingdom Website Speed Test, after evaluating a site, assigns the website a “Performance grade” and score based on different factors. In addition to the score, the tool provides insightful recommendations on how to improve load speed and allows users to examine file requests. It also breaks down both content size and requests by content type and domain.
  • Google PageSpeed Insights is another tool that provides insightful data and suggestions related to loading speed. The tool rates websites on a scale of 1 to 100, with a score of 90 or more indicating that the website is “fast.” Users can conveniently switch between mobile and desktop reports.

Some other tools include KeyCDN, WebPageTest, and Varvy PageSpeed Optimization.

What KPIs should you be monitoring?

Tracking certain speed and behavioral metrics will help you gauge the overall performance of your website, and improve loading speed in the process.

Here are some metrics that you should be monitoring:

Time to Start Render

Time to Start Render (TTSR) is the time it takes for the contents of a page to display on a user’s browser from the point the initial request/click was made. In essence, the faster the content is displayed, the sooner the visitor will be able to engage with the website.

Time to First Byte

Similar to TTSR, Time to First Byte (TTFB) is the time it takes for a web browser to receive the first byte of information from the website’s server. Google considers TTFB a direct ranking factor. According to rackAID, a good TTFB is 100 milliseconds for static content and 200 – 500 milliseconds for dynamic content.

Bounce Rate

Bounce rate refers to the percentage of site visits that didn’t proceed to another page (i.e. ended at the same page). A visitor is said to have “bounced” if they leave the website without interacting with it, i.e. clicking on a second page. Bounce rate is calculated by dividing the total number of one-page visits by total visits/entries. Although a behavioral metric, a high bounce rate can usually be attributed to performance and user engagement issues.

Resource Download Time

Resource Download Time (or just Download Time) refers to the time it takes for all files – Javascript files, CSS scripts, fonts, images, etc. – to download. Most analytics tools show this as a list or “waterfall,” displaying the time it takes to download each element.

Average Time Spent on Page

This metric reflects how long visitors spend on a certain page, on average, and can be a good indicator of performance (similar to bounce rate). While there’s no ideal figure, since the time spent on page depends on the purpose the page serves and user intent, experts recommend aiming for 2-3 minutes for average session durations.

How does loading speed impact conversions?

Unfortunately, your conversion rate may suffer the consequences if your website takes too long to load. Here are some eye-opening statistics that shed light on how loading speed affects conversions, and why it should be a part of your conversion rate optimization strategy:

Loading speed affects bounce rate

According to Google, a 1-3 seconds delay in loading speed can increase the chances of a user bouncing by 32%. This results in potentially losing out on ideal prospects or highly targeted leads due to a preventable factor such as slow loading speed.

Site load speed can increase page views

Reducing the load up time of a website by just 1 second has proven to increase page views (number of visits to other pages on a website) by a whopping 11%. With seamless and quick transitions from page-to-page, a user can consume more information on a brand, product, or service, increasing the probability of micro or complete conversions.

The direct impact on conversions

Other than correlation metrics and probability, loading speed also has a direct impact on conversions.

  • According to the Skilled.co study cited earlier in the article, just a 1 second delay in load up can drop conversions by an alarming 7%.
  • About 57% of online buyers will abandon their online shopping carts if the website takes more than 3 seconds to load.
  • In 2013, Intuit, a financial software company, found that increasing their loading speed by 8 seconds resulted in a 3% boost in conversions.
  • Amazon and Wal-Mart reported a 1% loss in revenue from a delay of just 100 milliseconds – translating to millions of dollars for such, large companies.

Ultimately, it’s safe to conclude that loading time can make or break an online business.

There’s always room for improvement

Many marketers are guilty of overlooking loading speed as an important variable in overall performance. However, those who understand the growing importance of UX, know it for a fact that it’s just as important as design, content, and customer service. That being said, improving the loading speed of your website is a constant battle. Regardless of how hard you try, there will always be more room for improvement. When it comes to speed optimization – all efforts are worth it. As we’ve learned, even a hundred milliseconds can make a world of difference. 

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