Need for Speed: User Behavior, Conversions, and Web Tweaks

June 7, 2015

10:00 am

Webmasters, marketers, and site/app owners are bombarded with myriad tips and tricks to improve conversions and grow the bottom lines on their web properties. These range from improving technical SEO to bettering social engagement rates, to even working on page design and layout.

An oft-overlooked, yet extremely critical aspect of conversions is site speed.

While we’ve known for years about the affinity that Google has towards websites that load quickly and are a breeze to navigate, not much attention has been paid to how a visitor’s experience transforms with differences in site speed.

How Users Respond to Site Speed

user response

 

As a generation, we are notorious for our desire for instant gratification and super short attention spans. Data from KISSmetrics validates this phenomenon.

Nearly half of all users expect web pages to load in under 2 seconds. A mere 1 second delay in page load time can result in a 7% drop in conversions.

When visitors lose patience and leave, it affects nearly every key metric you track on your site. A short session means users bounce out of your site without even getting a chance to giving it a real shot.

Conversely, when your site loads fast, it keeps users hooked. They spend more time exploring your site, visit more pages, and spend more time overall familiarizing themselves with your offerings instead of spending time waiting for a page to load. The more a user sees on your site, the higher they’re likely to convert or purchase.

The same study also points out that 57% of users will abandon your site and move on, if page load time is anything over 3 seconds. The behavior of looking for alternative sites is more pronounced during high-traffic hours. Over three quarters of visitors will ditch your site for competition if they’re subjected to long wait times in peak hours.

There’s nothing worse than losing a site visitor to competition. Not only is your marketing cost spent on getting the visitor to your site wasted, you are also passing on a qualified lead to a competitor who will in all probability convert her.

How Biology Impacts Your Conversions

biology

 

Okay. So we have established so far that site speed is a definite factor in improving your website conversions. However one conversion does not a loyal customer make. How does that first conversion relate to long-term loyalty?

As human beings, we are evolutionarily hardwired to seek out an easier alternative when the goal that we are working towards seems too difficult to achieve. This made sense when we were hunter gatherers. After hunting for a couple of days with no success, our brain prodded us to quit the goal of hunting an animal for survival and instead switch to gathering berries and nuts, which were more easily available.

The same mechanism of impatience is at work when a visitor on your website faces a delay longer than he is used to (or can afford to pass in quest of his objective). Since there are a million and one options available to him, his brain pushes him to simply ditch your site and move on to the next one. Evolutionarily, this action guarantees a result, whereas there’s no telling how long he would have to wait on your site to complete his aim of buying something.

As the number of alternatives available to them have exploded, users’ patience levels have been steadily dipping in the recent past. You no longer need to wait at the curb to find a cab; you can just get on to Uber and pre-order one yourself.

A smart way to tap into this hardwired impatience is to give users what they’re seeking: near-instant results. Users get what they’re looking for promptly and you get conversions in return.

What You Can Do To Improve Site Speed

site speed tips

 

Here’s a rundown of the quickest fixes to a quicker site.

  • Use smaller images on your web pages to help them load faster. Yes, HTML does help you compress images into smaller versions. But a browser still loads the original uncompressed image, slowing down page load times. Stunningly, this simple problem affects 90% of websites in Alexa’s Top 1000 list!
  • Compress your web pages using GZIP. Your HTML, CSS and JavaScript code needs to be consistent to begin with. A compression algorithm helps web servers to compress these files into a smaller sizes and help them load much quicker.
  • Re-evaluate your web hosting Most of these split their bandwidth between thousands of sites that they host simultaneously, significantly slowing down your site in the process. Check out the option of managed web hosting. WP Kube offers some sound advice picking the right managed hosting service.
  • Ditch all those unnecessary plugins and add-ons that are gathering dust on your site. Even when you do use a plugin regularly, check out the resources it consumes and make a call on whether to keep it or junk it. This includes themes and layouts, forms, social media buttons, toolbars, and more. Sometimes the apps you install are incompatible with popular browsers and end up slowing down your site.
  • Fine tune your website’s code. Firstly, switch to HTML5 for your website’s code if you haven’t already. Then keep the code as simple and efficient as possible. Store your CSS and JavaScript files external to your web folder, so that (a) they are cached by your visitors’ browsers, unlike HTML (b) all your HTML code is loaded quickly, free of added baggage.
  • Host media files on your own site instead of embedding them from their original websites. This way these media files will load at the same pace as the rest of your site elements and you don’t have to depend on the speed of a third party site to have the embedded elements in your page load fast.
  • Avoid too many ads. Not only do they contribute to a poor user experience, they also take forever to load, especially with the latest RTB based ads that take more time than old-school display ads.

Read on for more tips on improving site speed.

In Conclusion

So there we have it. Your users love a fast site. Google considers site speed when ranking your site in their SERPs. Anecdotal evidence shows that site speed and conversions are directly proportional. So what are you waiting for? Get to work tuning up that baby, and let your website roar!

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Tracy Vides is an independent researcher and content strategist, who blogs about things as diverse as tech, fashion, cars, and finance. You can follow her on Twitter @TracyVides or catch all her posts on Google+.

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