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Updated Nov 06, 2023

How Page Load Speed Affects Customer Behavior

Here's what can happen if your site is too slow and learn how you can speed it up.

Mark Fairlie
Mark Fairlie, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
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Table of Contents

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If your website doesn’t load quickly, the bad news is that you’re losing sales. People aren’t willing to wait anymore. Even worse, slow websites often finish well below faster ones in search results. This means that customers see your competitors’ sites before yours.

In this article, we explain what page load speed is, how it’s measured and the effect page speed has on consumer attitudes and behavior. We also share a number of ways you can boost your website’s speed.

Page load speed explained

Page load speed is a measure of the length of time it takes for a page on your site to download onto a visitor’s device so that it’s usable. To determine actual page load speed, Google uses an important metric called Core Web Vitals, which tracks the following three things:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCF): This is how long it takes for the largest element on a page to appear such as a block of text or an image.
  • First Input Delay: This measures how long a user has to wait to be able to do something on your site like opening drop-down menus on mobile devices, clicking links to visit other pages and switching between pictures in a carousel.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift: Images, text blocks and fonts change position and size a lot as a webpage downloads, often due to poor Cascading Style Sheets and JavaScript coding. This is called layout shift and Google penalizes websites for it.
FYIDid you know
Page load speed generally doesn’t factor in “lazy” items, such as images and videos that download when they’re needed — for example, when a user scrolls down to a certain part of the page. Using lazy loading can greatly improve page load speed faster and many web experts recommend it.

How page load speed affects search engine rankings

If there are two equal quality websites that both feature great content and have similar backlinking profiles, the website with the better Core Web Vitals will rank higher on search engines.

What exactly is Google looking for? According to Core Web Vitals documentation, Google wants the LCF metric to happen in no more than 2.5 seconds. It also wants less than 100 milliseconds for First Input Delay and Cumulative Layout Shift. So, are today’s websites hitting these benchmarks? Generally, no.

Littledata tested the average page speed download time across 5,727 high-traffic websites, each with between 20,000 to 500,000 visitors a month. It recorded an average download time across these sites of 4.2 seconds on desktop. According to Littledata’s statistics, a website needed to download in 2.9 seconds to get into the top 20 percent of the fastest websites. To hit the top 10, the time was 2.2 seconds.

It’s surprising how many sites currently fail to hit Core Web Vital benchmarks. The likelihood is that most of your competitors’ sites probably will be failing right now as well. But you shouldn’t be complacent. If you can, take advantage of competitors’ slow website speed by boosting your own to get a quick leg up on Google.

How page load speed affects customer behavior

For every additional second your site takes to load, response rates (people buying from you or leaving an inquiry) drop. According to Portent, at one second there is a 40 percent conversion rate but bump that up another second and it becomes 34 percent. One more and conversion hits 29 percent and keeps on lessening as load times become greater. That’s proof that slow websites hurt conversion rates dramatically.

“As consumers are becoming more time-poor and attention spans are decreasing, pages that don’t load immediately can mean that a customer will refuse to purchase from [that] site,” said Daniel Cheung, search engine optimization manager at Optus.

Consumers form an opinion of your entire business based on your website and how quickly it loads. “Not only are users expecting to see results quickly,” said Diona Kidd, managing partner at Knowmad Digital Marketing, “and become disappointed when they don’t, but page speed also immediately affects their professional opinion of you.”

Users perceive a slow or clunky website as a reflection of how your business is run and how much it cares so it’s in your best interest to spruce up your website for better sales and engagement.

How to increase your website page load speed

The good news is that it isn’t rocket science to up your page load speed. Start by taking stock of your website and how it’s performing. You can use Google PageSpeed InsightsGTmetrix or Pingdom to discover its current speed and get a breakdown of what needs attention.

Follow these eight steps to deliver a real uptick in download speed for your site:

1. Compress text and images.

One key website design tip many companies don’t follow is not reducing image and video file sizes, according to Beverly Friedmann, content manager at ReviewingThis. “Decreasing or converting your image sizing and scales can help dramatically, as well as removing any video content that isn’t critical to your site’s content.”

TipBottom line
Read our guide on how to compress JPEG images.

2. Optimize for mobile.

Optimizing your site for mobile devices is probably the most important thing you should do for your website. A majority of consumers now surf the internet via mobile devices, not desktops and laptops.

“I can’t stress enough that websites today must be optimized for mobile,” said Yaniv Masjedi, who does marketing for Aura. “It’s all well and good if the ultra-workhorse processor in your desktop can load your website’s pages in one to two seconds, [but] most shoppers use mobile to browse.”

Masjedi said to make sure your website is designed so that it is responsive per device and screen size.

3. Check your hosting provider.

Image compression and mobile optimization mean nothing without a good server behind them. Do your due diligence and shop around to make sure you have a good web host with solid customer support. [Related article: 10 Tips for Choosing the Right Web Hosting Company]

“Hosting companies can become too popular, causing an influx of sites hosted on their servers,” said Audrey Strasenburgh, SEO strategist for LogoMix. “A quick switch [to another server] can save you vital seconds.”

4. Cache up.

Caching is the process of storing your information on a user’s device so that information can load faster. This is especially effective at boosting page load speeds for returning users.

“Depending on the software,” said Alex Furfaro, owner of Alex Furfaro SEO Consulting, “a static version of the website can be stored and that version will be the initial load to a browser and will load much faster.”

5. Reduce CSS and JavaScript.

“Deferring code from the top of the website into the footer will decrease the initial load time for the user,” said Furfaro. “As the top code is loaded first, the user will see the top of the website as normal while the browser is finishing loading the code near the footer.”

Furfaro noted that this is best done by an expert, as this technique can have disastrous consequences if done wrong, namely by parts of the website losing functionality or loading incorrectly. You can also insert a plugin to minimize JavaScript code which will increase page speed by eliminating “code bloat.”

6. Delete unused plugins.

If you’re using a content management system like WordPress, your website may be lagging because there are too many back-end installations slowing it down. If you’ve had the same website for a while and are constantly installing plugins to integrate new features, you may be overloading the memory of the site. Go back and delete or deactivate any plugins that are no longer relevant and that may fix the issue.

Did You Know?Did you know
Many web developers dislike WordPress. Industry professionals responding to Stack Overflow’s annual survey found it to be the most “dreaded” website building platform.

7. Host your content on external sites.

You may consider hosting large video files on a site like YouTube or Vimeo. You can embed them on your site rather than uploading them through your site builder. Hosting large files on your own service will take up a ton of space.  Uploading them to external platforms will not only cut down on lag, but it will also create a new source of traffic to your page.

8. Use Gzip compression

Like with images and video files, you can compress web content like CSS, PHP, JavaScript and HTML to speed up page downloads with Gzip by making the files between 50 percent and 70 percent smaller, according to PagePipe.

Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Mark Fairlie
Mark Fairlie, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
Mark Fairlie brings decades of expertise in telecommunications and telemarketing to the forefront as the former business owner of a direct marketing company. Also well-versed in a variety of other B2B topics, such as taxation, investments and cybersecurity, he now advises fellow entrepreneurs on the best business practices. With a background in advertising and sales, Fairlie made his mark as the former co-owner of Meridian Delta, which saw a successful transition of ownership in 2015. Through this journey, Fairlie gained invaluable hands-on experience in everything from founding a business to expanding and selling it. Since then, Fairlie has embarked on new ventures, launching a second marketing company and establishing a thriving sole proprietorship.
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