You don’t need to follow track and field to know who Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay are, and now you don’t need to work in Internet marketing to know about the importance of website speed for keeping visitor interest, thanks to today’s front-page story in The New York Times.
Track and field (or Internet marketing) insiders may already know that website speed has been written about before by Google and usability expert Jakob Nielsen, but one of the newest findings may surprise (via the Times story above):
“People will visit a Web site less often if it is slower than a close competitor by more than 250 milliseconds (a millisecond is a thousandth of a second).”
Our attraction to speedy websites may be subconscious, but the effect is no less powerful despite our lack of perception. Incidentally, 250 milliseconds is faster than the time it takes a 99-m.p.h. fastball to reach the plate, but actually slower than one beat of a dragonfly’s wings.
Implications of speed
Implications of speed are seen all over; here’s a few examples:
- General: If any Web page is deemed “bad,” people will leave it in a few seconds. If it’s good, they could stay a few minutes. The key is what they find in the first 10-20 seconds, which determines the probability of users speed-dating vs. having a cup of coffee.
- Organic search: Google formally introduced site speed as a ranking factor in its algorithm two years ago.
- Paid search: If your landing page doesn’t fire up quickly, impatient visitors will favor another, faster one.
- Video: “4 out of 5 online users will click away if a video stalls while loading” (via the Times story above).
- Email: E-newsletter subscribers might be suspicious of (or altogether ignore) links you put in emails if the pages they launch don’t load at the right speed. Your messages miss the mark they otherwise would have hit.
- Mobile: Lack of speed in loading a mobile website can enrage smartphone and tablet users to the point of breaking things.
- Web copy: Nobody’s reading very much of it.
In addition to weighing site speed in its search algorithm, Google also has published internal studies showing that visitors spend less time on less responsive sites and stated that having faster sites can also reduce operating costs. It even has a whole section of its coding site devoted to it.
Even back in 1997, when most people weren’t using high-speed Internet, speeds of under a second were paramount when moving from page to page (as Nielsen notes). A decade or two prior to that, IBM studies from the 1970s and 1980s showed greater productivity on mainframes when users experienced a sub-second lag time between a keystroke and the corresponding screen.
What does all this mean today?
You’ve probably heard the expression, “Go big or go home.” I say, “Go fast or lose customers.” How’s that for competitive advantage?
Keep your site lean and brisk … Vin Diesel and Keanu Reeves would be proud.
Image courtesy of Mark Fischer via Flickr.