Why and How Site Speed is (Still) Impacting Your Conversion Rate
Site speed is definitively a ranking factor for your site in Google search results. It also affects the user experience, audience retention rate, and, ultimately, your conversion rate.
To what degree does a fast or slow page impact your sales? In this article, we will dive into why and how site speed is impacting your conversion rate and what you can do to stop losing valuable business online.
Why Google Made Site Speed a Ranking Factor?
Google’s mission statement provides a clear-cut vision for how they go about selecting factors to rank websites on their search engine. It goes as follows:
“Our company mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
As technology rapidly changes and improves, so, too, does the way we browse and access information daily. The devices and connections that people have access to, however, are not consistent around the world. While one visitor on the west coast may have access to lightning speeds with Google Fiber, others might be in a remote location where they’re limited to strict data caps.
In addition to this, users are no longer restricted to LAN-line desktop computers. According to a study based on five trillion website visits in 2020, 61% of that traffic was from mobile.
While providing your users with a speedy, satisfying experience was always important, the challenge has grown because of how audiences engage with content online. Because these new devices rely on more lightweight technology and variable connection strength, we need to rethink the way we optimize websites and deliver content to the public.
Google recognized this and decided to encourage webmasters to make improving the user experience for all users a priority. Website developers would now need to prioritize optimizing both desktop and mobile versions to provide their audience with useful information in a fast, user-friendly manner.
But, you’re not on your own to figure out how to improve your site. Google provides helpful tools such as Google PageSpeed Insights to help website owners bring their user experience up to par.
Does Site Speed Impact Conversion Rate?
We know that site speed is a factor when it comes to your overall search rankings, but does it have a direct impact on conversion rate? Let’s take a look at how sites of varying load times change user behavior.
From the moment a user clicks on your website link search engine results pages, you’re on a timer. A study by Pingdom discerned that the bounce rate of visitors nearly doubled when a page load time moved from two seconds to three. The bounce rate continues to nearly double with every second that you add to your page load speed. With that in mind, the average load time across all sampled websites was just over three minutes.
However, that number drastically changes when browsing by mobile. Google reports that the average load time for a single mobile page is as long as 15.3 seconds. That’s a long time to ask a customer to wait for every page on your website when they are attempting to gather information or make a purchase. You likely do not need to consider anything other than how frequently you, yourself, bounce from a page in favor of a quicker one.
With that in mind, you can’t expect your users to convert if the average load time of your website is unable to keep people browsing. The numbers back this up. A popular study performed by Walmart demonstrated almost a 90% decrease in their conversion rate as page load speeds increased from one to five seconds. When you consider that most web traffic comes from mobile devices, which already happen to be slower on average, slow speeds will not help you when it comes to driving sales.
Your online sales process works under the same principles as an in-person sales interaction. If a customer can quickly locate a better experience with another business, they will do so. If your website makes it more difficult than necessary to access information or complete checkout, users will quickly bounce away to a competitor’s website.
All of these statistics support Google’s reasoning for utilizing site speed as a ranking factor. While a load time that’s greater than five seconds will drastically increase your bounce rate, Google will also rank your site lower than your competitors. The further you are down the rankings, the less likely it is for your audience to access your website at all, let alone become a conversion.
What Can I Do to Improve My Site Speed?
The good news is that optimizing your average website load time is a doable task for all website owners. Most slow-to-load websites feature common problems that can be resolved by adhering to the best practices for SEO. If your Google PageSpeed Insights test is reporting errors and a less than adequate loading speed, here are some of the things you can do to make things faster:
1. Place a Greater Emphasis on Image Optimization
The more content you have on a page, the more requests a browser needs to make with the website server. A large number of high-resolution images will require the visitor’s device to download a large amount of data before the content can appear on the screen. However, your images won’t just load slow, but they will delay the appearance of other content on the page unless you take action.
While you may be proud of that high-pixel image taken from an expensive camera, you generally want to use a compressed format such as PNG or JPG. PNG image files will generally provide the fastest loading times. However, JPG is still advisable for situations where you truly need to maximize the image quality without adding too much strain on your site’s server.
For image content such as icons or special widgets, try to use something lightweight such as CSS sprites, which can effectively condense those HTTP requests into one request for all of them. You ultimately want to reduce the number of HTTP requests as well as the amount of data that needs to be exchanged with each request.
2. Enable Browser Caching on Your Site
Each time a user visits your site, their browser must make every HTTP request available to download all of the files present on the page. However, you can improve the experience for returning visitors by enabling browser caching on your site. You may have experienced this while browsing the web yourself when you receive a prompt asking for permission to temporarily store your information.
By allowing browser caching, you can take advantage of a small amount of space on the visitor’s hard drive to temporarily cache your website assets. This means that the visitor’s browser will not need to complete every single HTTP request on every subsequent visit. This not only improves load times for that specific visitor but will ease the stress on your website server and improve performance for all of your web traffic.
3. Avoid Redirects Whenever Possible
Avoiding redirects is not always possible, and, in some cases, is not advisable. You may need to redirect users to the mobile version of your site or to alternate page versions that utilize the upgraded HTTPS protocol. However, too many redirects are a guarantee to increase your website load times across the board.
You must address any additional navigation that exists on your website. Look for opportunities to simplify any redirects and create a direct page-to-page pathway. Each redirect step adds another HTTP request for the page. As we explained above, our goal is to reduce the number of HTTP requests to be as low as possible without sacrificing quality.
4. Host Large Files on an External Server
When it comes to large files you want to host on your website such as videos, you should never upload the data directly to the page. This is a tremendous amount of data to download and upload and it will kill your average page loading speed.
However, videos provide tremendous marketing value and we want you to use them on your website. The alternative is to host these types of files on an external server and let their server power pick up the additional strain. The most popular video platform available is YouTube, which allows you to easily embed and share your content anywhere on the internet. An alternative such as Vimeo also works well and both provide free accounts to all users.
You can also do this for large, high-resolution image files. Take advantage of file storage sites such as Google Photos, Imgur, or Dropbox. You can also employ what’s known as a Content Delivery Network (CDN) like Cloudflare to deliver media and save bandwidth.
5. Use Lazy Loading for Busy Website Pages
There are two approaches when it comes to website loading. The default method is sometimes referred to as “eager loading” and it involves attempting to load all files on the website at the same time as soon as possible. When a webpage has a high amount of mixed content including text, images, and video, eager loading can result in unnecessarily long load times.
“Lazy loading” is an approach that allows you to defer the loading of certain content while prioritizing the loading of others. For example, we can use lazy loading to load the content that’s immediately in the viewport, while deferring any text or media that’s hidden further down. We can expedite the loading of the content users will see immediately, while the deferred content loads afterward. This gets users on-page and engaging with your website sooner without the need to cut out important material from the website.
You can also utilize placeholder images or videos until the data is needed. Let’s say that you added a video to your webpage. When a user accesses the page, they send an HTTP request to download the data. However, the user never actually watches the video content. As a result, you increased your load times by wasting data that was not necessary. Instead, you use a lightweight placeholder file until the user triggers an action indicating their intent to watch. You can then signal that individual HTTP request at that time.
While implementing lazy loading can be tricky if done manually, many popular website editors such as WordPress feature easy-to-use lazy loading plugins. You can install this on your site, review opportunities to minimize load times and the number of outgoing requests at any time.
You should also look for any opportunities to remove redundant or unnecessary lines of code. If you are no longer using a third-party feature, remove the dead code. If there’s a way to express something in fewer characters, remove the unnecessary spaces and characters to reduce your overall script size. Even if you need to create your original code in long-form initially, seek to minify it after you’ve tested it and know it’s working properly.
In the same vein of lazy loading and prioritizing what’s in the viewport, you can assign a preload attribute to certain resources in the Java file. This tells the server to prioritize loading these features first even if they do not come first in the script.
Conclusion – Faster Site Speed Leads to a Better Conversion Rate
Your website speed directly impacts your conversion rate as any page that takes longer than five seconds to load exponentially increases your bounce rate. Users demand the ability to interact with a website and its various elements regardless of the device they are using or the strength of their connection. Because so much modern web traffic comes from mobile devices, your website must be lightweight and agile.
By ensuring that your pages are accessible to everyone, you make it easier for those visitors with buyers’ intent to convert. You may even wish to prioritize the optimization of pages with high conversion value such as checkout pages and product pages. However, improving your average loading speed sitewide will offer a boost in your Google search rankings. The higher you rank, the more opportunities you have to boost your conversion rate even further.
There are several additional ways you can boost the speed of your website that you can learn about in our previous article here. Most of these optimizations are simple to implement and greatly impact your site quality. Give yourself a leg over the competition and boost those conversions by giving your audience a lean, fast user experience.