The trend is clear: first Google announced it will factor website load time into its PageRank and AdWord rankings. Then the revamped Google Analytics added a SiteSpeed metric. Now Google has just introduced PageSpeed, an open-source project that analyzes web page content and suggests changes for faster performance.
Why all this focus on speed?
There are two reasons. The first: speed is critical to Google's vision of a world residing in the Cloud -- its Cloud, of course. One example: its Chromebook (no local storage) laptop forces you to do everything on the web that you currently do on your local desktop applications. For that vision to work, the web must be fast.
The second reason is the most important to website owners, large or small. Simply put: website performance is a core business driver. Slow websites lose traffic, revenue and brand status. Here's why, and what you can do about it.
First realize your customers are getting increasingly impatient with slow websites. An independent national survey we commissioned showed that almost a third of consumers said they would leave a website that took longer than five seconds to load. If that seems like an exaggeration, let's look at what consumers actually do.
This chart shows the results of millions of Compuware Gomez tests which monitored the actual behavior of consumers. It makes a clear connection between web page load time and site abandonment rates. Specifically it shows that six seconds of wait time will increase your site's abandonment rate by 33 percent.
If a person is a regular visitor to your site, they will likely wait a few seconds longer. But are all of your users that loyal? What about the first-time visitor, the expensive one paid for with advertising dollars? You probably can't afford to lose them.
So what can any business, large or small, do to insure their web pages load fast and are fully available 24/7? First recognize you are not at the mercy of the broadband connection and CPU power of the user. One of the characteristics of web performance leaders is their ability to provide a great web experience at all levels. Some of their best practices include ongoing monitoring of these four issues:
Browser compatibility -- When Internet Explorer was the dominant browser, it was easy to optimize your website for it. Today we live in a multi-browser world, so performing regular browser testing is vital to insure all site features work well and work fast on all browsers. I visited a major airline website last week that couldn't effectively deal with Safari on a Mac. This is no longer acceptable. Find our free multi-browser web test here.
Third party content -- Today's website is a mashup of elements served by an average of eight external hosts. These include web services, external video sources, social integration applications, analytics, ad servers and more. If any one of these performs slowly, it slows down your entire web page. So monitor these and request performance-based service level agreements from each.
Regional differences -- Website performance can lag the farther a customer is located from the server. This is why content delivery networks (CDNs), which place duplicate servers near your customers, are popular. So monitor your site's response time on a region-by-region and a city-by-city basis. Focus your attention on where the bulk of your customers reside.
Measuring from the end-user -- One of the biggest performance testing gaps is measuring solely from Internet backbones, the major interconnecting hubs of the Internet. Your customers do not live in these ultra-fast, big pipe data centers. So be sure to measure from the end-user perspective. That's the real world of your customers, which includes a wide variety of differing devices and connections. It's the only way to get a truly accurate picture of how they experience your site.
If there's an underlying theme to these best practices, it's taking what we call a "first mile to last mile" approach to website performance. Given the complexity of today's websites, there's much that can go wrong across the application delivery chain before a web page is displayed to your customer. Compounding this complexity are mobile devices, destined to be the predominant category of machines in just a few years.
Although this all seems intimidating, it can also provide a competitive advantage. In essence, that is what Google is really saying. For every possible dollar lost to poor performance, there's an opportunity for gains that come at the expense of your slower competition. We see this every day in our clients who try to shave milleseconds off their site's response time and grow availability from 99.7 percent to 99.9 percent. These seemingly tiny increases in performance can equate to significant gains in revenue.
Faster performance will also hasten the growth of new, profitable applications for today's powerful devices. These applications will be the profit centers of the future, unimaginable in the days when performance was uniformly slow. This is where Google wants to be, and perhaps you should too.