Why website speed matters

When you imagine your website’s visitors, what do you see? Small business owners? Local homeowners? Impatient clickers?

If your visitors are anything like other people on the web, they’re almost certainly in that third group: the impatient crowd. These folks expect your site to load in the blink of an eye. If it doesn’t, they’re gone — maybe never to return.

Now, I’m not saying your clients are bad people. Our natural frustration with waiting for a page to load doesn’t mean we’re overly demanding or even particularly stressed-out. It’s just . . . normal behavior.

Fact is, slow pages are a drag. Nobody likes them. If people think they can find a faster page, or they can get the information faster, the average web users among them will click away — fast.

How fast? Two to three seconds, depending on which research you cite.

According to Kissmetrics, 47 percent of consumers expect a page to load in two seconds or less. Kissmetrics’ analytics say that 40 percent of consumers will abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load.

This impatience doesn’t affect just how quickly people will bounce off a page if it doesn’t load promptly. It has downright devastating affects on conversion rates too.

In fact, just a one-second delay in page load time can cut conversions by 7 percent. Amazon discovered this a few years ago. For that megasite, every extra second it takes a page to load costs the company an estimated $1.6 billion dollars in sales each year. Of course, a typical small business website won’t suffer penalties like that. But who wants to lose 7 percent of leads or sales to something so simple and so fixable?

If users like fast pages so much, and it influences their behavior this strongly, is it any surprise that search engines care about it, too? The answer is no, which is why the swiftness with which pages load affects search rankings. It’s not the strongest ranking signal, but it matters.

Despite this importance of website speed, most small businesses have no plans for making any improvements. According to Clutch’s Small Business Websites in 2016 survey, only 21 percent — about one in five — of small businesses surveyed said they planned on improving their website’s performance.

While that’s a bit discouraging, it can be good news for you: This is a prime opportunity to get ahead of your competition.

First thing to do? See how fast your site is right now. Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool will give you a pretty detailed analysis in less than a minute. The tool gives you a report for both mobile and desktop users.

Want a second opinion on how fast your site is? Try Pingdom’s free tool. Some of these PageSpeed reports will look a bit advanced because, well,they are. If you are, in fact, pretty technical, there’s a good how-to article on how to take those results and improve them.

The rest of us can do our part by keeping image sizes small and hosting our sites on speedy servers. Beyond that, it might be a good idea to hire a web developer — or a technically savvy web designer to optimize your site speed. This person will be able to do in a few hours what it would take most of us days or even weeks to learn.

If you’re unsure if a designer is worth the investment, consider what even a 10 percent boost in traffic to your website over the next year could be worth to you. Would it be worth less than the cost of hiring someone to do this work? If “no,” then maybe that’s a good investment.

Given that we know that increasing profits is a top challenge for 45 percent of small business owners, this seems like at least one way to get there.