Ask an Optimizer: How site speed can affect conversion rates
Our new Ask an Optimizer column addresses questions we’ve received through our website and from members of the MarketingExperiments Optimization LinkedIn Group. The following question was submitted by Nikolay M.
Q: Does anybody have experience with load speed impact on conversion or bounce rates?
This is a very good question Nikolay, one that many people don’t think about. Because this area is something we address with our tests and treatment versions as a best practice, I don’t think we have case studies specific to this issue. However, I can offer insights on factors to consider and resources to use.
The first thing you should do is assess two items:
- Traffic sources
- Technology resources for your audience
Know your top traffic sources
More important than a list of tips or statistics is understanding how the majority of your visitors arrive at your website.
If you aren’t keeping an eye on this, it’s possible to spin your wheels trying everything when stepping back and understanding your audience could save you serious headaches.
Where users are coming from and how they arrive at your site or funnel pages will often dictate how long they will put up with the nuances of your site. For example, visitors arriving from searches (PPC and organic) are likely to be among the least patient site users. Think about it: they have just seen a sizable list of alternatives, so if your pages are confusing, overwhelming, or take too long to load, those visitors are out of there. I typically find these users (especially from Google) to be back-button happy.
Know the technology that the bulk of your audience is using
Through analytic tools you can get a good idea of what technology resources users have at their disposal. For instance, with Google Analytics you can see connection speed, operating system used, and a whole host of other items.
Use these insights to see how much wiggle room you have with how heavy your pages and website can be with content elements. If a large portion of your users are on dial-up or even DSL, or older operating systems, then you might want to increase efforts on CSS-based quick loading pages.
Now, some people will be stuck with a heavy website due to factors outside their control. If that’s the case, look to edit the order in which your website loads. Have some of the lighter elements load first, so there are at least some items on the page while the heavier elements are being compiled. This gives users a glimmer of hope that the greatest part is on its way. However, make sure the initial loading items aren’t information collection or other friction points, because users can be scared away before the incentives or explanations load.
Another element to try in this situation is an animated loading bar. This again shows the user that the site isn’t broken, just taking a while to load. I think people are a little too quick to dismiss this method, but feel that users have a greater propensity to stay if they know items are happening in the background.
Best practices and resources
As a general rule, we like to keep page load times under 8-9 seconds for 56k users. Shorter than that is even better if you can do so without sacrificing site quality or functionality. This covers a wide audience, and seems to fit the typical short attention span that internet users have.
For more on this area, I’d recommend WebsiteOptimization.com, which has several helpful resources, including an excellent Web Page Analyzer Tool that will scan a page, let you know load times, and give you tips to how to improve your page load times.