"It's 2011, all of my target users have broadband so speed is not an issue!"  We hear this from web site clients often - but is it true?

Even though internet speeds have increased drastically over the past ten years or so with the wide spread uptake of broadband, we all still come across websites that take too long to load.

Various studies have proved that if a web page takes longer than 10 seconds to load, the user will leave the site immediately. A delay of a few seconds gives the user the impression that the computer is in control and leads to user frustration with the site. If a web page can be fully loaded in a fraction of a second, the user feels as if they are in control. Research1 has shown that these figures have remained unchanged for some 60 years!

In the early days of the web, large graphics were the biggest challenge to web speed. This is not so much of a problem now (although you still occasionally visit sites with slow loading product images). The biggest challenge for website speed today is the use of fancy items such as flash slideshows, sometimes with several on one page.

In a study undertaken by usability expert Jakob Neilsen in 20102, Neilsen used eye-tracking software to track where a user looked on the screen whilst on a web page. In the sample page used, there was a flash slide show comprising 23% of the page that took 8 seconds to load.

The results of Neilsen's research showed that most users only interacted with the parts of the page that were fully loaded when they first looked at the screen. One user only glanced at the blank slideshow placeholder when they arrived on the page and did not notice that the slideshow had fully loaded throughout their time on the page. Another user did not look at the page until it was fully loaded and spent about 20% of their time watching the slideshow banner. Businesses often commit proportionally large investments in time and resources in such banners - but if the user does not even look at it, a faster loading times, low-tech alternative might have been more effective!

Competitors are just a click away – in the modern world, people expect things to happen in a timely manner, usually instantly. Being held in a phone queue with the message "Your call is important to us" being played every few seconds is a major frustration as is lining up for 10 minutes or so to place an order in a "fast food" restaurant. On-line behaviour is the same, no one likes to wait, the restaurant may be the only place in town with great burgers so the choices are fewer, but website's competitors are only a few quick clicks away.

Your message in seconds - there was a story told about young actors hoping to break into Hollywood films who would prepare their "elevator speech". This was their cv condensed into the average time it took a lift (elevator) in Los Angeles to travel from the ground to a popular restaurant or club. The idea was if an executive from one of the movie companies happened to be in the lift at the same time, the actor had on average 8 seconds to get their message across and get their foot in the door at the movie company. This applies perfectly to the web, if it takes more than a few seconds for a user who lands on your website to understand what you are offering, you will lose the opportunity and they'll be off to your competitor's site.

At Maweb, website usability is important to our web development, we consider all of the issues around web response times as we develop your website:

  • We ensure that images are fully optimised so that they use as little of the band-width as possible.
  • We make sure that thumbnail images are really reduced copies of the original, not just huge images squeezed into a smaller container.
  • We hand-code the web pages so that there isn’t a lot of extraneous code that doesn’t add to the user experience (but just slows the page down).
  • We use more than 25 years of database programming experience to optimise our database queries, reducing back-end processing so all data is presented to the user as quickly as possible.
  •  Where the site needs large files such as large PDFs, videos or flash files, we ensure the user is aware that they are viewing content that may take a few seconds (or longer) to load so they can decide if the want to wait or not!

At Maweb we focus on user friendly web design and programming quality websites that lead to a great user experience. Get in touch to discuss your needs today.

References: 1,2 http://www.useit.com/alertbox/response-times.html