This sentence will take you about two seconds to read. That’s also the longest the average internet user expects to wait for a page to load.
Two seconds may not seem like very long. But, when we’re in the flow of browsing, even an extra second of wait time can feel like an inconvenience. It’s not our fault either — over time, we’ve become used to blazing fast internet speeds. Our favorite websites spend substantial time and resources tweaking their web pages to load, or perform, as fast as technologically possible.
Why? Because page speed affects everything, from user experience, to brand perception, to conversions, to revenue. Whether you run an ecommerce site, a business website, or a simple blog, every one of your pages has to load, and load times can literally make or break your online business.
For ideal performance, speed must be considered throughout the design process and monitored regularly. However, website performance is a deceptively complex topic, and improving it requires special knowledge of what makes a website fast or slow.
What is Website Performance?
Website performance measures how quickly the pages of a website load and display in the web browser. Web performance optimization is the practice of improving website performance by various methods — faster websites are said to be higher-performing.
Good website performance is a cornerstone of any successful website because it’s the first event that all visitors experience. First impressions influence how users feel about a website, its associated business or organization, and whether or not they convert, buy, or bounce.
Why Website Performance Matters
As an internet user, you’ve experienced many a slow website. While this might only feel like a minor annoyance, the effects of poor performance can reverberate through an entire business. From user satisfaction to the company’s bottom line, the consequences are far-reaching. Let’s cover the speed benchmarks your website is up against, and why they’re so important to hit.
No matter what techniques an online business may use to boost performance, the ultimate goal is always improving the user experience (UX). All website design choices should foster a positive UX, and speed is no exception.
UX impacts every aspect of your website. Simply put, if your website is slow, your visitors will have a bad time. And if your visitors have a bad time, your online business will have a bad time too. Conversely, a high-performing site will improve UX, leave a positive impression on visitors, and encourage them to return.
So, how fast is fast enough for a good experience?
There’s no definitive benchmark for how fast a website must be. There have been multiple numbers thrown around, anywhere from five seconds down to half a second, but perhaps the most influential opinion comes from Google. In 2010 Google stated that a web page must load fully within two seconds for a positive UX, and this is still widely referenced today.
Note that two seconds is a maximum — the fastest websites can load their content in under a second on average. If you’re panicking, don’t worry. With a bit of work, one to two seconds is achievable for almost any website, and certainly for basic ones.
Two seconds is fast, but not arbitrary. When visitors engage with your website, they expect to feel in control. Visitors want your website to deliver exactly what they request as quickly as possible. It has been shown that the average user can wait roughly two to three seconds before feeling disrupted, like they’ve lost control.
Over time, we’ve become conditioned to exceptional website performance. This puts small-time website owners at a disadvantage: When someone lands on your page for the first time, they’re not comparing its load time to those of similar websites — they’re comparing it to the average of every website they’ve seen, including heavy-hitters with entire teams dedicated to performance optimization.
The good news is that you don’t need a large team to hit the two-second threshold. There are clear strategies you can follow to speed things up, and soon we’ll examine what exactly causes slow pages.
One main goal of website design is to capture visitor interest as soon as the page loads. But, none of this matters if your website is slow to load in the first place — it’s very easy for users to leave when they feel impatient. Research by Akamai Technologies found that two extra seconds of load time more than doubles a page’s bounce rate, and 53% of mobile users will abandon a page that loads in more than three seconds.
On one hand, it’s great that we’re free to choose the best website for our needs. On the other, it doesn’t feel so great if you’re the one with the high bounce rate. To retain visitors, especially first-timers, your website needs to meet performance expectations.
Conversions and Sales
There’s a strong link between website performance, conversions, and sales. It doesn’t matter how you define a conversion — performance affects visitor satisfaction, and the happier people are using your website, the more likely they are to download a content offer, join an email list, or complete a purchase.
Understanding this relationship is key, as it ties your website’s performance with your bottom line. Small differences in speed can mean the difference between a conversion and a bounce: For every second of load time, your conversion rate is likely to drop by an average of 4.42% within the first three seconds: