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Performance is user experience

Think about how you search for things on the Web. How quick are you to close a tab and go to the next search engine result if a site takes too long to load? If you’re searching for local weather or news, how likely is it that you’ll return to a site that waits forever to show relevant information on your screen? As you run errands and check your phone, how likely are you to have the patience to endure long load times as you try to check your email, compare prices, or search for directions? The less time you have, the higher your expectations are for a site to load quickly.

Page speed is increasingly important for websites. If you’re looking for a page load time benchmark for your site, this is it: users expect pages to load in two seconds, and after three seconds, up to 40% of users will abandon your site. Moreover, 85% of mobile users expect sites to load at least as fast or faster than sites on their desktop. As you design and build a website, or as you examine your existing site, how are you stacking up against these expectations?

Web performance is user experience. As you design and develop a new site, you’ll consider many components of its user experience: layout, hierarchy, intuitiveness, ease of use, and more. Your site’s experience determines how much your audience trusts your brand, returns to your site, and shares it with others. Page load time and how fast your site feels is a large part of this user experience and should be weighed equally with the aesthetics of your site. Optimal web performance is essential for ensuring a great online user experience and should be a top priority for brands with a digital presence. Unfortunately, there are still websites and web entities that fail to properly address slow load times, poor site designs, and sub-par mobile experiences.

Poor web performance is often a result of placing too much focus on rich designs and offers, but not enough on the actual user experience. If not managed properly, rich media and complex coding can often hinder the site’s performance. Simultaneously loading large files (e.g. videos) and processing multiple scripts can significantly increase load time, making the site less responsive.

User Expectations

Companies that invest in web performance optimization will gain long term rewards by turning positive user experiences into deeper engagements and loyalty. A slow loading, hard to navigate and unreliable site is not tolerated by the average online user. Users expect load times of less than 3 seconds and a lag free, highly responsive browsing experience. In addition to delivering the right messaging and relevant offers, companies must also ensure the overall website experience meets expectations. Users will not hesitate to abandon any website due to unpleasant experiences. This is especially true with regards to ecommerce sites.
To effectively optimize web performance to meet user expectations, many web entities are directly engaging target users for feedback through digital surveys and focus groups. Many companies have leveraged this approach to adopt user-centric optimization measures to satisfy their expectations. A McKinsey and Company survey shows 56 percent of C-level executives say digital engagement of customers is now a top-ten company priority, and on the whole, respondents reported notable progress since 2012 in deploying practices related to this trend.

Better User Experience Increases Sales

With a better understanding of user expectations, let’s look into why web performance is a critical component for driving sales for some of the most successful online brands and organizations. Well-designed and fast loading websites can result in improved search engine rankings, satisfied users, and ultimately increase sales and revenue.

The truth is it really does not matter how good the offers are or how extensive the product selection is, sales will not be generated if shoppers are not willing to wait for an extra second for the site to fully load. Imagine trying to walk into a store at the mall, but can’t get in because the doors are jammed. The chances are you probably won’t wait around for someone to fix the doors and just proceed to a different store.

Optimized web performance will not only increase the likelihood that a user/customer has a positive experience, but will highly increase the chances of returning visits and possibly making a purchase on the site. Retaining customers online can be a challenge, but the benefits increase exponentially when they turn into frequent visitors and repeat buyers.

Performance Metrics
Slow load times in any region can have serious effects on end user experience and sales. Along with the impact on visitors, site speed can also have an effect on search engine rankings, leading to lower search visibility.

73% of mobile Internet users say that they’ve encountered a website that was “too slow to load”
46% of mobile users would abandon a page if it did not load within 10 seconds
64% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with their site visit will go somewhere else to shop next time
A 1-second delay in page response decreases customer satisfaction by 16%
A one second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions
Shopzilla saw a 7-12% increase in revenue after they made their website load faster
Google recommends improving loading speed when site is slower than 95% of others

Impact on Mobile Users

As more users move to mobile devices and more tasks move online, your site’s overall user experience increases in importance. When we look at data from StatCounter Global Stats, we can see that mobile is steadily increasing as a total percentage of Internet traffic

Some companies are already seeing this substantial increase in traffic from mobile devices; according to Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report, 45% of transactions on Groupon came from mobile devices as of early 2013, which was up from less than 15% two years earlier. At Etsy, where I run the performance engineering team, 50% of user traffic comes from mobile devices as of early 2014.

Search Engine Rankings

Additionally, page load time is factored into search engine results, bumping faster sites higher in the results list than slower sites. Google includes site speed in its search result ranking algorithm. Though Google makes it clear that it weighs content relevancy more heavily when ranking search results, page load time still contributes to the overall user experience of your site. Google wants to return results that are, overall, the best experience for its users.

Ignoring the page speed of your site is more than just a missed opportunity; it could be detrimental to users remembering your brand. Microsoft conducted a study to see how users recall sites found in search results. A half hour after participants in the study entered a self-generated query into a search box, they received an emailed survey that asked them to recall the result list without referring back to it. The results of this survey showed that one of the two main factors affecting how likely a result was to be remembered was where in the result list it was ranked. Improving your page load time can improve your search engine result ranking, which is excellent for your brand.

Brand and digital product designer Naomi Atkinson brilliantly describes how design agencies can leverage performance in their pitch to a client, saying, “a large percentage of agencies are missing out on a key selling point. Pitching how quick they plan on making their client’s website or service (and how), alongside their marketing and visual ideas, would make a world of difference. To their own success, and their clients.”

Performance is part of the overall user experience, and can have a huge impact on a company’s brand.