Why You Need a Seriously Fast Website

Image of a Vintage Dashboard

This post is for anyone who knows they’ve got what it takes to be a content superstar — but just can’t find that tipping point.

You are relentless. Thorough. Creative. Curious. You can write most people under the table. You read like mad and aren’t afraid to catch hell.

You are a self-starter, and you work hard. In fact, that hard work has paid off.

You’ve built up a nice little audience for your blog. You get a steady stream of visitors to your site every day, some meaningful comments with each post you publish, and occasionally someone emails to tell you how much they love your writing.

But you’ve noticed that, despite your maniacal consistency, things have started to stall.

Your numbers are starting to drop, especially your repeat visitors. Subscriptions to your email list are barely trickling in. Nobody is buying your products and/or services. Your ideas aren’t spreading.

The ugly truth is your site isn’t growing anymore — even with a half dozen guest posts on big-audience blogs.

Staring at the ceiling you start to toy with the idea that maybe being a wildly-spectacular content producer just isn’t in your cards. That your fate is to be cubicle bound forever.

You are about to roll over and accept the fact. But you can’t let it go. And there, crawling through your web reports once last time, you stumble upon a hypothesis: maybe your website performance sucks.

Why you need to care about site speed

Seems like a strange thing to worry about, right? But the speed of your site affects every metric you care about.

Bounce rate. Search ranking. Conversion. Page views. Reader satisfaction. Even revenue (otherwise known as money in your bank account).

And just about every major retailer online has come to the same conclusion: making your site faster can increase conversions.

Last summer Sherice Jacobs reported on a speed test run by Google. Then-Google VP Marissa Mayer asked users if they’d like 10 or 30 results per page. Hands down, web users wanted 30 results per page.

But when Google rolled out the changes and tested for speed (they are obsessed with speed) their jaws dropped. Traffic had dropped by 20% on those pages with 30 results.

The download speed difference? Half a second.

Amazon experienced a similar drop in traffic and revenue due to a fraction-of-a-second load delay. Impatient bunch, we web users.

Did you know this would happen with a faster website?

Last year Chad Summerhill, Manager of Digital Marketing at U-Pack, explained how their web team buckled down on site speed in 2011 as a major site-wide performance improvement initiative.

Chad said they “revamped code, optimized images, etc. to give our web pages a diet — and we’ve seen real improvements in site speed.”

What they didn’t plan on, however, was this: lowering page load time led to a dramatic rise in conversion rates across the site.

They’d already formed the excellent habit of tracking their website’s overall conversion rate. So they know a dramatic push of the needle when they see one. And a 15% increase in overall conversion made them do a happy dance.

Was speed behind this conversion boost? Their digging demonstrated it was a huge contributor. Their organic pages got the bulk of the benefit.

Think about it.

Anyone who fanatically tests the effectiveness of PPC landing pages will come to the same conclusion: thinner and faster pages convert.

But what does all this mean to you?

For starters, site speed affects your search ranking.

As John Eckman points out, page speed is a ranking factor in Google’s algorithm. In other words, fast load times equal higher rankings. And higher rankings lead to more traffic.

Now, page speed is just one of about 200 signals Google uses to determine rank. And Geoff Kenyon claims that less than one percent of search queries actually are affected by page speed.

That’s certainly not an excuse to ignore it.

A faster web site means a better visitor experience. A slow website will lead to a poor user experience. Your bounce rate will grow. Page views will drop. Most important, you will lose money.

Strange Loop puts it like this: a one-second delay can cost you 7% percent of sales.

If you make $1,000 a month from your site — that’s seventy bucks a month you are losing — and $840 a year. Can you afford to just throw away $70 a month? $840 a year?

Unless you are Mark Zuckerberg, I doubt it. Now that I have your attention, let’s look at what actually reduces site speed.

What slows down site speed?

The first place to look is your host.

Your speed problem may be from the uneven quality of service that comes with sharing a server. Some days are good. Some days are bad.

It could also come from choosing a generic hosting provider as opposed to one whose stack is finely tuned for your CMS. For example, WordPress users will see significant performance improvements by going with a premium managed WordPress host.

A good managed host should also be able to help you solve the litany of additional factors that could be slowing down your site. I’ll list a few here and then jump into what you need to do to test for these issues.

  • Widget or plugin overload: In this category you’ll find common household names like a comment plugin or Hello Bar — notorious for killing page speed. In fact, Matthew Ogborne discovered that his Facebook Like button was downloading 83 Kb of data at 1.34 seconds of load time. He yanked it. Joshua Bixby had the same reaction when he discovered that it took 2 seconds to download the original Google+ button. Google has since fixed the problem, but the lesson is clear: know what kind of burden a widget or plugin will put on a site.
  • Too Many Ads: Of course there is a temptation to display ads once you’ve got high levels of traffic. However, one of the major causes of high-bounce rates are slow-loading ads. Weigh the cost of each additional ad.
  • Bloated images: Giant graphics can grab attention and pull readers in. But large images can also make downloading the page a burden.
  • Incompatible Browsers and Apps: Chrome and Shockwave Flash are a great example. They don’t play nice. Who to blame? Google, of course, but it’s your responsibility to test your site (and all the pretty trinkets hanging from it) across browsers.
  • Design Theme: A theme is your blog’s paint job. It’s what makes heads turn. It’s what makes people bristle with envy. And in some cases, it’s what makes your site painfully slow. Use a framework that works.
  • Analytics Code: That snippet of code you dropped across your site to measure performance might add a hair’s breadth of drag to your site speed. Maybe 100 milliseconds here. 100 milliseconds there. But it all adds up.
  • Sign Up Forms: The back end code of a sub form (like Aweber or Google Feedburner) can make additional calls to your SQL server that trip up your speed.
  • Affiliate Code: Another line of code … another call to the server … keeps your site crawling.

The issues above … bandwidth thieves. All of them. Here’s how to round ‘em up.

6 tools to test your site’s speed

Fortunately there are plenty of free tools out there to test how fast your site is. And except for the Plugin Performance Profiler, there is a lot of overlap between the tools.

Since these tools are fast and free, it’s worth testing your site on all of them to see if there are problems another tool might miss.

1. Page Speed Insights

Drop your URL into the text box of this dandy little tool, click “Submit,” and you’ll get an instant report of your site’s performance. You’ll see a list of recommendations that are broken down into high-, medium- or low-priority. If you are the curious sort, you can even explore the experimental recommendations (but not until after you knock out the others). A must use.

2. Google Analytics Plugin by Yoast

Joost de Valk of Yoast.com created a sweet Google Analytics plugin that includes a Site Speed feature, too. Performance reports will show you how quickly or slowly your page loads across different browsers and around the world.

3. Pingdom Website Speed Test

If you want to test individual pages, Pingdom can deliver some robust reports. The nice thing about Pingdom is that your results will reflect real-world conditions, because the tests are performed on real browsers like Chrome.

4. YSlow

Yahoo! designed this tool based on their rules for high performance pages. Run a test and you’ll get a summary report that includes recommendations for site performance. What makes this tool unique is the performance analysis tools they offer, like Smush.it and JSLint.

5. P3 (Performance Plugin Profiler)

Anyone who uses WordPress knows that plugins are a beautiful thing. These applications can help you do just about anything you want. Theme-Check tests your theme to make sure it meets WP standards. TweetMeme adds a button that lets visitors share your content on Twitter. PopUp Domination may help you capture leads.

There are more than 21,000 plugins to choose from. But each one adds a cost. Each one can steal bandwidth and make your site crawl. So you have to make hard decisions about which plugins are worth the extra load to your site. The Plugin Performance Profiler will audit your plugins and identify which ones are hogging bandwidth. Root out the culprits — and then disable it when you are done.

6. Load Impact

This test simulates thousands of users hitting your site at the same time — which might happen if you get a tweet from Lady Gaga or a link on the front page of Reddit. You’ll be able to see where your site breaks, spot your bottlenecks, and fix problems before real users land on your site.

In conclusion …

Building and maintaining a fast website comes down to these general principles: eliminate what you don’t need. Run new features you want to add through a cost/benefit analysis. Keep whatever you truly need. Ditch whatever you don’t.

The most efficient way to get this process started? Make sure the right hosting company is running your site with the right software.

Got any thoughts, questions, recommendations, concerns, tips, or tools on website performance you’d like to share? Drop them into the comments box below …

About the author

Demian Farnworth


Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media's Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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Comments

  1. This is true. Page load speed affects a large percentage of your site’s success. People won’t wait for your slow site to load because there’s always that other link below (or above) yours in search results that might give them exactly what they’re searching for way faster than what your site can offer. I always make sure that my clients’ sites are within the acceptable page load speed to keep their businesses profitable and produce loyal customers. I use Pingdom because, well, as what’s stated above, it give you robust reports. Whenever I notice just a little bit of drag I immediately call our web developers to look for the issue and do something about it. That and other things keep my Clients satisfied so I make sure to stay on top of it at all times. :)

  2. And this is why I will always read Copyblogger. Fantastic, helpful post that has saved me hours. Thanks, Demian.

  3. Great post. My site’s speed is okay most of the time, but I’ve often wondered what changes a site’s speed and why. This article was enlightening. I could use some of these tips to increase my site’s speed. Thanks.

    • Dan, one factor that can certainly influence a site’s speed, in addition to everything Demien mentioned and what has been discussed in the comment thread, is plugins. One of the first questions we ask to Synthesis customers inquiring about their site speed is: “How many plugins do you have active?” And the vast majority of our customers find that they have active plugins not providing necessary functionality. Any plugin not providing something necessary should be removed. And each one removed can have an impact on overall site speed, some more than others.

  4. Load Speed is important … for various reasons and in various ways.

    Load Speed and SEO:
    There is no Positive Direct Ranking benefit for having a Faster website that we know of.
    Google can/does Negatively impact a site that is Very Slow … but that is the only direct influence that they have admitted and that has been seen.
    Indirect benefits may factor in potential signals (those that haven’t been confirmed), such as dwell time, multi-page views, repeat visits etc.

    Load Speed and Conversions:
    Some people have done studies that look at Page Speed and swell time and seen little effect … that’s because it tends not to influence the “immediate”, but instead impacts the subsequent … such as clicking to a another page or taking an action (conversion).
    Most of the big sites were covered in studies that showed conversion improvement when load times were reduced by tiny percentages … but those may be slightly out of kilter, as there was no mention of things like recent/active promotions etc.
    What is known (or can be seen) is on smaller sites that traffic tends to become stickier when load times are increased noticably (by 1.5 seconds or more).
    This is crucial for Mobile audiences as well (and as that is a heavy and growing audience segment for some site types – it’s more than a little important.

    Load Times and Improvements:
    There is no shortage of posts/pages about improving site load times … so long as you want to see the same 12 items being rehashed amongst “Top 5″, “The most important 10″ and “Secret speed tip” articles.
    Most of them also miss out explaining the how/why of the optimization and how they work – instead simply telling you to do them (or explaining how to apply them).
    Many miss out things like [Connect: keep-alive]. or explain that sharding resources (subdomains/external domains for things like CSS/JS) should be weighed/monitored before simply doing it.
    So it’s vitaly important to understand that the optimization tips fall into several different categories, and that they possess different influences … and thus have different priorities on impact based on your site/design.
    A proper audit and measurement approach should be taken – as sometimes the time/effort to achieve something could be better spent on doing any 3 other optimizations and get greater result.

  5. I remember reading somewhere that if Amazon’s site speed dropped by one second they’d lose something like a billion dollars a day…I might be pulling those numbers out of thin air because I can’t for the life of me remember exactly where I read them but the point of the article struck home–speed has a direct impact on your bottom line, especially for an e-commerce site. You may not think an extra second or two is that bad, but think like a customer–how often do you get annoyed as the shopper when a site is slow?

  6. My main website is very slow these days. I’ve eliminated a ton of plugins and scripts, but the problem persists. Major offender of heavy graphics according to the tools you’ve listed. Longtime user of pingdom, but loving some of the others.

    • One way I’ve always avoided the graphics issue – which is a huge one when it comes to page load speeds – is with Photoshop’s “Save For Web” function. It reduces even very large files down to 50-200kb jpgs with far less quality loss than you’d think. If you can afford not having high res images, it’s one place to start.

      • Nice tip, thanks. Just tried it out on a few images and they were 20-40% smaller. They also appear to shrink even more in programs like smush.it.

        Thanks again.

        Now to find time to replace a million images……

  7. Simply Great! It’s a blessing for me to find out copyblogger. I am working on my website these days and there are a lot which I learnt and have to learn from reliable contributors like you. I am looking forward to get more tips and techniques about blogging and cntent writing.

  8. Thank you for the practical value here!

  9. Demien, terrific piece. I think you especially hit the nail on the head here: “Now, page speed is just one of about 200 signals Google uses to determine rank. And Geoff Kenyon claims that less than one percent of search queries actually are affected by page speed. That’s certainly not an excuse to ignore it.”

    Even if only 1% of queries are affected by site speed, they are likely to be among the most competitive ones…so certainly worth focusing about! Plus, that ignores the indirect affect site speed can have on search engine results. As you explained so clearly, user satisfaction is directly tied to site speed; certainly more than 1% of users form their impressions of a site based on speed! And whether a user is satisfied directly influences whether they will stay and interact with the site plus share it afterwards, which will affect search rankings as well.

  10. Great post. It’s amazing what a difference a fraction of a second makes. New York Times posted something saying that users start hitting the back button if the load times take longer than a blink of an eye.

    Going on with the theme of this post, here’s another infographic on the dollar value impact page speed can have to your site from us at Rigor.

    I’d also add the WebPerformanceGrader.com to the list of tools to test your site speed.

    • We get spoiled as we inch the needle closer and closer to instantaneous, and sites adjust further raising expectations. It also doesn’t help that there is so much free great information out there–just a click away. A lot of competition.

  11. Do we need to ditch the Like Facebook button? And replace it with what?

    • If you click through and read the article talking about the Like FB button, you’ll notice that the writer still has a Like FB button. The point isn’t just “ditch everything,” but to understand how much each bit of functionality adds to your load time, then strategically figure out what to keep, what to ditch, and what to make better.

  12. It may sound weird but will stripping off all the cosmetics from the website too is not really good, is it?

  13. Super, super important stuff, Demian. I have been experimenting with BrowserStack to check various web browsers, and really appreciate all your performance links here. Noticing myself click away from slow sites made me realize that people are probably clicking away from mine, too. Yikes!

  14. Thank you – a few of those I didn’t even know about and I really could have done with the page load tester this weekend.

    I’ve found google page sight insights so useful – I knocked seconds off my site a few months ago and then noticed an increase in visitors. All down to optimizing image sizes especially pngs and reducing the quality of the ones I was publishing.

    Since then I’ve put a few other pieces of code on my site and I’m now wondering if that was wise after reading this today. Better go back and do a few more speed tests!

  15. Thanks for highlighting the problem Demian – great stuff. I’ve been wondering why my site hasn’t been as quick to load as I should have liked. I’ll use one of those tools you mentioned to establish which plugins are the main culprits. All the best, Laurie.

  16. Another set of considerations … Actual vs Perceived.

    Studies have shown that altering the Perceived Load Time can have a greater impact than the Actual.
    This means ensuring that the User “see’s” the improvements, rather than them simply “being there” – such as showing timers whilst images load, loading the top part of the page/content before images/widgets etc.

    So again, it’s not simply a matter of doing XYZ to be “faster” – it’s a matter of knowing what needs improving, and how to improve it.

  17. Great post, Demian.
    I was really surprised to know about the Facebook Like button impacting load time like that.

  18. This is a great post. I’m a consultant working in the industry of Web Performance Optimization, and getting site owners to care about this subject is still a challenge. Showing a direct correlation between speed and revenue always gets people’s attention,

    There’s a general rule of thumb that says that every request to the server is 200ms. Adding Google Analytics – 200ms, Adding Facebook ‘Like’ – 200ms, Displaying an image on another site – 200ms, getting an extra CSS file – 200ms. Pretty soon you’re spending a second or two loading other people’s stuff and losing your own users.

  19. So interesting and surprising to think a second can make such a difference. However, I know how frustrated I can get when a site is slow. The only thing worse is not being able to find what I’m looking for easily…in other words, a site that confuses me! Thanks!

  20. This is very helpful and thanks for showing all the links that I would need to check my sites speed. I continue to hear and read that speed is a huge ranking factor and this information just great!

    Thanks for sharing!

  21. Great Post and idea ! Although I am using CDN on my two blogs, I never checked is it working well or not ? Its working better but not good enough. Thank For nice tools….

  22. Great informative post but I don’t know why, for the last few days I’m having this extra loading time with Copyblogger it self. It takes way too much time to load, I can get in facebook faster than I can load a page in Copyblogger. As I love this site, I wait; but it made me close the tab a few times. I have also missed a few posts only because of the load time.
    Hope it gets solved soon. Rather than this, I would have to say that load time always matters but I don’t know about the micro second matters sort of thing. I own a WordPress blog and I don’t get much visitor for sure but that’s mainly because my site is new and has only a few contents. I don’t get much time as I have to write to make a living. But I tried to improve my site speed and it worked, Google ranks me higher for a few keywords that I was not ranking at all. That speed thing worked for sure.

  23. Very informative, thank you! Showing dependence between speed and revenue will make everyone check their website speed but it won’t be too difficult as you have provided all necessary tools. Thank you again, great post.

  24. Well, your post kept me busy today! :) That’s not a bad thing though, not by a long shot. You’ve helped my sites tremendously, and I really appreciate this post! I was getting frustrated that my sites (both my blog and main website) were loading slowly, and I knew this couldn’t be a good thing (though I didn’t have your data to back up that queasy gut feeling). I looked into your suggested sites and tools above, and confirmed what I’d suspected.

    Google gave my sites about a 58 out of a 100. Pingdom was kinder, but not by much. And the mobile versions of the sites? Oh, they tested much, much worse.

    I’ve spent the day trying to fix these problems, and I happened across a plugin that’s really made those testing scores improve. W3 Total Cache: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/w3-total-cache/ . Both my sites are WordPress run, and if you are using WordPress, I’d recommend this plugin. Once the plugin was configured, my sites tested out on Google at about a 90 out of 100, and even on my slow, shaky internet connection, they’re coming through much, much better.

    Thank you all again, CopyBlogger folks. You’ve been amazingly helpful, useful and informative, as always! :)

  25. Minimizing HTTP requests + images sprites and Using a CDN are things to do to get faster web

    but a better host is the best thing that increases a website speed

  26. Wow really good resource thanks for sharing Demian .

    I have found most sites build by newbies load slowly due to bloggers not knowing how to format images for the internet.

    Using 20mb images instead of 20kb makes a huge difference.

  27. I use WP Optimize and W3Total Cache, these two things alone can help increase site speed once they are configured and used. Another thing, W3Total Cache Minify settings, if used properly, I went from a load time of 2.56 seconds to now (fluctuates) between 967ms to 1,2sec. Of course using the CDN can also help by basically making your load time with images much shorter. Hope that helps anyone looking to help speed up their site…Also, as far as the paid platforms are concerned for monitoring your sites seo and load times, ManageWP is pretty nice…I am really enjoying it so far, plus, you cn run up a few sites with it for free….

  28. Not to the overloaded traffic yet but hope to get there soon :) Great to keep in mind though and you’re absolutely right.

  29. This is probably the most important part of blogging business because readers does not have enough time. They can’t wait.

  30. I have been worrying about this matter since I started blogging, but the cost of speeding my site up is holding me back, and my blog is not making any money. When is the right time to invest into programmers to optimize code and images? hire a dedicated server? anyone willing to give me a quote?

  31. Great info and thanks for the tools. I’ve made my site as thin as possible and noticed some improvement in speed. I guess a minimal theme helps, too. I like how Copyblogger site loads in under 1 second – truly fast.

  32. You have great tools here to check the speed of our sites. A big help to make sure that we give our readers a great reading and browsing experience. Plus one for you!

  33. A painfully slow sight is sure to elicit a click on the “X” button to close the window. But even more annoying to me, personally, is the forced ad that prevents me from getting to the article or content I was looking for. Forbes .com is an example that comes to mind. Why are you forcing me to click twice (once on the original article link, again on the “skip this ad”)? My second click is almost always on the “X” to close the window … in fact now if I see that a social share links to an article on Forbes, I don’t even bother anymore.

  34. You guys failed to mention one of the best speed testing tools – http://www.webpagetest.org/ It just compiles a lot of the data from sites above into one… In addition it provides some cool data like “first render” time

  35. Nice post Jeremy,

    I think web browser must also take the blame for the slow site speed of websites/blogs. I currently use Opera to browser Copyblogger site because this web browser is really quick in compressing web pages. I only use Mozilla firefox mostly to download YouTube videos because i’ve already “invested” a lot of add ons on that web browser.

    But you’re right, coding can also be reason why page loads slow. And not to mention, images, widgets, ads and many things. I think we really need to limit what elements that we really need on our article pages, while we can put all the widgets on the homepage only.

    But i personally think Mozilla Firefox needs to improve its site load speed.

  36. I actually heard recently that Etsy delivered a slower page latency to see if it had an effect on conversion and they found that slower pages actually didn’t negatively effect their conversions.

    It’s possible that it depends on your customer base as well as your own testing to decide if it’s worth it to optimize page speed for higher conversions.

    • That’s interesting–I wonder how slow is acceptable. Eventually you reach a point where it gets too slow obviously. And you are right that it depends on your audience. Test, test, test.

  37. Hello,

    Websynthesis is the best but when will there be an affliate program?
    Big timers like problogger and yoast have the chance to be an affliate, what about us?

    Grtz,
    Robby

  38. Site speed can be affected by the following factors:

    Front-end design/build

    -Multimedia such as Flash or video
    -Images that are not optimised i.e. reduced in size for the web
    -Dynamic scripts that are server-intensive
    -Web pages that aren’t -compressed so the file size is big and cumbersome to download
    -Bulky code – this can occur when diferent developers have worked on a site or various new features have been added over time
    -3rd party scripts and APIs

    Hosting
    -A shopper’s proximity to your hosting infrastructure can impact on response times.
    -Shared web servers where another eCommerce website’s traffic can impact server capacity

    The online marketing company Summit highlight the real cost of a slow eCommerce site. See below in the report:

    http://www.summit.co.uk/slow-ecommerce-website-speed-costs-sales/

  39. Nice post.
    I would add 2 things :

    – “80-90% of the end-user response time is spent on the frontend” according to Steve Souders in 2010. As Simonne Vickers said above, hosting can be the issue, but it is not the first thing in the todo list in most of the cases.
    – Yslow and Google Page Speed are great tools, but their tips are not gold and they are just a beginning : you have to take into account your context (some tips may not be great for your case), and be warned that issues can be located elsewhere (bad javascript usage…)

    We are working on a (beta) service, that notably merge YSlow and Google Page Speed best practices, and trying to add our smartness :
    http://www.dareboost.com

    We would be glad to have your opinion, and why not, to see the tool added to the list !