Does page load speed really matter?

We hear a lot about how fast or how slow the internet is these days, and how important it is that your website load fast.  Or that you will loose your potential customers if your website is too slow. Is this just folklore or false buzz?

The short answer, YES, your page load speed really matters. To emphasis that point, I am going to offer some quotes from leading authorities, and links for those that want to do deeper research. I’ll even give you some great links to analyze your website speed at the end of this article.

But first, let me address some important aspects of this topic, that MUST be considered before you can properly evaluate the importance of page load speed, how fast your website really is, and where the “real world” is and where it’s going.

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Myth, lies, Half Truths… PAGE LOAD SPEED

One of the most important things to remember is that regardless what the gurus say, not everyone across America or around the world has a fast Internet connection. Particularly when it comes to smartphones and tablets. Many of which are still running on 3G or less than full speed 4G speeds.

As  for home computers and laptops, only limited areas have 100mb access. So when gurus insist that your visitors expect a page load speed of less than 4 seconds, you need to remember that they are talking about themselves and the lucky few in limited areas with very fast connections.

Note that I AM NOT SAYING that you should not try to get your pages to load in less then 5 sec.

On the other hand, the vast majority of visitors currently have slower access than those being surveyed and reported.

So you do have a window of time to upgrade your website. Just remember, that this means that your own testing may be skewed by your own access speed, either positively or negatively.

Again depending on your equipment, location, and connection speed.

Another myth is the trustworthiness of any of the many websites that offer to test your website speed. For example, we tested dozens and found vast variations between them. Some obvious reasons include where the test is performed from. For example, one may test from Dallas, TX, and another from London.

Or one service may have very fast, reliable connections themselves, where others have less than adequate connection speed for the server they use to provide you with test results. Even if two have the same connection speed, they will have different software and hardware, all again cause for concern about the reports they offer. The moral, choose wisely who you rely on for testing.

Why they fail?

Another important factor is your host, and your server. Many hosts provide a lower quality of service than they advertise, so before you blame your website, do some due diligence on your host. Today, almost anyone can become a host, offering to host your website on low-powered server.

The worst part, they can do this for in many cases, less than a $20 investment. They do not need to spend money on a dedicated server which generally starts at $100+ for a cheap, less than commercial quality machine, and worse, the host with a $20 hosting account is using a shared server,  then sharing again.

So your website is likely one of more than 100, and many times more than 200 on the same server. Which raises many concerns beyond speed. Think security, bad neighbors, etc. The moral, avoid the little guys and choose wisely from larger more established providers, or at least from a trusted, and verified provider.

Your website development

Assuming you have chosen wisely where to host your website. We do need to look at how your website is constructed.

Like a car or a building, a lot of factors must be considered. So let’s cover the most important ones. Is your website static, or does it rely on a database?

If your using a CMS like Joomla or WordPress, then your website relies on a MYSQL database to deliver pages on demand. The page does not actually exist, and is created by the database instantly when the user requests it. This is excellent if all things are optimized, bad if they are not.

So starting with the database and related page scripting, more than 70% of the websites we looked at, had either old out-of-date databases, un-optimized databases, or both. Naturally, these factors will can, and most likely guarantee poor performance, killing your speed.

Guru quotes and the marketplace

Ok, so now that we have considered the dark side of the industry. Let’s look at what the gurus have to say, and consider both where the marketplace is, and where it will be in less than 2 years.

TRUE or FALSE?
“Every millisecond matters – The competition to be the quickest is fierce. Web sites constantly face trade-offs between visual richness and snappy response times.” ~source

TRUE or FALSE?
“A slow loading speed not only indicates poor design but is also a huge turn-off for visitors. Slow loading webpages could also be symptoms of bugs or any other bottleneck.” ~source 

TRUE or FALSE?
“In 2009, a study by Forrester Research found that online shoppers expected pages to load in two seconds or fewer — and at three seconds, a large share abandon the site.” ~source

TRUE or FALSE?
“The correlation between the speed of your website and revenue has been shown over and over again.  Improving your site’s performance is the easiest way to increase page views, conversions and sales.” ~source 

TRUE or FALSE?
“For Impatient Web Users, the Blink of an Eye is Just Too Long to Wait” ~source

As you probably guessed, all of the above are true. But they are also subjective. Again, each of those statements come from reliable sources, but each is the result of a skewed survey.

That is, the subject surveys set out to prove the points given, and in most cases focused on survey of users with the latest devices, connection speeds, and even worse, users that spend a greater time online than most business owners have time for.

So foregoing are all markers and warnings for the future, and companies servicing advanced areas like New York. To be taken as more where we are going, than where we are.  Noting please the “Myth, lies, Half Truths” mentioned above.

Again, we do not discourage speeding your website, in fact, we encourage it, and offer tools to help you do it.

Reliable testing tools

Again, we found a wide variance between the many free testing sites that offer to evaluate your website speed. That said, I am going offer you some excellent testing services, but avoid those we found to be less than reliable.

So how did we determine our selection of who is reliable? Simple, we tested, tested, and re-tested using a consistent set of subject website URLs, testing locations, etc. We focused on those services that agreed more often than not, within a fractional result.

Those with wildly different results, we dropped. We also took larger name brand sources into account, because these larger, more established companies have a good deal of high quality infrastructure to support their service.

Here’s our top picks, listed in order of reliability and service quality:

1 - Pingdom.com is ranked #1,991 in the world according to Alexa traffic rankings. The site has been online for more than seven years. Pingdom.com is in the “Monitoring” category of sites.  Making them probably the most popular and trusted of all testing sources.

2 – Iwebtool.com is ranked #4,919 in the world according to Alexa traffic rankings. Search engines refer about 23% of visits to the site, and the site has been online for more than seven years.

3 – Webtoolhub.com has global Alexa traffic rank is 9,677. The site is particularly highly ranked in the cities of Ottawa (#120), Porto Alegre (#283), and Ahmadabad (#777). 48% of visitors to it come from India, where it has attained a traffic rank of 1,404.

4 – Loads.in has a global Alexa traffic rank of 79,192. While about 18% of the site’s visitors are in India, where it is ranked #37,473, it is also popular in Iceland, where it is ranked #443. Also offer a selection of browser specific tests.

5 – Whichloadsfaster.com has global Alexa traffic rank is 92,439. While roughly 15% of visitors to the site come from India, where it is ranked #59,019, it is also popular in Belgium, where it is ranked #12,977. Even better, this site offers the opportunity to compare your website to your competition, head-to-head. Which is really what it’s about, being faster than your closest competitors. Note, we recommend that you change the settings to SERIAL, for better results.

6 – Pingbrigade.com is a rising star with a global Alexa traffic rank of 812,649. Though newer, search engines refer roughly 3% of visits to it. We added it, because they have both a nice interface, and allow you to embed the results to your website.

So how fast is BazookaBOX?

Naturally, we wrote this article in part to make a point about our own service. So below we share the results of testing our own site, the one your looking at right now. But first, we would like to point out a couple important things.

1 – Advanced Design
Our site is “Fluid” or “Responsive’ which means it adapts to the device, and is designed to look great on laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Something we highly recommend since already mobile search is racing toward 50% of the search volume, and by 2014, we the vast majority of website access will be using mobile devices. The downside, is that we cannot use many traditional cache techniques, due to conflicts with varying device display sizes.

2 – WordPress with Plugins
This site is WordPress based, and employs the use of more 50 plugins, and growing. Something most gurus insist will slow your site a crawl.

3 – Heavy Design
Our site employs a large number of graphics, images, and other heavy design factors. Again, something that is generally discouraged. But the use of which dramatically improves the user experience. The key, is to optimize all the images, graphics and photos before adding them to your website. In our case, we try not to use images greater than 100k.

4 – We Use What We Sell
Our site is built using the very same powerful marketing tools we include with every BazookaBOX, so we wanted to prove tools deliver benefits without a speed compromise.

Caveats aside, we think it’s good for you see, that powerful features and fast loading websites are not mutually exclusive terms.

To make a point about speed, we take our own advice and compare to two of our sorta competitors, WPengine for hosting, and then WPMU.org for Plugins and Themes:

Or compare with our friendly competitor (ie; a supplier of some of our plugins and themes)

Just to be thorough, here’s two more locations

To be fair, the following tests this page with heavy image use

* Updated 2012-1113 after adding WPMU comparisons.

RESOURCES

We also recommend that you read these articles for more information:

This is your brain on a slow website
Site speed is a hot topic in technology circles these days, and there are many reports linking page speed with business metrics like page views, bounce rate, conversions, and revenue.

Page Load Speed MATTERS!
Let’s use an analogy to illustrate how illogical it is to ignore page load speed. Imagine you owned a store, and 40% of the people that visited your store turned around and didn’t even step foot in your store because the automated doors took too long to respond and open. Would you fix the doors so that they consistently responded faster? Yeah, I’m betting you would.

Why Page Load Times Matter
“A 1 second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions.” “If an e-commerce site is making $100,000 per day, a 1 second page delay could potentially cost you $2.5 million in lost sales every year.”

How To Speed Up WordPress
Oh, did I mention that a slow website can literally kill your revenue stream?

4 Seconds
Threshold of Acceptability for Retail Web Page Response Times

Why Website Are Slow…
“What’s more, our entire perception of how fast or slow a page loads is a bit skewed. While we’re waiting for a site to materialize in a browser tab, pages seem to load about 15% slower than they actually do load. The perception gap increases to 35% once we’re away from a computer.”

The Blink of an Eye? Oh, Please
“computer users will visit a Web site less if its loading time is slower than its competitors by 250 milliseconds”

Do Website Loading Speed Matters For SEO & Usability?
47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less

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