Why a Fast Website Kills Two Conversion Birds With One Stone

By , May 2nd, 2011 in Conversion | 35 comments

Google includes something called “Page speed” in their ranking algorithm. Many are aware of this fact, but few have taken any action to find out what it means for their business or actively worked on improving their website’s response times. Today we’ll find out how an improved page load speed can improve your online business in two positive ways.

2 birds and one stone – get it? (Image Source)

Most of the efforts around your online presence are aimed at either increasing your traffic OR improving your conversion rate.

The beauty of improving website load times is that it actually does both! You increase visitor numbers AND you improve the Conversion rate.

Here’s why:

Since page speed is a factor in Google’s algorithm, excellent load times will improve your ranking => you get more organic traffic.

Secondly, improved page speed will give your visitors a better user experience, make them more prone to stay on your site and finish what they came for => improved conversion rates.

Often quoted research on this subject includes an Amazon study that showed a 1% decrease in sales for every 0.1s decrease in response times.
(Kohavi and Longbotham 2007)

To see how Google perceives your load times, look in Webmasters tools under the section call “Labs”. Here’s a screenshot of the results for my own site, Conversionista.com.

As you can see, Google seems to think that above 1.5 second is slow (red) and below is fast (green). I’ve been working hard lately to improve my speed, and as you can see it recently paid off.

Improving Your Website Load Times – Web Performance 101

To kick things off, start monitoring your response times using a free web site monitoring tool. I use one from a company called Apica. There are plenty of other tools; you can just Google any of the keyword phrases in this article. Whatever tool you are using, it should help you pinpoint the weakest link in your performance chain.

Many tools, such as Google’s own tool, are code and content focused. This means they will try to find components on your pages which slow down delivery. That’s a good starting point, but understand that these components might not be the most important performance factors for your site.

In my own case, the problem was something completely different. I run a pretty standard WordPress site and monitoring the data showed a seesaw pattern with big fluctuations in response times, even though the content was the same and visitor numbers very modest.

Problems of this type usually come from uneven quality in the services of the hosting provider. If you share a hosting environment with many others, your performance depends on how overall performance is handled and distributed. Since all the hosting providers have more or less the same offer on paper, there was only one way of finding out – I started to move around.

After my fifth move I finally arrived at a company where response times went down and the pattern flattened out.

Note: The reason why you see two lines in the graph is because I run two sites, Conversionista.com and .se. I keep track of both sites in the same monitoring tool.

The graphic shows what happened after this last move. What’s important to note here is that we’re talking about the exact same WordPress installation, yet response times are totally different.

Monitor your most important pages and functions

From your web metrics practices you know that you should focus on your most important pages, such as transactional areas like carts, checkouts and registration forms – the same goes for web performance monitoring. Make sure that your critical user experience pathways never go down or go into “hour-glassing mode”. When you’re selecting a monitoring service or tool, make sure it has the right granularity to allow you to drill down to these vital components.

Don’t suffer from widget “slowverload” (editor’s note: I’m taking credit for that new word)

Web 2.0 technologies have made it easy to share and embed. Great – But do you know how that affects your response times? Make sure you don’t embed scripts and snippets that slow down or make your site hang. It’s super easy to get carried away with blogging software like WordPress and kill your page load speed by including too many plugins.

Go pro – load test

If you’re really serious about web performance you should load test your site. This means you’ll put your site under the pressure of thousands of simultaneous users, in order to see where it breaks. A load test will pinpoint your bottlenecks and help you fix them before they cause problems for your real users.

So what now?

If you haven’t been paying attention to your Page speed, here’s a quick checklist to jumpstart your web performance efforts:

  1. Check Google’s take on your page speed in the Webmaster tools (“Labs” section, remember).
  2. Download Google’s page speed tool and install with Firefox. This will help you find problems in your code and content.
  3. Set up continuous monitoring of critical pages and components in order to spot problems that come and go.
  4. Never go to sleep. Excellent web performance is a moving target and you can’t afford to lose users to your competitors just because your site is slower.

Start monitoring today and you’ll uncover ways to improve both visitor and conversion metrics.

This is a guest post. The author’s opinions are entirely his or her own and may not always reflect the views of Unbounce. John Ekman is the founder and CEO of Conversionista! – The #1 Conversion consulting company in Sweden (possibly Scandinavia?!). You will find posts similar to this one on Johns’ blog on conversion rate optimization. According to John a Conversionista is someone deeply and crazily passionate about improving conversion rates. You can also reach John on Twitter or LinkedIn.

– John Ekman

About The Author

Photo of John Ekman

John Ekman is the founder and CEO of Conversionista! – The number 1 Conversion consulting company in Sweden (possibly Scandinavia?!). You will find posts similar to this one on Johns’ blog on Conversion rate optimization. According to John a Conversionista is someone deeply and crazily passionate about improving conversion rates.
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Comments

  1. Alistair says:

    You’ve shown above that tuning your website can indeed effect the perceived load times from Google Webmaster Tools, which is great for a number of reasons. The question on everyones lips reading this article is, how did your various website goals change post-performance boost?

    Al.

    • Al, that’s really hard to say because:
      1. I was in an upstart phase so everything was going up-up-up. Really hard to say which factor did what.
      2. At that time visitor nrs were also really low = hard to get any significant nrs on any metrics.
      3. The one thing I can say is that my rankings started climbing around then, but then again, I did lots of other SEO stuff too.

      Finally, It’s maybe not the kind of thing you want to test? Why would you want test a slower version vs. a faster one? The outcome is pretty obvious, I guess the only question is HOW MUCH difference it makes?!

      if you want some more nrs I recommend this article:
      http://www.websiteoptimization.com/speed/tweak/psychology-web-performance/

  2. Todd Barrs says:

    Great article, John. Out of curiosity, what hosting providers did you look at?

  3. Josh Fraser says:

    Great post! Another thing to keep in mind is that the majority of web performance comes from the front-end. There are lots of tools available to improve your speed. My company, Torbit provides a automated service that can optimize your site. In fact, on average we can double the speed of a website with a 5 minute setup. If you’re interested in an easier way to improve your traffic and conversations without doing a ton of work, check out Torbit at http://torbit.com.

    • My comment to this would be – It depends. Many of my clients that run sites with lots of call to databases, application servers and other underlying components DON’T see the front end as the bottleneck. But of course if your site is mostly “front-end functionality” with not too much backend stuff going on, then of course only front end improvements will matter.

  4. Chris says:

    I’ve never used mywebcheck.com (link is broken in your post) so I’ll check that out. Other good tools to test page speeds and overall site performance are webpagetest.org and http://tools.pingdom.com although I prefer webpagetest. Less flashy, but more info.

  5. James says:

    Hey,

    You mention you’ve tried a lot of hosting services – i’m currently looking to move to a dedicated server to improve my sites’ performances. I’m currently on a shared server, and my activity is overloading the server somehow(!) – my provider has suspended my account for this! and now trying to move me to a rather expensive dedicated server plan.

    I don’t suppose you could giveaway your findings in what provider was the best???

    Many thanks

  6. I have a shared service, but they have VPS solutions. In Sweden though. Would that help you at all?

  7. brindes says:

    Lately ive been using the Yslow plugin for Firefox to check my page speed. Had done several improvments, so far:

    - sprite for images (so instead of several icons i get one larger image reducing http requests and size)
    -jquery loading from google api
    -smushing all my site images (thres lots of then)
    -minified CSS and JS
    -cookie less to load assets (images, css, js, etc)

    Anyway, i had improved my page speed a lot but… 1,5 seconds? Im far from that ;/

    Google thinks that we all should have a blank, white page with almost nothing on it to be considered fast?

    PS.: My site is an ecommerce

  8. pageoneresults says:

    Great article, I even Tweeted it. I should have run my page speed sniff test first. Not exactly a good example when discussing page speed. This document makes 213 HTTP Requests totaling 1,587,124 bytes. You also have hard coded internal and external redirects making additional round trips to the server. Your other hosts might have been just fine had you kept the bandwidth abuse to a minimum. ;)

    • Agree, that’s what you get when yu don’t have a techie in your company + run standard WP installation. But my point is that code optimization would not have solved the issues I had with all the peaks at +10 or + 20 seconds. As I see it those peaks are purely the result of poor server-side performance.

  9. [...] packed with tips to help improve search marketing ROI. John Ekman of Unbounce helps us understand why a fast website kills two conversion birds with one stone, pointing out that Google uses “page speed” as part of their ranking algorithm and [...]

  10. Marc Poulin says:

    Two days ago, Google released Site Speed, a performance monitoring feature within the new Google Analytics. It is a very simple way to measure and report response time. Before that, I used HTTPwatch and Fiddler but these tools are for advanced users only.

  11. This is a great post and highlights why its not always good to get cheap hosting. Personally I create new servers for each website that I seriously plan on marketing. This results in the best load times. I also make sure to use a dedicated IP address. Not always required but I want to make sure I have the best speed and that I do not inherit the history of a shared IP.

  12. Myron says:

    Thanks for the tips, both in the post itself and from Marc Poulin in the comments section (the tip about Google’s Site Speed). Both are definitely worth checking out further.

  13. [...] Why a Fast Website Kills Two Conversion Birds With One Stone por John Ekman en Unbounce [...]

  14. [...] John Ekman that works with helping websites with their conversions just recently wrote a guest blog at unbounce.com about why it is so important that your application performs well speedwise, you can find this here, http://unbounce.com/conversion-rate-optimization/a-fast-web-site-increases-conversions/ [...]

  15. Noomii says:

    We use the folks over at NewRelic.com to measure our site’s Apdex score, which is a measure of your sites speed versus customer expectations. If you’re nerdy enough, you can learn about apdex on wikipedia. It’s pretty cool. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apdex

  16. Good article John!

    Have you tried WP Super Cache or a CDN service to speed up your site? Also, what provider did you end up with. I’m based in Sweden as well but most of my traffic is from the US. I’m looking for a provider that will give me great response times for visitors all over the world.

  17. I have read and heard about the importance of your website’s load page. But you are right, most of us didn’t do anything about it. I am not techy so I didn’t bother with its codes. I just minimize the contents that could cause it to load slowly like images and videos. I guess I’ll have to start monitoring my site on this aspect.

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  25. For a magento webshop with many images – I find it hard to beat the recommended 1,2 seconds gap for a acceptable loadtime. Great article by the way :)

  26. [...] 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 [...]

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