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A blog about branding, marketing, and design, mostly through the lens of practical psychology, intended to be a resource to small businesses and entrepreneurs. Unless otherwise noted, all articles are written by Nyla Smith, owner of n-Vision Designs. {Subscribe to the RSS feed here: RSS}

How to improve your website load time

Nyla Smith | Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Your brain has everything to do with why it's important to make sure your site loads quickly. Keep your customers coming by optimizing your site’s speed.

Why Website Load Speed Matters

250 milliseconds.

That’s the amount of time that can give your website an advantage over your competitors. In half the time it takes to blink an eye, your site’s visitors can decide to jump ship and head to a different web page.

Yes, it’s partly because we’re naturally impatient and have increasingly higher demands of how our technology should serve us, i.e., quickly and without delay. It’s true that we live in a fast-paced society, and are accustomed to having services delivered according to our exact and personal needs.

But there’s some science to back up why people tend to leave slow-loading websites in a hurry. Researchers say it’s less about a sense of entitlement than it is about how our brains are actually wired to function. When a brain is confronted with a sluggish web page, it’s forced to concentrate 50% harder, leading to a phenomenon called “web stress.”

Nobody likes feeling frazzled—and a stressed person will find a way to get out of it. For a slow-loading site, that means leaving.

It’s elementary (neuroscience), Watson.

Whether a person decides to stay on a site as it loads boils down to how the brain’s memory works.

We all know about long-term (“working”) memory and short-term memory, but an even more critical function is the iconic memory—or the super-short term visual memory. Its holding capacity is around 100 milliseconds, fed into the short-term memory (which can hold around 10-15 seconds of recent history in its cache.) It’s no accident that Google has set a goal for its search results to return in that amount of time—about the same time it would take you to turn the page of a book.

In this 2010 white paper detailing the results of a study by Glasgow Caledonian University, researchers found a whopping 40 percent will leave the site for a competitor’s, and nearly as many (37 percent) quit the search altogether. Check out this explanation for all the details on why memory matters to page load times.

The bottom line: a slow site is terrible for conversions!

You can improve your webpage’s speed pretty easily.

Now, make no mistake — 100 milliseconds is a pretty ambitious goal. But even improving your site’s loading speed by a few seconds can have a huge impact.

Thankfully, there are a few things you can do yourself to improve your web page’s load times, and a few things a good web developer will make sure to do.

1. Use Google PageSpeed.

This is the low-hanging fruit. Grab it!

To use Google’s simple tool, just enter your website’s URL, then check out their recommendations for the fixes you can make for your site. Some can be pretty technical, so if you need help, that’s where a good web designer or developer comes in.

The tool analyzes the target site for ease of use for both mobile and browser versions and gives the site a grade based on a 100-point scale. Among the elements Google PageSpeed inspects are image size, coding, browser caching, page redirects, and how quickly the “above the fold” content loads.

2. Make Everything Smaller.

Which would you rather bring on an airplane: a huge, overstuffed suitcase or a tidy carry-on?

"Minifying” is a technique web developers use to scrunch everything down so browsers can read it faster – quite literally minimizing the size of your files. In coding, this means eliminating unnecessary lines of code, resulting in a more compact, carry-on sized file.

3. Be like a squirrel, and cache.

Our forest friends have a habit of storing nuts in various places so they can find food when they need it.

Web caching is the same: stored versions of web pages – the browser keeps a copy of a web page and all its contents so each time it loads, the browser doesn’t have to call the page up from the server. This results in much faster load times. Your web developer can add code to your site to specify caching rules.

4. Sign up for a content delivery network (CDN).

Ask your developer or designer about the use of a content delivery network, or CDN. These are subscription-based, third-party providers who store copies of your site on servers around the world.

What this means to you is that when someone in Tokyo calls up your page, there will be a server nearby able to load your page more quickly than if your site pages were stored on a single server in Omaha.

5. Optimize your images.

Images are usually the slowest things to load on a page. Resize images before uploading them to your site—that will help the browser load them much faster.

Use these tactics to reduce stress.

Nobody likes to be stressed out—not you, and especially not your customers.

Make their brains happy by allowing them to focus on your service, and not on how long it’s taking your page to load.

Nyla Smith is a Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Front-End Web Developer and Consultant with over 13 years of experience. She is the owner of n-Vision Designs, LLC in Hampton, Virginia, which exists to provide marketing support and brand consulting to small- and medium-sized businesses needing creative solutions. Contact Nyla if you'd like to discuss your next creative project. She can usually be bribed to a meeting with a cup of green tea and an oatmeal cookie.
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