The need for speed
Gone are the days when we sat with our 56k modems, waiting patiently while a web page took 10 seconds plus to load. Your customers are no doubt paying good money for decent broadband connections at home so expect web pages to load near instantaneously.
Here's a scary figure for you - 57% of consumers will abandon a site after only a 3 second wait [source]. Where do you think they're going? For a typical query to Google often thousands of relevant results are returned. There's plenty of options available so there's no real need to hang about when a page takes it's time in getting you the content your interested in. If the top result is slow, we'll likely just try result number two in the list.
Most sites have some form of analytics software installed these days. Maybe that's Google Analytics, Omniture, Clicky or SmarterStats to name a few. These wonderful tools record a tonne of stats about your visitors and speed influences a fair share of these.
A slow landing page is going to push your bounce rate right up. Who's going to click for page two when they've been forced to wait an age for the first one?
The faster the site, the longer the visitors will spend browsing your content. If they don't grudge clicking to load the next page, they'll browse longer, visiting more corners of your site in the process.
Take Amazon as an example. When clicking to take a look at some sweet looking parachute pants listed in the related products section, you know you're not going to be staring at a white screen for the next 8 seconds as the content will be on your screen almost instantly. Click, click, click. Before you know it you've spent an extra five minutes on the site than you never intended to, you've seen every item under the sun, and your shopping basket is bursting. Amazon's revenue manager thanks you. In short that's page views, pages/visit, time on site and conversion rate all getting a considerable boost from a quicker site.
Returning visitors is another area influenced heavily by how fast you can load the content. A slow site loses customers due to a bad user experience. It may be that in future when your site appears in the search results they'll remember that bad experience and go elsewhere. On the other side of the coin, a nippy browsing experience improves loyalty to your brand, and you're more likely to be graced with their internet presence again.
Google Cares So You Should Too
One more metric influenced by speed is the number of first time visitors hitting your site. Last April, Google introduced site speed into their ranking algorithm. Just like you, they see page load time as a quality factor of a website. As mentioned above, for any given query you're going to get back hundreds of sites, roughly as relevant as each other. Given the choice of getting my content from a site that takes two seconds to load or from another that forces me to sit watching the text and images crawl onto the screen six seconds later, it's an easy decision. Google now rewards those who've made the effort.
For the AdWords users, you could also benefit from a speed boost. Straight from the horses mouth:
Users value ads that bring them to the information they want as efficiently as possible. A high-quality landing page should have a fast load time as well as feature unique, relevant content. Fast load times benefit advertisers as well, since users are less likely to abandon a site that loads quickly.
Landing page speed is part of your Quality Score calculation. Put simply, the faster the page, the higher the score, the less you pay for your ads.
Everyone likes to have a wee moan about something that's wound them up from time to time and Facebook and Twitter are excellent platforms to do so. Here your frustrations can be seen by potentially hundreds of friends and followers. Sluggish websites can be incredibly frustrating to navigate so it's no wonder a quick search for 'slow website' on Twitter will return a bucket load annoyed people.
the XXXXX website is so slow and frustrating #agghhhhh Trying to book tickets on XXXXX, but the site is so slow… Is it just me or is XXXXX Website like really freaking SLOW!!!! WTF XXXXX, get some faster servers
Not only is it quite embarrassing if you are the target of these little rants, it's also bad press.
Stories from the Field
Shopzilla, veterans of the price comparison circuit, were not satisfied with the 6 second average load time. Come next redesign they made performance a priority, resulting in load times as fast as 1.2 seconds and they were certainly rewarded for their efforts. Page views rose by 25% leading to a revenue increased 7-12%. [source]
The kings of online shopping, Amazon, found that for every 100 millisecond improvement in page load time, they saw a 1% increase in revenue. [source - .ppt]
Mozilla kicked 2.2 seconds off their landing page's average load time, rewarding them with 60 million extra Firefox downloads each year. [source]
Slow and steady doesn't win this race
Website performance is a big factor in the success of your website, impacting three keys areas: user experience, ranking and conversion. If you're not taking an interest in how your website performs, don't think your visitors won't notice. They and their pennies will be headed elsewhere.