Pump up the speed

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While modern life seems to run at double speed, our levels of patience have fallen through the floor. If something isn’t quick or responsive, we’re off. So, here’s how to ensure your website doesn’t lose traction for being too slow...

We flick through TV channels giving a programme a few moments to grab our attention; we let tracks play for a few seconds before pressing ‘next’; and when it comes to browsing websites — especially when shopping — we get fed up with slow pages and convoluted checkouts, and move on to a site where the user experience is so much better. And this is especially so when a mobile device is involved.

It’s for this reason alone that a retailer needs to ensure that its website is user-friendly and turbo charged, unless, of course, you don’t mind custom going to better placed rivals. But speed equates to more than just the customer experience, it also means a higher placing in search rankings. So, if you want to rise above the rest, consider the following tips to improve the conversion rate from your website.

First impressions last

Just as clean shoes can make a suit, so a fast website helps visitors get a good feel for the business. A fast-loading website creates a good impression — that the firm knows what it’s doing and has invested in the backend and servers it uses. In contrast, a website that loads slowly is automatically on the backfoot as impatience will set in before the customer has even started shopping. It’s all a matter of basic psychology that fast is reliable and professional, while slow is the exact opposite.

In fact, a slow website makes us think it’s unsafe, insecure, and untrustworthy. And it’s really difficult to turn around that negative first impression. According to a June 2021 Superoffice report, 66 percent of 1,900 business professional surveyed said that a “frustrating experience on a website hurts their opinion of the brand overall.” Further, 40 percent complained about slow load times.

Other statistics from kissmetrics.com suggested the obvious: that we now expect speed and demand fast loading times. Its data reckoned that 47 percent of people expect a site to load in less than two seconds and 40 percent will give up if it takes longer than three seconds.

And the data isn’t much better for the mobile experience where many of us shop now. The Superoffice survey found that 55 percent said that “a bad mobile experience makes me less likely to engage with a company.” The problem is exacerbated on a mobile device precisely because we’re on the move and using a small screen which can test patience levels to the extreme.

It’s true to say that popular and official websites have more leeway; the brands are either trusted or visitors have no choice but to use a given site. Small firms, however, don’t have that level of goodwill.

Remember, once an impression is made, it’s hard to counter it and customers may bypass the site when shopping in the future.

Give them what they want

But apart from speed, customers linger longer on websites that they enjoy and which don’t frustrate them. This means giving them what they want and giving it to them quickly. Menus and navigation should be simple and effective, and the homepage shouldn’t be cluttered.

And all of this can be demonstrated with simple maths. Consider a website that has 10,000 visitors a month. If 40 percent of them give up because the site takes more than three seconds to load, it’ll have lost 4,000 opportunities to sell before it’s even started. The visitors may have been looking to buy something and may well do so from a rival.

In the context of a slow website, speed can kill. A report on Fast Company — albeit in 2012 — noted that Amazon found that if a page took longer than one second to load it could cost the company around $1.6bn in sales as visitors went elsewhere. If Amazon could suffer that level of loss, what does that mean for a small independent?

Don’t let Google rank you poorly

There are a number of reasons why Google ranks one page higher than another — and one that is key is the speed at which a page, desktop or mobile, loads.

The search engine said, back in April 2010, that it would use page speed in its ranking algorithms for searches. And when Google switched to including mobile indexing in December 2017, it announced the following January that it would, from July 2018, use mobile page speed to help it rank mobile searches too. Beyond that, in May 2020, Google also said that it would use overall page experience in its ranking algorithms. Fundamentally, page speed plays a significant part of the user experience and therefore how it ranks pages.

So, if you want your page placed higher in the rankings over your rivals, you need not only a great user experience but also a fast-loading website.

But there’s more to website ranking than pure speed. Google uses crawlers to find information on websites that help it create its rankings and Google has said that “making a site faster improves the users' experience while also increasing crawl rate.” In other words, a slow website may make it harder for Google to find new products or posts put on your website. And that’s an own goal.

Hints and tips for designing faster websites

According to web browser testing platform LambdaTest, there are a number of key design changes that should be built into a website to make it friendlier to visitors and therefore more successful:

1. Ditch the navigation bar. Simplify the design by using a short menu.

2. Provide a search button and make it visible. Very simply, a search button relieves the visitor of the responsibility of finding what they are looking for. Remember, though, to put the search button on all pages on the website.

3. Vertical scrolling is always preferable. Mobile visitors are more focused on finding what they are looking for so help them to do this.

4. Avoid pop-ups. This is key as it’s so bad for the user experience and Google has started to penalise websites using full-page pop-ups and will lower their search rankings.

5. Disable multiple tab system. A mobile browser does not keep tabs side by side but stacks them on top of each other which makes it harder for users to navigate.

6. Provide click-to-call buttons for phone numbers. This will allow visitors to automatically connect to the business.

7. Move automatically in forms and validate inputs in real-time. By enabling ‘move to next element’ allows visitors to populate information without having to press into individual lines. End with the ‘go’ button to move to the next stage.

8. Provide a home button on all pages. Again, this will allow users convenient access to the main page without having to navigate. The logo of the company could be embedded to return to the home page. It is clean, convenient, and a good design method.

9. Keep important elements within reach. Mobile devices are typically used with one hand so ensure actions buttons are centrally located.

10. Compress necessary images. Using high-quality images will just lead to slow downloads and will eat into a visitor’s data allowance. Use images that will allow better navigation.

Pet shop earns a fortune online

According to a Daily Mirror report in June 2021, a family run pet shop in Hull, Maltby’s Stores, moved online as a last-chance attempt to avoid closure. But with the pandemic, and hard work, it’s now on a turnover of £10m a year.

The process started in 2008 and the pandemic gave it a welcome boost. Two years ago, the firm had 19 staff, now it has 27. Maltby’s was established 115 years ago and started by selling on eBay. Now it has its own website and can regularly open after the weekend to 5,000 orders. Many of the family work in the business.

But the store itself hasn’t been forgotten as it’s having its first refresh since it relocated to the current site in 1952. But while it’s closed customers can still 'click and collect'. The website is super-fast to load too.