Websites should load as fast as possible in balance with content and features - ideally 2 seconds or less to maximize user experience and sales conversion.
Setting goals can be helpful for any endeavor. Clearly defined goals are useful for measuring progress and keeping you on track toward larger-scale or longer-term objectives.
When it comes to optimizing page speed, a clear, well defined goal like load time helps to ensure the desired result - an optimized user experience and a streamlined path to sales.
Defining Load Time
There are several key points during the loading process, each of which contributes to load time, but ultimately the most important definition of load time is what it means to the user.
As it relates to user experience, load time is the time elapsed between an action to navigate to a page and when the initially-visible content of that page is displayed on screen.
While other lower priority and peripheral file resources may continue to load and apply to the page in the background, ideally the majority of above-the-fold content should display on screen in less than 2 seconds.
One of the arguably most relevant, user-centric measures of load time is often called Speed Index. As defined by Google's Lighthouse page speed testing tool and web.dev resource,
Speed Index measures how quickly content is visually displayed during page load. That sounds like a good equivalent of how users experience load time.
Largest Contentful Paint
Another helpful measure of load time is Largest Contentful Paint. Google defines LCP as
...the point in the page load timeline when the page's main content has likely loaded... and is cited as a potentially-good reflection of perceived loading speed.
Perception Of Speed
The perception of load time is certainly the most important factor of page speed and part of why eliminating render blocking resources is a critical step in optimizing performance. Along with technical measurements, real-world testing can help confirm loading speed optimization results.
Loading and interacting with a website on a variety of platforms like laptop/desktop computers, mobile devices, wifi and mobile networks will balance the hard data and numbers with a more subjective, hands-on user experience.
Why Should A Website Load In 2 Seconds Or Less?
We know websites should load fast. Given the close connection between page speed and user experience, the faster your website loads, the better. But why is 2 seconds or less a good goal?
2 seconds is the maximum amount of time users are willing to wait for a website to load before they start to lose interest.
As the clock keeps ticking, more users will click away or click back to search results. While load time can certainly vary with internet speed and other variables, 2 seconds is an ambitious but reasonable goal for a variety of browsing conditions.
To help make the case for page speed, there's no shortage of data and research that illustrate the close connection between load time, user experience and sales conversion. For example, Google's web.dev and thinkwithgoogle.com resources include some interesting statistics and case studies.
The overall takeaway is the general benefit of page speed, but some numbers help to narrow the optimal load time goal to 2 seconds or less for successful progress through the path to sales.
The probability of bounce increases 32% as page load time goes from 1 second to 3 seconds.
53% of mobile site visits are abandoned if pages take longer than 3 seconds to load.
Although an older study, a report from Akamai Technologies is often cited on the importance of 2 seconds as a load time goal for ecommerce websites. One of the most interesting takeaways is that the consumer expectation for speed continues to increase over time, potentially making fast load times even more important today.
As load time rises above 2 seconds, potential customers are more likely to lose interest, click away and become a lost sales opportunity.
Along with how efficiently file resources are transferred and loaded, load time is a function of page weight. Regardless of internet speed, the more data that has to be transferred to the user's web browser, the slower the page will load.
Another reason websites should load in 2 seconds or less is that it corresponds well to a maximum recommended initial-load page weight of 1MB (megabyte).
1MB transferred over a reasonable 5Mb/s internet connection (5 megabits per second - equivalent to a good 3G connection) should yield a load time of 1.6 seconds. This simple calculation doesn't take into account factors like network latency, but with initial-load page weight under 1MB, it makes sense that load time should be around 2 seconds for most users.
In other words, if page weight is appropriately managed, 2 seconds is a reasonable load time goal for most browsing conditions.
Faster Than The Competition
Despite the well-established relationship between page speed and sales potential, most websites are underoptimized. For those who recognize the opportunity, page speed optimization is a smart strategy to get an edge on the competition.
With the fastest, most user-friendly website in your industry, users will spend more time browsing your content, visit more pages and be more likely to return with confidence for future purchases. This effect is even more pronounced for mobile website traffic. If like many websites the majority of your traffic is from mobile users, maximizing page speed is an opportunity to set yourself apart from your competitors.
How fast do other websites in your industry load? How fast do your direct competitors' websites load? 2 seconds is a good load time goal because it's probably faster than your competitors.
You've probably heard the phrase under promise and over deliver. Within reason, the same concept can be beneficial when setting goals.
Depending on the content, features, platform and your starting point before applying any optimization strategies, 2 seconds may be an ambitious goal. Aiming for a challenging goal will help ensure that the results of your efforts are the best they can be and your website reaches its page speed potential.
Testing Load Time
With an established goal for load time, the next step is to test.
Testing load time will help you identify any room for improvement and evaluate the results of performance optimization, including the incremental impact of each technique as you apply them.
Given the importance of user perception, the simplest way to test load time is to load various pages of your website on a variety of devices and network conditions. For example, comparing the real-world experience of high speed home internet on a desktop computer with 3G mobile internet on a smartphone can make the need for mobile optimization clear.
Online Speed Tests
For a more technical evaluation of load time, free online testing tools can analyze your website and return a detailed evaluation of the loading process.
Each speed testing tool is a bit different and will include a different set of numbers in the results, so running multiple tests will yield the most complete picture of load time. Getting familiar with measurements like Speed Index and Largest Contentful Paint mentioned above will help as well.
Some of the most popular performance testing tools:
- Lighthouse - Built in to the Chrome web browser.
- PageSpeed Insights - Based in part on Lighthouse.
- MachMetrics - Automated monitoring with reports and alerts.
Analyze The Competition
Testing load time isn't just about assessing your own site. It can also be helpful to know how your site performs against leading websites in your industry as well as direct competitors.
Run the same set of tests on your own website as well as several competitors and compare the results. Given that most websites are under-optimized, improving loading speed is a great opportunity to set your business apart and win customers.
While all pages should load fast, some pages warrant extra shrewd evaluation of content and features and the most aggressive page speed optimization.
Landing pages are the pages of a website that visitors reach first, typically from off-site links and search results. Landing pages are your best opportunity to make a positive first impression on new customers and can benefit most from fast load times.
Any page can be a landing page, but the homepage, pages that receive traffic directly from search engines or specialized pages that receive traffic from keyword-targeted advertising are some of the most common. Tracking and analyzing the way customers reach your website will help identify landing pages that may benefit from extra performance optimization.
How Fast Should Landing Pages Load?
The same goal of 2 seconds or less applies to landing pages, but given the importance of landing page traffic to attract new customers, you may want to give these pages special attention.
Closely following the page speed checklist is an easy way to ensure that all possible optimization strategies are in place.
Depending on the type of website and the type of business, there are many forms of conversion that can make a website an effective sales platform. For example, for a service-oriented business, lead capture might be an important measure of success.
Ecommerce websites - websites selling a product directly online - are primarily focussed on sales conversion. This means turning website visitors into customers and hopefully happy, return customers.
This also means that page speed can have a very direct impact on success. Load time has been found to be one of the top reasons when online shoppers are dissatisfied with the online shopping experience and abandon the sales process. Slow loading pages also contribute to higher cart abandonment rates.
Visitors that can't view product information promptly or quickly navigate between pages to compare products are less likely to make a purchase and less likely to return whether they make a purchase or not.
Unconverted traffic represents a lost opportunity for sales. Keeping customers moving through the sales process smoothly is critical to ecommerce success and keeping load time under 2 seconds will help ensure an optimized user experience.
Ecommerce customers often spend time browsing multiple pages to explore and compare different products. The more similar product choices you offer, the truer this can be.
After the initial landing page, subsequent pages that a user visits can benefit from performance optimized cache control to help reduce the number of file resources that have to be loaded to view each page. By setting long cache expiration periods, the browser reuses files that have already been loaded, saving that time in the loading process, often with dramatic results.
Setup cache control to speed up page loading for repeat visits and subsequent pageviews:Cache Control
Are there any special considerations for an ecommerce website built with Shopify?
A robust e-commerce system like Shopify is designed to handle a wide range of products, designs and options to maximize flexibility and accommodate as many different types of ecommerce businesses as possible.
While this is great for business owners to get set up with an online store quickly and easily, as with other robust CMS platforms like WordPress it can have implications for page speed and make performance optimization more challenging.
Ecommerce websites built with Shopify may present special challenges to reach a load time goal of 2 seconds, but the effort will pay off with happier customers and superior conversion rates.
WordPress websites should aim for the same goal - loading in 2 seconds or less. Any longer than 2 seconds and you risk negatively impacting user experience and in turn, sales.
WordPress is a powerful content management system (CMS), with a wide range of themes and plugins to customize design and add functionality. Along with the added benefit, if they're not well managed themes and plugins can have an adverse effect on page speed.
If you're building a new WordPress website, pay close attention to the performance footprint of the theme you choose and each plugin you add. If you're optimizing an existing WordPress website, a shrewd review of themes and plugins is a good place to start - removing all but the most essential features that make a direct positive contribution to user experience.
If you find that you're not getting the performance results and page speed scores you'd like from your WordPress website, a performance optimization plugin can make a world of difference. WP Rocket for example offers a complete set of page speed optimizations to get your WordPress website running like it should.
How To Maximize Page Speed
With a solid load time goal of 2 seconds or less, the next step is to apply the techniques and strategies to achieve that goal.
The page speed checklist is a purpose-built resource to help you maximize page speed step-by-step and ensure that you've applied every possible opportunity to speed up your website.
Start at the top to begin optimizing or review the list to see what you might have missed:Page Speed Checklist