The ROI Revolution Blog

Are Long Page Load Times Driving Your Visitors Away?

November 25, 2009

You're making my Mee-Maw sadYou're always checking on your landing pages, right? You read the blogs, run experiments, and generally try to make your site as user-friendly as possible.

But chances are, if you're reading the ROI Revolution blog, you're on a high speed internet connection. If your webpages are loading in nanoseconds with your T1, how are they faring for those visitors who aren't as lucky as you? You know, the ones on crappy cable modems and DSL and (gasp!) the dreaded dial-up?

Does it matter? Well, it depends. If you're a gaming website or Internet marketing blog, most of your audience is probably on broadband. But if you're running a site for a retirement community in Florida, then my grandma is hitting your Flash-encrusted site in her AOL browser and she's waiting. And waiting. And waiting. She's a patient old gal, my Meemaw, but she's not going to wait all day. She's going to point her browser and her pension elsewhere.

Aside from your visitors, your site's load time is also important to Google. Not only does page load time affect your AdWords Quality Score, but according to Matt Cutts, it's going to be playing a bigger role in the organic search ranking.

So read on to learn how to optimize your landing pages' load times, and maybe make a few bucks off my Meemaw.

Before you start trying to speed up your site, you should probably find out whether or not it has slow load times in the first place. There's no use beating a dead horse.

First, just log into your AdWords account and check the Keyword Analysis field. From the keywords tab, hover or click on the the status icon (It looks like a speech balloon). You'll get a message about that keyword and its destination URL's Quality Score. It looks like this:

Red  text is bad. Green is good.

Red text is bad. Green text is good. If the landing page load time has no problems, you're golden. At least as far as AdWords is concerned. But what about your visitors?

You can use Google Webmaster Tools to find the average download time for your site. This will alert you to potential problems with specific pages. Just sign into Webmaster Tools and click your site's URL. If you haven't already set up Webmaster Tools, go ahead and do that. We'll wait for you.

Done? See, I told you we weren't going anywhere. Now go to the Diagnostics area and check out Crawl stats. The third graph on the screen shows your site's average load time.

But if you want to make absolutely sure, you've got to experience your site firsthand. So, go buy an eMachine from 2001, find one of those old AOL floppies, and then...

Haha! Just kidding! You just need to put Charles in charge of your load times.

Charles is a Web Debugging Proxy app for Windows, Mac OS, or Linux. It allows you to all sorts of fun stuff. You can record your Internet traffic, view SSL traffic, and throttle bandwidth. How does this this help us with load times? Well, by throttling your bandwidth, you can simulate slower Internet connections. This means you can browse your site as if you were my Meemaw, on her dial-up connection.

So, after you find out which pages are taking eons to load, what do you do?

Start by minimizing HTTP requests on the guilty pages. This is just a fancy way of saying, "Get rid of excess stuff." According to the Yahoo Developer Network, "80% of the end-user response time is spent on the front-end," and most of that time is spent downloading all the junk on your page. Get rid of that junk and the page load faster. Get rid of the images you don't need, reduce the image size and quality for those you do. Make it look good, but keep it simple.

There's a bunch of other things you can do to reduce page load time. Check out Yahoo Developer Network's Best Practices for Speeding Up Your Website for the lowdown, and don't forget: a fast page means a happy Meemaw. And you don't want to see Meemaw when she's angry.

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