The overwhelming expectation of digital is that it will be fast. Impatience is the defining characteristic of online behavior.
“We wanted to understand how much the speed of our website affected user engagement,” Matt Chadburn and Gadi Lahav wrote for the Financial Times Technology Department Blog in April 2016. “Using that data we then wanted to quantify the impact on our revenue.”
They found that a 1 second delay in page downloads caused a 4.9 percent drop in the number of articles read. A 3 second delay caused a 7.2 percent drop. While loyal customers were prepared to be somewhat more patient, people who used the site less frequently “showed an extreme reaction to even a short delay.”
The Financial Times found that the slower the website, the lower the subscription renewal rate. There was also a negative impact on advertising revenues. “When it comes to the speed,” the authors noted, “even one second can mean hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of revenue either gained or lost.”
Ronan Cremin, writing for mobiForge in April 2016, referenced an Alexa study which found that the top ten sites on the web are significantly lighter than other sites. The study showed that while page size for the top sites rose until 2014, after that the size began to drop substantially, as the page size for other sites continued to quickly grow.
When GQ magazine reduced its page load time from 7 seconds to 1.5, unique visitors rose from 6 million to 11 million in one month. A 2015 study by Radware stated that “a site that loads in 3 seconds experiences 22 percent fewer page views, a 50 percent higher bounce rate, and a 22 percent fewer conversions than a site that loads in 1 second, while a site that loads in 5 seconds experiences 35 percent fewer page views, a 105 percent higher bounce rate, and 38 percent fewer conversions.”
Google discovered that even a 400 millisecond delay had a significant impact on revenue. (That’s less than half a second.) “We had a similar experience at Amazon.com,” Greg Linden states. “In A/B tests, we tried delaying the page in increments of 100 milliseconds and found that even very small delays would result in substantial and costly drops in revenue.”
When an engineer came to Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon and owner of Washington Post) and told him that he could reduce page load times for the Washington Post website to 2 seconds, Bezos’ response was that this was not enough, that they needed to be thinking in milliseconds. When a programmer brought an early version of Gmail to show to Larry Page (founder of Google), Page’s response was that it was taking 600 milliseconds to load and that that was too slow.
The minds that are truly focused on customer experience are thinking in milliseconds. Speed, simplicity and usefulness are the defining characteristics of great web brands.