Outside of business, sports immediately comes to mind when I think of achievement and performance. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of a close game or seeing a history-making play. High-performing athletes are really fun to watch, but they also make an interesting metaphor for performance on the web.

Performance in the world of sports is two-fold. First, you’ve got metrics like passing yards or free-throw percentage that speak to an athlete’s skill level. Then, there’s the observable performance we enjoy as fans and spectators, watching with excitement and pride — or in some cases frustration — as the game plays out before our eyes.

Web performance is no different. Mozilla defines web performance as both "the objective measurement and perceived user experience of a website or application." There are quantifiable metrics that indicate if a site is performant or not, plus the experience a user has as they interact with each page. Just as a team breaks down the factors of a game’s outcome — and then strategizes for the next — let’s take a look at the reasons why web performance is business-critical to a game plan.

Your Star Players and Starting Lineup: Proven Benefits of Prioritizing Web Performance

1. Greater Engagement

Especially during the pandemic, athletes competing in the unique bubble environments have become accustomed to routine temperature checks. In the same way, think of your online engagement metrics as regular assessments of the health of your web performance:

  • Total number of visitors, or unique visitors.
  • The average duration of a site visit.
  • The average number of pages visited per session.
  • The rate at which users bounce off a page entirely.

The top engagement priority for 49% of B2C marketers in 2021 is reported to be “establish more meaningful connections with customers,” followed by “improving accessibility and ease of use” (46%) according to a Demand Metric report. With this in mind, web performance, or how quickly the website is viewable and responsive, will communicate value to a user, and that will directly impact how well a website keeps someone engaged.

2. Higher Conversion Rates

The speed of a website also influences the rate at which visitors will follow through with a desired call to action once they’re engaged. And they won’t convert if they’ve already made their exit. Forty percent of visitors would abandon a site if a page takes more than three seconds to load.

To understand the business impact of conversion rates, consider the following numbers:

  • It’s been observed that a 1-second delay in page response time can result in a 7% reduction in conversions.
  • Another case study demonstrates just how quickly conversions rates could decline: if the page loaded in 2.4 seconds, it had a 1.9% conversion rate. After 4.2 seconds, only 1% of site visitors would eventually convert. As the wait time approached 6 seconds, conversion evaporated almost completely (0.6%).
  • Looking at the opposite trajectory, when Walmart.com improved its load time by one second, the retailer saw up to a 2% increase in conversions. Furthermore “every 100-millisecond improvement resulted in up to a 1% increase in revenue.”

Achieving higher conversion rates will be made possible the more you shoot for ideal page-load time frames.

3. Lower Bandwidth Costs

A number of factors can sway engagement and conversion rates, but the one I want to spend time discussing is the optimization of images and video, and how those elements also impact bandwidth cost. Visual assets contribute significantly to page weight, making a website or app slower as a result. The more compelling and complex the media, the more data is involved. Ensuring these files are automatically optimized to the browser and device they’re being viewed on will help to increase engagement and conversion, while also easing the burden on bandwidth costs.

Related Article: Quick Links, Slow Links and Bad Navigation Design

The Up-and-Comers: Newer Reasons Why Web Performance Matters

While the benefits discussed above get a lot of playing time in web performance conversations, other benefits are also worth the spotlight. 

Learning Opportunities

SEO: The Impact of Speed, Mobile Engagement and New Core Web Vitals

According to 2020 research from HubSpot, 64% of marketers actively invest time in search engine optimization. With time and resources devoted to improvements in SEO, it’s important to understand the impact web performance has on those rankings.

Mobile friendliness is a UX-related search signal for many search engines, so ensuring a website or app is responsive to a user’s device is paramount to appearing on the first page of search results. Ensuring a website is speedy and mobile-friendly will result in higher search traffic and greater visibility.

The month of May is now just weeks away, signaling the deadline for Google’s new Core Web Vitals to take effect as a part of its Page Experience Update. These new metrics — Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Display (FID) and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) — are based on the search engine’s research on the aspects of an ideal web-user experience. Google has indicated that these measurements of load time, interactivity and visual stability will impact search rankings on Google, so teams should make strategic modifications in order to score higher. Media optimization will have a direct impact on a site’s LCP score. HTTP Archive found that 47% of websites in 2020 had an LCP score of greater than 2.5 seconds, which will affect their SEO rankings and increase customer acquisition cost.

Related Article: Get Your SEO House in Order for 2021

Watch for the Steal: Mitigating the Impact of Third-Party Content

Just as a base runner stealing first takes something not entitled to him, third-party modules on your website can quickly steal any progress made in web performance, so be careful. Companies should focus on the performance impact of various sales and marketing tools they integrate in the areas of analytics, marketing automation, social media, A/B testing and many others. Each integration makes the website heavier, incorporating additional JavaScript or vendor-specific scripts. Make explicit decisions about the tools that are critical to the business, and internalize the potential performance tradeoffs so you can make the right business decision.

Related Article: The Demise of the Cookie and the Rise of First-Party Data

Winning With Web Performance

To keep the sports metaphor going, I found this quote from retired American sportscaster Vin Scully to be interesting: “Good is not good when better is expected.” That feels especially true in today’s digital world. Increasingly, consumers expect fast, high-quality experiences. If an experience doesn’t meet their expectations, they’ll move on to find one that does. Because “better” in a consumer’s mind is a constantly moving target, there will always be room to improve for digital businesses looking to stay competitive.

Finally, football coach Bill Belichick once said, “What we can control is our performance and our execution, and that's what we're going to focus on.” If you do the same, focusing on the aspects of web performance that are in your control, you’ll be creating an online experience that scores high in engagement, conversions and SEO.

Learn how you can join our contributor community.