The importance of website performance
In short, slow running websites result in higher bounce rates (users leaving the site quickly,) fewer return visits, unhappy users and thus, lost revenue and potentially a damaged reputation.

screenshot of website speed test

This is quite a bold and slightly daunting statement to open with, so let’s analyse this a little further. Even if you don’t have millions of users (yet) visiting your website each month there is one very important thing to bear in mind… Today people are consuming the web less and less with fast fibre optic broadband services, but more with mobile devices over slow wireless and 3G connections, however we still expect the same first rate, fast, experience. We have all been there, waiting for a page to load whether it is on a mobile device or not. It’s always frustrating as you’re usually in a hurry wanting train times, directions, or other important information that you really need, instantly! Very rarely do we visit a webpage and not want to get some information back.

So what’s making my website slow?

Well now, that is an open ended question to which there are many factors to take in to account, sadly, not all of which can be covered here. The simple fact is 80% - 90% of poor performance happens with the ‘front end’, but here are some of the main contributing factors to consider when looking at performance:

Back end
  • Server infrastructure
  • Database
  • Back end coding

Front end
  • Secure Socket Layer  (Most pages load slower under SSL)
  • Front end coding
  • External resources (images, style sheets, scripts)

It is important to understand the lifecycle of a web page. Every time you load a web page, or ‘make a request’, the following happens:

  1. The browser looks up the internet (IP) address associated with that domain
  2. Your request is transferred to that address so you arrive at the web server
  3. The web server receives your request and ‘delivers’ the content to the browser
  4. The browser interprets the content which has been delivered, using it’s own in-built interpreter or ‘rendering engine’.

Each request is costly, and each additional item that needs to be loaded only adds to this. If your pages require lots of JavaScript libraries this can easily double, or even quadruple, the time you page takes to load. Looking at a bit of recent research:

“In the past five years from 2008 to late 2012 the average web page grew from 312K to 1114K, over 3.5 times larger…”
(Domenech et al. 2007, Flinn & Betcher 2008, Charzinsk 2010, Souders 2012).”

During the same five-year period, the number of objects in the average web page has more than doubled from 49.9 to 100 objects per page in November 2012.

A look at the ‘scripts’

By scripts, we are referring to JavaScript, a technology used to make things ‘whizzy’ and interactive on your webpage’s. When the browser encounters a <script> block it has to call in reinforcements by way of a JavaScript engine to help interpret. At this point the browser stops for a tea break while the JavaScript engine interprets the code and tries to do what it has been told! Before then reporting back to the browser. At this point the browser’s tea break is over and it can continue with processing the rest of the document. So you can see the importance of structuring scripts correctly so they don’t hold your page up.

Testing performance

There are lots of tools available to test the speed of your website both embedded into your browser and third party online tools. Both will give you insight into things that can be done better, for example setting content to be ‘cached’, or remembered, in the browser. They will also provide a breakdown of content types and their respective times spent loading. This is really useful when analysing and optimising web page speed.

And the answer is…

There is a lot we can talk about on this, and related subjects and we’ll be covering these in future posts… The key point really is that it’s very easy to underestimate the importance of website performance, but you can begin to see how vital it is to user experience. Moreover, it is important to every user of your site, technical or not! Nobody wants to frustrate the users of their site, by slow performing pages. There is not much benefit to users of a well structured, superbly designed website that they cannot access.

It won’t be long and we’ll all be talking about Page Speed Optimisation (PSO). Not heard of that acronym before, that’s because I just made it up! The point is that this so called PSO will, I am sure, become as important a service as (SEO), and with it companies who specialise in it. After all, we don’t have unlimited bandwidth capacity to deliver instant web pages across all devices. Any increases in broadband and particularly in mobile device networks capabilities only serve to make web developers lazy. Wouldn’t it be great if your web pages achieve instant, ‘blink and you miss it’, delivery? I am afraid you can’t quite have that yet, nigh-on instant will have to do for now.
I will leave you with this… if the pages consistently don’t load quickly enough or even at all for users, why would they come back?

Mark Chalklen
Mark Chalklen
HEAD OF DESIGN AND BUILD Mark ChalklenView Profile

Mark is Head of Design and Build at Itineris, he manages the day-to-day running of the studio, ensuring projects are delivered to a high standard.

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