Website Speed Trumps Functionality for Users

"When Seconds Count" is the name of a report conducted by Equation Research on behalf of Gomez, released in September 2010. In this study, users were asked about their feelings toward website speed and how it affects their online visitation habits. The results are very interesting and point to the critical nature of website load time. This is important for developers to understand as websites are built, launched and re-launched. In an online environment where users expect deep functionality and offerings (such as streaming video and audio), speed cannot be an afterthought.

Included in their findings:

Nearly one-third (32 percent) of consumers will start abandoning slow sites between one and five seconds.

- 84 percent are only willing to try a slow performing website a few times before giving up.
- 39 percent say speed is more important than functionality for most websites, while only one in five rank greater site functionality as more important.

Speed also makes a difference when it comes to accessing a mobile site.

- A third of all Web users are also using a mobile device to access the Internet.
- More than half of mobile users expect websites to load as quickly, almost as quickly or faster on their mobile phone, compared to the computer they use at home.

Slow load times are common and users feel frustrated with poor performance.

- Two thirds (67 percent) of users encounter a slow performing website a few times a week or more.
- More than a third (37 percent) said they would not return to a slow site, and 27 percent would likely jump to a competitor's site.
- For mobile web users, slow website load times and poor formatting are the top two issues encountered on the mobile Web.

Web users have visited sites and not been unable to accomplish their tasks.

- More than 80 percent of users say they have been unable to accomplish their tasks - such as completing a purchase or a financial transaction - on a specific website at least once.
- Nearly half (47 percent) say they have frequently abandoned sites where they couldn't finish their tasks in the past three months.

"When web users encounter web or mobile site performance problems, their patience and loyalty run thin," said Matt Poepsel, vice president of performance strategies at Gomez. "However, many companies fail to realize that seconds really do count because their customers refer to best-in-class Web performers like Facebook, Google and Yahoo! as a measuring stick or standard for determining how fast all sites should be."

Clearly, users are demanding a seamless experience on the Web - your site included. It's interesting to note that speed is considered more important than functionality, according to this survey. Just a few seconds can make the difference between a loyal, repeat visitor and a lost prospect. That makes landing pages a crucial part of the equation. For example, maybe a simplified landing page is best so that users stay on site and start to explore. Then you can direct them to other pages on the site where deeper functionality exists that might require a few more seconds of load time.

The mobile Web also represents a significant challenge. Typically, the mobile device is going to experience a longer load time - meaning that you are already at a disadvantage - even though users expect pages to "load as quickly, almost as quickly or faster on their mobile phone, compared to the computer they use at home." As such, it is important to consider mobile Web visitors when designing your pages. This study presents a solid argument for developing mobile-specific pages of your website. Mobile Web usage is rising quickly and does not appear to be slowing. You've been warned.