Patience is not a virtue

by Dave Onkels

Speed. We all secretly crave it–whether your vice is fast cars, action movies or even fast food. So it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that people want their web browsing to be lightening fast too.

It defies logic that in 2012 with fiber optic, cable or next gen wireless internet that there are any performance issues with websites. But the truth is we’re hitting some real challenges, and there’s no end in sight. Web design techniques have evolved quickly, giving us web creators the ability to provide people rich experiences but at the expense of performance.

Why so slow?

I’ll let you in on a little secret: most of the page load issues are caused in large part by us designers and developers. We are tantalized by big imagery, gorgeous web fonts and gee whiz javascript tools. In their own right, these add-ons are not only helpful but they can create an incredible experience for users. Unfortunately, our industry hasn’t been diligent about implementing them efficiently.

Quote by Jeremy Keith:

“When did we get so lazy and decide it was acceptable to send giant unoptimised images down the pipe to our long-suffering visitors?”

From a development point of view, optimizing a website’s page load time can chew up a sizable amount of development time, and it isn’t sexy work by a longshot. Clients often don’t understand the painstaking effort required, so the extra effort often goes unnoticed–giving us even less incentive to do it. The problem is often exacerbated by tight timelines and sometimes unreasonable budgets.

Page speed matters:

People seek out great experiences on the web and flee from everything else. The stats don’t lie: the average website visitor makes the decision to leave (a.k.a. bounce) in under 10 seconds. Slow websites = unhappy people. The fine folks at Google know this and routinely punish websites that load poorly with lowered rankings.

Attacking the problem:

It all starts at the basics. Asses your site using a mobile internet connection. If you find your thoughts wandering before the page is fully loaded you can certainly expect visitors unfamiliar with your brand or company to ditch as well.

There are oodles of nuance-level details (caching, compression, image sprites, CDNs, concatenation, etc.) but we’ve found tremendous benefit by reducing the number of times a browser has to request objects such as images, scripts and stylesheets. Google’s Page Speed Tester is also a great resource for identifying the potential areas of improvement.