The accelerating Internet: Performance levels drive customer engagement and revenue

Late last week, Steve Souders, Google’s Head Performance Engineer, put together an interesting examination of Internet speeds, trends, and how these metrics impact the end-user experience and engagement.

What he discovered is a mixed bag of positive trends towards faster sites that are somewhat offset by larger pages and the growth of non-HTML elements. Normally we talk about Internet speed strictly as a function of connection performance, but Souders’ work shows a startling sensitivity between page loads and user response, even when connecting over the same ISP.

Bing’s research into the impact of latency shows that an extra second of server delays reduces per-user revenue by 1.8 per cent, while two seconds of delay hits income by 4.3 per cent. Such changes are also correlated with lower search levels from the same user, with more active users becoming dissatisfied more quickly. Seconds, in other words, matter.

Mozilla has previously reported that cutting download page response time by 2.2 seconds increased download conversion rates by 15.4 per cent, while donations to Barack Obama’s campaign increased 14 per cent when the website’s load speed improved by 60 per cent.

Part of the reason why the Internet has been getting faster, of course, is that all of the major browser manufacturers have been optimising for speed. This next slide dates from 2011, but the trends it shows have continued. Mozilla, Google, Microsoft, and Apple have all made major efforts to improve JavaScript performance. We’ve seen some calls for new protocols, like SPDY, that could accelerate content delivery across future networks.

One of the interesting counterbalances to this, however, is that web content is shifting towards using more embedded video. Souder notes that “video performance is an area that we are going to need to focus on going forward.” With video embedding becoming more popular, we may soon see a shift in web browser optimisations similar to the move to improve JavaScript performance that began several years ago.

Souder’s blog post and slides are interesting no matter which browser you favour. The impact of improving web page performance is notable and it affects customer engagement, revenue earnings, and time spent on-site. They suggest that video optimisation may be the next big thing in web page work, which could be encouraging news for anyone who’s ever sat waiting for a YouTube video to finish loading.

Even if that problem is beyond the scope of mere mortals, there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes to improve overall browser performance, even as connection speeds slowly edge upwards.