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The need for speed: is your brand investing enough in digital performance?

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/ESB Professional)

How much money would your CEO invest to increase acquisition by 40%, customer satisfaction by 16%, revenues by 5% and conversion rates by 50%? Now think, how much would you spend on strategy, UX, design, and development to achieve similar results? Take that number and compare it to how much you spend to improve the speed of your digital experience, and it probably doesn’t match up.  

Most brands neglect the speed of their digital experience to focus on improving other areas. They have a customer-centric culture in almost every other category – yet creating a culture of speed isn’t usually considered one of those categories. The truth is, it’s fast becoming a critical element of your brand experience. 

Why does speed matter? 

The race for performance is accelerating consumer expectations of speed. Getting things done on Amazon and Google is so fast that people will actively avoid going to a competitor if it takes longer. Customers embrace brands where everything feels quick and simple.  

Imagine someone waiting for a bus. If they had one free minute to complete a task on their phone before their bus arrives, would they be able to load your website? Would they be able to get to conversion in time? If your experience is fast, it directly influences the way people perceive your brand, which is evident when you consider the following statistics: 

  • A one second delay in response time reduces customer satisfaction by 16% (Aberdeen Group)
  • In 2011, a one second delay in page load dropped conversions by 7% (The Aberdeen group) 
  • In 2017, a 0.1 second delay caused conversions to drop by 7% (Akamai/Soasta)
  • A two second delay in web page load time increases bounce rates by 103% (Akamai)
  • 53% of mobile site visitors leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load (Akamai)
  • A three second load time cut mobile conversion rate by 50% (Akamai)

Leading brands know the importance of speed. Amazon conducted a trial (opens in new tab) where they progressively increased the response times of their website and saw a 1% decrease in revenue per 0.1 seconds. From July 2018, Google will be using mobile page speed as a ranking (opens in new tab) in their mobile search results. They’ve also found that an extra 0.5 seconds in search page generation time dropped traffic by 20%. 

The question is, how much customer satisfaction, brand perception and money are you losing because of speed and how are you addressing it? Peak conversion rates are 0.9 to 1 second page load on desktop and 1.3 to 1.4 on mobile. If your load times are more than one second on desktop, then you are losing money. 

A simple task that’s hard to achieve 

On the face of it, the goal is simple: reduce your perceived load time to under one second and don’t keep the user waiting after that. But here’s the thing – creating the impression of speed goes a long way to achieving that, because perception of speed is more important than total speed. 

To deliver a strong perception of speed you need to make sure your customer recognises your logo and branding quicker than they can interact. Once they identify that they’re in the right place, they’ll forgive you for a few extra milliseconds. 

It’s at this point that they must be able to interact and start their journey. This is the all-important perceived load time – even if you are still loading the remaining bits in the background. Later on, you load everything else in the order that the user is likely to interact – ideally working with UX so that expensive compute operations are not required to start the interaction and can be loaded in parallel in the background. Then you preload the pages they might be going to next. This is less common, but if you want your key journeys to be lightning fast, you have to dig deep.

At Rufus Leonard, we commonly record page loading videos in slow motion on different browsers to test different loading order approaches, so that perceived load times and brand identification are optimised. We use tools like Google Lighthouse and Google Page Speed, with frontend developers consistently using the browser developer tools to simulate a very slow connection and slow phones. Ironically, creating speed is actually a slow process for a large platform; Shopzilla took 16 months of re-engineering to get their site load from 6 to 1.2 seconds, increasing revenue by 5-12%. If you need to catch up in the short-term, here are some things to focus on. 

Focus on the front end

The way you develop the front end is where you can have the most impact on your speed. There are many well-known techniques you can employ to make your site faster. Implement all best practices and make sure you understand what’s critical and what can be done asynchronously in the background.

Creating a culture of speed

What if you had speed embedded into your whole design and build process, and kept improving faster than your competitors? The truth is, the only failsafe way to consistently deliver better speeds than your competitors is to develop a culture of speed. 

Formula One teams have this culture. They shave off milligrams here and there to deliver a beautiful machine that performs to perfection. Your entire digital team should be relentless in streamlining the experience you deliver, all while weighing up if a new feature is adding enough value to compensate for its impact on speed.

Even if you deliver a very fast website at launch, it can degrade with time if you don’t monitor it, constrain it and have a culture of speed across all teams involved in it. Web systems nowadays usually contain a combination of content management systems and multiple data sources, and any one of them can impact the performance of the experience. For example, your analytics team can add a large or slow external JavaScript file though Google Tag Manager, or a CMS editor could add a large asset to a page, all to the detriment of months of performance work.

For a successful culture of speed, here are four things you need to do:  

Let your team know the value of speed

Set a performance mission or a goal and calculate the benefit of getting there.  Ensure that it’s a requirement for every supplier and share your performance metrics. And probably most important of all, get buy-in from key stakeholders to ensure they are on board with the new vision. 

Bake speed into the creative process 

Before building anything, you should assess value versus speed. You should have creative and technology work together to come up with the most effective solution, and if anyone is unsure whether a small issue could have a performance impact, assess it first. Something’s only a success when it’s proven to be fast. 

Monitor your solution 

Create a real time monitoring and notification system for every layer of your solution. Capture your front end or browser timings – not just load times – and also how things are being processed. Monitor the experience, and the time it takes users to achieve a valuable task or goal, so you can separate UX challenges from performance challenges. Assess your back end and every function on your application, as well as your servers and underlying hardware, external data sources. Assess how you are performing globally, everywhere your customers might be.

Optimise your process 

By allocating time and resources to optimisation, you can manage a list of performance-solving hypotheses across all layers of your web estate. Arrange sessions to update and generate new hypotheses, asses the likely impact and effort of each, then prioritise them with the easiest and most valuable first. Keep chipping away at them until you are better than your competitors. 

In today’s fast-moving world, as consumers become more impatient with higher expectations of speed, a few performance improvement projects will simply not be enough to stay ahead of the competition. For true speed transformation, you have to embed a commitment to speed within your digital culture.

Sandro Petterle, Technology Director at Rufus Leonard (opens in new tab)

Image Credit: ESB Professional / Shutterstock

Sandro Petterle is the Technology Director at Rufus Leonard.