The Growing Importance Of Site Speed For Online Businesses (& How To Improve Yours)

Oct 22, 2020 | 6 min

Amazon loses 1% of its $141 billion online sales for every 100ms of latency.

BBC risks 10% of their website’s visitors for every additional second of load time.

And Google says that a 0.5s site speed delay can cause a 20% traffic drop.

Do you know what all of these findings have in common?

They’re old.

(The third one was published 14 years ago).

Yet people are just now starting to pay attention to the importance of site speed.

Here’s the truth:

Site speed matters today, just as it did 15 years ago. The addition of the Core Web Vitals as a ranking factor just made more people realize it.

In this article, you’ll learn why you should start improving your website’s load time today. We’ll also talk about how you can do that.

Let’s get started.

First Impressions

Your website’s speed is the first thing a lot of people “feel” about your brand.

And if you meet them with a slow and unresponsive website, it’s all downhill from there. The people that don’t bounce immediately likely won’t stick around much longer.

But there’s an even bigger problem.

You won’t get a second chance to impress first-time visitors. That’s just the nature of the web.

Not only are people constantly distracted, but they have other options. One second they’re on your site and the next, they’re on Instagram.

That’s how easy it is to lose a potential customer online.

That’s also why making a good first impression through your site speed is crucial.

Three main metrics play the biggest part here:

We’ll talk about all three metrics later in this post.

Beyond first impressions, there’s a whole world of other benefits that come with improved site speed.

Let’s start with the most misunderstood one.

Site Speed and Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

I’ve already covered this topic in our PageSpeed Insights guide, but here’s a quick recap.

Site speed is a direct ranking factor. There’s no question about that anymore.

But:

It’s not a major ranking factor. If you’re strictly looking to improve your website’s organic ranking, speed is not the place to start.

Satisfy search intent, have great on-page SEO fundamentals and build quality backlinks. Only then should you worry about site speed from a SEO standpoint.

While there are more important ranking factors, there’s also no denying that the SEO importance of speed is growing.

Over the last years, Google has added new UX signals into its ranking algorithm. And the addition of the Core Web Vitals is another big step in that direction.

Slow website leads to bad UX leads to lower organic ranking

Once they become ranking signals in 2021, it will be fair to say that PageSpeed Insights is also a direct ranking factor.

In short:

Site speed isn’t the most important SEO factor out there. But its organic ranking value is growing.

Site Speed and User Experience (UX)

If you had to pick one thing to improve on your website, it should be the UX.

Honestly, we can talk about SEO all day, but the fact is:

If users don’t find your website enjoyable, no amount of optimizations can save you. You can bring in tons of traffic from all sources and it still won’t matter.

Here’s the deal:

A great UX doesn’t only get you more conversions. It creates brand loyalty, which is incredibly hard to come by these days.

That’s why improving your UX is a surefire way to gain an edge over your competitors.

And unlike with SEO, site speed contributes greatly to your visitors’ experience. In fact, it can be the sole difference between an enjoyable website and a horrendous one.

This has been the case for years.

For example, in 2017, Google saw the following results while researching mobile load times:

Google data about site speed and bounce rates

Source - Think With Google

This doesn’t just apply to bounce rates.

Most user experience/engagement metrics also improve with site speed.

And when more people spend more time on your website, conversion rates go up.

Site Speed and Conversion Rates

Here’s the thing:

If site speed didn’t affect conversion rates, no one would care about it.

Google wouldn’t spend millions on Lighthouse and PSI. And we wouldn’t have started NitroPack.

But there’s no denying that improving site speed can skyrocket conversion rates. And that’s no exaggeration.

Tons of research papers, A/B tests and experiments have shown this effect over the years.

All the way back in 2009, Google and Bing reported that delays under a second lower the number of searches and revenue per user.

Around the same time, Amazon also said that every 100ms of latency cost them 1% in sales.

Websites today aren’t much faster than in 2009. In fact, you can even argue that site speed is getting worse across the board.

Here’s why:

Internet connection speeds have gotten much faster over the last few years. But website load times aren't improving.

For example, here's the average onLoad time over the last four years:

Average onLoad time since 2016

Source - HTTP Archive

And the average FCP:

Average FCP time since 2016

Source - HTTP Archive

As you can see, both haven’t changed much despite connection speeds improving significantly.

That’s why more data about site speed and conversions emerge all the time. It’s a huge problem and most websites can’t solve it. In fact, they still don’t realize there’s an issue.

And here's the silver lining:

Because most people ignore it, website owners who solve the speed issue see huge results.

For example, one of our customers had this to say about speeding up his website with NitroPack:

“We measured our conversion rates from before and after and concluded that we paid for the first year of service in increased profits within a few weeks. That doesn’t even include the savings across our development team.”

Click here for the full review

Here’s another example:

When the NCC Group reduced the average page load time for one of their clients by 850ms, they saw the following results:

Cook case study data

Source: Web Performance Case Study by the NCC Group

For a lot of online businesses, 7% is easily the difference between profit and loss.

In short, a faster website = more conversions. It’s that simple.

Now that we know why site speed is important let’s talk about how to measure it.

How To Measure Your Site Speed

If you’re just starting out, it's easy to get confused by all the available tools.

Each one can give you a unique perspective on your web performance. But for starters, I’d recommend these three tools:

PSI gives you information about your Core Web Vitals, as well as some suggestions about improving your performance.

NitroPack PSI Score

Plus, it’s a sneak peek into how Google sees your website.

Definitely keep an eye on it, especially when the Core Web Vitals become ranking factors.

Next, GTmetrix comes with a ton of useful features that PSI doesn’t have.

For example, you can choose a server region in which to test your site speed. It also has a waterfall chart and page load video.

NitroPack gtmetrix score

The only downside is that some great features are paid. But the free version does so much that you don’t need the paid one.

Finally, WebPageTest is another great tool with some awesome features.

Most importantly, it lets you test in different regions, devices and browsers in one swing. GTmetrix also has these options, but their simulated device test is paid.

Website Speed Metrics To Track

There are lots of metrics you can use to measure your website’s speed.

Here’s a quick checklist to get you started.

Load Speed:

  • First Paint (FP) measures how long it takes for the browser to render anything on the page.

  • First Contentful Paint (FCP) measures the time it takes for the browser to visualize the first piece of DOM content on a page.

Logo triggers FCP

  • First Input Delay (FID) is the time it takes for the browser to respond to the first user interaction on a page. FID measures the delay after distinct actions like clicks or taps

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) measures the time it takes for the largest above the fold content element to load

Largest element triggers LCP

Interactivity & Usability:

  • Time To Interactive (TTI) is the time it takes for a page to become fully interactive after a user arrives on it.

  • Total Blocking Time (TBT) is the amount of time during which Long Tasks (all tasks longer than 50ms) block the main thread. It shows how unresponsive a page is before it becomes fully responsive.

Again, these aren’t the only metrics you can use to track web performance. But if you’re just starting out, they’re more than enough.

Now let’s talk about how to improve site speed.

3 Must-Haves For A Fast Website

Here’s the thing:

The process of fixing web performance issues looks different for each website. But there are a few things that everyone should start with.

These aren’t the only possible optimizations, but they’re the first ones you should worry about.

Good Hosting Plan

A lot of people grab a $1/month hosting plan and never think about it again.

Then, they buy a caching tool, optimize their images, minimize their code and expect to see great site speed improvements.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen.

Here’s why:

No optimization can make up for lackluster hosting. And as far as I know, great $1/month hosting plans don’t exist.

I’m not saying you should pay hundreds of dollars every month. But below a certain point, you simply can’t expect decent results.

Now, there’s not a best hosting company that I can just recommend. You’ll have to test different plans and see what suits you best, depending on your budget.

Here’s a list of the top 9 best web hosting providers to get you started.

Great Caching/CDN Solution

These are really two different things, but it’s good to get them in one swing.

On one hand, a caching tool ensures that repeat visitors get a faster experience.

At the same time, CDNs serve content to users who are far away without any significant latency.

CDN visualized content delivery

Both are crucial for improving site speed. You won’t find many online businesses without a caching solution and a CDN provider.

Here are a few things to consider when purchasing these tools:

First, it’s best if your caching tool and CDN are integrated out of the box.

You can configure them manually, but it takes time and effort. Make your life easier.

Second, your caching solution should automatically detect changes to your website.

After a change, the tool should invalidate the current cache and start updating it. All of this must happen automatically and in the background while your website is running.

At NitroPack, we call these features Cache Warmup and Cache Invalidation.

Finally, your caching solution must have device-aware caching.

This means that your website should serve different cache files to desktop, mobile and tablet devices. Mobile devices are especially important here.

Everyone is on their phone and your website’s caching policy needs to reflect that.

Over 50% of all website traffic in 2019 came from mobile devices.

mobile traffic share from 2013 to 2019

Data source - broadbandsearch.net

And people aren’t just browsing on their phones. According to SaleCycle, over half of all eCommerce sales in 2019 were made on mobile.

Put simply, device-aware caching is a must.

Outside of these three things, everything else depends on your budget and website setup.

Optimized Images

Images are often the biggest reason for a slow website load time.

Here’s why:

About 50% of all bytes on the average page are images bytes. Without image optimization, half of the average website is unoptimized.

Unfortunately, image optimization isn’t so straightforward as getting a good hosting plan or a caching service.

But there are still lots of tools that you can use.

Free tools like CompressJPEG, Optimizilla and Ezgif can help with different image optimization aspects. For example, compression and format conversion.

Paid tools like NitroPack can also perform these optimizations while adding more advanced features like preemptive and adaptive image sizing.

Put simply:

You can use a combination of tools and techniques to optimize your images or get a complete solution to do it for you.

It all depends on how much time and effort you’re willing to spend.

Final Thoughts

Here’s the quickest summary of why site speed is important for online businesses:

Fast website = better UX = more conversions.

Connection speeds are getting faster. People are more impatient than ever.

Your website must load fast if you want to compete online.

A lot of people are just waking up to this realization. And that’s mostly because Google announced that the Core Web Vitals score would become a ranking signal.

But site speed has been a crucial factor for success for at least 10 years.

Fortunately, since most businesses are still sleeping on this fact, you can get a massive advantage by improving your website’s load time.

You can do so manually, by implementing various techniques and using multiple tools. But, it takes lots of time, effort and tech skills to get it right.

On the flipside, you can install NitroPack and solve all of your site speed issues in 5 minutes. It’s quick, easy and it requires no coding.

We also have a free plan, so you can test our service risk-free.

Regardless of your choice, site speed is something you need to take care of. And you should do it sooner rather than later.