May 15, 2018
On the Web, Speed Thrills. Delay Kills.
You wouldn’t intentionally chase away half of your online audience. But your websites might be doing just that.
Research by Google indicates that 53% of site visits by users of mobile devices are abandoned if the pages take longer than 3 seconds to load. When page load time increases from 1 second to 3 seconds, the probability of a bounce increases by 32%. When load time increases to 5 seconds, the probability increases by 90%. If page load time increases from 1 second to 6 seconds, the probability of bounce increases by 106%.1
Marketers around the world have reason for concern. Google observed an average loading time of 9.124 seconds for mobile-dedicated websites across 11 industries in Europe.2 In the United States, the average response time to download the home page of 32 major retail websites was 9.54 seconds. Even amazon.com (5.98 seconds) failed to meet the 3-second requirement.3 The US study evaluated all websites, not solely mobile-dedicated websites.
Fast load speeds benefit marketers. Compared with a mobile website that takes 19 seconds to load a page, a mobile website with a 5-second load speed experiences:
- 25% higher ad viewability
- 70% longer average sessions
- 35% lower bounce rates4
Google — A Traffic Cop Who Wants You to Speed
Google uses rank to reward brands that help users find answers to questions as quickly as possible. Site load speed has been a ranking factor on desktop sites since 2010.5 On January 17th of this year, Google announced an algorithm update called “Speed Update.”6 As part of this revision and effective this July, page load speed will be a ranking factor for searches that are initiated on a mobile device.
Google will hand out speeding tickets in the form of diminished page rank to websites whose content loads slowly on mobile devices.6 Penalizing websites that deliver a poor mobile experience is another step in Google’s mobile-first index initiative, which began in 2016.7 The outcome of this initiative is to rank a website based on the mobile version of the site content.
Will Google’s Speed Penalty Impact Your Site?
Here’s what Google has shared about the impact of the Site Speed algorithm:
- Only websites with extremely slow performance will be penalized
- A small percentage of search queries will be affected
- A slow-loading page may still rank high if the content provides high value and aligns tightly with the intent of the search query
- There currently isn’t an analytics tool that will predict if and to what extent a page will be affected
- Sites that utilize Google’s AMP technology to accelerate mobile performance can still be penalized for slow download speed
- Desktop rankings will be based on desktop load speed, not mobile load speed
"The ‘Speed Update,’ as we’re calling it, will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and will only affect a small percentage of queries. It applies the same standard to all pages, regardless of the technology used to build the page. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a slow page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content."
Google Webmaster Blog, January 17, 2018
Recommendations for Healthcare Marketers
Slow download speeds negatively impact engagement metrics, which include bounce rate, average time on site, and pages viewed. This is why for years we’ve advised our clients to optimize their brands’ website performance. But doing so requires coordinated planning and execution across a brand’s strategic, creative, development, and IT/hosting teams.
Create a performance analysis plan
Brand teams need to work closely with development teams to effectively plan and execute a website performance plan and to understand what the data indicate. There are multiple software tools and resources such as Chrome User Experience Report, LightHouse, and PageSpeed Insights to evaluate website download speed and overall performance.6 But there are different performance models in which these tools can be applied. The RAIL (response, animation, idle, and load) model is one such example.8
Technology expertise is required to generate meaningful website performance data and to put those into a practical context for a brand team.
Develop an Optimization Strategy
Many tactics are available to improve download speed and overall site performance. Here too, brand teams must collaborate with their development, design, and IT teams to improve website performance with maximum ROI.
Optimization tactics include but are not limited to:
- Server-side caching
- Image compression
- Server response time including database caching
- Browser caching
- File compression and linting
- Content distribution networks (CDN)
Some tactics only require the expertise and perspective of development personnel. Other tactics require input from and compromise between strategic, creative, development, and IT teams.
Consider the situation faced by a brand team responsible for marketing the contrast media that’s used in radiologic imaging, such as tomography (CT) scanning and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The brand’s website includes several dozen high-resolution clinical images. The development team determined that the images’ large file size is a primary reason for slow download speeds on mobile devices. Should the brand team reduce the size of the images or decrease the resolution to shrink file size? Would these modified images pass medical, legal, and regulatory review? Do the development and creative resources exist to modify every image, or is there a software tool that will automate the process?
Thoughtful strategic planning between brand teams and their internal and external partners is essential to maximize ROI when optimizing site performance.
Arteric’s Site Performance Analysis Engine
In 2015, Arteric began the development of its Site Performance Analysis Engine. This proprietary tool combines data from several sources including: Google Analytics, Google Search Console, page load speed test, and automated content and code auditing tools. This data creates a comprehensive picture of 59 facets of page-level performance across websites. This performance profile offers insights that result in actionable speed, engagement, content, and SEO optimizations (see sample in the inset). The Site Performance Analysis Engine provides insights that can be integrated by all agency partners to improve Google AdWords Quality Scores, thus driving down media costs. Arteric has successfully leveraged this tool for clinical trials recruitment websites, multinational biopharmaceutical corporate websites, disease state education websites, as well as branded drug websites. On average, Arteric reduces page load speeds by more than 30% and improves ranking factor scores by 15 to 20 points, from an average score of 70 to 90 on a 100-point scale. The Site Performance Analysis Engine creates a baseline and implements features for ongoing monthly or quarterly monitoring, to ensure that performance doesn’t decrease over time, so that website equity, engagement, and performance do not erode. And ultimately, creating the conditions for improved search rankings.
It’s Still All About Rank
Even though Google suggests that the Site Speed algorithm will penalize only the slowest-loading websites and a small percentage of inquiries, it’s essential that marketers optimize mobile performance because:
- Slow download speed increases bounce rates
- Faster download speed increases engagement
But there’s one more VERY important reason to minimize the risk of any search penalty:
- Optimal page rank is essential for success in voice-driven online search
By 2020, 30% of search queries will be made on a screenless device such as the Amazon Alexa, Google Home, or Apple HomePod.9 Voice search on a screenless device produces 1 spoken search-response winner, not the 10 to 15 that marketers are accustomed to seeing onscreen on page 1 of a search result. A 1-winner scenario also holds true for voice searches on smartphones, when the user relies on a spoken response. In another article, I discuss in detail why optimal page rank is essential for voice-search success.
We’ve been aggressively encouraging clients to optimize their mobile website performance since 2013. Voice search has increased the urgency of our message.
We optimize mobile performance by applying these principles:
- Maximize the value of content for end users. Create high-quality, authoritative content based on keyword research that identifies the questions that users ask and the wording they use to phrase the questions
- Apply best practices for on-page, off-page and technical SEO to help search engines locate and understand your content
- Aggressively formulate advanced rich markup (schema) that creates superior context and taxonomy around the content
- Monitor site performance regularly with a comprehensive testing plan
- Apply optimization tactics that reflect the needs and resources of all stakeholders and participants
Mobile site performance impacts rank. Brands that wait until July to optimize mobile performance will lag behind their competitors. I continue this conversation in the video below.
Stay Ahead of the Curve
Every website that we develop is designed and programmed with at least an 18-month technology horizon. This design principle explains why our site-development mindset has been mobile-first for years and why all of our clients’ websites were prepared for “Mobilegeddon” long before the April 2015 deadline. When it comes to digital marketing, if you’re not ahead of the technology curve, you’re quickly behind the competition.
Arteric’s Site Performance Analysis
Contact Hans Kaspersetz at 201.558.7929 to discuss your website’s performance, engagement, and how to optimize content, User Experience, and ranking factors to maximize your brand’s performance. We look forward to providing a complimentary top-line review using Arteric’s Site Performance Analysis Engine and providing actionable insights to your team.
- An D. Find out how you stack up to new industry benchmarks for mobile page speed. Think With Google Web site. https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/marketing-resources/data-measurement/mobile-page-speed-new-industry-benchmarks/. February 2018. Accessed May 10, 2018.
- Karnowski M. European mobile speed rankings are in. How you’re your site compare? Think With Google Web site. https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/intl/en-gb/advertising-channels/mobile/european-mobile-speed-rankings-are-how-does-your-site-compare/. September 2017. Accessed May 10, 2018.
- The need for mobile speed: How mobile latency impacts publisher revenue. DoubleClick Web site. https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/intl/en-154/insights-inspiration/research-data/need-mobile-speed-how-mobile-latency-impacts-publisher-revenue/. Accessed May 13, 2018.
- Shelhammer A. The need for mobile speed: how mobile latency impacts publisher revenue. DoubleClick by Google Web site. https://www.doubleclickbygoogle.com/articles/mobile-speed-matters. September 2016. Accessed May 10, 2018.
- Singhal A, Cutts M. Using site speed in web search ranking. Google Webmaster Central Blog. https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2010/04/using-site-speed-in-web-search-ranking.html. April 9, 2010. Accessed May 10, 2018.
- Wang Z, Phan D. Using page speed in mobile search ranking. Google Webmaster Central Blog. https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2018/01/using-page-speed-in-mobile-search.html. January 17, 2018. May 10, 2018
- Phan D. Mobile-first indexing. https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2016/11/mobile-first-indexing.html. November 4, 2016. Accessed May 10, 2018.
- Kearney M, Osmani A, Basques K. Measure performance with the RAIL model. Google Web Fundamentals Web site. https://developers.google.com/web/fundamentals/performance/rail. Last updated February 28, 2018. Accessed May 10, 2018.
- Levy HP. Gartner predicts a virtual world of exponential change. Smarter With Gartner Web site. https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/gartner-predicts-a-virtual-world-of-exponential-change/. October 18, 2016. Accessed May 10, 2018.
Category: Opinions & Insights