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    Why is a fast website important?

    by James Holloway Partnership Director

    Throughout the history of the internet, the quest for extra speed has been a constant thread. From dial-up modems that could get 28 Kbps (28,000 bits per second) in the mid to late 1990s, people now expect an absolute minimum of 10 Mbps (10,000,000 bits per second) for a workable internet connection.

    And we’re now entering a time when 1,000 Mbps is becoming available to homes through advanced fibre, and that too might look pretty quaint in 10 years’ time. In fact, with 5G peaking at around 1Gbps, wired and mobile limits are advancing at roughly the same pace now, which is incredible.

    It all proves that customers are prepared to pay extra money to shave fractions of a second off page load speeds, and the service providers and hardware manufacturers are satisfying this demand.

    But a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. And as people upgrade their hardware, software and suppliers, that weak link is proving to be the websites themselves. Website owners who don’t recognise this are doing themselves no favours by failing to keep on top of the need for speed. If you’re running an online only business, or have an offering that’s in a competitive sphere, those extra seconds for a page download could be causing you to leak customers.

    The reason is simple. If customers don’t see a fresh web page almost instantly when they visit it, there’s a high likelihood that they’ll just seek out alternatives, whether it’s their first visit or they’re a regular visitor. They’ll see that other pages load quickly, and will wonder what’s holding up the download from your site. In many cases, if a page hasn’t displayed fully after a few seconds, they’ll assume it’s broken and just go elsewhere.

    What can be done to improve page speed?

    Luckily, all is not lost. There are essentially two ways to speed up a website. The first is to upgrade the hosting package. If you have a cheap package, you’ll be sharing your web space with other customers, and eventually there will be a bottleneck as visitors request data from multiple sites simultaneously, and they’ll literally be queueing up to get their chunk. Switching from a shared to a dedicated server might therefore make economic sense if you’re losing business. Also, some hosts just aren’t very good, so switching might help.

    Second, you can improve the website itself. Sites often start off nimble, but keep having add-ons and plugins installed that all place a huge demand on the server, and end up slowing it down. Repeated referrals to other websites for data will slow things down, and failure to pay attention to optimising images and videos can also greatly affect speed. A modern responsive website that uses HTML5 and the minimum of image and video content can download in a flash and get your message to your customers in an instant. Keeping a check on plugins on WordPress and extensions on Magento will also have a noticeable effect. These design improvements can boost a website’s speed even without a server upgrade, but in combination, you can easily make a slow site 90% faster without losing any of its marketing potential.

    There is one other reason why faster is better – Google downranks slow-loading websites, as it’s in its own interest to recommend good quality content to people using it to search. So if you’re hoping for more organic traffic, get faster.

    Don’t be sucked into a belief that because average connectivity speeds are rising, your website will get faster by default. Think in terms of your position in a competitive market, and do everything you can to try and get page load speeds to under 3 seconds.