The need for speed on the Web

Customers crave speed on the Web, and they reward organizations that make things fast and simple.

Why is Google successful? Because it delivers better and faster results than its competitors. Google truly understands the customer’s need for speed. “At Google, we’ve gathered hard data to reinforce our intuition that “speed matters” on the Internet,” Jake Brutlag of Google wrote in 2009. “We’ve always viewed speed as a competitive advantage.”

Google did an experiment whereby they slowed down the delivery of search results. They found that increasing a page’s loading time by less than half a second has a measurably negative impact on searchers. Basically, the people who were exposed to the experiment over a period of time did fewer and fewer searches.

“Google has kept a promise it made last year,” Matt McGee of Search Engine Land wrote in April 2010. “Site speed is now a ranking factor in Google’s algorithm.” Google claims that there is abundant research that proves that customers love fast sites, so those are the sites Google rewards. So, everything else being equal, the sites with big, fancy meaningless graphics and complicated code will rank lower in Google search results than fast, lean, simple sites.

Have you noticed that those atrocious Flash intros have practically disappeared from the Web? The only place you’re likely to find a Flash intro these days is on an advertising agency website. Why did they disappear? Because customers absolutely detested them.

Practically every single piece of evidence I have gathered on customer behavior on the Web since 1994 can be summarized as follows: The customer is highly, highly impatient. They scan a page like they scan a signpost as they’re driving down a motorway. They hardly even read full sentences.

I was talking to a friend recently who creates a lot of support videos for a major website. I asked him to tell me the most important thing he had learned about making such videos. “Start immediately,” he said. No swirling logos or moody music intros. Just get straight to the point of what the help video is about from the very first second. states that a new customer will give you at most seven seconds to clarify why your website is the best and fastest way for them to complete their task. “We may be the only people in the world who can say our goal is to have people leave our homepage as quickly as possible,” Google states.

It’s counterintuitive, isn’t it? Get them off your website as quickly as possible having done what they came to your website to do. It’s truly the opposite philosophy to sticky websites or sticky marketing (which is what most traditional marketing is about). In this modern age, who wants to be stuck?

Time is the most valuable resource, and it will only become more and more precious. Those who relentlessly focus on saving the customer time will have a truly future-proof strategy. Those who waste their customers’ time with disruptive marketing and advertising, confusing menus and links and smilely people images will ultimately end up as road kill on the information superhighway.


6 responses

  1. Google’s decision to alter page ranking according to load time is an interesting one.

    The problem of course is working out how they measure speed, which as far as I’m aware they’re not revealing. (Can we expect a situation where sites are designed to load quickly for bots regardless of the experience for real users?)

    Ironically, one of the slowest things to load on our site is Google Anlytics…

  2. Hi Gerry, as almost always I enjoyed your post very much. Just one little but very important remark: talking about the “information superhighway” seems to me a bit anachronistic. I immediately feel relegated in Al Gore times when companies tried to violate the web as a new broadcasting channel and couldn’t imagine a “groundswell” movement giving importance to the peers.

  3. So true - and not for the first time have I seen you write about the need for speed, a KISS story for sure. You may be interested in a review I read today of a needlessly complicated means of achieving the simplest of tasks: Putting a stamp on a letter (yes, it is a real experience!):

  4. Thanks for the Royal Mail link, pgn–quite a process!

    Yes, Wlofgang, you’re right–it is a jaded term and I shouldn’t have used it.

    I’m sure there will be some who will try to create fast pages for the bots–these people will be missing the point, of course

  5. Interesting post Gerry and closely related to something else I was reading recently by Jared Spool.

    His company did research that found that it wasn’t the page download time that affected the user’s perception of how fast pages loaded. Rather, it was the user experience.

    I’ve also experienced this first hand with the content management system I work with. We made some improvements to the interface which made things more intuitive and a bit easier to use and I started receiving feedback saying that the system itself was loading faster. It wasn’t, and unfortunately still isn’t. But hey, at least it’s more usable and we cut time on a key task by around a third.

    I think choosing Google as your example is pertinent here, as they already have a highly usable interface. Therefore the only way they can speed things up further is through technology and response times. They can’t really make the user experience any clearer or more efficient. (Now I’ve said this, they probably will).

    Anyway, I recommend the Jared Spool piece, despite its age…

  6. Neil, thanks for the Jared Spool link. His stuff is always very thought provoking–and I agree. There’s actual speed and perceived speed, and your own work shows how simplifying the interface improves perception of speed.

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