Page Load: Users Are Waiting

Imagine being at an amusement park and your favorite ride has a long line, but the one next to it is short. How long does the cue have to be before the other ride seems like the better option? How long are you willing to wait for an elevator before taking the stairs? It’s a fairly obvious nature to recognize: no one likes waiting. However, there is a degree of tolerance depending on what you are waiting for.  When it comes to the ride, you might be willing to wait a lot longer than an elevator. Now, let’s consider how long a normal user is willing to wait for your site. With smartphones at one’s fingertips and wireless access almost everywhere, users are wanting to use your site now. And there are aspects of your site that could very well be making them wait.

So how long is too long? According to surveys done by Akamai, even in 2009 users would become impatient when pages took longer than two seconds to load and 40% of consumers abandoned a site after three seconds. If 10 years ago users expected load times of about 6 seconds and then 5 years ago around two seconds, you can take a good guess that users want to wait even less now. However, even earlier this year the media load time of top retail sites was coming in at around 9 seconds. In comparison to those sites, how is your site doing?

Your site loads on your desktop way below 9 seconds? Well, what about your mobile users? Connection matters of course and there are different speeds users are browsing the internet. Maybe you are using DSL, Cable, or fiber optics for your home connection and they do have some pretty fast speeds. With more and more smartphones and tablets getting into the market, though, users are wanting to browse on the go more than ever. You may be on 4G or LTE with full bars and get pretty good speeds as well. But not all users are in ideal conditions and actually mobile users have a larger overhead, especially on 3G. Even though they may not be in ideal conditions the page load expectations are still there. This also applies to desktop users, since ISP speeds aren’t always consistent.

What is causing our users to wait

Okay, maybe you read this far and recognized that this could be an issue with your site,but you are wondering what is causing all of this wait time. I will save a lot of the jargon and data for further viewing, but the main aspect for mobile users, at least, is that there is network overhead just for the request of your page. The biggest culprit for most sites, though, is really how many requests you need to load your page. What needs a request? Every style sheet, Javascript file, web font, and image needs an http request. Notice the highlight in the previous sentence because it is usually the biggest issue for sites. We can work with you on a lot of other approaches of cutting down page load and one of the easiest changes can be the removal of even one image. 
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Early on in the mobile web world, sites had separate mobile versions made to cater to that audience. Often, those designs were very simple and there wasn’t a lot of imagery or content. The sites tended to be a "dumbed down" version of their desktop sites. With mobile users wanting to do everything from a desktop site on their mobile devices, Responsive Web Design gained popularity. It was a great approach to reach every user spanning across pretty much any device/screen size. However, a majority of sites are still built with a "desktop down" rather than a "mobile up" approach.

Rest easy; we have options

Many sites out there that still have 10+ images in more than one rotating slideshow on their homepage. It may look great on desktop and, since the overhead isn’t as bad as on mobile, maybe page loads don’t seem too bad. However, mobile users end up suffering the most with that approach and they get little gain for it. How often have you gone through every slide in a slideshow? That’s why a majority of the big name companies that went responsive have lately changed from slideshows to one image banners for homepages. Take a look at the content on your pages and be conscientious of how many images, third party tools, banner ads, etc. there are. If you can determine any extraneous imagery, you might consider moving it to another page or removing it.

So you did a careful analysis of your content and you do need all of the images, callouts, and banners. This is very possible because many sites do need to have a lot of imagery to give users quick access to items or to properly showcase products. There are some options other than flat out removing images. AJAX (Asynchronous Javascript and XML) is an approach that might be up your alley. You may not need to know what all is involved, but the gist is that by using AJAX you can save some of your content for after the page has loaded. Perceived wait time is not the same as actual wait time. There is a reason they put mirrors around elevators and the distance of baggage claim was moved further away from the gates. People who don’t feel like they are waiting aren’t really waiting. So AJAX is an option to have the page load visually so users who want a quick link or are there for just a little bit of content can get their information and not have to wait for comments or photo galleries.

These are just some of the ways to reduce page load and get your users to stop waiting and keep them coming back. There are many options out there and we can work with you on determining what works best for you. You may not need to reach 1000ms speeds and the gains may not be worth the large amount of development time to make that happen. However, every second counts in the world of the web so even shedding a couple off your current page speeds is something to keep in mind.

About Author

Nick Goodrum, Director of Accessibility
Nick Goodrum has been working in the front-end development world for well over a decade and a half. During the journey of improving his code with modern techniques and best practices, he found a deep passion for usability and accessibility. At, which is a full-service digital agency, he grew into the position of Director of Front-End Development and then shifted to his main focus as Director of Accessibility. As a Certified Professional in Web Accessibility, Nick has been educating technical communities and empowering clients including those in Fortune 500 by sharing his knowledge of the inner workings of the web mixed with the insights of accessibility needs. He aims to help make accessibility a normality rather than an afterthought to developers, content authors, marketing, site owners, and beyond.

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