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How Poor Page Load Time is Killing Your Business

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Sometimes, slow can be good. We all know the adage that slow and steady wins the race. A slow walk in the park? Enjoyable. Slow-cooked ribs? Delicious. Slow websites on the other hand? Well, they only result in frustrated users and wasted advertising budget.

When it comes to a retailer’s online presence, speed is essential. Just a single second of increased load time can devastate a retail brand’s online efforts. That’s why in today’s competitive ecommerce space, marketing and advertising executives are leading the charge on making their sites faster.

For example, here’s a look at some real-world impacts a single second has on online stores:

  • A one-second delay eats away 7% of the coveted conversion rate.
  • A one-second delay decreases customer satisfaction by 16%.

Those are the high-level impacts, but each company that’s implemented a performance marketing approach has seen its own impact.

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In short? Speed matters. In this article, we’ll break down what page load time is, why it is important and how retail brands can optimize their site to run faster heading into the competitive holiday season. 

What is Page Load Time?

It’s the time it takes for the entire content of a page to be displayed for a web visitor. The timer for page load time starts when a visitor clicks a link on a website, and stops when all the content of the web page is fully loaded. Along the way there are myriad performance metrics that mark each milestone in the site’s availability — but here we’ll focus on three: First Contentful Paint, Largest Contentful Paint and the Time to Interactive. Armed with these three metrics, executives get a comprehensive understanding of how customers experience the site and can better pinpoint the issues.

You Can’t Improve What You Don’t Measure

This is especially true for site experience; you need consistent and reliable measurements to help drive toward improvement. In web performance, this means gathering performance metrics from real users in the field — called real user metrics.

If your site doesn’t have a real user metrics system in place, you can use Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX). The CrUX provides real-world authentic user metrics gathered from the millions of Google Chrome users who load billions of websites each month. Google uses this data to determine how fast a website is, and ultimately its search and ad rankings. Google’s CrUX data is made available every second Tuesday of the following month, giving your team an accurate third-party source of both historical and recent customer performance experiences.

Is it working? First Contentful Paint

When customers click a link and navigate to a site, the page is initially blank. During these first few valuable moments, the user doesn’t know if the site is working. The initial feedback that changes the page from a blank wall to a non-blank response is called the First Contentful Paint. First Contentful Paint (FCP) has long been a key metric in identifying page abandonment — with target FCP medians of one second or less. How does this translate to an online business? Yelp reduced its First Contentful Paint by 45% and saw a 15% improvement in its conversion rate.

Improving the First Contentful Paint is often achieved by server-side acceleration, such as server caching or employing a content distribution network. If these infrastructure-level changes are too complicated to implement, another option is client-side solutions, such as ensuring that JavaScript tags are deferred or adding a client-side acceleration solution like service worker. When Google added a client-side service worker to its sites, it saw a 39% decrease in first paint times.

Is it ready? Largest Contentful Paint

Having given the customer a taste of the website with the first paint, the next major milestone is the main course — the Largest Contentful Paint (LCP). The LCP denotes the time it takes until the main content of the page is available. For ecommerce customers, this is likely the product image or a hero graphic. LCP is now a Google Core Web Vital, meaning it’s one of the metrics Google has explicitly called out as being a search rank criteria.

How can this metric impact your business? Vodafone improved its LCP by 31%, resulting in an 8% increase in sales, a 15% increase in its lead-to-visit rate and an 11% increase in its cart-to-visit rate.

Improving the Largest Contentful Paint is a bit more involved, although client-side optimizations that improve the FCP also improve the LCP. For the LCP, the main blockers are often third-party JavaScript, i.e. the little bits of tracking code marketing needs to gather advertising and targeting information. If your LCP is more than 2.5 seconds, it’s time to see what code can either be delayed until the page is fully loaded or removed.

Can I use it? Time to Interactive

Now that the customer can see the content, the question is, how long does it take until they can actually use the site? As the browser loads the page content, there may be a delay until the customer can scroll, click a button and add items to a cart.

This is where the Time to Interactive (TTI) plays a key role. TTI is the perceived moment that the customer feels the website is loaded and can interact with it. TTI is also the metric that’s most highly correlated with conversion rate impact, with lower TTI levels (target below three seconds) leading to measurable improvement in customer conversions.

Retail brand Aldo found that on its single-page app, mobile users who experienced fast rendering times brought 75% more revenue than average, and 327% more revenue than those experiencing slow rendering times. On desktop, users with fast-rendering times brought in 212% more revenue than average and 572% more than slow.

Improving the Time to Interactive is all about getting things out of the way. The method used above will make a considerable impact in Time to Interactive. If using a client-side A/B testing framework like Google Optimize, a brand may see a negative impact on TTI. This is an important side effect of client-side A/B testing, as the browser must do more work (change a button color or re-order some layouts) before the user can begin their checkout journey.

Due to the pandemic-induced shift to online all the time, when it comes to holiday shopping, improving one’s page load time will yield demonstrable benefits to your business. Incorporating these solutions will help better prepare your ecommerce business for the impending hectic holiday shopping season.


Jake Loveless has had a 20-year career in making things go faster, from low latency trading for Wall Street to large-scale web platforms for the Department of Defense. He is a two-time winner of High-performance Computing awards and a frequent contributor to the Association of Computing Machinery. Today, Loveless runs Edgemesh, the global web acceleration company he co-founded with two partners in 2016. Edgemesh helps ecommerce companies across multiple industries and platforms (including headless) deliver 20%-50% faster page loads to billions of users around the globe.

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