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Slow web page loading? See how to test page load speed and fix problems.

September 14th, 2011 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

Speed really matters – in races, in catching up when behind, in satisfying people in a hurry – and, more recently, as part of the Google algorithm.

When the Internet was younger, online speed wasn’t as important as it is today. I first started writing for the Internet in 1995. (In case you’ve forgotten what the web looked like back then, take a look at this digitalized version of a 1995 VHS videotape describing the Internet!)

To get online in 1995, one needed a dial-up modem. Connect times could be long, and busy signals were common. Frustration was just part of the game. As dial-up modems began being replaced by DSL services, though, people began getting really tired of slow web page loading and they started to demand faster connection times and expect faster loading of web pages.

By 2006, the demand for speed had increased to the point that approximately 47% of online shoppers insisted on a streamlined checkout process, with 40% of them stating that quick loading time was essential for them to develop brand loyalty.

In 2009, a full 57% of shoppers demanded a rapid checkout, with 52% of them requiring quick loading to develop loyalty to the site and brand. Forty-seven percent of people expected to wait 2 seconds or less for a web page to load, with 61% of consumers who spend $1,500 a year or more online demanding fast-loading pages.

The story gets worse for e-commerce sites that have slow web page loading. Seventy-nine percent of online shoppers, in 2009, were unlikely to buy again from a slow loading site – and 44% of them would tell their friends and family about the bad experience.

Although I have no more recent statistics to share, common sense suggests that people are becoming MORE impatient with site loading times, rather than less.

And that’s not all. In recent years, page speed has become part of the Google algorithm. So, slow web page loading can now hurt rankings.

High rankings should not be the end goal of a business website. But, poor rankings typically mean lower search traffic, which can translate into decreased sales, revenue, profit and ROI.

In November 2009, Search Engine Land announced that, in 2010, page load speed would become one of the 200 or so factors that make up the Google algorithm; a video by Matt Cutts is also included in this article, where he discussed the importance of Google Caffeine, their speedy new web indexing system.

In April 2010, Cutts announced that page speed was now officially part of the Google algorithm. In the Panda update in February 2011, usability became an even more important ranking factor – and page speed is clearly a factor in usability.

So, what should you do next? Step 1 is simple: test page load speed!

You can test page load speed here. Google will prioritize what you need to fix, categorizing them in high, medium and low priority categories. You can also see page load speed in your Google Webmaster Tools account under Labs > Site performance. Other tools to test page load speed include:

Google will soon be offering Page Speed Service; right now, it’s in beta and free to selected sites, but it will soon be available to everyone for a fee.

According to Google, “Page Speed Service is an online service that automatically speeds up loading of your web pages. To use the service, you need to sign up and point your site’s DNS entry to Google. Page Speed Service fetches content from your servers, rewrites your pages by applying web performance best practices, and serves them to end users via Google’s servers across the globe. Your users will continue to access your site just as they did before, only with faster load times. Now you don’t have to worry about concatenating CSS, compressing images, caching, zipping resources or other web performance best practices.”

Sites that use this service are said to be 20 to 60% faster. To see what it can do for your site, Google is providing a WebPage Test service. Since this service is just beginning, no real information is available to help companies decide whether this is right or wrong for them – but it’s good to be informed of the latest news.

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