We recently provided Web browser speed comparison data to PC World. The goal was to give them an accurate view of how the population, as a whole, experiences the performance (load time) of each Web browser. It took the reporter a while to understand the value of this. He figured the only way to compare browser response time was to test each one on the same fast machine using the same fast Internet connection. The goal being, all factors the same except the browser.
Of course, given his user-based editorial focus it makes sense to test what each browser type and version can do. The problem: this form of testing doesn’t tell you how the browser actually performs in the real world of old and new machines, across mobile devices and tablets, on a variety of wired or wireless Internet connections, and in widely differing uses or circumstances.
This raises an important question for website owners and developers: do you optimise your website for the best circumstance (the latest browser, most modern and powerful machine, and a fast connection) or do you optimise for what is?
One of our team members had an experience that brings this issue to light: he was browsing the Web on his five year-old laptop one evening. Accustomed to slower page load times than on his much newer, faster desktop machine, he was surprised when he visited Newegg.com. The home page snapped into place uncharacteristically fast compared to other sites he just visited.
Then he remembered that Newegg was a Compuware Gomez “Best of the Web” winner, a website that two years in a row achieved the most consistently fast response times in the retail category. The conclusion was clear: this company doesn’t just optimise for the best circumstance, it optimizes for the real world of its audience.
Regardless of which browser is in use, on which type of device, and over what connection — Web audiences are getting increasingly impatient. You can hope they won’t blame your website for poor performance that may be largely due to their ageing laptop. But are you willing to take that risk?
The evidence says you should not: our behavioural data – what real end-users actually do – shows that for every two seconds of wait time, site abandonment rates rise by eight per cent. After four seconds, abandonment rises to 25 per cent.
So how does a Web business respond to all the differing variables to Web performance? That can be the million dollar, maybe even a billion dollar, question for some Web businesses. While the answer is a complicated one, the quick answer is: get out of the data centre! Meaning you can no longer measure website performance only from the lab-like environment of an Internet backbone. The Last Mile is where your audience is, and so that must be your measurement location of choice.
From there, you’ll likely find geographic differences in performance. This will help you optimise for location. You’ll also find performance differences across browser types, so optimise for the versions your audience uses most. Then of course, there’s the huge growth in mobile devices. National surveys have shown more than half of mobile users expect Web pages to load as fast as in their desktop machines.
If this all seems daunting, know this is where the leading Web businesses are focusing their attention. Newegg did and came out ahead of much bigger brands (with much bigger IT budgets). The ability to see the customer’s actual experience will ultimately enhance your brand and increase sales conversions or traffic. It’s all about paying very close attention to how your customers engage with your website, which after all, should be the overriding best practice for any Web business.