Sunday 16 December 2018

Another Angle: Irish companies fall foul of 'three-second' mobile website rule

Irish people won’t accept slow-loading websites on mobile. Stock image
Irish people won’t accept slow-loading websites on mobile. Stock image

Aisling Blake

Did you know that there is research in existence that says the stress levels of people waiting for slow websites to load to a mobile device is equivalent to the stress of watching a horror film? And by waiting, we mean just three seconds or more. This is substantiated by other research - this time by Google - which shows that most websites accessed on mobile devices lose half their visitors if they leave them waiting for more than this magic three-second mark.

At a time when 3.59 million people in Ireland have a smartphone, with 64pc accessing search engines via this device at least weekly and 16pc purchasing products or services at least weekly on their smartphone (Source: Statista, July 2017), one could rightly assume that most Irish brands and companies have their website speed sorted. This is not the case.

We put the research to the test by conducting our own study of 100 websites from top brands across six categories - automotive, banking, insurance, media, grocery retail and telecoms. We focused on the amount of time it takes for the home pages of these websites to fully load on mobile. The average was 10.25 seconds -well wide of the three-second mark.

The best-performing category were grocery retailers, with an average page load time of 7.4 seconds, while the slowest category was the media industry at 24.4 seconds. Based on the 'three-second rule', even the best-performing group is typically losing more than half their mobile site visitors. With more than half of the visitors to the websites we examined coming through mobile devices, this puts even more context on the size of the problem.

Despite not everyone having access to high-speed broadband across the country, Irish mobile users have high expectations when they are online. If loading speed is slow, they will simply move to another website that doesn't make them wait. So, as well as offering an unsatisfactory customer experience, a slow loading mobile website also weakens potential for return on investment.

Recent changes by Google are set to put even more pressure on brand owners to get their mobile experience right. In the past, the search engine used the desktop version of a website in its results pages. From March of this year, however, they are beginning to use the mobile version of a website instead. This means that if your mobile website experience is poor, smartphone owners who use Google to find your website will not see the best of your brand.

Furthermore, from next month, if your web pages are slow to load on mobile, they will be ranked much lower in Google's results, potentially giving priority to your competitors.

But all is not lost. Once you are aware your website speed is not up to par, there are several ways to improve it quickly. One solution that we have implemented for clients is the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project. This is an open source initiative aimed at creating faster and better-performing websites across all devices.

For example, we used the AMP project for one client operating in the telco sector and reduced their mobile load time from eight seconds to four seconds. We then used their pay-per-click campaign to test the site performance, driving 50pc of site visitors to the old eight-second page and the other 50pc to the new four-second page. The cost they paid for a click leading to the new page was 10pc lower than the old page. More importantly, the conversions were higher and 40pc more cost effective on the new page. Not only were we able to keep more visitors on the website, more of them converted.

AMP is not the only solution. With search engine optimisation techniques, we were able to improve the performance of a website belonging to a client in the automotive sector.

By reducing the size of imagery on the website, dropping the amount of unnecessary code and updating some of the site architecture, we saw mobile site speed improve dramatically. Within a 12-month period, this delivered double the number of weekly visitors to the website through mobile.

Alphabet's CEO, Larry Page, says "we are no longer living in a mobile first world, we are a mobile only world". Irish website owners need to echo this sentiment by concentrating more on the mobile experience for visitors and customers.

Our research has shown there is still plenty of work to do in this area, but the top five things you can do now to stop being one of these statistics are:

1. Invest in a mobile optimised website;

2. Reduce the size of images on your site;

3. Eliminate unnecessary code on your site;

4. Consider implementing AMP;

5. Engage with a recognised search engine optimisation specialist.

Aisling Blake is chief digital officer at Core, an Irish marketing communication company

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