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“Slow sites have a negative impact on revenue”: Publishers opt for leaner websites to attract and keep users on site

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Publishers looking to deliver more value to their readers, may inadvertently do so at the cost of user experience. “In our shared pursuit to push the web to do more, we’re running into a common problem: performance. 

“Sites have more features than ever before. So much so, that many sites now struggle to achieve a high level of performance across a variety of network conditions and devices,” writes Web Performance Consultant, Jeremy Wagner, in a column for Google.

Retaining users is crucial to improving conversions. Slow sites have a negative impact on revenue, and the opposite is also true.

Jeremy Wagner, Web Performance Consultant

Earlier, the BBC found that they lost an additional 10% of users for every extra second their site took to load. Pinterest, on the other hand, increased search engine traffic and sign-ups by 15% when they reduced perceived wait times by 40%.

A survey from Unbounce found that 27% of people are only willing to wait up to three seconds for a site to load on their phone, 32% are willing to wait up to six seconds, and only 24% are willing to wait longer than six seconds.

“Unacceptable for any user”

Slow web pages affect traffic negatively, and have led many publishers, including the BBC, The Financial Times, The Washington Post, and more recently, The LA Times and sports publisher GiveMeSport (GMS), to prioritize faster page load times. 

GMS, which has 3.2M monthly unique visitors, according to Comscore, boosted direct traffic by 63% year over year, after improving its site speed. 

Its website had become cluttered with heavy code and ads, leading to individual page load times of up to 20 seconds. The publisher built a new lean website, and reduced the number of ads from an average 11 per page to four. These changes have reduced its page-load speed to between one and five seconds. 

Since we launched the lightweight version and removed the ads, we’ve seen users get far more engaged and spend more time viewing the content and the ads. It was a bold decision [removing ads,] but it has paid off,” Dean Drury, Product Director at GMS told Digiday.

Improving your click-through rate from Google by just 1% will be much more impactful than trying to crowbar traffic to your site from social networks who specifically don’t want you to leave their app. It will also deliver higher-quality traffic, so more time on site and more pages per session.

Dan Ayers, Consulting Partner at Seven League, a digital sports consultancy

The LA Times also made changes to its website this year to improve page load speeds, and overall reader experience. Len De Groot, Digital Editor of the LA Times, told, “We were seeing rapid declines in search traffic and stunningly poor performance in load times. 

“That’s unacceptable for any user. That kind of experience will not take advantage of reach, of people coming to our site, promoting circulation and hitting the paywall.” 

Earlier, webpages were taking up to 12 seconds to load, this has been reduced to around 4 seconds. “We had so many integrations where we had contracts with companies to provide advertising,” said Groot. 

The integrations have been halved by consolidating publishing systems. The publisher has integrated content management systems (CMS), assignments, media assets and archives within one content hub called GrapheneCMS.

Speedier web pages, higher traffic

There were other changes too, in the general appearance and functionality of the site. For example, the white-on-grey ‘card’ articles have been replaced by a simple white webpage. Groot said that the site has seen a sustained 25% increase in Google search traffic after the changes.

No matter what, faster is better and less is more. And sometimes, leaner is better too.

Daniel An, Business Development & Strategic Partnerships Lead, Shopping at Google

Digital Marketing and SEO Expert Neil Patel says, “Website visitors tend to care more about speed than all the bells and whistles we want to add to our websites. Additionally, page loading time is becoming a more important factor when it comes to search engine rankings.”

Patel adds, “It’s not just your search engine rankings. Your site’s speed can contribute to the rise and fall of your conversion rate.”