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“We need a low page load time!” “Low times are important to the success of (X)!” Says pretty much everyone in the technology business.

If you’re a web developer, I’m going to make a bet you’ve heard the following phrases many, many times:

“How fast does a website really need to be?”

“It doesn’t matter how fast the site is as most of my target market has fast Internet.”

“Why should I care how fast my website loads?”

The reality is that, while Internet speeds are getting faster, a increasingly large amount of web traffic comes from mobile devices, and not your typical desktop or laptop connected to a reliable access point and with processing power to spare. On mobile devices, connection speeds can vary greatly depending on whether the mobile device is in a metropolitan area or underground, running low in battery, or running too many background jobs.

So how does a developer think about or prepare for all of this? You don’t have to solve these problems directly, but you should be aware there’s a significant difference between the mobile and the traditional web experience. One way to ensure a wonderful user experience is by keeping page load time top-of-mind when implementing anything, from a complex web application to a simple landing page.

Why page load time matters

The following stats come from Think With Google’s article The Need For Mobile Speed: How Mobile Latency Impacts Publisher Revenue. Published in late Sept 2016, this article continues to be quoted when it comes to optimizing the web experience:

  • In a study of 3700 websites, 53% of visits are likely to be abandoned if pages take longer than 3 seconds to load.
  • 46% of consumers say that waiting for pages to load is what they dislike the most when browsing the mobile web.

There were also some interesting comparisons between websites that loaded within 5 seconds vs 19 seconds. Sites that loaded faster had:

  • 60% greater page views per visit
  • 30% lower bounce rates
  • 70% longer average sessions

You know, I’m starting to think that page load time matters.

Assessing your page load time

You can use free services such as Google’s PageSpeed Insights or Web Page Test to get a quick health check on your page — I personally use Web Page Test as it offers nice features when working in a team, like video recording and test history.

Assessing your load time in 3 steps:

  1. Go to https://www.webpagetest.org/easy.php and enter the URL for your website in the form
  2. Under the Test Configuration, make sure that “Mobile — Regular 3G” is selected.
  3. Click “Start Test”
WebPageTest.org’s handy tool.

Once the test results complete, you’ll be able to see the request waterfall, which breaks down all the requests made by the page from the moment when the web server is hit until the page fully loads. This waterfall of requests is ultimately responsible for the total page load time.

Real-world Example

The following example is taken from a real issue in one of our landing pages in production about 3 weeks ago. Running a Web Page Test further validated the issue and also identified some easy areas for improvement.

Android device taking forever to load a landing page

The waterfall breakdown for the landing page (shown below) highlighted some problematic areas. Notice requests #18, #23, #25 which are all related to images.

This page started to render at just under 7 seconds but it wasn’t fully loaded until 13.64s

After a very easy image optimization exercise and enabling SPDY, we were able to significantly improve the user experience as proven in the following waterfall:

This page starts to render at 5.642s and it’s fully loaded at 7.372s.

Notice that the Start Render and Document Complete numbers in the following test report are important to distinguish, because a user may not need to wait until the document is fully loaded to be able to interact with it. In other words: a savvy web developer may layout a web page in such a way that the user can start interacting with it as soon as possible — thereby improving the perception of load time.

The page loads at a rapid speed and any delays are almost unnoticeable to the user. In general, it’s a good idea to ensure that small-screen devices serve smaller assets while large-screen or high-resolution devices lazy have the ability to serve richer assets.

As a bonus, since the content became smaller by about 1/2, this sort of optimization can also translate into real monetary savings for the business.

For advanced analysis, feel free to use the tools provided by Web Page Test. Each test includes a video from the user’s perspective and a performance review with recommendations.

So what is the right page load time?

The number depends on various factors, but generally you should allow users to interact with your page within 5 seconds in a regular 3G connection.


If you find these types of challenges particularly compelling and want to get involved, check out some of our job openings. Who is TextNow? Check out the video below — we can’t wait to meet you!

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