The world seems to conceive of a curious bubble separating IT from “the business.” More so than just about any other pursuit in the commercial world, people think of IT as some kind of island.
It thus becomes easy to conceive of IT goals existing in a vacuum. “We should optimize the database so that it becomes better.” “We should make this software work on all platforms.” The part about “…because that will help us make money” seems never to materialize.
Agile methodologies like Scrum seek to address this separation by encouraging tight interaction between IT and business interests. Doing this closes the loop between technical actions and profit motives. “We should make this software work on all platforms in order to increase revenue by 50%.”
If we look at the world of company websites, we can find the ubiquitous argument for faster page load times. “The site should load faster.” Today, I’d like to make the business case for why we want this.
But I’d like to dig a little deeper than the most obvious cost. To understand that, consider articles like this one. Users tend to bounce in the face of multi-second page loads. As a result, slow performance could cost a high-throughput giant like Amazon billions of dollars.
I doubt that news shocks you. So, instead, let’s take a look at more subtle ways that your business can lose money via a slow site. Let’s examine hidden costs of slow websites.
Help Desk and Operational Overhead Costs
Did it ever occur to you that users might do something other than simply bounce? They might sit there, drumming their fingers and sighing in exasperation while they wait. And then, annoyance mounting, they might just call your company to complain or get support.
Bouncing creates a top line revenue problem, assuming you sell things through your site or depend on it for conversions. But your slow site also creates a bottom line cost in the form of support. Frustrated users become operational difficulties.
This issue becomes noticeably more problematic if you authenticate users and offer an interactive experience. Do you really want your support department choking on user complaints of “I clicked 'purchase' and nothing happened for 5 seconds, so I clicked it a bunch more times?” Problems like that go well beyond the help desk, winding their way into finance, operations, and engineering.
Hiring and Retention Difficulties
Speaking of issues on the bottom line side of the profit equation, let’s take a look at another subtlety. Consider your website as the most persistent, visible representation of your organization.
If you have a sufficiently amateur-feeling site, you might turn off prospective employees and demoralize existing ones. I can recall once working for an organization with an embarrassing public website. It assaulted the eyes, seemed incoherent, and took forever to load. While it didn’t make me terminate the arrangement, I did hesitate a bit when someone with a browser open asked me about my work.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that a slow-loading website will prevent you from hiring and keeping people. But, mixed in with other factors, it does matter. This holds especially true for people like software developers, testers, operations, and UX. As a prospective employee of yours, your site represents a professional showcase of theirs.
At this point, I’ll flip from operational costs to matters of revenue. If your site, like Amazon’s, provides direct means for earning your money, then the relationship could not be clearer. But this holds true even for organizations that just use their sites as marketing funnels. For them, more traffic means more brand awareness, which means more eventual conversions of their offering and thus more top line revenue.
But if traffic falls off, they have a problem. And slow page loads kill your traffic beyond just bounces. They also hurt your SEO.
To put it another way, search engines like Google rank your site by a variety of factors. These factors include page load time, effectively burying you lower in search results if you load slowly. So your problem goes beyond users bouncing. Fewer of them will find you in the first place.
Let’s talk now about another revenue threat posed by your slow-loading site. In this case, the same dynamic that turns prospective employees off also turns prospective users off. Just as would-be employees look at your site and conclude that it’s amateur hour, so too, do your users and prospective users.
Imagine the people that navigate to your site, looking for information or to make a purchase. With each link followed, they wait impatiently and then watch as the page loads in jerky, disjointed fashion. This creates a user experience on par with having an ugly site or one that reminds them of the 90s internet.
But the damage doesn’t just stop with their bad impression. It continues as they take to social media to make fun of you or trash you via word of mouth. Slow page load times on one of your most public assets will contribute to people associating your brand with shoddiness.
Loss of Long-Term Loyalty
Your organization’s brand generally evolves and it has ups and downs. You do your best to define and elevate it, and sometimes setbacks threaten it. But you can generally recover from those setbacks, including the ones caused by the poor perception of your site.
However, your slow site can create permanent issues with your customer base. Specifically, it can chip away at the experience of long term, otherwise loyal customers. For example, consider a bank with whom I once had a loan. I got a great deal on the loan and their customer service personnel always proved friendly and helpful. But their site was just brutal to use. Pages loaded slowly. They buried important options in obscure places. The design almost hurt the eyes. All in all, they provided a terrible experience.
Apart from the site, I generally had a good experience with them. But since I used the site most frequently, and it provided a terrible experience, it genuinely factored into my decision on whether to become a repeat customer. I don’t use them any longer, and, in all honesty, their slow page loads contributed to that decision.
I’d have to lie to say that many other factors didn’t contribute. But, still, your slow site can turn off otherwise loyal customers. You risk turning repeat business into lost customers.
Business and IT Agree: Keep Your Page Loads Fast
As a long-time software developer, I find good engineering to be its own reward. When I build websites, I strive to make them appealing, functional, responsive, and bug-free. Whether or not these concerns make the business money, I take professional pride in seeing to them.
Fortunately, though, when it comes to page load times, business, and IT align. By all means, tend to your site’s page load times as a matter of professional pride. But understand too that those slow loads cost you in many different ways, not all of them obvious.