While it may seem like the Web has been around forever, there’s a fact we all need to face: technology really does go through growing pains, especially relatively new technologies and the Web is no exception. Hang on tight. We’re in for another big change.
One word: speed.
In a recent interview with WebPro News, Google’s Matt Cutts made a statement that could prove to be earth-shaking in the world of future web development:
"(The Web) should be a good experience, and so it's sort of fair to say that if you're a fast site, maybe you should get a little bit of a bonus. If you really have an awfully slow site, then maybe users don't want that as much."
This was in reference to planned changes for Google in 2010. Does this mean site speed is about to become a factor in SEO? Almost certainly.
We’ve only begun to experience the implications of this sea-change.
Webmasters will be forced to maximize standard content that’s easily stored in the user’s cache rather than relying on more advanced, bandwidth-hogging elements that bog a site down.
But this is about much more than mere SEO, traffic stats, or site popularity. This is about sales. I talked about that on Pubcon 2009 in Las Vegas!
Once you have your visitors on the site, you want to keep them there as long as possible. In most business applications this means conversion; trying to persuade the visitor to part with a little of their cash. The longer a visitor has to wait to get what they’re after, the more likely they are to check for somewhere else to drop off their money.
Some developers are having luck with a Firefox extension called Page Speed that helps maximize speed.
Google’s Caffeine also looks like they will send more users down to the product detail pages DIRECTLY - this update is scheduled for release in early 2010.
Whatever tools you use, the results can be well worth it.
Beware, however, of excessive tinkering. Here at Tradebit we tinkered with our site repeatedly over a period of five years. In that time our conversion rate only went from .8% to .95%, a gain of only .15%. In the past year, however, we’ve doubled our speed and our conversion has risen to our target 1.25%, a change of .30%. That’s twice as much change in only a fifth of the time, all because we focused less on “features” and more on speed and usability.
Does all this mean that the web will be more boring, a hyperlink jungle of boring but swift 1999 simplicity?
Not at all. There are tools to help you to speed up with your existing layout and setup - e.g. an open-source transparent proxy called Squid has allowed us to deliver the features we want our users to access while minimizing the repeated requests to the server that usually occur: see the Powerpoint here.
The game, we think, is officially changed.