Okay. Since a lot of what I’m about to rail on about is largely based on statistics, I’m going to start with a couple of my favorite observations on them:
“There are three kinds of lies – lies, damned lies and statistics.”
(Widely attributed to Mark Twain who attributed the quote to Benjamin Disraeli, but there is no evidence in Disraeli’s writings to support that attribution. Kinda makes you wonder what Sam was on about, doesn’t it?)
Statistics can be misleading.
There are 1.4 billion people in China.
There are 7 billion people on Earth.
Hence, one out of every five babies born on Earth are Chinese.
Conclusion: If you’ve got 4 kids and are expecting a 5th, it will be Chinese.
(Don McMillan, Comedian – Pretty sure it was him, given that I watched the video. And you too can watch it here).
Those points being made, I’ll just say that I too believe that statistics can be manipulated to make any point one wants to make if they’re clever enough. Well, you really don’t have to be that clever. There are plenty of numbers out there that will allow you to leave others dazed and confused pretty much at will.
An impatient world
When doing my research for this piece, I focused on the statistic telling me how long the average visitor would wait for a page to load. I was a bit surprised to see what a lot of seemingly knowledgeable sources had to allow – that the average person gets distracted (especially in mobile and on e-commerce or travel sites) after a mere two seconds.
Kidding me, right? I don’t think anyone makes a conscious decision to do anything that fast. And if you think about it, it would take someone a whole lot longer to type in a new URL or hop back to their search page and sort through the results to find another site not to visit for more than a couple of seconds, all the while fumbling with their phone at the airport baggage claim.
This seems a lot like the illogic I applied back when I was young and impetuous and was told the wait time at a restaurant was 25 minutes. I was likely as not to jump in my car, drive 10 minutes to another eatery, only to be told the wait time there was 45 minutes. Net loss of a half hour Timmy. But I was young and had all the time in the world. Which makes me wonder why I was in such a hurry…
So I’m gonna call balderdash on the 2-second rule because it makes no sense to me on several levels and we’ll look at what someone else has to allow.
Another study shows that people will bounce from an e-com site after a 3-second wait. Okay. But I think there’s generally more to it than that.
Say I have a specific product in mind – maybe one only available from a half dozen sites that I’m aware of – heck, I might well wait close to 4 seconds. Statistics gathered from browsers sometimes lie. I know it’s hard to believe Timmy, but they deal in averages, and don’t factor in the human condition or degree of need.
Worth a thousand words
So I’ve talked myself into accepting that anything loading in under three seconds is reasonable and that we should always strive to get pages to load under that threshold. What can we do to improve the speed of things loading?
Since most every site has images, let’s consider the size of those images, their resolutions and file formats.
Image size: If you know your image is only gonna be displayed at a maximum width of 800px, why upload it with a width of 1600px? If you’re not sure of the final width, okay, better safe than sorry so as not to offend someone’s sensibilities with a little fuzziness.
Resolution: We often see images on sites that are uploaded at 300 dpi. That’s a bit much. You can generally get by with 72 dpi for most sites. As a quick example, I just saved the hero image from our home page at 300 dpi – landing in the heavyweight division at 341 kb – and then at 72 dpi – dropping to the welterweights at a svelte 236 kb. Big difference, and if you have multiple images on a page, the load times will change dramatically.
File formats: The most common for the web over the last few years have been jpg and png. I only use a png when I need a transparent background. They’re generally heavier than their jpg counterparts, so I reserve them for that special case. But a lot of people don’t, adding unnecessary bulk to their pages. Both formats have options to reduce file sizes when saving in most programs, and there are websites that will batch process images at a set level. I prefer to compress stuff myself using Photoshop because, well, I’m a control freak.
Keep their attention
But of late, with all modern browsers on board, we’ve started using the newer Webp format. This knocks some serious weight off most all images and can drastically decrease the time it takes to load a page. The results are pretty dramatic, especially on image-heavy sites.
So whether you have 5 images or 500 on your site, I cannot overstate the importance of doing whatever is reasonable to reduce the size of those images. And don’t forget about the option of using a content delivery network (CDN). That’s a fancy name for a bunch of servers scattered worldwide that cache images and serve them up on demand for folks. Generally not free, but it can be a cost-effective option if you’re losing visitors who have the attention span of a swarm of drunken gnats.