Users still have little tolerance for slow loading pages and websites, and these problems tend to be caused by server delays and widgets, rather than large images.

According to Jakob Nielsen, slow loading is a common complaint from users during testing sessions. Faster loading times can mean more conversions, so what can retailers do?

Limits of users' patience 

According to Nielsen, while anything over a 10 second delay will have most customers abandoning websites, even repeated delays of a few seconds is enough to spoil the user experience. 

On e-commerce sites, anything over a second or two is likely to prove frustrating for users, so a two-second rule, as proposed by Chris Lake in a previous post is a reasonable benchmark. 

A recent study by AT Internet of e-commerce sites found that the best average page load time was for French sites with 3.4 seconds, with 3.59 seconds for German sites, 4.45 for the UK, and 6.24 seconds for the Spanish sites studied. All below this two second benchmark. 

So what is causing slow loading pages? 

While the main culprit used to be large images, Nielsen today points the finger at complex data processing on the server and overly fancy widgets, which are often the last thing on the page to load. 

Third party trustmarks can also slow page load times, since each such logo means another call when loading the page.

Nielsen uses the example of a Norton page where a large promotional area failed to load for up to eight seconds after the rest of the page, causing the user to ignore it even after it had finally loaded. 

How can load times be speeded up? 

Remove unnecessary Flash elements

Flash is one element that can slow up page loading times. 

It can be slow even on fast connections and a killer for users on slower ones. There are other reasons to avoid Flash, including lack of search engine appeal and inaccessibility. 

Use CSS instead of tables

Tables can be useful for displaying data in columns and rows but are less efficient for web pages. 

CSS requires less code than tables and allows you to select the order in which items download onto the page. It speeds up the pageload process as the browser can cache all the formatting and won’t have to read it again and again.

Keep HTTP requests to a minimum

If you have several elements of your web pages loading up from other websites, such as ads, images, audio or video, then this will slow up the total load time. 

Reducing the number of these types of components on a webpage will reduce the number of HTTP requests and make for a faster loading page. 

Compress images

This is a good way of losing a few kilobytes from your website, as compressing images can reduce the file size by 50% or more. 

Avoid heavy, slow-loading ads

Ads are delivered via third party servers and each request for an ad to load can slow down the overall page load time. 

Test your website

It's important to check that your website load times are acceptable, while third party tools such as Load Impact allows sites to test how the will respond to different levels of traffic.

Graham Charlton

Published 22 June, 2010 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (3)

John Braithwaite

John Braithwaite, Managing Director at Ergo Digital

It's all interesting stuff, but try telling a publisher: "your adverts slow down your site so remove them", when the ads are the only thing keeping the site in business!

about 8 years ago


Minami Sumi

This website is exactly the kind of slow site that the writer Graham Charlton was talking about. It kind of makes his point meaningless.

over 6 years ago



For as many web pages as I have researched, the slow ones are always using 'outside' advertisers whose links are slow. The more links, the slower the load.

If the advertisers would make agreements to let the source website store the ads directly and load as a part of the source page, that would speed things up substantially. Then gather stats and update ads at the source page rather than link to increasingly slower advertiser sites.

Secondly, ALL web browsers should allow scrolling immediately rather than wait for the ads to load. That at least would appease a great many people. I loathe waiting.

If I wait more than two seconds for an advertiser or advertisers to clear a page, I go somewhere else. Let's see if the advertisers ever tell the source page holders THAT tidbit of information.

almost 6 years ago

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