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Retail Technology, Retail technology News

E-tailers urged to focus on speed

Friday January 22 2010

New research released today has found 4% of websites have page load speeds detrimental to their search marketing efforts  

New research released today has found 4% of websites have page load speeds detrimental to their search marketing efforts


According to leading UK-based independent search marketing agency Greenlight, website page load speeds will become an increasingly important factor in 2010 for search advertisers, and demonstrates that page load speed performance cannot be assumed, even for some of the biggest sites in the UK.


In a sample study of 100 of the UK’s most popular websites, Greenlight determined that 4% of them had page load speeds slower than the acceptable threshold set by Google, beyond which the advertiser may see increased click costs.


In June 2008, Google revealed landing page download time has an impact on a marketer’s Quality Score in Paid Search. This meant that ‘latency’ began contributing directly to a campaign’s performance and ultimately its return on investment. The agency also pointed to speculation at the close of 2009 over whether this would also make its way into its natural search algorithms too.


Search engine giant homes in on latency


Google associate, Matt Cutts hinted quite heavily in that direction in a video interview for Web Pro News, where he said: “Historically, we haven’t had to use it [latency] in our [natural] search rankings, but a lot of people within Google think that the web should be fast. It 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.


“I think a lot of people in 2010 are going to be thinking more about ‘how do I make my site be fast,’ how do I have it be rich without writing a bunch of custom JavaScript?’”


Greenlight’s sample survey of the UK’s most popular websites across four industries – consumer electronics, clothing retail, travel and finance – found load times ranged from the exceptional ( at 0.29 seconds was the standout) to the painfully high (an unnamed top High Street electronics retailer came in at over 15 seconds).


The agency tested their download speeds at the same time of the day, outside of seasonal peaks in server load and made multiple requests to get an average. And, to define what would constitute an unacceptable average load time, Greenlight devised a methodology that mirrored Google’s method of determining an acceptable maximum. The threshold Greenlight determined was 4.97 seconds (i.e. 3 seconds above the national average). Anything above this would almost certainly fall foul of Google’s Quality Score download time guidelines, the agency added.


Google, incidentally, if it were part of this study would have performed best of all the sites as it had an average page load speed of 0.11 seconds - definitely leading by example.


Speeds affect retention, as well as optimisation


Greenlight’s results also revealed that 3% of the sites had average page load speeds in excess of 8 seconds, which research has pointed to as being the point at which users are likely to abandon a site. And there was no industry pattern – all sectors had a broad spread of high and low page load speeds and the size of the company made no difference either.


But the best performing sites, in descending order were Argos, River Island,,, and Comet, all of which Greenlight said were exceptional within the group.


“Approximately 4% of the UK’s most successful websites have page load speeds that are to the detriment of their Paid Search Quality Scores”, said Andreas Pouros, chief operating officer at Greenlight. “This affects their Paid Search performance and will be compounded further if Google decides to use latency in its natural search algorithms too. Ironically, poor download speed is actually very easily fixed. Businesses need to look at things like content distribution, cache control and even simply reducing the number of HTTP requests their pages make.”


As a follow-up to its research Greenlight added that it was preparing a guide to reducing page load speeds that will be released in the second quarter of 2010.