As more people increasingly turn to online services to complete everyday tasks, a website that is slow to load can easily lead to frustration. Citizens have high expectations when it comes to browsing the web across the number of devices available, be it a mobile phone, tablet or desktop. In fact, 47 percent of end users expect a website to load in two seconds or less on a PC and 69 percent expect the same for a tablet.
In the private sector, website performance directly impacts the bottom line of a business. A one-second delay in page load time can lead to a 16 percent decrease in satisfaction and a 7 percent decrease in conversions. Moreover, 49.3 percent of tablet and 40.3 percent of smartphone users indicated that they are unlikely to visit the site again if left dissatisfied with site performance.
For the public sector, a slow website generally does not lead to lost revenue, but it can lead to distrust and frustration among constituents who may be unable to easily complete important services, like registering for healthcare or updating account information to receive Social Security benefits. Especially as more agencies are going green and moving away from sending statements and documents via mail, agency websites are sometimes the only way that constituents can stay in the know on government services and, thus, strong website performance is key.
Luckily, there are steps that agencies can take to ensure that their sites are up to speed.
A rendering engine takes HTML code for all the different components of a page and visually translates it into what users see on screen. An HTTP request is made for each of these elements, so rendering can take longer if there are more elements on a page and, in turn, more HTTP requests. An easy way to improve rendering time and reduce the time it takes for a page to load is to simplify a site’s design by streamlining the number of components on each page and placing scripts at the bottom of the page.
Improve server response time
Most estimates put a target server response time of less than 200 milliseconds. Tools are available to monitor for bottlenecks in web performance. And agencies should ensure that their web hosting provider is supplying quality service. For instance, a crowded server with many sites can negatively impact a single site’s performance.
Allow browser caching
Images, style sheets and scripts of a web page are saved by a browser the first time it loads that page. This means that the page will take less time to load the next time a user visits that page, as the browser won’t have to once again download every element of a particular page. While browser caching improves speed, resources should be in place to regularly clear caches, as updates made to websites do not extend to the browser cached data.
Ensure images are optimized
While images can play an important role in the design of a website, if they aren’t properly optimized they can significantly diminish site speed. The size, dimensions and format of images should all be taken into consideration. Keep images as small as possible, as oversized images take longer to load. JPEG is also the best format for images.
Keep plugins and redirects to a minimum
A plugin acts as an add-on to a web browser and provides the browser additional functionality. But too many plugins can create a slower website and often lead to crashes. In a similar vein, the number of redirects on a site should also be kept low. Each redirect creates an HTTP request, and too many HTTP requests can slow the rendering engine and lead to slow page loading.
Don’t neglect mobile optimization
Although clicking on a link to a website URL seems like a very simple task, there are many requests happening behind the scenes to bring a user’s experience to life. Agencies must take into account the many factors that influence a website’s speed and effectiveness, from device, to network to web browser. It can seem like a daunting task, especially as more and more Americans are accessing services online. But agencies must put in place the proper processes for optimal site performance. Such due diligence leads to satisfied consumers who can easily and efficiently access and update government services online.
Tom Ruff is vice president of public sector - Americas at content delivery network services provider Akamai Technologies.