As a result, more often than not, they get their first impression of a business from its online presence. Get that first impression wrong, and the business suffers as they make room for fast websites elsewhere.
Fortunately, senior managers and directors are increasingly tech-savvy. Even the ones from non-technical backgrounds are consumers too. They understand the importance of a well-designed, usable website that’s easy to find on Google.
However, there’s another critical, but less well-known, factor that has a direct, proven impact on the bottom line: speed. So what’s the story with fast websites?
Why fast websites matter
Consumers who have to wait too long for web pages to load are less likely to convert.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to get this right. Consumers are increasingly browsing on mobile devices over unreliable networks. Businesses therefore need to be able to deliver fast websites under any conditions.
Despite this, Britain’s websites are actually getting slower.
NCC Group’s benchmark report on 50 of Britain’s top retail sites has revealed consistently slower load times in every quarter since 2013.
What’s more, the factors responsible for slow web pages are often simple to fix. Yet retailers routinely ignore low-hanging fruit that could deliver a vastly improved online experience to customers.
Why might this be?
A management challenge
Often, the barriers to fast websites are not technical, but cultural.
Web performance is still a relatively niche discipline. It tends to live at the technical end of the spectrum. And while a handful of firms are lucky enough to have developers who care passionately about performance, it’s the business that should care.
Without a level of understanding that permeates through the organisation, delivering effective and fast websites is always liable to slip down the list of priorities.
The people in the best position to change this are those at the top – senior managers who can initiate improvements in culture and process.
This is partly about reporting – making sure the right information goes to the right people at the right time. So while board members need to know something about how the website is performing, they don’t need all the facts and figures for every page.
Abstracting the raw data to the correct level of detail means that everyone has easy access to exactly what they need to make the right decisions for the business.
For senior managers, this could be as simple as a single figure for each website in the organisation’s web estate, along with “red, amber, green” colour coding to highlight any issues. They don’t need the detail – they just need to know if there’s something that needs to be addressed.
It’s also about building a culture of performance that the whole organisation buys into. Developers might have the biggest insight into a website’s speed. But plenty of other stakeholders, such as marketers and designers, can impact performance. They too need to have a clear understanding of how and why it matters.
All this takes leadership – making business-wide changes that only those at the top of the organisation are in a position to set in motion. At the very least, it should mean ensuring that speed is factored into digital transformation programmes.
Currently, Britain’s retail websites are too slow, and they’re getting slower. They’re delivering an increasingly poor user experience to customers, especially on mobile devices and slow networks. The result is that they’re almost certainly failing to maximise online revenue.
While this might sound like a technical challenge, it’s actually business leaders who are best placed to make it happen – changing culture, processes and minds.
Alex Painter, web performance consultant at NCC Group