Setting the wheels in motion on mobile

Speed and technology share an interwoven path. The need for things to be faster has led to innovations that have shaped our history. In ancient Mesopotamia, someone had the excellent idea of taking the circular devices used by potters when spinning clay, and fixing them onto a flat surface. And thus, the wheel was born. Following its invention, the speed of construction, transportation and commerce accelerated astronomically.

Fast forward 5,000 years and the UK is now one of the bastions of innovation, attracting a record tech sector investment in 2017, doubling from the previous year to $7.8bn and soaring ahead of its European neighbours with more investment than Germany, France and Sweden combined.

But while London and the UK are at the top of the tech investment tables, there is room for improvement in the mobile sector. Google’s recent mobile benchmark study found the UK to be in tenth place out of 17 major European countries when it comes to how quickly sites load on mobile. 

The latest report from Ofcom on mobile usage in the UK puts the impact of this lag in perspective, with the report finding that people spend on average 24 hours a week online and more consumers describe internet browsing as the most important feature on a phone than point to phone calls.

The study from Google delved into a wide range of sectors from finance to travel. It found that on average, pages from the automotive, retail, and technology sectors take the longest to load and have some of the most bloated pages on the web.

For brands, this lag has tangible consequences. Google’s research shows 53% of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes three seconds or more to load. And that percentage quickly increases as page load time increases - if you keep mobile users waiting just one second to five seconds, the probability of them deserting spikes by 90%. For ecommerce sites, abandonment due to slow load times can be even more costly, since 79% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with site performance say they're less likely to purchase from the same site again. 

When it comes to driving engagement and conversion on mobile, it's all about speed. Whether it’s paying bills, buying products or services, or simply clicking through to read articles, time is always of the essence for consumers. Half of people surveyed think sites should load in less than two seconds yet, in the UK, the average is a whopping 8.9 seconds. This discrepancy represents a huge opportunity for brands to assert themselves and win consumers over with speedy and seamless mobile experiences.

Luckily for brands, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to speed up your mobile site as Google has developed a suite of tools aimed at driving improvements in mobile experience. 

Speed Scorecard, for instance, helps businesses measure how their mobile speed ranks against top brands within their industries. The Impact Calculator, allows companies to estimate how much revenue could be increased if a given business improved its mobile site speed. 

These tools will help businesses respond to the findings from Google’s Mobile Site Benchmark Study as they clearly illustrate how bottom lines are affected by mobile experience.  Our analysis suggests a site with an average of 150,000 monthly visitors and an initial conversion rate of 2.5% on order values averaging $75 could see an increase of $225,000 in annual revenue, if loading time dropped from six seconds to three. 

The digital age we live in may seem a long way away from the early bronze age innovations of the Mesopotamians - but the rules are still the same. Where speed goes, revenue follows, in business and beyond. Here are three simple ways to speed up your mobile experience:

Unpack the essentials first – Prioritise above-the-fold content over anything else. That way, users consider your site fully loaded earlier on, and can start browsing faster. Having multiple files concerned with font, size, colour and spacing can have a big impact on site speed, so have these load later on. 

Make fewer trips to and from the van – Each resource on your mobile site requires additional requests from the server, so try to group similar files together. Small images under 10KB can also be combined into a sprite format. Sprite formats allow a collection of images to be filed under a single image, reducing the amount of server requests and speeding up loading times.

Lighter boxes make easier carrying – Large images take longer to load and slow things down. Compress your images to below 100KB wherever possible. GZIP is a free to use software that can also reduce the size of text-based files, like JavaScript, by as much as 70-80%. 

Alessandra Alari is head of search and mobile user experience at Google UK