Lead with the need for speed

18 Feb 2017

Image: Iaroslav Neliubov/Shutterstock

Do you feel impatient when you try to navigate the web? Gareth Dunlop has some advice for web professionals on how to get inside the minds of their users.

It has been more than two decades since Keanu and Sandra heroically kept the bus at over 50mph to stop the bomb from detonating, in the movie dubbed by Homer Simpson as: “The bus that couldn’t slow down”.

The nautical sequel – ‘The boat that couldn’t slow down’ – is best forgotten and generally is, with most Irish readers preferring the third in the series,‘The milk-float that couldn’t slow down’, with Ted and Dougal. Father Ted writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews set themselves the challenge of writing a sequel that was even worse than its predecessor but couldn’t quite manage it. In fairness, it was a huge ask.

What Speed, Speed 2 and Speed 3 remind the digital community of, in Homer Simpson speak, is the importance of ‘the website that couldn’t slow down’.

What does your website or digital product charge your customers? It isn’t free. It costs them their time. Their unspoken emotional contract with your digital platforms is: ‘I will give you my attention if you don’t waste my time’.

Gadi Lahav, head of product at FT.com, understands this better than most. Responsible for one of the most successful and respected news websites on the internet, he commented on a piece of research he carried out in April 2016: “We wanted to understand how much the speed of our website affected user engagement and, using that data, we then wanted to quantify the impact on our revenue.”

The relationship between speed and revenue is much closer than many web professionals realise.

Lahav and his colleague Matt Chadburn discovered that a one-second delay in page downloads caused a 4.9pc drop in the number of articles read, with a three-second delay causing a 7.2pc drop.

Unsurprisingly, the research also pointed to a relationship between speed and revenue, specifically the annual FT.com subscription renewal rate, a fundamentally important commercial KPI for digital operations in the Financial Times. On advertising spend, Lahav concluded: “When it comes to the speed, even one second can mean hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of revenue either gained or lost.”

Israel-based Radware, a global leader in load balancing and security for data centres, produced a comprehensive summary of the need for speed in their 2015 State of the Union for E-commerce Page Speed and Web Performance white paper.

It states: “A site that loads in three seconds experiences 22pc fewer page views, a 50pc higher bounce rate and 22pc fewer conversions than a site that loads in one second; while a site that loads in five seconds experiences 35pc fewer page views, a 105pc higher bounce rate and 38pc fewer conversions.”

Web users’ demand for convenience and speed is at the centre of this mandate.

There are some immediate principles that every user-focused web professional should embrace:

  1. Hold yourself to account for each piece of content you publish. Is it helping to solve problems for users? Is it giving this valuable insight that helps them to decide to buy or not? Or is it massaging the corporate ego? It seems you can massage the corporate ego, or the top and bottom lines, but not both.
  2. Hold your web developers to the highest of standards when they develop HTML, CSS and JS so that it will be lean and efficient. Micro-interactions and layout rules must be developed with user need, and not designer predilection, in mind.
  3. Push yourself outside your comfort zone to get involved in what happens under the bonnet – and yes, I’m talking about hardware, hosting infrastructure, speed-testing and hop counts from your server to your customers. It’s not as cool as keeping up to speed with the latest interface trends but sometimes, leadership is inglorious.

When we run workshops with our clients, one of the exercises we run to help us all focus on who we are designing for, is to ask them to write down a single word to summarise how they feel when they use the web. Again and again, one adjective dominates: impatient.

Design your digital product for a hungover Fr Jack.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy which helps ambitious organisations get the most from their website and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include UX strategy, usability testing and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing.  Clients include Three, Ordnance Survey Ireland, PSNI, Permanent TSB and Tesco Mobile.