Stu Macik_Broken Sky Studio Web Design and Development, Denver, Colorado
It’s seems that many of us have had our attention spans shortened with the advent of so many “instant” technologies and nowhere is that more true than on the web. I’ve seen research that indicates that a website has anywhere from 3 to 15 seconds to grab a visitor’s attention with the majority of site visitors falling into the under 10 second range. I would say from talking to others as well as my own personal experience that 10 seconds is probably about right.
This accentuates the need to provide core information on a site in a way that will maximize those precious few seconds that you have to make that all important first impression. I’m going to cover “content” in part 2 of this topic but first I want to talk about page-load because, in my mind, page-load is half the battle when it comes to the attention span problem with website visitors. People just don’t want to wait for a website to load. Here are a few ideas to help speed up page-load times that I use personally in my own web design and development business and have been very effective for me.
First, assuming that you have a decent hosting provider (and most of the better known ones are ok) the first thing that you want to do is to have as few HTTP requests as possible on your webpage. An HTTP request is whenever your web browser fetches a file (a page, an icon, a picture, etc) from the web server. HTTP is a request/response protocol, which means your computer sends a request for some file (i.e. get me the file ‘home.html’”), and the web server sends back a response (“here’s the file”, followed by the file itself).
While all of this only takes a fraction of a second, the number of requests along with the size of the files determines how long your page will take to load. This is critical to consider because pages with large numbers of requests combined with graphics (images) that have not been optimized for display on the web can lead to those very slow loading pages that we’ve all experienced at times when browsing. Several simple ways to cut down HTTP requests are to combine multiple images into one (when possible), use graphics judiciously (only when needed to enhance content) and keep page lengths reasonable (this also helps with cutting down on page scrolling as well).
Second, as mentioned above graphic (image) size is very important to page load time. All graphics should be “optimized” for use on a web page in a program like Photoshop or Illustrator using the “save for web” function that these programs provide. I take optimization of images one step further however in that I’ve found that I can cut the size of most images another 10-20% from the Photoshop/Illustrator output and still have effective quality for web display. This would be done with a more specialized program but suffice it to say, all images should at least have some optimization to speed up their display on the page.
Third, an often overlooked factor in page-load speed is the use of “valid” HTML in the development of a page/site. HTML is the “mark-up” language used by developers to display your content to the visitors of your site. When the page is not coded to agreed upon (by browser makers and developers) standards set by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), it can slow down page loads as the browser tries to figure out what the code is attempting to tell it to do. One way to check if your pages are “valid” HTML is to use the Validator at the W3C located here. The validator is a very useful tool because it will even tell you specifically which code is invalid and often how to fix it.
Anyway, hopefully these tips will help your business have a faster loading site and help with at least half of the attention span problem. In the next post I’ll cover “content” in relation to attention spans and how you can help customers stay on your site long enough to create interest in your product or service.