How to meet increasing mobile speed expectations

In the first of our ‘Driving Mobile Performance’ series, we look at the user perception of mobile website speed.

Mobile website speed remains an underestimated part of the user experience. Users expect sites to load quickly, especially when internet speeds of their country are rivalled by the rest of the world.

In Northern Europe, where mobile internet access is prevalent and 4G speeds are some of the highest worldwide, online experiences are still far from perfect. In a sample of 11 million websites, we found that the average time to fully load the top landing pages of the Nordics and Benelux is still close to the European mean of 12.8 seconds1. This is too long, knowing that 53% of users will abandon a page after three seconds of loading2.  And with full load time being the second greatest predictor of bounce rates, it's clear that we need to speed up.

Room for improvement

The Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, and Denmark each rank amongst the top 10 average 4G speeds in the world3, but this doesn’t mean the average website loads instantly. There are still plenty of opportunities to improve performance by speeding up.

Earlier this year, Dutch retailer Primera demonstrated that it's still possible to speed up in a country with the second-fastest average 4G speeds in the world. As a result of their speed optimisations, they increased conversion rates by 4% and decreasing bounce rates by 10%.

And in a recent Google analysis of mobile sites, we found that those loading in two seconds or less had a 15% higher conversion rate than the average mobile site4. So European websites have a lot of speeding up to do, no matter how fast their internet speeds turn out to be.

Improve speed perception

It is critical not only to improve site speed, but your user's perception of speed. On a mobile device, the visible portion of the site is limited to quite a small area. As a result, we have an opportunity to load the visible content much faster while the other elements elsewhere on the page download in the background.

Primera noted in their case study that they enhanced perceived load times by prioritising above-the-fold content. This means that content within the visible portion of the mobile screen is loaded first, and Primera was able to achieve this first load time in under one second. This is a common practice and is especially important for retail sites, which tend to be weighted down by heavy visual content.

In fact, in a study of 6 million websites, retail sites were ranked at the very bottom of page speed, with an average load time 26% slower than the fastest category5. This is largely due to graphic elements such as favicons, logos, and product images, which can easily comprise up to two-thirds (in other words, hundreds of kilobytes) of a page's total weight. It can be challenging to reduce the number of images on a retail site with many products, but it is critical to minimize the impact of these images on load time.

That’s where speed perception techniques can help. Fortunately, Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) has prioritised resource loading built-in, ensuring that only the most important resources are downloaded first. This offers a huge advantage for retailers, as we’ve seen many ecommerce sites succeed in improving load times and reducing conversions as a result of building with AMP.

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Help users on the go

Age and state of mind are also strong influencers of a user’s perception of speed. While age is something we can’t control, we do have the ability to ease their state of mind when they’re anxious or travelling.

People on the go tend to have a much slower perception of speed, and the Nordics and Benelux regions consist of the most frequent travellers within Europe. In the Benelux region, residents are twice as likely to have travelled to six or more European countries in the past year compared to the EU average6.

And ever since roaming charges within the EU were removed, it’s now apparent that Europeans are increasingly using their mobile data abroad as often as they do at home.

So make sure your website loads fast in various countries and on different internet speeds – not just your home country’s relatively fast speeds. Use speed perception techniques to thoughtfully choreograph the loading sequence of your page and give users the feeling of instant loading.

Speed up now

There are countless different ways to speed up your site, so start exploring them with your teams today. You can learn to measure your site’s performance with Lighthouse and make impactful speed improvements from web.dev/fast. These techniques will help you to understand how users perceive the speed of your site. Once you have established this, you can go the extra mile to provide a consistently reliable experience for all your users, no matter where they are. 

4 quick mobile speed wins: Start with images