Faster, faster, faster

In the last few months we’ve made some major steps forward in our approach towards delivering responsive websites. We evaluated a series of responsive frameworks before settling on Twitter Bootstrap and then set about creating our own WordPress multisite framework with it. I think it’s safe to say that everyone in the team can now start to see the advantages of the framework and that general deployment times for sites is starting to decrease. Design and layout constraints are now being overcome and the sites that have been launched so far on new.devon.gov.uk have a fresh and vibrant feel about them and don’t all look the same which was one of the initial concerns when choosing the bootstrap framework.

Now that we can safely say that we are producing responsive sites that look good on all  devices, can we just sit back and be content with what we’re producing? The answer is no.  When it comes down to it, Joe Public doesn’t actually give a monkies that our sites are responsive. He also don’t care that we have gone to the trouble of offering a different navigation bar at small screen resolutions and the fact that we’ve gone to the trouble of integrating responsive sliders. The only thing he cares about is whether he can read the information on the page and more importantly, how fast the actual page loads when viewed on a portable device.

The page loading times and general public expectations towards mobile versions of websites is something that I’ve been researching lately and my findings were both surprising and slightly frightening. My research led me to sites such as http://www.mediapost.com, http://www.webperformancetoday.com and http://eon.businesswire.com. Some of the stats I found on those sites make for interesting reading and are listed below:

  • Nearly 50 percent of study respondents expect a website to load in less than two seconds, 6 of 10 respondents anticipate a sub-three second website download on tablets — Not far behind, two-thirds respondents expect a mobile site to load in less than 4 seconds on smartphones
  • 60 percent of tablet users expect to wait less than three seconds to get to a website, while 48 percent of PC Web users want download speeds faster than two seconds.
  • Smartphone user expectations are also high, with 64 percent wanting a website to load within four seconds and 82 percent of respondents wanting a mobile website to load within five seconds.
  • Brands should beware: 16 percent of mobile users will not return or wait for your website to load if it takes too long and six percent will go to a competitor’s website.
  • The top five activities on smartphones include accessing local information such as maps and event locations (88 percent), searching for general information, (82 percent), participating in social media or social networking sites (76 percent), reading news and entertainment (75 percent) and finding local services, like ATMs or stores (74 percent).
  • Tablet use painted a somewhat different profile. News and Entertainment are accessed most (79 percent) and searching for information (77 percent), watching videos (76 percent), accessing location information (75 percent) and participating in social networks (75 percent) round out the top five activities on tablet devices. While tablet users were no more likely to do banking when compared to a smartphone (50 percent v. 56 percent), they were much more likely to purchase something (62 percent v. 47 percent) or book travel (41 percent v. 29 percent).

The main area of concern from the above stats lies in the expectations of the load times and how quickly users will look to other websites for the information if pages don’t load quickly enough. What can we do to combat this and make sure that we don’t lose visitors?

I think we need to be asking ourselves this question both at the initial design phase of the sites and also during the coding development:

  • Do article / post / news item related images add anything of any value to mobile users?
  • Likewise, do image sliders add any value to homepages for mobile users or would a suitably scaled static image provide enough visual attraction?
  • What is the most important bits of information we’re presenting on each page and how are we hiding / displaying the different blocks of text?
  • Are we measuring page load times on mobile devices at the pre-launch testing phase and testing that both on a wifi connection and 3G/4G?

Maybe it could be argued that things like this are more important for eCommerce sites but I certainly don’t think we can ignore the plain and simple fact that people’s expectations of performance is increasing year by year and we need to keep up with the pace.

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