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Posted August 15, 2018

Site speed and design: mastering the balancing act

Web page speed is thought to be an important search engine ranking factor – often much to the frustration of visual designers. Google favours sites that are well-built and have lower load times but we shouldn’t have to compromise on innovative and engaging design to achieve it. We’ve compiled our thoughts about how sites can achieve that all-important middle ground.

However engaging your design is and whatever beautiful imagery and interactive elements used, if your page is slow those components are meaningless. The user will likely never see them. That’s why it’s vital to be proactive at the planning and design stage of building a website – to ensure the end result is in good shape and avoid having to make design compromises. That in mind, here are our top tips as to how web developers and designers might find that happy medium and create stunning, engaging sites that minimise the need for compromise.

It’s a given that a great-looking site is an overarching objective. If SEO isn’t of high concern and speed not a factor, there may be room for intricate design, animation, movies and scroll effects, for example. But it’s always worth considering that high load times will destroy user experience. If a client’s business is wholly focused on search engine results, site speed should be considered in the very early stages of design. We always consider the following build factors:

Imagery
Too many images on a page will slow it down. What’s more, the bigger an image, the longer it’ll take to load. Do use imagery but ensure it’s optimised for the web and find that balance between size and quality.

Movies
Use embedded videos from YouTube and similar sites. Let them do the heavy lifting. If they’re handled correctly, you shouldn’t need to make any design compromises like You Tube buttons and branding. There may be instances in which you’ll need to directly load the movie from your server so take the time to optimise the file and create a smaller mobile version and a still image alternative. It’s worth trying to offer a load sequence or transition as any movie is going to have load time so work with this.

Animations and effects
You’ll have seen animation or transitions for web elements when the page loads or scrolls on any modern site and, if used correctly, it can help engage the user. But you should consider that each effect will slow the page so ensure you have a valid reason for the animation in terms of user experience.

External content
Twitter feeds were the norm a few years ago. Now, full social feeds containing post information and images are common, including multiple social platforms. Anything loaded into the page dynamically from a third party will affect the load speed. It’s an external resource so it will take longer to request that information and load the content into the page. Plus, it relies on the speed of that third party’s system.

It’s all about finding that sweet spot
Once the above has been implemented, consider user experience. If the user’s not going to stay on the page, read the content, interact and engage, you might want to drop some more design features back into the page. But remember Google is always watching – if the page performance is poor, its SERP probably won’t be great either.

Page speed is relative to your competitors. If you’re building a site for a high-end product and it contains lots of images or movies and all the competitors have a similar offering, it’s logical to conclude that the average load time for this type of page will be higher. If that’s the case, the balance switches (although not completely) to user experience for the page and away from speed.

Is your site slow?
PageSpeed Insights is handy for checking the speed of your domain. It’s a good marker to help understand how Google will see your site and how it might position your search engine listing. There are a number of tools available for monitoring site speed and performance – combine these with other Analytics and AWR tools and you’ll soon see how your page is working. Arm yourself with the right tools and you’ll quickly gain a better understanding of site speed and its performance and what’s working and what’s not in the battle for a good balance.

Of course the end goal for any business is to increase conversions – and it’s a fact that a faster site will receive higher conversions. Numerous studies have proven that delays in page load equate to fewer page views, a decrease in customer satisfaction and a near-certain loss in conversations. The answer to avoiding this is to prioritise site speed at the early design stage of any website build. Ensure you’re optimising your site for the quickest possible load time and test, test, test. Doing this will guarantee users the best possible experience as well as improve revenue.

Posted by Lee Boothroyd

Digital Director, builder of fine things, digital or real... If it’s not a right angle, it’s the wrong angle!