How a four second longer loading time can cause you to lose 50% traffic

Few days ago I had the opportunity to witness with my own eyes an extraordinary effect that a slow website can have on your business.

On Monday, Sep 15th because of a glitch in our network setup, pages on ManageWP.com were opening about 4 seconds longer than usual. More precisely metric known as ‘time to first byte’ was affected which is basically time before your browser starts rendering any content from the moment you visit a site.

Now, I know that I am pretty impatient with sites that take too long to load. I also expected that a few more people are sensitive to this and are likely to simply abandon such site and go somewhere else. But when you run a website visited by people who likely own an Internet business, you are likely to be in the company of many others like me.

To be more precise we lost nearly 50% traffic that day. I was genuinely shocked and surprised to learn that. Here are some screenshots to illustrate that.

Monday 15th traffic compared to a week before. Notice a distinct drop in traffic caused only by pages starting to load slower

 

This is what our site response time looked after the glitch
Things returning to normal after the network glitch was resolved the following day

I never took website speed lightly but after this I am a total believer in the huge impact of website/application performance to any software or Internet business. Remember that the reason Google achieved to become the ultimate search engine of the world is speed – search results loading in 0.5 seconds or faster, even today with billions of indexed pages.

In today’s modern world time is indeed the most precious commodity and you should think really well what do you want to prioritize when building your software. Create a slow app and people will simply leave. Push your engineers/developers to create websites and apps with pages loading in one second or under and you will have a guaranteed edge over the competition.

Vladimir Prelovac

Vladimir is the Founder of ManageWP, and is a frequent contributor to the WordPress community - in the form of numerous plug-ins, tools, WordCamp talks and a book by the title WordPress Plugin Development.

16 Comments

  1. Bogdan

    Now when everyone has a lot of open tabs and is clicking from link to link – if i start waiting for a page to load i will most likely open a new tab for something else and may forget that i was loading the one before.
    Nice write up!

  2. Chris

    Nginx by itself isn’t a magic solution..

    If you want pure speed, you need a replacement that is already powering some of the biggest websites today.. I use a custom version of this, https://github.com/alibaba/tengine as it adds features that you can find in the Paid, Nginx Plus.. CloudFlare, Nginx, and tons of other developers contribute to this server. It has advancements for Memcached, Varnish that the opensource nginx doesn’t offer.

    A lot of tutorials don’t cover the advanced side of true site performance. Look at some kernel changes made to a Red Hat kernel, https://github.com/alibaba/ali_kernel to support a very high traffic ecommerce site. It’s ranked #10 on Alexa..

    I even looked in Barne’s and Noble here in Austin, Texas earlier.. There are no books for true, High-Performance WordPress Optimization.. I was actually a little bit shocked..

    1. ManageWP

      Thanks for providing references to alibaba tools, especially the nginx fork is impressive!

  3. Mike

    A fresh wordpress installation always runs so cleanly for me. Add in a few plugins, and you’re crawling to an ants pace.
    Although WordPress is a god-sent for those who are non-technical, it still requires a lot of PHP/DB knowledge.

    The amount of WordPress hooks that I have found on WP plugins that considerably slow down websites (even on premium plugins) are amazing.

  4. Helen

    Vladimir,

    we are using bluehost & our site is talking around 4.16 to 5.16 seconds, is this the best speed or do you suggest the site needs to tuned more?

  5. film izle

    What are your top 5 recommendations on speeding up a wordpress based site? How can we bring the ttfb to under 1 second?

  6. Chris Bunting

    I have a basic free tutorial on my website with some comparisons.. As well as comparing my home grown setup to WP-Rocket.. Everything is based around using 2 free WordPress plugins, and the Ultrafast Amazon EC2 Instances.. All the information is free.. I’ve spent almost 11 years making WordPress go fast.. mywpdev DOT com

  7. Taswir Haider

    This post just blew my mind, whoa! I would have never thought to think about such a concept. Generally I thought content was king but if the reader is having a hard time reading the content then it makes for an awful experience.This post just blew my mind, whoa! I would have never thought to think about such a concept. Generally I thought content was king but if the reader is having a hard time reading the content then it makes for an awful experience.

  8. Dave Hilditch

    To speed up your WordPress site, it depends if you’re on shared hosting or your own private server.

    With shared hosting, you can pretty much only go for installing a caching plugin and a CDN. The caching plugin will probably suffice, a CDN will cost you a little bit of money but will allow static files to load very fast and importantly simultaneously from a server dedicated to serving up static files.

    If you have your own server, replace Apache with Nginx – I’ve tested using Blitz.io and Nginx kicks Apache’s ass big time – Apache is a total memory hog so as more users are requesting pages, the memory usage increases ultimately leading to your disk thrashing – much like on your computer at home if it has very little RAM. To put this in figures, on a 2GB VPS, Apache can fail out at fewer than 10 simultaneous users on an identical build compared to Nginx still serving up sub-second pages when it’s at 2,000 simultaneous users. (I don’t work for Nginx, it’s just truly awesome – and free)

    You can also install caching on your VPS – avoiding using PHP and all the modules wordpress loads is going to give you the highest possible capacity and page speed you can get on your set up.

    If you have the ability, also install Varnish up front for even more speed and capacity boost.

  9. iClickAndHost

    Nice write up! End even though i partially agree with Ricky, I believe page speed is important for first impression.
    You came to the website to do business but a slow website can put a visitor off.
    Now when everyone has a lot of open tabs and is clicking from link to link – if i start waiting for a page to load i will most likely open a new tab for something else and may forget that i was loading the one befor.
    Or when you are searching for a product on Google – you open a few links and start reading the ones that already loaded. If a page is taking too long to load you may never go to it.
    Someone asked how to speed up a WordPress site?
    Well – caching gives the bast bang for the buck. Great speed gains by simply enabling caching.
    The second most important for the speed of a WordPress site is the web host. Make sure you are using a hoster that understands WordPress and is WordPress friendly.
    Another good tip is to always choose a web host with servers physically close to your target audience – this will help further for faster page load times.

  10. Amit Ramani

    What are your top 5 recommendations on speeding up a wordpress based site? How can we bring the ttfb to under 1 second?

  11. Taswir Haider

    Liked This Valuable Post. all Visitor Will Get Valuable Information From This Post. Keep up This Valuable Post. Thanks.

  12. Ricky Onsman

    The only issue I would take with this is that lost traffic is the same as lost business. My experience is that it is not that simple. If I have paid a site x amount of money to provide me a service and their site is slow to load, I’m not going to leave before it loads. I might complain and, if it affects my business, I might consider moving over time but I’m not going to just throw my already-paid money away. So having an already-established relationship with a site visitor will affect whether or not they leave due to slow loading time. It doesn’t have to be a monetary relationship. If for some reason Google is slow to load – and that certainly does occasionally happen to me – I’m not going to say “Well, it’s time I gave up on Google and headed on over to Bing”. If Google doesn’t load at all, I might use Bing (or whatever) temporarily, but I’ll still go to Google first the next time. So my business isn’t necessarily lost. Slow loading time is probably a major factor for first time visitors – and hence, some business prospects – but it’s just one small factor in the overall equation of who stays and who goes. It’s definitely worth having your site load as fast as possible, but the occasional glitch that slows loading time won’t cause serious harm to your business, especially if you a) fix it and b) don’t pretend it didn’t happen.

    1. ManageWP

      Thanks for the insightful comment Ricky!

  13. carlton

    I have suspected site speed as a double edged sword. Common sense tells you that if someone has to wait more than a second or two for you page to load then they may leave (because I have done it before). And I also suspect it is a big factor with your ranking position with Google. What is frustrating is google page speed insights. I have tried countless variations with W3 total cache on my blogs to try and increase speed, but nothing seems to really work. Do you have any tool recommendations for wordpress and or apache server with cpanel to pin down the bottlenecks?

    1. ManageWP

      That is a complex topic. New Relic is a great service at low-level. Switching to nginx + php-fpm is another thing to consider.

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