The Significance Of Website Performance

A website is a company’s shop window and its performance is akin to customer service on the high street. The download speed is equivalent to waiting time or queue length, and website downtime is analogous to not letting customers through the door.

The Olympics shone a light on the importance of website performance, with certain sites experiencing substantially higher traffic levels than usual. This global event offered agreat chance to see how much credence organisations put on website performance.

It was therefore pleasing to see a high-profile success story.

BBC Sport was the first port of call for the UK public when they wanted news on the Games. Aswell as updates, commentary, analysis and pictures, the website also offered live streaming of all events that were taking place, as well as highlights from earlier action. It was an unprecedented amount of coverage.

Unsurprisingly, the site had a record number of visitors throughout the 16 day period, with 55 million visits from devices around the world. There were an astounding 106 million requests for online video during the games, up from 32 million during the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

To the BBC’s credit, its website stood up to the test. Speeds were at their usual levels, making it a satisfying experience for users that visited the site. There was also zero downtime, meaning end users could always access the site and get the latestnews and video on demand.

This is a great example for businesses to follow. BBC Sport has come out of the Olympics with an excellent reputation because it realised the importance of website performance and prepared for the increase in traffic. It planned for the strain it would beunder and made changes accordingly.

Obviously, most businesses will not receive 55 million visitors in just over two weeks. However, the overarching concept can be applied to any company – make sure your website is prepared.

It’s generally believed that web visitors give a website three seconds to load before leaving the page. In addition, each second delay in page load time is thought to equal 11% fewer page views. Armed with this information, businesses should realise the importance of having a sturdy, reliable and fast online presence. This is only going to grow in importance in the coming years, as customers increasingly rely on sourcing products and services through the internet.

Website performance failure when it matters most can cost businesses dearly. It’s likely that BBC Sport’s good performance will result in more visitors in the future, but it would have been a different story had they delivered poor speeds and extended downtime. Visitor retention would have been low, and it’s likely it would have lost existing customers too.

Even if companies aren’t expecting an increase in traffic, it’s still advisable to know your limits when it comes to visitor numbers, and optimise your website to perform even when it’s under strain. Load testing is a useful tool to allow businesses to simulate visitor surges and see how their sites react – providing invaluable performance information and highlighting areas that need improvement.

Shops on the high street have contingency plans in place in case of a busy period to ensure they can handle the extra load and strain. Businesses should follow exactly the same protocol with their websites, and keep customer experience front of mind at all times.

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Bob Dowson is responsible for the operational management and development of NCC Group's Performance and Load Testing business. Bob joined the company in 2002 from Forrester Research.