Load Time: Be Kind to Your Users

Designer Developer

By Posted On: May 5, 2014

A few years ago, I was messaging a friend and offered to email him a file, making the assumption he would simply pull it up on his computer when he got home. His response was more jarring to me than it should have been.

“I don’t have a computer.”

The idea that my friend might only get online through his phone did not even occur to me. It should have, because I had already been developing mobile-friendly websites for a little while, but it didn’t. With the evolution of mobile devices and cloud services, more and more people don’t really need a computer on a daily basis.

If you’re a “mobile-first” or “mobile-only” user of the web, I don’t have to tell you how much better the experience is when a website is mobile-friendly. But if you aren’t, it’s easier to overlook the numbers, even though they’re still going up. Despite the fact that websites often load exponentially slower on mobile devices than on a desktop with a high-speed connection, the convenience of being able to access the web from almost anywhere makes mobile browsing not only a viable option, but one that will continue to grow. With that in mind, we have to do everything we can to optimize the experience for our mobile users.

Optimizing the experience for mobile users doesn’t mean cutting essential functionality. With very few exceptions, your users should be able to do everything on a mobile device that they can on a desktop. There is no mobile web, there’s just the web.

As we discussed earlier, the biggest frustration with mobile web browsing is sites being difficult to navigate. The second-biggest frustration is slow downloads. Users may give up on your website after as little as three seconds in some cases. Loading time can have a substantial effect on your bottom line.

Smashing Magazine has some excellent introductions to optimizing your website for mobile performance. Google Developers has a PageSpeed Insights tool that will analyze your page and suggest improvements. These are just a couple of resources that can aid you in developing a website that will help your users accomplish what they come to your website for as quickly as possible.

The common theme in these optimization suggestions is to minimize everything. Minimize the amount of data transferred by not making the user download files that are superfluous or larger than necessary — especially images — for experience on a mobile site and by minifying your HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Minimize the number of requests by bundling files of the same type and using image sprites. Minimize the amount of processing your page has to do, and defer CSS and JavaScript for content above the fold. Minimize the time it takes your users to accomplish their task.

Remember, your users want to solve their problems as quickly as possible. Be kind to your users. Optimize your sites for mobile use.

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