Load time, what marketing can do when IT fails

15 mai. 2011 | Written by Julia

Slow websiteInternet users are getting use to real time information and personalized content. When they search on the web, they want relevant results and they want them immediately. The high speed connection have made them impatient and they now hardly wait more than 4 second to get a page (according to the study from Akamai/Forrester Consulting, July 2009).

Behind the screen, users don’t realize that when they search one product it’s several databases that are going to be requested. And this is a real stake in the travel industry because information need to be refreshed frequently due to Yield strategies (e.g. flight ticket price) and back-office systems are often old and heterogeneous.

Influencial factors in the decision to continue shopping with an online store

For a hotel search, we often approach a load time of 1 minute. When you are aware that load time is a decisive factor on the purchase intention of more than 50% of your visitors, you should worry about how to keep their attention?

The answer to this question is simple, just work on decreasing your web site load time. But what if you can’t?

Real load time, perception and memorization

Here is a short summary of this very interesting study: Psychology of Performance, Stoyan Stefanov (Yahoo !), that would help you making right usability choices.

Firstly, time is not absolute but rather flexible. That means it will be perceived differently by each person. Some regular rules are:

Time is perceived longer when: Time is perceived shorter when:
- we are in an unknown situation- we are having a bad experience

- we get bored

- we have to think about a lot of things

- we perceive progression- we are well informed

- we’ve got the feeling that an answer is coming

Regarding memorization, what we remember about the speed of a web site is related to our emotions. If the experience of using the site was positive (e.g. I’ve been able to make my booking easily) we will remember it as fast to load.

Progressive rendering of a webpage

The most efficient solution to avoid people feel that the site is slow is to implement a progressive rendering of your pages. That will avoid your visitors to wait in front of a blank page, which is often associated to a bug. The progressive rendering will let them immediately know that the site is working and that results are coming.

Filmstrip done with webpagetest.org when searching an hotel in Paris

Determinate progress bar

The problem with progressive rendering is that users can be distracted during the load time (and potentially they can leave your page). So, if the load time is long (10 second is very long), giving him information about what is happening and/or what is coming next can fill his time and make the waiting time more pleasant.

We can find different level in term of progress bar:

Throbbers, like hourglass, busy cursor or loading spinner (rotating image), are the worst. Indeed, they don’t give information about the remaining time. On top of that, they tend to let users think that your site is frozen if the loading is too long. A progress bar is much more adapted because it gives information about advancement.

A very good example is the one from Liligo’ search results. The progress bar gives information as one goes along about the number of retailers searched, the number of products found and provide a stop button for users that don’t want to wait more. They even provide a real countdown counter to let the user know exactly the time he as to wait.

Progress bars on Liligo' results page

Progress bars are commonly used by meta-searchers. OTA tend rather to use interstitial page.

Interstitial webpage  (full page “in-between”)

Opodo's Interstitial webpage

Interstitial pages are a way of placing full page messages between the current and destination page. This extra page is very appreciated by marketing teams because it allows passing a message at a time where the user is attentive and potentially disposed to read.

Thereby, this page often contains advertisement. To be even more efficient and reassuring regarding loading time, it is recommended to also display information about the user’s request and make sure he has got enough time to read it (otherwise it can become a frustrating step).

Fluidity of the browsing experience

Example of easyJet's overlay asking a double confirmation before proceeding

Finally, the last point consists in reviewing the overall customer journey of your site and make sure it is smooth and without interruption. This means that your call to action must be easy to find and reactive (when the user click on them he must immediately perceive that something happened). You should also avoid useless step and dialogues boxes (or overlays).

Conclusion

To conclude, as you can see they are lot of small improvements that can be done by the marketing team in the aim to positively modify the time perception on your site.

In the travel industry, due to all the technological back-office issues, this is going to help a lot. However, even if marketing can help don’t let your IT rely only on that. Indeed, Google is more and more implicated in travel search and now Google’s tools are able to return relevant results in less than 10 second (although the content is provided by your site!).

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