Jessie smiling

Every once in a while, something happens where you have a choice: gloat, or be the bigger person and keep “I told you so” to yourself. Every once in a while, you just can’t resist gloating… Take, for instance, the whole issue of site speed. Google officials spoke from on high recently, passing down the word that yes, site speed does matter. Allow us a proud moment of HA!

Back in 2009, we wrote a few articles about site speed. We also wrote an article or two about having clean code and being W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) compliant. Needless to say (thus the gloating), we got a lot of flack about the issues. Plenty of SEOs, from industry professionals to widely read do-it-yourselfers, guffawed at us and said that neither matter to the search engines. Again, a proud moment of HA!

Now let’s move past the gloating and childish (but gleeful) “I told you so” and on to what this has to do with your website.

The first question is: do the search engines really care about site speed or how clean your code is? Yes – and no.

As we wrote a few weeks ago, Google says that site speed (how fast your pages load) WILL make a difference in your rankings. Now, whether that difference ends up being large or small still remains to be seen.

Clean code, on the other hand, doesn’t help your site rankings. So why do we talk about it? A few reasons. Clean code means that (if done correctly):

  • Your website is running properly.
  • Your design displays as you intended.
  • You have no broken, useless links.
  • You have less code for search engines to dig past at the beginning of the page before reaching the content.

Now, the second question is: do your visitors really care about site speed or how clean your code is? The answer is a resounding yes.

Why Does Site Speed Matter?

Imagine that you’re using your website to sell products. I can see it now; it’s happened to all of us. You click on something you want to buy and it takes forever for the page to load. By the time the page has loaded, in fact, the phone is ringing, the baby’s crying, someone came to the door… You get the picture; it’s not pretty.

Statistics say that most visitors won’t wait more than 5 – 10 seconds for a page to load before going somewhere else. Now, you may have fast Internet, firing along at T1 speed. However, a lot of people are still limping along with DSL or, heaven forbid, still using their phone lines. This means that, if it takes you 5 seconds to load a page with your T1, you can bet that many on DSL, broadband, etc. are busy answering doors, phones and rocking the baby instead of buying.

While the difference site speed makes to Google remains to be seen, the difference it makes to visitors is a long-standing fact. It makes a lot of difference.Speed Matters

Site Speed Checkers

In case you haven’t run into articles about site speed yet, here are three places to get site speed checker tools:

Web PageTest isn’t an add on; it’s a website that scans yours. There’s no extra stuff on your computer and, while the returned information can be a little technical, gives a pretty good overview of how fast your pages load. You can view your individual website or compare your website results to others.

Google Page Speed is a Firefox add on that evaluates your site performance. It also gives you suggestions on how to improve your speed. Google Page Speed provides a few tests based on “best practices” (one of the elusive words Google likes to throw around… like “intent”).

YahooYslow is another Firefox add on that gives you answers and solutions on how to clean up your pages. From removing unused CSS to specifying your image dimensions, giving your site caching abilities to extra files, it’s a great tool to grade your website performance.

Why Does Clean Code Matter?

If you look at what having clean code means, the reason why it matters to visitors should become clear. You have:

  • A properly running website
  • A properly working design
  • No broken, useless links

A beautiful website is useless if it doesn’t work. Helpful links are useless if they don’t go anywhere. When you have clean code, your website gives visitors a much better experience, which is why it matters.

Where do you check your validation? W3C Validator

The Pet Peeve – User Interface (UI)

Since we’re waving our “know-how” around, I’d like to add a pet peeve as a final thought: a website’s user interface. Although it’s often overlooked, the UI is a part of your overall site performance in regards to visitors.

For instance, when you have a guest coming for a weekend visit, you probably take a few minutes to show them around, explain where the towels are and where they can put their stuff, right? Your website is basically the same, except they don’t have you standing around, showing them where your important information is. Instead, they have to depend on your navigation.

UIDepending on the size of your site, you have many options for helping your users navigate. The breadcrumb trail is an excellent example. Like Hansel and Gretel of the story, breadcrumbs show a visitor where they are and how they got there. For example, a breadcrumb trail may look like:   Home > Products > Pickles > Dill

Remember, the first time a visitor comes to your site, they’re going to be looking all over the place for the information they came to find. Spell out the parts of your site; give them clear, actionable things to do; highlight the most important parts. Visual clues are a wonderful way to draw a visitor’s attention to how they should interact with your site.

Take a minute after reading and look at your site. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is my navigation user-friendly and visible?
  • Is it confusing? What can I do to make it less confusing?
  • Do I have more than one navigation on my pages? Why? Can I show these navigation lists in a better, more appealing / less confusing way?
  • Is my navigation placement consistent throughout my site?

At the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, the biggest thing to remember is that your website is not about or for you. YOU aren’t your target market; the search engines aren’t your target market; the visitor, however, is. When the competition is as fierce as it is today, you can’t afford to forget that. Look over your site or hire someone from your target market to look it over; prepare for the visitor!