When a customer sits down to eat at a restaurant, slow service from the waiter often results in poor Google reviews and fewer future customers.
Similarly, slow site speed can result in poor search engine rankings, lower overall site traffic, negative user experiences and (most importantly) fewer enquiries.
Website speed, or website performance, refers to how quickly a browser is able to load your website pages. Poorly performing sites that render slowly in a browser can drive visitors away. On the flip side, sites that load quickly will typically receive more traffic and have better conversion rates.
Why is website speed important?
Multiple studies have demonstrated that site speed affects conversion rate (the number of people filling out forms on your website). Not only do more visitors stay on fast-loading sites, they also convert at higher rates compared to slower sites.
As a result, improving site performance is a huge part of conversion rate optimisation.
Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who leave a website after viewing only one page. Visitors are likely to close the window or click away if a page does not load within a few seconds. BBC discovered that they lost 10% of their total users for every additional second it took for their pages to load.
SEO best practices:
Because Google tends to prioritise getting relevant information to visitors as quickly as possible, site performance is an important factor in Google search rankings. A site’s performance on mobile devices is especially important for SEO.
Long page load times, and poor response times to visitors’ actions, create a bad user experience. Waiting for content to load becomes frustrating for users and may provoke them into leaving your website altogether.
What factors affect site speed?
Real estate websites, naturally, are very visual. Lots of imagery and animation as well as increased use of video backgrounds in more recent years. These files add ‘weight’ to your website pages and the more files you have, the longer it takes for a website page to load because it has to load all of your code and visual files.
The size of each of these files also matters. Some listings can have 20+ images attached to them which can increase your page load times considerably without proper configuration by your web developer. Returning to the restaurant example, a waiter delivering 10 dishes to a table instead of two or three will serve the table more slowly; likewise, a page that needs more resources to load will load more slowly.
The way your website is coded and the number of plugins your web developer has installed also matters.
When your website pages load, only the code required for that page should load with it. Depending on the ‘theme’ that your web developer has used or how they’ve coded your website, your website pages may be loading unnecessary code each time a page is visited – code that is actually not required at all for that particular page to load (generally referred to as “unneeded scripts”). This is typically due to a poorly coded website theme or poor coding standards by the web developer.
Website plugins are another big contributor to slow websites. Nearly all website customisations or functionality should be hard-coded into your website by your developer and plugins should only ever be used for administrative tasks in the backend of your website (not on the front end). While it might be easier (and cheaper – at least in the short term) to simply use a plugin rather than hard-code a particular website function or feature, your website performance and results will suffer in the long run.
Some real estate web developers will also import your listing images with little to no compression OR they will ‘hot link’ listings images from your CRM provider – meaning your website is loading image files from your CRM rather than from your website itself. This is poor practice and most CRM providers prohibit hotlinking. Listing images should be downloaded to your website when received from your CRM and then compressed, cached and served to visitors via a CDN (more on that below) – a practice even more important for visitors on mobile devices.
Another speed factor specifically relating to real estate websites is the use of third-party applications such as instant property reports, live chat, virtual tours, offer management, 3d floorplans, reviews widgets, live auctions etc. These features add a whole new experience to your website for potential buyers and sellers but simply pasting this code onto your website without proper integration will surely cause your website to slow down. Read more about the impact of using third-party scripts here.
Using CDNs (more on that below) and proper caching standards can significantly enhance page load times, even for ‘bulky’ web pages. But these tools and techniques don’t make up for a poorly coded website or where lots of plugins are being used to make your website function.
Before diving into a website redesign or adding a new feature to your current website, ask your web developer if the proposed design/functionality might impact your page load times and what measures they have in place to ensure your website pages remain ‘light’ and fast for visitors.
Even if a website is designed to be lightweight, it may not load quickly in browsers due to network slowness. The local networking equipment used and the quality of the ISP’s (internet service providers) services impact network connectivity. Additionally, mobile devices using 3G or 4G instead of connecting to the Internet over WiFi will typically have slower network connections.
Although this is largely out of your developers’ hands, there are still techniques for delivering web resources quickly, even over slow connections. Techniques include code minification, browser compression and hosting your website content with a CDN (Content Deliver Network) should certainly be something your website developer is across.
If your website content has to travel a long way to arrive where it is needed, this results in a high amount of network latency. For instance, if a website’s files are hosted in a data centre in the USA, and your images are hosted in a data centre in Europe or Asia, a user in Australia will have to wait while all of these files travel through thousands of km’s of cables and via an internet provider before reaching their device.
Some web developers use ‘shared hosting’ offshore which puts your website on a server with hundreds (possibly thousands) of other, potentially malicious websites. Under this set-up, your website has to compete for resources against other websites on that server and so if another website is in high demand, this will limit the number of resources allocated to your website thus slowing it down.
Shared hosting is used by web developers typically for cost-saving reasons or because of a lack of knowledge in more advanced dedicated cloud hosting environments and networking. Performance issues aside, shared hosting can be a major security concern and should be avoided for a real estate business website.
Hosting your website onshore here in Australia with a reputable hosting partner, and on a server configured for the unique requirements of a real estate website, will ensure that your Australian based visitors can access your website files as quickly and securely as possible. Using a CDN, as mentioned above, will distribute your website files to servers overseas (from your server here in Australia) so your clients offshore can still access a fast loading website no matter where they are around the world.
Website hosting is one of those things where you definitely get what you pay for.
How does Stepps speed up real estate websites?
If you are considering a website redesign or a complete rebuild, we’d love to learn about your business goals and show you the results our clients achieve from their websites.
Check out some of our recent projects here and if we sound like a fit, head on over to our contact page to get started on your new custom (and lightning-fast!) website today.