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Tips, Tricks, & Advice

Load Times

Load Times

by Jeff Penner

3 weeks ago


My family gathered around the 17” CRT monitor in our office. “Ok, nobody pick up the phone,” my dad instructed us. “This is the internet, and it comes in over the phone line.” The modem’s symphony of beeps and screeches filled the room. Eaaarch schhoooo bip bip bip bing shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… connected.

A Geocities search brought up the movie times at our local theater. Click! The pixels painted the screen line by line. Slowly, we saw the navigation appear, followed by the body of the website. As the tiny, blurry movie poster for Titanic appeared, we were rewarded with the information we sought. The internet was like a genie in a bottle, granting us our first wish: near-instant, up-to-date knowledge. Back then, it simply meant not having to wait for the newspaper to plan our weekend.

Meanwhile, in 1997, someone at the local theater was trying to answer the same question we still debate today: How many obstacles will someone endure to get this information? How can I make a website using the technology I have that people will stick around for? The true pioneers of the internet were people just trying to market movie times. Now, almost three decades later, within one generation, it’s just an app on our phone in our pocket.

Did you have a similar experience to mine? Are we all living in an era where we collectively remember bad load times as normal? How about videos buffering, downloading files to listen to a song, or GPS systems where maps were updated only when you bought a new device?

Initially, we had dial-up internet. Eventually, we dedicated a second phone line to it, and as modem speeds improved, so did the internet. When we installed ADSL, the internet was always on (some of you may have received “Cable Internet”). With Wi-Fi at home, each person had their own laptops. Shortly after that,  they combined our music device with a phone and an internet communicator.

This “internet communicator device” represents the current generation we live in. The technologies connecting that device and the people accessing information on it have all evolved to be faster. But what we truly desire isn’t just speed. We seek richer experiences—more videos, high-quality images, seamless streaming music, video calls, and the ability to work from anywhere.

The last 30 years have an incredible history, combined with hard work and human ingenuity, that contributes to the load times we are used to today. Yet, as marketers and website owners, we’re completely transfixed on metrics and loading our websites as fast as possible. Are we collectively trying to heal from the bad load times of the past? What about the human intrigue, the payoff of what’s behind the click of a link?

All those visitor metrics, bounce rates, time to first byte, time on site—these are actual people making actual decisions. Time and time again, as technology improves and speed increases, we collectively vote for the experience as our goal. We don’t just get the movie times anymore; we book our seats, pre-order our popcorn, manage our reward points. We use the same internet communicator device to listen to music on our drive to the theater while updating our friends with a real-time ETA from our map on that same device that directs us through traffic on the best route in real time.

In 1997, it may have taken seven minutes of load time to get the information we needed. We still waited four hours in line at the theatre, and when they opened the doors, we ran—ran to get our seats. My 86-year-old grandma was at that screening, she was born a year after the Titanic disaster.

Look, Jack and Rose were having a great time when the ship hit the iceberg. The people who imagined and built the Titanic created incredible spaces: grand dining rooms, intricate staircases. They engineered one of the most impressive ships ever built, then they pushed it on speed. Just like the Titanic’s designers, many web developers and marketers today risk focusing heavily on speed, pushing the limits of what their technology can handle. But we must remember that the true value lies in the experience we create. It’s not just about how fast we can deliver content but how relevant, engaging, informative, and enjoyable that content is for the user. The ultimate goal should be to craft a memorable journey for our visitors, one that keeps them coming back, not just because it’s quick but because it’s worth their time.

There are many more important things than load time. Site visitors (actual people) will be fine with the duration of the journey they set out for. It's when things go wrong, or the website doesn’t arrive on time—or at all—that there is a problem. 

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Hi, my name is Jeff, and I want to talk to you about website ownership. While there is a lot of information on the internet about tactics to improve site speed or make the best-converting copy, I want to help you understand how it all fits together. Not everything that is important for other websites will be as important for yours. Improving your intuition and holistic view of a website will help you grow as a better caretaker for your website, rather than just running around trying to implement the latest tactic.

The biggest thing I have learned over the ten years I’ve owned a website is that it’s never finished. If you have a designer create a website, the rest of the internet will move on and implement new technologies. The internet is constantly changing, just like us humans. If left alone, your website will become stale, and people will expect something more contemporary. Learning how to be a better website owner has helped me tremendously in keeping my website fresh and up-to-date, even during times when I had to hire out the work. 

www.Jeffwebsites.com

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