Recently my fiancé and I attended a wedding for her sister which took place in Charleston, South Carolina. Little did I know that I was going to also be taking a pretty interesting lesson in web design and development. My new book, Responsible Responsive Web Design came in the mail just before we left. It was a great read, and a very quick one at that.
One of the main focus points of the book was that the internet connections many of us have are the exception not the rule. Most of the world, and even the majority of the United States has fairly slow internet access. Even if you live in a state that has a fiber provider there are still other considerations such as 4G/cellular networks, free wifi, and computers that for some reason still work very slowly.
Sweet, sweet lag
Upon arriving at the hotel I did the first thing I always do… figure out how to get on the wifi! Just like any other hotel the process was fairly simple, connect to the wifi and then enter your room number and last name after choosing the internet “plan” you want. I didn’t feel like paying the $5 a day for premium so I opted instead to just use the complimentary internet. Much to my dismay I learned exactly why it is complimentary. I witnessed page load speeds that were reminiscent of my old 56k modem. Facebook didn’t load stylesheets half the time, sites I had built struggled to pipe through the limited bandwidth. I had to attend a company meeting the next day and decided to go with the premium packaged to avoid any issues, or so I thought.
Throughout the meeting I heard very strange sounds as the speakers voices tried to make it through the still-limited bandwidth. It almost sounded like someone was running auto-tune through their mic. Even GoToMeeting couldn’t handle how limited the connection speed was.
After going through so many ordeals it really got me thinking about how we design and build websites. Most of us who work on the internet make sure that we have the fastest connections possible, and when we build sites we design them to be responsive across a multitude of devices. These devices aren’t the only factor, and often we overlook one of the most critical aspects of the internet which is the connection speed itself. Some of us in the city get so spoiled using free wifi that we forget what it is like to be limited to a cell phone network’s speeds.
In many countries around the world that are still developing the common way to access the internet is through a cellular hotspot that uses a time card. Can you imagine using one of those on a daily basis? That is why it is so important to make sure we send the smallest possible assets across the wire. I would be interested to see how differently those people use the internet. Do they avoid going to sites they know will take to long to load? Do they disable images? All of those factors are important to consider when we design and build a website.
Build for slow connections! (Seriously, do it or you might be losing money!)
If my trip is any indicator of how important a fast website is for making a conversion, then you need to make sure you aren’t just building for devices, but for overall experiences in all conditions. Amazon has conducted research that concludes this statement, simply by adding a few milliseconds of time to the checkout process they found out that they were losing millions of dollars. If your website, blog, store, etc can’t be reached on a slow connection, the user will ultimately go somewhere else that does work when they become frustrated. Working in the 55+ market like I do, this is extremely important to consider because studies have shown that 50% of seniors give up after trying something if it doesn’t work the first time.
The reality is that we live in a world where there are so many devices and connections speeds that if we can build an experience that works across the board, we will build a product that works better than our competitors and it will give us an advantage as well as making our users happy.