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What does good website speed look like?

It's often assumed that when it comes to a website's speed, faster is better. In reality, speed always comes at a cost, but there are still ways you can aim to balance your site's speed with its functionality.

You’ve hired a digital agency to build you a website. You know what that site needs to do – its functionality. You give the agency a brief, and they return a first version to you. Maybe it’s lacking some of the visual flash you were hoping for. You make a few extra requests and before long a second version of the site has been sent back. But now there’s a new problem. The pages aren’t loading as quickly as before.

It isn’t always this straightforward but the common dilemma is clear. How do you balance page functionality with speed? This article will break down some of the common misconceptions about website speed and the principles you can use to get that balance right.

The fastest page is an empty page

Speed metrics like Core Web Vitals loading time, interactivity and visual stability – can be deceptive. At the end of the day, the fastest page is an empty page. Speed can’t be considered as an end in and of itself. It is always a matter of give and take. There will be a cost to increasing your website’s speed, but the cost of good website speed will be outweighed by ongoing benefits. 

Take Gmail for example. If you look at the metrics alone, it might appear that Gmail has a longer-than-ideal loading time when it’s first opened. However, that slower speed at the beginning gives users faster loading times for the rest of their experience by loading the majority of the site’s functional framework first. 

Time and money 

Focusing too much on a website’s speed can lead to diminishing returns. In an hour, some compression and caching enhancements might enable a developer to increase a page’s speed by 30%. Give them another hour, however, and they might only be able to increase the site’s speed by 5%, and so on, even though you’ll have paid the same amount of money for their time. 

It isn’t just that increased functionality comes at the cost of speed, but that increasing speed can come at decreased value for money. 

Fallback

If there’s one word you should focus on when finding the right balance between speed and functionality, it’s fallback. Your page might have fantastic loading time, interactivity and visual stability when it’s tested under ideal conditions, but there are always going to be factors outside your control. What if the user lives in a location with poor connectivity, for example?

Even if your site loads quickly on a good connection, you need to have fallback functionality to account for external factors. Google docs is a great example. If a user loses connection when using Google docs, offline mode allows them to continue working. 

What exactly your page’s fallback is depends on its primary purpose. Your site’s contact page, for example, should prioritise the text providing contact info like your business’ number, email and address. Then, even if all else fails, users will be able to get the information they need. 


When it comes to website speed, context and contingency are the name of the game. Put page speed in the context of your goals – consider what functionality you need and how much you’re willing to pay in terms of speed to achieve it. Then, create contingencies to prioritise each page’s key goals to accommodate when things don’t go to plan in practice. 



More help

For more help making sense of your website data, email me at [email protected].

Greg Mileham

Greg Mileham

Head of Web

Greg leads on web projects, and manages the technical aspects of our campaigns and client delivery.

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