The “Golden Second” is crap

An article at Smashing about¬†Creating High-Performance Mobile Websites¬†argues that there is a “golden second” in which mobile web sites must deliver before people give up and leave. I know that speed is important and I believe performance is part of design, but to worry about one second is just unnecessary.

Look, we all want fast-loading web sites on our phone and tablets. Hell, we want fast sites on the desktop, it’s not like speed is only important on mobile devices. That’s why performance (ie, speed) needs to be part of the planning when you’re designing your site/app. That’s what I always try to do and that’s what everyone should do. It just makes sense…it doesn’t matter if you’re worrying about mobile or not.

People will put up with a lot

But here’s the thing, people are coming to your site for a reason. They want something and experience tells all of us that people will put up with a lot of crap to get stuff (even stupid stuff). That doesn’t mean you should lean on that but that’s reality. But what will turn off people quicker than speed is a poor experience.

The article states that 40% of visitors give up if a site doesn’t load during the “golden second” and while that’s a decent number, that still means that 60% of your visitors will accept waiting an extra second or two to get what they want. The number I’d like to see is the drop-off when you have a fast-loading web site but one that isn’t optimized for device viewing or is otherwise just poorly designed.

One night for dinner we wanted pizza. Rather than call I just opened up their site on the phone to place an online order. The site wasn’t exactly speedy – it certainly didn’t load within some magical second – but I’ll wait a few more seconds for the convenience of online ordering. The site was optimized for mobile viewing, which was great to see, but actually using it was anything but optimized. Confusing navigation, poor interactions and unclear communication had me bailing after only a few screens. The actual load time of the site was less of a concern because this wasn’t a passive decision to use it. I chose to use it and thus chose to accept whatever I got…to a point.

Time is relative

But I also believe that response time is relative to the task you’re doing, even on the same web site…and this is all about perception. When you load a page that displays an article or product, you feel that should be fast. It’s just one thing, right? But then when you do a search or something “complex” it’ll feel okay to take a bit longer because (in your head) that action requires the computer to do more, so an extra second or two is okay, it’s worth the wait. Again, this only works to a point.

That case doesn’t mean you should not pay attention to load time, there is a point of no return, but to think you need to worry about a single second is just silly…unless you’re Amazon. Look, you want your site to be as fast a possible but you need to remember that people come to your site for a reason and hopefully that reason is good enough for them to accept an extra second or two of load time. If it’s not then maybe you need to rethink your product and strategy a little bit…or maybe it’s just poorly designed.

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