Numerous studies in the private sector have demonstrated that website speed performance is a critical factor to improved conversions due to a more convenient user experience. Although government websites usually don’t feature e-commerce functionalities, the website visitors can still benefit from fast content delivery and digital transaction speed, especially in self-service pages.
By approaching the digital transformation project with the business mindset, the award-winning GOV.UK website saved £61.5 million in 2015. They focused on streamlining digital transactions in order to help users accomplish as many digital transactions as possible online, instead of visiting offices and filling out paper forms. In the Government Transformation Strategy (PDF), the government of the United Kingdom stated:
Services must work for the whole of society – not just the 77% of people who have basic digital skills, but for the 12.6 million adults who don’t. This is particularly important as financial exclusion and digital exclusion often go hand in hand.
Improving accessibility and page speed performance in turn improves audience reach and digital service adoption.
A few examples of digital services that benefit from page speed improvement include:
- Online account registration and switching to paperless correspondence.
- Vehicle registration and driver’s license renewal.
- Benefit or retirement account self-management.
- Consumer complaint filing and resolution.
- Business registration, and business license applications and renewals.
So, let’s talk about how to improve performance of your carefully crafted digital services.
In January 2021, we evaluated over 300 California, U.S., and international government websites for page speed performance using Google’s PageSpeed Insights, which measures website performance on a scale of 0–100. As you probably assumed, 100 is the best score, and one that is beyond reach even for the most popular websites out there. Go ahead and test a few websites that you visited this week to get a better idea about how they perform, and to see how various scores correlate with actual usage.
In our test, we discovered that about 3% of tested government websites score 90–100 points for mobile performance, and 18% of government websites score 90–100 points for desktop performance (median mobile: 50, average mobile: 38, median desktop: 64, average desktop: 68).
Given the median and average values above, and the fact that many popular non-government websites’ scores linger in the 30s for mobile and 50s for desktop performance, it’s worth looking at our top performers’ examples to see what they did right.
Continue reading below to learn why performance matters, and how to immediately improve your website’s performance with a few practical tips. In this article, we will cover:
- Why does website performance matter?
- What is an excellent level of governmental website performance?
- Five simple improvements for better website performance.
Please note that when we evaluate page speed performance, we do not cover the quality of accessibility, interface design, usability, content design, or information architecture. We plan to cover these other topics in separate articles. Subscribe to our newsletter and connect with us on LinkedIn to receive future updates.
Why does website performance matter?
Time is a universal commodity, so everyone values fast performance in every aspect of their lives. Whether streaming HD video, waiting in line in a grocery store, or trying to accomplish a task on the website, getting things done as quickly as possible is an implicit user expectation.
But what are some practical reasons? Years of observation of conversions in e-commerce combined with studies about how people perceive the speed of the websites and internet content availability in general, demonstrate that speed performance does benefit the users and the organizations.
Human-computer interaction research shows that speed perception thresholds are really short, at about 50–300 ms (0.05 to 0.3 seconds). For example, Dr. Lindgaard showed that people can make a decision about design quality based on a 50 ms long exposure to a picture. With such fast perception, it is no wonder that people cannot wait more than a couple of seconds before they lose patience and abandon a website.
Here are a few examples:
- Professor Ramesh Sitaraman’s study shows that people begin abandoning videos if they don’t load within two seconds (PDF). This finding impacts not only retail websites, but also government websites that are providing video guides that walk the audience through a self-service process.
- Akamai reported that page load times significantly impact conversion rates (PDF). 53% of visits to mobile sites are abandoned if pages take longer than 3 seconds to load.
- For Walmart, website speed correlates to business metrics. Walmart.com’s engineers found that conversion rates declined as load times increased. The average site load speed was significantly lower for the converted population (3.22 seconds) than the non-covered population (6.03 seconds).
- In 2018, Google published industry benchmarks for mobile page speed performance. Their analysis found that as page load time goes from 1 to 5 seconds, the bounce probability increases to 90%.
- Finally, Google Search uses website speed performance as a signal when ranking websites. It is not the most important Google Search signal, but, all else being equal, faster websites are ranked better.
Considering the above research, it is clear that government websites’ improved performance can broadcast critical information to constituents faster, help them more efficiently utilize government digital services, reduce the server and data bandwidth costs, and increase the likelihood of users completing the goals around which the sites are built. Also, for millions of Californians, faster websites mean more equitable access to digital services, especially in communities where blazing internet speeds are not accessible or affordable.
What is an excellent level of government website performance?
When evaluating website performance, we use two industry-standard tests, Google PageSpeed Insights, and the WebPageTest. Both come with actionable results accompanied by practical instructions on what to improve to achieve better performance. Another often used tool is Google’s Lighthouse audit, that evaluates specific metrics such as TTI (time-to-interactive), which is useful in optimizing web and mobile applications.
Specific to government website performance, any website that measures in the 80s and 90s for either metric in Google PageSpeed Insights can be considered a well-optimized website. When evaluating performance, we can stop there and follow the guidelines provided in the PageSpeed Insights results. However, the WebPageTest features a more elaborate scoring system that grades the implementation of individual best practices and provides the actual loading times. The most significant load time metric in WebPageTest is the Speed Index, the average time it takes for a website to display visible parts of the page.
Our test’s top performers achieved a Speed Index of 3–4 seconds, and fully loaded in 8–10 seconds over a Regular 3G Mobile test configuration.
Top 10 performing government websites
|Website||PageSpeed Insights Mobile Performance||PageSpeed Insights Desktop Performance|
The top-performing websites above combine server and infrastructure-based best practices, such as:
- Keep-alive enabled. This means that they enable persistent connection between the browser and the server, reducing CPU and memory load on the server, allowing for faster delivery of content to website visitors.
- Compressed data transfer. Enables data size reduction by compressing data before transferring over the internet from the server to the browser. Compressed files have a smaller file size, which means less bandwidth is needed to move them from the server to the browser.
- Compressed images. Same benefits as compressed data transfer, except that the images can be stored in an already compressed state on the server. This can be achieved through automated compressing on the server, or by applying content authoring best practices (see below).
While upgrading to a new platform and technology or switching to a cloud server infrastructure may improve performance, you can improve your website’s performance within your routine website management workflows.
Five simple improvements for better website performance
- Optimize photography. Before uploading photographs and illustrations to the website, ensure that images are correctly sized and cropped. For example, hero images should be as wide as the website layout for full effect. News / blog feed thumbnails can be reduced to a smaller size, significantly improving visitors’ loading speeds. Simple tricks to compress images include converting PNG images into the JPG format and running images through image optimization tools, such as TinyJPG (available as a plugin in popular content management systems), Image Compressor, or if this is available to you, Adobe Photoshop’s “Save for Web” option.
- Disable plug-ins and features you don’t use. Regular pruning of the add-on features and functionalities may also help. Removing commonly overseen elements, such as map APIs, leftover YouTube code, legacy analytics code, or captcha code in pages that don’t include web forms can dramatically optimize web pages that don’t utilize these case-by-case functionalities.
- Enable caching or install a caching plug-in. If your content management system or web server supports caching, ensure that caching is enabled and properly configured. While caching won’t help visitors on their first visit, it will improve page loading speeds for visitors who frequently revisit your website.
Website performance is easy to improve but also easy to miss. We hope that this simple list helps you understand how to improve your website’s performance, allowing for faster access to information and the ability to better reach your audience.
For all questions or advice on website performance, please reach out to our team of experts.