Website speed is king. Everything else is a pauper.

For a couple of years, I have repeatedly drawn a diagram for clients, explaining the key makeup of a successful online strategy.

The diagram is below:


In simple terms, what the diagram tells us is that we need a solid and workable plan and strategy, lots of relevant, sustainable traffic and a website that optimally executes the plan and ‘converts’ users: essentially, the website’s usability.

None of the pieces can be missing.

A great plan and online strategy is nothing without traffic; you won’t have enough customers browsing your aisles and you’ll go out of business.

Equally, you can have lots of traffic in the aisles, though if the usability of your website is poor, a lower percentage of them will transact (or whatever it is you want them to do) and you’ll also go out of business.

And of course, great usability and traffic means nothing if you have a crappy plan and concept to begin with.

Think Instagram which is far better at raising investment than developing commercial, digital strategies.

Which made me think this evening as I wrote this blog.

As we start the clutch for straws in this ever competitive web-landscape, what are the straws that hold the greatest return?

More traffic?

Better plan?

Improved usability?

Sure enough, none of this hurts and usability is still the current golden-child of web designers and their clients: improved rates of user conversion and better website performance by streamlining tasks, talking better at (or with) users and generally making the user experience the most buttered, most slippery experience it can be right through to users filling out your form, buying your product or downloading your app.

By now however, we shouldn’t be clutching at usability straws.

Instead, we should know full well which straws to clutch and should have done so a while ago.

As web designers and developers, we should have learnt from our many website usability mistakes and whilst we are still learning, poor and even average usability is just not acceptable any more.

So what are the straws we should be focusing on any grabbing?

If something was more important than ‘usability’, what would that be?


It would be speed. The speed of your website.

The lack of speed in a website or applications kills all in its path: your best plan, your website’s amazing usability… and all your traffic.

Because users don’t wait.

They don’t wait for anything anymore.

A stat I read last year from Amazon, found that for every 100 milliseconds that your website is slow, you lose 1% of transactions.

Another stat I read said that by the eighth second of a page loading, 40% of users have hit the road.

The problem is exacerbated with mobile and users accessing the web through their smartphones; where things tend to be slower and users have even less patience than their desktop browsing friends.

And it isn’t just users you’re losing.

Google starts penalising websites as they slow.

Simply put, Google doesn’t like sending its users to slow websites: it wants to deliver good experiences, not sub-optimal experiences.

Whilst we have always known that fast websites are good, ideal and important… the writing has never been on the wall like it is today.


Speed might not be that simple.

The challenge for many web developers, is that speed is rarely a central consideration in building a website.

Indeed, even if a web developer does have speed front-of-mind, there are often only so many things they can do… especially where the web developer is utilising a third-party content management system as so often they are.

Because these third party technologies rarely have speed baked into their DNA; the inherent objective in a CMS’s life – usually to provide developers with lots of flexibility – is generally at odds with speed, making any sort of optimisation incredibly difficult.

Indeed, there are often many factors outside of the web developer's control; the design and front-end code they need to deal with or possibly, crappy hosting and server infrastructure; your users are in Sydney and you host on crud-ball servers in Central Asia. Dumb.


Speed is money in the bank and needs focus right across the team and right from the start.

The speed of your website is not the sole responsibility of your web developer.

It needs engagement right across the team.

Without it being melted into people’s minds, it will never be the important focus it needs to be. Web developers will not be supported in building better and faster technologies; designers will never be upbraided for heavy and unnecessary design; heavy JavaScript will never be peer-reviewed and optimised.

Speed is not something that is easy retrofitted; there is only so far you can go optimising and tuning a car after it has been built – websites are no different.

As website owners and web designers, we obsess over the usability of our websites and how much traffic we get through the homepage.

We don’t obsess nearly enough about how fast this all happens.

My triangle diagram has a new, fourth addition.

And it’s the one I’ll be spending most of my time on in the foreseeable future.