Usain Bolt is slow, so slow, on the Internet

Usain Bolt is a legend in his own lifetime; an amazing World Record time of 9.58 seconds for 100m – that’s over 23mph…! And if you watched this feat of athletic supremacy from the World Athletics Championships in Berlin you can’t help to have noticed that it was over almost before it began. The commentators were only able to gabble out around 40 words from the starting gun to the finish. Even so, this fantastically short period of time is absolutely ages on the Internet.

Usain Bolt - fast, but slow compared to web sites

Usain Bolt – fast, but slow compared to web sites

Your web site visitors simply would not wait for Usain Bolt to get as far as the first 10m of his run before they give up on a web page. If your web site visitors cannot see what your page or website is about within a second, they are gone, departed, disappeared – often never to return. What is super fast on the running track, is super slow online.

Several research studies have been done on how long we are prepared to wait for a web page to tell us what it is about. We are decreasingly patient it seems. We used to wait around 10 seconds for a page to load – now it’s down to less than four seconds. Bolt wouldn’t have made it half-way down the track before you’d have given up on loading a web page.

And even though many people focus on load times – that’s not the issue. It’s what you might call “recognition times” that are the most important. Studies completed three years ago at the University of Ottawa show that we can determine whether or not we like a website within 50 milliseconds. We then go on to justify our decision, but it seems we can with the merest glimpse of a website say whether or not it’s what we want.And other studies show that what we are looking for in that initial blink-like glimpse are the words that we have in our minds. Your headline is the single most important part of your web page and must convey its meaning in a fraction of a second.

This means that although load times are clearly important, users are making almost immediate decisions about whether or not to continue with your site based on seeing the headline. The time span of the decision-making wouldn’t even see Usain Bolt make a single stride. Website users are faster than him.

It suggests that your web pages need to indicate their purpose almost immediately – otherwise your visitors will depart. But worse than this, they may not even be able to see what they are looking for – even if it is on your page. Research at Harvard Medical School found that even if something is in front of people’s eyes, they may not see it. We only see things if they are commonplace – rare things get missed easily.

Hence not only does your web page need to reveal what it is about immediately, all the “furniture” needs to be familiar. If your search box is not where people expect it to be, they won’t see it – even if it is there on your page. If your contact details are not where visitors expect them to be, they won’t see them, even if they are present. If your headline doesn’t look like a headline, it will be missed.

In other words your web page needs to rapidly show people exactly where everything is AND show them what is special and different – all within the blink of an eye. If you thought Usain Bolt was fast, he’s nothing compared to what your web pages need to achieve.


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Graham Jones
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+
Graham Jones


Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist, professional speaker and author of 32 books who helps businesses understand the online behaviour of their customers
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