Minding Your Visitors Last Mile

No matter how powerful your server or the content on your pages, your users last mile means more than anything when it comes to their ability to access your business website. The truth is, even if your users have high speed Internet, it doesn't mean it works. So how do you make your site accessible.

Understand that most last mile problems slow down a connection first before failing all together. This means, your visitors are more likely to experience degraded conditions before they lose your site completely. Many don't even know THEY are having a problem, just that your site seems slow.
(I know) I've talked about this before when pointing out the most important thing about your business website, and YES this design topic is that critical!
Behaviorally when a visitor finds a slow website they just move to another. If your website is slow, your copy, design, and everything about it must work twice as hard to work. That means you lose money on sales visitors were ready to make, and never hear from leads ready to learn more.
Now imagine a customer is price shopping you and your two biggest competitors. They are heavy into research, comparing features, and suddenly have last mile issue. Who gets the blame?
Understand, last mile issues can include slow links from network traffic, their hosting provider, internal problems, or even their computer being slow. Last mile issues interrupt your visitor.
At this point of critical decision, if your visitor has a choice between a graphic and flash laden competitors site, verse your fast loading yet professional resource — where do you think they will stay?
As often as I'm criticized for this by “so called” design professionals, because I encourage clients to create a website that works just find at 56k. Even if you have primarily corporate customers, what is your site going to be like when they want to look up someone over a CDMA network, or shared WiFi on a rainy day.
If you want to be there for your customers, if you are providing value in your business website, then make it easy to access at lower speeds. The biggest advantage this approach provides is when a visitors last mine conditions are optimal, they get your site even faster and have a consistent experience.
Because I've worked on the systems administration and hosting side of the business, I know lots of things can go wrong. Fast loading sites have small page sizes, using design elements that don't hog, but instead add to usability.
What happens when you design for poor last mile conditions? I often see conversion rates jump up, more sales and leads for business website. Not because the content was improved, but because visitors actually hang around long enough to see it.
Of course, if you have crappy content, delivering it faster isn't going to improve anything. This is an optimization method you use after you get your first set of conversion and have steady traffic to your site. Designing for an unpredictable last mile enhances your best copy writing, landing pages, and e-commerce catalogs.
Screenshot of Cable Modem Error on Cox CommunicationsA perfect example of a last mile issue is what I frequently face (and most of the surrounding blocks here in Norfolk VA) with Cox Communications. Almost every day, two or three times a day, I get transmission errors — the line doesn't go out, it just gets slow.
As you can see, this problem happens regularly, my error count is in the 1000's and because of where I live, I don't have access to Verizon Fios or another high speed subscriber service. Fortunately, I don't spend all my time in the home office.
Think about your visitors last mile, when they have problems they will blame it on your site or worse wander off to your competition. Design your website for speed, under any condition, and you'll be ready to serve customers and generate leads from your website better.
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