As a digital product manager, a key responsibility is to prioritize engineering projects based on business metrics or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These KPIs are typically conversion or engagement related, such as activation rate, monthly active users, or new paying customers. A product manager can then prioritize projects based on a cost-benefit analysis - ie. the project’s impact to these KPIs vs the project’s level of effort required.
So when prioritizing projects, it’s important for a product manager to know which KPIs matter. In a recent discussion, someone asked if a product manager should have page load time as one of their KPIs? There are clearly engineering projects to improve page load speed, but is it something a product manager should care about and factor into their planning?
If you are a digital product manager, you should care about page load times, and here’s why: As page load time decreases, conversions increase. By working on this metric a product manager can see gains on most other conversion metrics. Let’s go through two examples.
Web App Onboarding Example
For web app, you may have analyzed the steps in your onboarding funnel and identified a few steps where drop off is higher than desired. Some of that drop off could be caused by users leaving the app or website before the next step has loaded. That means that even if you spend the resources to optimize the call to action (CTA) on that page, via development time and a/b testing, your users may have left before they even had the chance to see it. In fact, if your page takes 4 seconds or longer to load, page load could be responsible for 25% of your drop off!
Mobile Ecommerce Example
Another example is for ecommerce product managers. Let’s say you are testing a new layout for mobile browsing galleries. You want to ensure great usability for your customers, so you explore changing the navigation of your galleries and how you display each of your items, optimized for mobile viewing. Depending on the size of your business, any increase you see in click through rates and add to cart conversion would make this project successful. But did you know that if your mobile commerce site doesn’t load in 3 seconds or less, 40% of your users will drop off! So by focusing on improving mobile page load you could see even bigger wins to your bottom line.
These are both staggering numbers, considering how important each percentage conversion rate is. Now after making the case that page load is important, I want to take a step back and acknowledge that there are many important metrics to consider as a product manager. If we could move the needle on everyone, wouldn’t the world be wonderful? Of course, choosing to focus on page load improvements is a tradeoff of course, as there may be feature work that could be more impactful to those conversion metrics.
Time Allocation Suggestion
As any product manager will tell you, tradeoffs are a huge part of the job. One way to ensure things don’t get overlooked it to budget for different types of work. Perhaps 75% of the engineering team’s time should be spent on new features and 25% of improvements to page load times. In this case, you could see the wins on your feature work (let’s say successfully a/b testing the 2nd step of your onboarding flow) compounded by not losing customers to slow page load times. Celebrations all around! Another approach, for larger companies, is to give different development squads different metrics to focus 100% of their energy on, where one squad is 100% focused on page load time as their KPI. This helps to ensure that each KPI is consistently getting development time devoted to it.
It should also be noted that even while working on feature work, teams should avoid introducing new code that slows down page load time as the decrease in speed may remove any wins the new feature could have been introduced. A minimum measure of success should be for new feature work is to increase KPIs without decreasing page load times.
In this post, I’ve focused on how a product manager should think about page load time as their KPI, however, there is another group of managers that should be concerned with page load times - marketing managers. As a marketing manager, the page load time improvements I’ve mentioned above for conversions can increase the effectiveness and ROI of your marketing spend.
Whereas a product manager may need to prioritize development resources to one project or another, marketing managers can advocate that their product managers and development managers spend time on page load improvements. As described above, you will see increases in conversion rates as fewer people abandon at each stage of the funnel making every dollar spent more effective. Making sure your product manager knows about the benefits could help change the cost-benefit analysis in the favor of projects focused on page load time which will help your marketing budget go further.