Perceived performance

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Perceived performance is how fast a website seems to the user. This article explores how users perceive performance and what can be done to improve perceived performance.

Improving perceived performance

Displaying content, or at least some part of the page with an indication that content is loading, as quickly as possible, is essential to improving perceived performance. Understanding networking, how the browser works, user perception of time, etc., can help you better understand how to improve the user interaction. However, you don't have to know the ins and outs of how everything, including the human mind, works to improve the perception of speed. There are tips and tricks to follow. Most of these quick tips have full articles if you want to dive deeper

For example,  because page render is blocked by loading and parsing CSS and JavaScript, minimizing the amount of CSS and JS that needs to be loaded on initially will have a major impact on improving perceived performance.

Minimize initial load

To improve perceived performance, minimize the original page load. If you're downloading all the assets in the end, the weight of all your assets hasn't improved -- in fact, you may need to add some code -- but because the download of non-immediately necessary assets are delayed in a manner that is not perceptible the the user, the user will feel like the download was faster. 

To minimize the assets required for initial load, separate interactive functionality from content so that required content  -- the text, styles, and images visible at initial load -- can be loaded first. Delay, or lazy load, the rest of the assets.

Don't load images or scripts that aren’t used or visible on the initial page load. Either delay their load, loading them when the page becomes usable, or, loading them when they become necessary. Loading additional assets and resources after initial page load improves perceived performance. Loading essential data in initial requests and progressively loading features and data only as needed helps mitigate low bandwidth and lower spec hardware.

Additionally, you should optimize the assets you do load. Images and video should be served in the most optimal format, compressed, and in the correct size.

Prevent jumping content and other reflows

Images or other assets causing content to be pushed down or jump to a different location, like the loading of third party advertisements, can make the page feel like it is still loading and is bad for perceived performance. Content reflowing is especially bad for user experience when not initiated by user interaction. If some assets are going to be slower to load than others, with elements loading after other content has already been painted to the screen, plan ahead and leave space in the layout for them so that content doesn't jump or resize, especially after the site has become interactive.

Avoid font file delays

Font use can both help and harm user experience. Selecting the right fonts is an art form, and can greatly improve the user experience. Fonts can also harm user experience, especially if the fonts used need to be imported, and if the importing is not optimal, or if Comic Sans is used (kidding).  Flicker of unstyled text and missing text both harm performance.

Make fallback fonts the same size and weight so that when fonts load the page change is less noticeable.

Interactive elements are interactive

Make sure visible interactive elements are always interactive and responsive. If input elements are visible, the user should be able to interact with them without a lag

- Make things like type-ahead a progressive enhancement: use css to display input modal, JS to add typeahead/autocomplete as it is available