If you want to keep your audience engaged with your mobile website, your page had better load in less time than it took you to read this sentence, according to a new worldwide study from Google.

Publishers are perhaps most affected by mobile pages that don’t load quickly enough, as their revenue tends to be dependent on pushing on-page advertising. In fact, publishers that have sites that load in five seconds earn twice as much revenue as publishers whose sites take 19 seconds to load. Google, of course, offers many servers that sell advertising on those publishers’ sites, so it has its own incentive to keep people engaged for as long as possible.

For anyone hoping to win an audience via a mobile website, the study has some statistics that show how unforgiving the audience really is:

  • 53 per cent of mobile web visits are likely to be abandoned if a page takes longer than three seconds to load
  • Half people say they expect a page to load in less than two seconds
  • 46 per cent of people say “waiting for pages to load” is what they dislike most about browsing on mobile devices

Unfortunately, for the most part the average loading time of mobile sites is about 19 seconds right now when connecting via 3G, the study finds. The three main factors that are contributing to site load times are file size, the number of server requests made, and the order in which the elements of a page are loaded.

The irony is that publishers are also responding to pressures from the audience to deliver more multimedia content, and to squeeze money out of the mobile channel. Yet adding photos and video can get you above a 1.5 MB load size pretty quickly (which already takes seven seconds to load on 3G speeds), and delivering ads can mean more server requests are made (Google’s study found an average of 214 requests were made on a page, with ads accounting for half of that.)

With three-quarters of Canadians now having a smartphone, the mobile web is at more people’s fingertips.

For publishers that are targeting a mostly Canadian audience, they may be able to take solace in the widespread 4G wireless networks available here. That should help mobile load speeds considerably.

More statistics and the study’s methodology are available in the full study due to be published by Google Thursday morning.

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