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Payday Loan Blog - Fast Cash Advances (Speed Matters!)

 
 Tuesday, 14 November 2006

Earlier this month JupiterResearch issued a joint press release with Akamai about the effects of page-load time on the customer shopping experience; specifically, they assert that there is a threshold of about 4 seconds that a customer will wait for a page to load before abandoning the process altogether. While this press release is a rather thinly veiled attempt to push one of Akamai’s services out the door, it does serve one critical purpose – a flimsy pretext for me to talk about the importance of load time as it relates to the design of cash advance websites.

One of the major pitfalls of site design is the temptation to use creative everywhere. If you’re a designer like me, you’ve probably gone back and forth with whoever runs your content development about the merits of pretty creative versus the functionality of content, only to yield (as you always should) to content and secretly curse its existence under your breath. (Maybe that’s just me.) Balance is the key to this particular puzzle, if for no other reason than the fact that no client likes things like no fax cash advance, faxless cash advance, cash advance no fax, and any other variation of a targeted keyword phrase thrown at them from all angles in the form of pop-ups or other distracting images. (If you’re offering no fax cash advances to your clients using our system, shame on you! Our cash advance content guidelines specifically state that our cash advances may not be referred to as having a no fax quality associated with them.)

The bottom line is creative slows load time, and as our friends over at Akamai assert this can be a big mistake. I’m assuming we’ve laid the argument for the use of flash graphics to rest in this case, so let’s talk more about creative in terms of good ol’ fashioned static images when trying to get your message about cash advance across.

Rule Number One: Use Images to Highlight Points, NOT Tell Stories

Images should be used as the odd distraction from otherwise boring text (let’s be honest here – people don’t go to cash advance websites to digest the information like they would the Wall Street Journal.) In other words, the main role of an image is to break up mundane text and highlight calls to action. Images that contain too much information will not only dilute the calls to action, but will slow down the load time of a page to an insane degree. We’ve all seen those cash advance sites that are 80% image, 20% text, right? These guys will fall victim to exodus-grade balking if their server takes too long to serve up the images, so crafting short, concise messages in the form of a pretty graphic is the lesson to be learned here.

Rule Number Two: Compression Rates & File Types

Everyone wants their cash advance site to look nice and provide a solid way to brand their offering, but I’ll tell you right now lightly compressed JPEG files are not the solution. Happy faces, attractive models, and (most importantly) endless seas of $100 dollar bills are a great way to get your message about cash advances across visually, but they can spell disaster if they take too long to load. I like to have one graphic in particular that I’ll set for a lower compression rate (quality score of 90-95, depending on the level of detail); I’ll usually set the rest of the images on the page to above-average rates of compression to make up for the difference.

TIP: If a fuzzy JPEG is bothering you, use less text to improve the overall look of the image. Text will de-crisp-ify the higher you set your compression rate, so spend your compression points on the graphic that you want to pop.

I’d also like to point out the under-use of GIF files these days. They’re smaller, faster loading, and with the recent improvements of browsers/image authoring software they retain their color information much better than they have in previous years. My rule of thumb here is everything but photos and things that fade from one color to another gets the GIF format – you can even toy with GIF types such as WebSnap, Adaptive, or the more size-intensive Exact to get your graphic exactly where you’d like it to be visually. (Each of these formats will be smaller than your above-average compression rate JPEG file.)

Rule Number Three: Clean Up Your Code

If you are experiencing troubles getting your load time down, there are still a couple of things you can do to make sure your page loads within those critical four seconds:

  • Keep your <body onload="MM_preloadImages('images/whatever1.jpg','images/whatever2.jpg'')"> tag to a minimum (this tag is often used for image swaps and usually comes with a JavaScript that can throw some browsers.) Generally, it’s just a good idea to avoid image swaps if it can be avoided, since cash advance clients aren’t known for being on the cutting edge of technology as far as JavaScript compliance & browser versions are concerned.
  • Other forms of JavaScript can be a problem too, especially if you’re relying on content or functionality from another server. Some affiliate programs use JavaScript to control content on their affiliates’ sites, but the servers that house this content can be slow.
  • If you’re running a stats program or some other application that sucks up a lot of process time on a page load, consider moving that code to the end of the document so the page will render first or getting rid of it altogether.
  • If you’re a fan of tables consider switching to CSS. If you intend to put a lot of text on any one page you’ll need all the space that tables tend to take up, so this switch in programming preference may make all the difference.
  • If you use Dreamweaver to create your pages, play with the load time feature in the lower-right hand corner to get an estimate for how long your page will take to load.

I think you’ll find that image use, just like anything else in our lives, is mostly habitual. Joe keeps me in line by reminding me of my tendency to use images everywhere, and I keep him on point by reminding him that images can enhance the customer experience – if used appropriately. While this balancing act translates to an optimized site with pages that load in just four seconds or less, it also means a balanced page with just the right amount of content and just the right types of images for your client to enjoy.

- Blumey



Tuesday, 14 November 2006 10:50:32 (US Mountain Standard Time, UTC-07:00)  #     
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