We do not visit a website.
Most people do not know what is actually going on when they visit a website. Mostly they don’t care to know. They only know if a website is fast or slow.
In truth the the technical side has no bearing on their thoughts. They are the consumer of the experience, not the webmaster.
In this respect the commonly used word “visit” is unfortunate because it masks the reality of what is really happening.
We do not visit a website. (the website comes to us)
For those of us that own or manage a website, we need to be very aware of the actual process.
So what actually happens. Read on.
In the same way that we watched a concert on TV, we did not actually go to the concert.
It came to us on our TV screen. Our TV whether cable, satellite or via antenna, picked up a “signal” that contained all the digital data to display the concert. As motion occurs, parts of the screen refresh and change.
We all use web browsers in a similar way to TV channels. Sure its a loose comparison but it works.
We download a batch of digital files. Then our browser builds a representation of a website on our computer screen.
Our website is not a moviehouse or cinema playing our latest smash hit. It is really just a file server. There is no visual representation of our website until someone loads those files in a web browser on their computer or device.
There are two pieces of technology communicating with each other. The files on our hosting server, and the Web browser on someones device or computer.
Which brings us to our next point
What are the steps of a web page being displayed?
It’s all about the the interaction between visitors browser and your website files on the hosting server.
It starts when someone asks their browser to show your site.
- A request is made when a link is clicked.
- The page and its resources (files) are downloaded.
- The web browser uses the page resources to build the page.
- The page then is rendered (displayed) to the user.
Each of the above steps have many components and details.
But those four steps are the main things that happen to display a webpage to a user.
We really have to focus on Step.2. It is the only one we have reasonable control over.
The other steps are controlled by our visitors environment:-
- Their browser,
- their device,
- their internet connection.
Below is a very rudimentary and over simplified description
Just so you can start to get your head around it.
The first contact between browser and website negotiates some basic communication protocols.
Next the website sends a roadmap, wireframe for the site.
Each component area has packages of information available to paint out that void.
The browser downloads each package to build the visual representation. (First Paint)
Your website setup has control over the order.
But that is not all. Visual color and images are only part of the process.
Remember that websites are usually dynamic and usually interactive.
A website has more than just visual properties, it also has menus, controls and links that must work when clicked.
These require code html, js, java script etc to function.
So while a site may be close to visually complete it may still be waiting for the functionality to load.
It is common practice to try for First full Paint (visual completeness) and have functionality load afterwards.
There are plugins we can use on our site to control the order of things loading.
I think we all know by now, visitors don’t like to wait.
A blank page for longer than a few seconds is a negative experience.
The challenge is to get something on screen quickly as possible. So visual first paint is a priority.
If we can do that, our visitor has something to digest.
This is good because it then gives us more time to get the functionality loaded.
Nobody is going to want to click links or apps till their brain has had time to digest the layout of the site.
Then and only then, they make a conscious decision where to go from there.
While they are working that out, the functionality has had time to complete its load, and is now ready to use.
Some sites have a lot going on in their landing page, lots of functionality.
You would have visited some yourself. And amazingly they load very quickly.
It is true they could have expensive superfast hosting and CDN.
But try a speedtest on one of them sometime. You might be surprised at the results.
Their load time to first paint or visual completeness will be quick. Take a deeper look.
The final complete load may take quite a lot longer to get all the functionality happening.
It makes sense, no matter how basic or how hi-end your server is, there are real benefits to be gained.
By optimizing the load order, you wont necessarily speed up your server, but you will speed up the appearance.
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