Margaret spent a lot of time and money to get her web site just right. The big photo of a professional at work beckoned visitors to stay and learn how they, too, could be as successful.
Links to her main pages flashed when a vistor's mouse passed over them. She even featured a classy animated mailbox at bottom of page to encourage visitors to send her email.
But something went wrong. When Margaret checked her web site visitor statistics after one week, she noticed most people clicked to her site, then clicked away after just a few seconds. No sales.
Like many sites, Margaret's takes too long to load. The very graphics and programming tricks that seem so exciting are loading at a snail's pace on dial-up connections 85 percent of her customers have.
For a while there I thought all we needed to do was wait for a few months and most North American's would have fast cable or DSL hook-ups. Even fanciest sites crammed with eye-popping graphics would download in a breath.
But Wall Street's telecom melt-down has all but sealed our fat- pipes fate. It looks like most of us will be using dial-up to get on line for several more years if not another decade.
Here's what you need to do to get on right side of this important trend:
Step 1. Start cutting. Right now you can't do better than to scale back time it takes your site to load. Last year Zona Research estimated 40 percent of sales were lost due to customers who left a site early after waiting on slow web pages. That translates into $21 billion in lost sales.
If you've visited FedEx site lately to track a package, you may have noticed their pages come up much faster. Now pages download in less than two seconds. Big sites like FedEx have special server tricks up their sleeve, but some of time- cutting things they do will work for anyone.
Step 2. Reduce those graphics. FedEx took big jpeg file photo off page and replaced with a much faster loading gif file graphic. Jpeg files, commonly used for photos, require thousands of colors. A gif file, used for drawings and simpler graphics, can be compressed to include only a few colors.
Think of your favorite cartoon character. Chances are he or she is created with a just a few colors, maybe as few as two. That translates into a graphic that downloads fast. A designer confided you can get killer graphics with just 16 colors.