I keep returning to this quote:
“The average download of a website is longer than the average visit to most corporate websites”
If he’s right, that means that what you see during a download is as important as what you see when it’s fully loaded.
No, it’s more important… that’s your chance to keep your users from bailing.
When I was at egreetings, I suggested we use a different standard for our SLA. Rather than demanding that the site load in 6 or 8 seconds, I suggested we try to measure how fast it was usable. Therefore we set limits such as: you had to get the main navigation to the card categories within 3 seconds of request, and the key cards in 5 seconds, and the global navigation in 8, and so on. By carefully calculating what should load in in what order, we could hopefully engage users with slower modems early, while still offering a rich range of offerings on any given page for those with faster modems.
This means doing more than simply alt tagging your images (though I notice more and more websites are forgetting the importance of even that simple task). It means designing pages with consideration to load order, creating series of grids rather than a design that requires one gigantic table. It means putting as much text as possible into html rather than a graphic so people have something to read while the page loads. It means learning more about css and how that can control load order.
And then maybe you can get your average visit to be longer than your average page load time.