The factors that determine differing page speed in different markets

It will be news to nobody that online shopping and business has become a top priority in recent years. While physical interactions in brick-and-mortar locations remain important, the digital experience is now paramount, especially for larger companies. And as more organizations have recognized this trend, competition in the online sphere has only grown more ferocious. As a result, online shoppers can be choosier and businesses need to be more aware of the decisive metrics that determine success.

Among the numerous performance statistics that contribute to the digital customer experience, page speed ranks among the most important. After all, think about the last time that you ran into a long delay after clicking on a link. How long did you stick around? Odds are that once the wait time reached 5 seconds, you returned to the search engine and navigated elsewhere. So, the solution seems obvious: make sure that your website loads quickly to support a smooth user experience.

But as with many things in life, page speed isn’t so simple. Depending on your geographical location or that of your audience, the performance of your website can be radically different. Understanding why this is the case is the first step to discovering a solution. Let’s take a look at the real-life impact of regional factors and the reasons for differences between different parts of the world.

Comparing web page speed in Europe and MENA

First, let’s establish our playing field and the status quo. Our client, Jaguar Land Rover, operates around the world, but we’re only going to focus on its presence in three markets: Finland, Poland, and Dubai. The local websites are set up in a very similar way, with the only primary difference being the language (Arabic requires more CSS, though this is not a major differentiator). 

In every region, the company uses Reffine’s content management system (CMS), Amazon Web Services (AWS) hosting platform, and Cloudfare content delivery network (CDN). All of this is to say that the actual websites in question contain very similar elements. Only the geographic location of their audiences represents a substantial difference between the localized version.

When we look at data collected from Jaguar Land Rover across Finland, Poland, and Dubai, we find a stark difference. While Finnish users see the heaviest elements on a web page load in an average of 1.7 seconds and Polish viewers wait an average of 1.9 seconds, in Dubai, the average wait time climbs to 3.2 seconds. And because this represents an average, some audience members experience substantially longer delays.

While this might seem like a relatively small sample size, it’s indicative of a general trend: page speed is faster in Europe than in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). There are a handful of reasons for this and they have broad implications that go beyond these specific regions. Next, we’ll cover the factors that determine this difference.

loading speed websites mena vs eu
Data taken from Insights - AI-driven tool that helps companies maximize their websites' potential.

Local regulations and market policy

The laws and and policy governing different regions have a widespread impact on business.

More specifically, different countries have their own approaches to general data protection regulation (GDPR). The degree to which laws restrict the gathering of customer data will determine how many analytical elements can exist on a page. For regions with more regulation, users will have the opportunity to opt in for these factors to operate. If they do, numerous marketing tags then can’t be loaded during the individual’s initial visit. And when those tags and data-related processes don’t take effect, the page actually loads faster.

Looking at our three example regions, Europe has stronger GDPR laws in place, which reduces the potential of certain data-gathering programs. As a result, the Jaguar Land Rover website loads more quickly in Finland and Poland than it does in Dubai, where regulations allow businesses to collect more data. While the MENA region is adapting and changing its GDPR practices and large, international companies tend to try to align all countries with the policy of their home country, robust analytics and data-related processes still contribute to slower page speed at present.

But data privacy isn’t the extent of local policy and it’s impact on page speed. International companies have to contend with a variety of different standards for online content. Whereas a page might load smoothly in one region, additional filters required in another geography can add extra hurdles. This slows your load time so that even if local pages seem functionally identical, the user experience will change from one locale to another.

For Jaguar Land Rover, the MENA region tends to have more filters, which adds to its average load time. The combination of more data-gathering functions and additional filters bog down page speed relative to Finland and Poland.

Distance to physical infrastructure

While our focus when discussing digital experiences is rarely on the physical world, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make an impact on page speed. When it comes to the performance of your web page, the distance between users and physical infrastructure alters loading speed.

First, consider the location of your servers. The greater the distance between them and your audience, the greater the latency will be and the slower your website will load. For Europe-based businesses, this is rarely a problem, as many servers exist within the geographic region. However, other markets tend to suffer more from a lack of regional servers. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) have traditionally needed to connect to European servers, which contributes to the gap between Jaguar Land Rover’s web page speed in Dubai vs Finland and Poland.

However, that’s not the full extent of physical infrastructure’s impact on the digital user experience. Undersea cables form the backbone of the modern internet and support a large number of connections. Once again, the distance between the users and the website’s hosting infrastructure determines latency. The greater the length of undersea cable that connects the region in question, the longer the wait times will be.

underwater cables internet map
Underwater cables. Source:

By and large, the MENA region possesses fewer servers, which typically means that users have to connect to Europe. As a result, we’ve seen that loading times in the UAE have slower loading times. However, this trend is gradually changing. For example, Amazon Web Services (AWS) installed its first servers in the Middle East in 2019. Then in 2022, the company introduced its first UAE-based server to enhance its digital performance. This has enabled AWS to manage many of its connections and background activity locally rather than connecting to Europe.

However, this has not fully removed the challenge posed by physical infrastructure and many other regions still lack it entirely. In addition, we’ve found that traditionally, such infrastructure costs 40% more than its Frankfurt equivalent. So, when considering your local presence, it’s worth reviewing the location of servers and determining the impact this will make on the user experience.

Content delivery network

One common solution to regional page loading speed challenges is the implementation of a content delivery network (CDN). This platform stores the latest version of a web page so that rather than establishing a new connection to the server with each user request, the latest iteration becomes available far more quickly.

Content delivery network. Source:

However, as effective as a CDN can be, it cannot fully compensate for regional challenges. First of all, it must occasionally still connect to the server to fill its cache with an updated version. In addition, a CDN cannot handle the entirety of a website’s traffic. For example, when Reffine utilized such a solution on behalf of Jaguar Land Rover, the local cloud only handled 70% of visitors. 30% still required support by the server and most likely had to wait through extended loading times.

The impact of regional differences in website performance

So, what does all of this mean for your business?

Primarily, any company looking to expand its digital presence into new markets needs to be aware of the challenges they might face. As always, slower loading speed leads to higher bounce rates and lower user satisfaction. For regions that either have more required elements bogging down web pages or are located further from essential physical infrastructure, this leads to less efficiency when it comes to marketing and customer engagement.

In addition, a user’s negative experience with your website can damage your brand’s local reputation, which can make it difficult to recover after a bumpy rollout.

Page speed is essential to the success of any business’ online presence. But just because your pages load quickly in one region does not guarantee the same in every market. Understanding the different challenges your business will face in different countries can provide a clearer view on how to manage a smoother local launch.

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