A Unique Value Proposition. Great Products. Elegant Design. Excellent Content. Effective CTA’s.
You put in a great deal of thought, time, effort, and resources into all of these critical elements of your website and business. But, what good is that if these efforts don’t reflect in your bottom line?
What I’m trying to say is, even with some top-notch products and an effective marketing strategy in place, you might not see the kind of results you’re capable of seeing, only because your website isn’t fast enough.
The Need for Speed
Having a fast website isn’t a nice-to-have feature, a bonus, a luxury, or even an option for that matter. It’s an all-important necessity.
We’ve all come across slow websites that – to say the very least – are plain annoying. What do you do when you cross paths with such a website? You wait for a couple of seconds, at the most, before moving on to another option that Google fetched for you.
Been there, done that.
What can you draw from this?
A slow website causes prospective customers to bounce right off; which in turn has a negative impact on your numbers.
But, does it really?
Let’s turn to some data for an answer.
How Fast is ‘Fast’?
There’s no fixed benchmark you can set here.
Usually, a load time of below 2 seconds (which is considered to be the norm) is deemed ideal; and a load time of under 3 seconds is acceptable.
But, as I mentioned earlier, you cannot fixate on a random number and work towards achieving that speed. That’s because your page load time depends on a range of different factors such as your hosting server, the amount of bandwidth in transit, your web page design – as well as the number, type, and weight of the elements on your page.
Now, you may not be able to shave off all the weight your web page is carrying and get it to actually load under 2 seconds, but you can definitely make it seem like it loads a lot quicker than that. More on that later. But first, there a bunch of great tools out there that’ll help you figure out if your website is in fact as fast as it can really be.
How Does a Page Load?
It’s extremely important to understand that all the elements on your page do not load at the same time.
Between the time a user attempts to load a page on your site, and the time this page is fully loaded, dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of different operations take place. Content needs to be accessed from the server, style sheets need to be loaded, images need to be retrieved, and a whole bunch of other technical round trips (that we won’t get into for now) need to be taken.
These operations are structured in such a way that the different elements of your web page are sequentially rendered, one fold at a time. Let me break that down for you with a couple of terms:
- Page Load Speed is the time required to load and display the entire content of your website.
- Time to First Byte (TTFB) is the number of milliseconds it takes for a browser to receive the first byte of the response from your web server.
- Start Render Time would be the first point in time when something is displayed on the screen. It doesn’t necessarily mean the user sees your page content. In fact, it could be something as simple as the background color.
- Speed Index – another important Key Performance Indicator – is the average time until a visible element appears on-screen.
- First Meaningful Paint is that point in time when the user gets to see important information for the first time. In the case of your eCommerce website, it could be the product title and overview.
What is Perceived Speed?
To now put things in perspective, the first meaningful paint of your website gives users the impression that your website has loaded, far before the entire process is actually complete. Since we’re trying to create great user experiences here, the users’ perception matters. In other words, the perceived speed of a web page has got to be as low as possible.
Apart from optimizing the necessary images and eliminating the unnecessary ones, you can also implement Lazy Loading wherein, the images outside of viewport are not loaded until your user scrolls down to them.
Having said that, you’ve still got to minimize the time taken by your website to load – irrespective of whether it’s the first meaningful paint or the entire content. Now that we’re clear about the What and Why part of it, let’s jump onto the How.
How to Measure the Speed?
Google’s very own tool, Page Speed Insights, gives you a detailed analysis of your website’s performance. To begin with, your website is scored out of 100 for its speed on both desktops and mobile devices.
The tool then goes on to present you with an elaborate diagnostics of all the elements that are slowing down your site. It breaks down all the potential opportunities into bite-sized pieces that your developers can easily consume and act on.
Here’s a glimpse of what Google’s insights into your page speed look like.
This tool takes things to a whole other level when it comes to details. For starters, it gives you an overall Performance Grade, the Page Size, the Load Time of your webpage, and the number of Requests (i.e. the many operations and round trips that we spoke about earlier).
This snapshot will give you a gist of what Pingdom’s detailed analysis report looks like.
#3 Load Testing
Maybe you’re through with optimizing your website, but are you sure your current set up can perform under extreme conditions?
Well, you need to be sure. Especially, when you’re on the brink of launching a new product, or a large-scale marketing campaign. If your marketing efforts bring in thousands of visitors to the site all at once, the last thing you need is to see your otherwise fast site collapse under the added pressure.
That’s where load testing comes into the picture. This tool helps you gear-up for extreme situations by mimicking real traffic. It sends pings to your website from multiple different locations, mobile networks, and browsers. You can also set up various analysis metrics to better understand the impact of heavy traffic loads on the different metrics concerning your website’s performance.
Not only does this help you ensure a top-class performance across the entire spectrum of your global audience, but also fosters data-driven development processes throughout all stages of the development cycle.
Here’s a list of some tools that might come in handy:
Additionally, there are a lot of website monitoring tools like GTmetrix that constantly track your website’s performance and notify you as soon as it violates the performance parameters you set.
The Basics of Optimization
You need to begin with server-level changes that affect the entire website and go down to the page level, code level, and even image-level modifications. Honestly speaking, all of the points mentioned below are some of the most fundamental performance enablers that you should immediately look into if you haven’t already.
#1 High-Quality Hosting
When demand outstrips the capabilities of your hosting provider, your site’s bound to experience performance issues and downtimes which ultimately translates to lost conversions and lost revenue. Your hosting not only affects the speed of your website but also determines its scalability, its security, and the frequency of backups.
This being the case, identifying if your business’s website outgrew its host and switching to the right one, becomes an extremely crucial step in improving its load time.
The term ‘right one’ is key here. That’s because you need to delve into the details of what each type of hosted service solution (Dedicated Hosting, Shared Hosting, Cloud Dedicated Hosting, Virtual Private Hosting, Managed Hosting) brings to the table, and then pick the one that best suits your needs.
#2 CDN Set Up
The picture below precisely sums up what a Content Delivery Network does for you.
The CDN is a network of servers that are dispersed at geographically different locations. Each of these servers contains a copy of your website. When your customer requests a webpage, this network delivers content that is fetched from the nearest server.
A CDN generally takes at least 60% of the load off of your origin server, which in turn gives a significant boost to your Page Load Speeds.
#3 Image Optimization
The images on your shop page are one of the heaviest elements on them. In spite of that, most of the top websites display multiple images of the same product that showcase its different angles and colors – and rightly so.
After all, high-quality product images play a huge role in enabling conversions. That being said, these very images could also play a huge role in slowing down your website, unless they’re optimized. You need to make sure that all the trivial images, graphics, and design elements are bottled out.
There’s another important thing you need to be clear about, For instance, optimizing your Website to perform on a Desktop is not the same as Optimizing it for a Mobile Device.
Yep. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, but an unavoidable one at that.
Compare your Website’s Desktop score on Google’s Page Speed Insights to its Mobile score, and you’ll see the difference for yourself. Now, this difference gets a tad bit scarier considering the fact that a major chunk of your audience could be accessing your website on their smartphones.
Once you’re through with the surface-level changes mentioned earlier, you need to get into the minor but necessary code-level changes that are focused on getting your site to load faster on mobiles and tablets as well. You’d be surprised to find out what lies beyond these basics.
All things said and done, the speed and performance of your website – irrespective of the device being used to access it – should come second to nothing. We hope you came across at least a couple of interesting nuggets of information that’ll guide you in your quest for a faster website.
If not, you could always get in touch with us, and we’ll help you find your way. 🙂