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I took part in the panel for UK Fast’s “Speed in E-commerce” live webinar last week. Hosted (geddit?) by UK Fast’s Managing Director, Jonathan Bowers, we discussed the importance of website speed for e-commerce retailers and how they can overcome any issues. It was a fast-paced discussion with all the panelists keen to express their views in a really short space of time. As I wasn’t able to share all of my considerations, I thought I’d throw them together in a blog post, so at least I can be satisfied that I’ve finally got my point across!

 

Background

How much do you hate queuing up, whether it be at the bank, supermarket or clothes shop? It’s probably one of the most odious aspects of shopping on the high street, so why would it be the same online? I can’t see any people in front of me, so why should I be made to wait until I get “served”?

Long gone are the days of 56K dial-up modems, when we'd go off to make a cup of tea whilst we waited for a home page to load. Nowadays, we’re hellbent on immediacy, expecting when our purchases are going to be delivered and the time it takes for a website to load.

Eggplant reported that 75% of consumers would switch to a competitor due to slow load speed. That “slow speed”, to 64% of smartphone users, is anything more than four seconds. In fact, 47% of online shoppers expect web pages to load in two seconds or less.

Therefore, no matter how much you spend on a beautifully designed website, with all the interactive bells and whistles, or on expensive social and search advertising, if your website can’t load in time, you may as well just be throwing money down the drain.

 

Time is Money

A few years ago, Amazon calculated that a one-second delay in page load time can cut conversions by 7 percent. This, for a mega-retailer like Amazon, equals a loss of $1.6 billion per second.

Say your site makes £100K in a month, a one-second improvement on load speed will generate you an additional £7K

 

Now do I have your attention?

Consumers aren’t the only impatient ones. The mother of all ADHD sufferers, Google, has also moved to a mobile-first indexing model; so mobile page speed is now a major indicator of organic ranking across all devices. And if you think you can get around this with a smart paid advertising campaign, Google Ads now takes slow landing pages into consideration and can lower your Google Quality Score, which means a higher cost-per-click regardless of relevancy.

Okay so what can we do, you may ask? Here’s a write-up of the notes that I jotted down prior to the webinar:

1) Audit your website; 2) Optimise your Coding; 3) Avoid Cheap Hosting; 4) Maximise User Experience; 5) and consider PWAs.

 

1) Audit your website

Start by testing your website’s mobile speed with Google. There is a nifty little web app that scans your website as though it’s being browsed via a 3G connection (70% of mobile connections globally will occur on 3G or lower, in case you’re wondering). Google Pagespeed Insights then punches out a report, comparing your site speed to your industry’s standard.

If you want to get your hands a bit more dirty, then try running Lighthouse within Chrome Dev Tools on specific pages of your e-commerce site. This will take you right under the bonnet of your pages and unearth any key issues within them, from massive, weighty images to dodgy JS tags.

 

2) Coding Considerations

There are some quick fixes to get your page up to standard industry requirements, before you move onto optimisation. One of the biggest culprits for slowing page speed is when people upload 300Mb homepage banner images and wonder why their site is running slow. One tool for image optimisation I recommend is reSmush.it. There’s even a neat little Magento extension too.

Secondly, optimising tracking tags in Google Tag Manager can avoid unnecessary requests being fired and slowing down the page. In my experience, marketing tags are often a large speed offender; by compiling tags into the single request that Tag Manager fires, you can start making an impact quickly.

Finally, your creatives may dislike me for this but, sometimes a trade-off must be made between form and function. Animations, banner images and parallax scrolls look great, but a faffy design can lead to heavy CSS and JS slowing down the delivery of important content. Do you remember Boo.com way back in 1999?

 

3) Avoid Cheap Hosting

So many times I’ve heard of people spending massive amounts on a website and marketing, but never investing in a good hosting infrastructure. Don’t be fooled by these cheap hosting providers, where you think you can pay twenty quid a month for a “Magento-optimised” server. You get what you pay for.

Find a reliable and robust hosting provider who will advise you on the best practices, such as caching, CDNs and auto-scaling. An auto-scaling infrastructure is essential for retailers to allow for unexpected spikes around holiday seasons or promotional campaigns. Don’t become another Black Friday case study!

Lastly, talk to your provider. Look at your analytics and create a calendar of expected traffic surges. Give this to your hosting partner and they can give you the support you need to ride out these traffic tsunamis. Also, if you do something out of the blue, give your hosting provider a bit of warning, so you’re not ringing them at 7pm complaining that your site’s gone down.

 

4) User Experience

Bad UX winds me up no end. You may have a lightning fast website but if I’m presented with an un-intuitive interface, that has me looking for the ‘add to basket’ button or where to navigate next, then you will hear me screaming in paroxysms of rage. Why make it difficult to shop? Checkouts are often the worst. Have you ever used Interflora on mobile? I can feel my hackles raising now, so let’s move on.

Make checkout as frictionless as possible and you will see your basket abandonment fall away. Checkout is as much an information transaction as it is a payment one. It’s important to balance trust and security, explaining why you need information, in easy tool tips.

Rationalise what data you’re actually capturing: do you really need the customer’s aunt’s dog’s maiden name?

Think about having your devs switch on autocomplete on form fields, to enable auto-filled information based on a user’s profile (even right down to credit card data stored on the phone).

Bonus Point:

A slightly left-field consideration of speed: how about speeding up customers’ actual decision to purchase? Get that FOMO going by introducing urgency on certain products, indicating (apparently) low stock levels or shipment cut off times. I’ve caught myself completing a panic purchase, even though I work in the industry! Booking.com is brilliant at panicking customers into hitting that reservation button, by revealing the number of bedrooms available and the fact that three other people are supposedly looking at that specific hotel you’re thinking about for a romantic getaway with your other half.!

 

5) Progressive Web Apps

This to me is the holy grail of website speed and user experience. Progressive Web Apps (PWAs - not to be confused with PDAs - get back to Booking.com and get a room!) are simply websites that run like normal web pages but can be installed on the user's mobile device, without the need for an app store. Kind of like a bookmark, but something with a bit more meat to it. They offer an full-screen experience, use geolocation and even engage users with push notifications, just like a native app.

Alibaba, the Chinese Amazon, noticed a 48% increase in user engagement when they switched to a PWA format. (I’m not going to bore you with how this is done but, if you like, you can read about Service Worker, the web app manifest and what you need to do to PWA-up your website on a dedicated Google Developers area.)

The proliferation of PWAs has been held back by Apple’s reticence to adopt them within its Safari browser. However, back in March this year, Apple “quietly” introduced basic PWA support when it released iOS 11.3 (albeit more limited than that of Android). That said, platforms like Magento and Shopify are quickly maximising opportunities for PWA use via the Magento PWA Studio and Shopify’s inherent API-driven nature. So expect to see a lot more e-commerce PWAs springing up in the near future.

If we aren't already, we should be considering PWAs as the new “Responsive”, in terms of best practice and industry standard in interface development.


So there you have it, my top tips and insider insights on optimising your website speed. You can still watch the full webinar online. If you like what you see and feel the need for speed (cue Top Gun soundtrack) , get in touch with our digital experts. 

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About the author

Jonathan Ward
Jonathan Ward
Jonathan has 20 years of experience in the Web industry and has established and developed digital offerings in several top agencies both nationally and in the USA. His career has included roles at board level, encompassing operational management, financial planning, budget management, creative direction, and thought leadership. He has been responsible for defining digital visions and in driving the growth of both agencies’ and clients'​ business strategies.

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