September 28, 2019

How to fix page speed for better conversions (part 3 – eCommerce Conversion)

This is part 3 of 3 part series of articles about how site speed can affect conversion rates, search traffic, and mobile experiences for eCommerce sites, and what you and your developer can do about it.

If you missed part 1 or 2 they are here:

So assuming you have identified there your site is slow (against key competitors) what’s the next step?

1. What impact is this having on your business?

You can use Google Analytics to determine if there is a correlation between page speed and conversions.

This involves segmenting your traffic into Converters and Non-Converters and then looking at site speed to see what impact it is having.

You can also look for variations in site speed within a month, and compare Conversion Rates.

2. How site speed works

Firstly, I’m assuming you’re not a developer so here’s a quick overview of how your developer can work on speed optimisation.

Firstly there are two parts of site performance:

2.1 Front-end Browser

Your Front-End is how page and all its resources are shown by the browser. This includes delivery of the page content, images and javascript.

Back-end Website

How the site gets pushed out to your customer’s browser (for the Front-End to display) depends on your website’s Back-End – the server, hosting, and back-end code/database. This is just as critical as the front-end.

So is this a back-end or front-end problem?

Your developer can use the various tools discussed in the first article, as well as other diagnostic tests to determine this.

But a good starting point is to ensure that you eliminate Front-End issues early. This is because these are easy to identify. Basically, the Google PageSpeed and GTMetrix (YSlow) give you a Score for Front-End optimisation. If these scores are good – then focus on the Back-End. If these are bad, ask your developer what is involved in improving these, because there are often low-cost quick wins in fixing Front-End problems.

3. What Can I do To Improve My Site

This is a comparatively brief overview. This section is not for developers, it’s to arm you to see where you can get the best return on investment in optimising your site.

Front-End Optimisation

Google PageSpeed actually lists areas for improvement, that you can point your developer to.

I group these into three main categories:

  1. Reduce code and compression: You should talk to your web developer, about what they have done, or can do to reduce the code overhead on your site, including compression, JavaScript optimisation and minimising the HTML.
  2. Browser caching: Code changes to allow the browser to reuse code that has already been downloaded to the browser, without having to re-download.
  3. Optimise your images: Tests show that particularly on image heavy sites, reducing your file size by 5-10% can speed your site up significantly. Often initial builds of websites are optimised, but as other people get involved, including designers, and your staff updating products, poorly compressed images are used. There are a number of tools for optimising images (including automated compression) which can make a big difference to site load times.

Back-End Optimisation

Back-End optimisations are not as easy to identify. Resolution of problems involve:

  1. Server Caching (Page Caching): Because eCommerce pages are a combination of design templates, assets, and product information pulled from a database, it takes time for a server to assemble each page. A page cache builds the page once, and send that “pre-built” version to anybody that requests it. Most eCommerce systems have options or plugins for page caching. Has your developer been active in choosing the most efficient?
  2. Hosting: Have you considered the Cost / Benefits Analysis of better or dedicated hosting? If paying an extra $300 per month resulted in 5% more sales would that be stack up as a good ROI? 
  3. Content Display Networks: A CDN is actually a network of servers distributing the same sites based on geographic locations. Your site is cached on servers located all around the world and served to your customer based on whichever server he is closest too. For example, if your CDN has servers in Melbourne and Sydney, your Sydney customers would be served the site from the Sydney servers and the Melbourne ones from Melbourne.
  4. Prioritise Above the Fold Content: You can improve the experience of your users by having above the fold content (the top of the page) load faster, even if the rest of the page continues to load in the background. Talk to your developer about how you might achieve this.
  5. External code calls: Get your developer to check external plugins like social share icons and tags are not slowing down the load times. Tags can be consolidated using Google Tag Manager for better performance.
  6. Code Optimisations and Plugins: Code optimisation involves analysing the code and database queries and finding the spots where the code is inefficient and fixing those problems. In Magento or other eCommerce systems this may involve upgrading to most recent versions, and/or a review of Plugins.

3. Next steps

Go ahead do some speed benchmarking against competitors. You’ll also get some insights into quick wins from Google PageSpeed and GTMetrix, that will enable you to start a conversation with your developer. 

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