Maximising Website Performance
The importance of website performance
Users expectations have been changing for some time. At time of writing, it is 2020 and we are constantly seeing technology move by at rapid pace. Greater connectivity, increased speed and higher expectations means that website users expect their needs to be met in an instant every time they visit your platform. Sub par site layouts or loading speed is to be avoided at all cost since it is proven to turn customers away and send them directly to seek out your competitors.
The goal is always to provide fast loading and great experience for a deeper and richer engagement with its consumers which ultimately results in higher conversion and greater return on investment from your online platform.
Where to start
The topic of website performance is quite a varied one. There are many levers to pull and a range of areas that require attention, however it is important to first evaluate your current state and understand what you are working with. Don't worry -- this is a non-technical outline, for the most part. First, we need to determine which areas to focus on and why, in order to start improvements that lead to achievement of better results. Here’s our list of areas for focus
Your website is either fast, or it's not. Since your website’s performance depends primarily on its speed, needless to say, this should be at the top of the list. Site speed is more of a technical area of focus and can be part server/infrastructure, as well as part content/design.
Responsiveness / mobile-friendly test
Across the past decade, there has been a big shift in the number of users most businesses and online stores receive from mobile devices. The modern customer is always on-the-go and often uses their mobile phone for everything from product/service research, right the way through to completing transactions. Having a desktop focused experience on a mobile device is frustrating and should be avoided whenever possible.
Be aware of the user journey and purchase flow that your customer takes throughout their time on your site. Be on the lookout for possible gaps or pain points across that journey that these users will encounter throughout the process that can cause frustration and turn them away. An example we often see is where a broken link or incomplete content may be presented to a user, in recent heatmapping research we conducted for a client, it was found that users would encounter this part of the website and leave straight away. It was a distinct pattern, but also one simple thing that was able to be improved relatively quickly. Changing this simple thing, had a large increase in encouraging enquiry.
Testing Website Performance
As noted, there are a number of methods you can undertake to check the performance of your current web presence. We break these down into User based elements and Technical based elements.
- User Based - focused on the end user / consumer of your product or service and how they can access and interpret your website
- Technical Based - focused on the website itself and more technical in nature. This relates to the bones of the site itself, the design and overall server performance.
User Based Performance
You can complete this check right now. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer or average website user.
- First, ask yourself if you were your customer, what is the number one thing that you would want to achieve when browsing your website?
- Pull out your mobile phone, navigate to your website and attempt to complete that objective
- The things you are looking to assess are:
- Slow to load and / or visible errors
- Poorly designed and not obvious how to navigate
- Poorly explained or missing content
- Take note of these items -- these are quick wins and are likely causing your website visitors to be turned away
- Complete the same task on your desktop computer and see whether you note the same points, or whether additional items are raised.
Similar to the Self Assessment above, you can ask someone impartial for a second opinion. In User Experience testing and research, it's beneficial to undertake user testing and understand how someone who is the ideal prospect for your business reacts or navigates the website to find and identify the information they are seeking.
In the absence of a test subject, ask a colleague or third party to undertake the same task that you outlined in the Self Assessment section. It doesn't have to be laborious, but the insight will certainly be valuable and can have an immediate impact on conversions.
There are a range of tools and frameworks available to test, measure and report on website performance. The point of this article is not to make reference to which one is better, but to instead choose the most common or widely used tools and provide them as the basis for you to assess your own websites performance, easily and from a technical perspective.
In the realm of technical website performance, there are a number of different areas at play. In my opinion, the most relevant are:
- Website structure - this is the HTML and scripting used in the construction of your page layout and design. It might look great, but how it holds together has a massive impact on performance.
- Website core - this is typically related to the content management system and server architecture. Usually you'll need a web developer to manage and improve these for you.
- Website content - this relates to the words and images on every page. Eg if you had an About Us page with a massive high resolution photo of your team, that's going to increase page load time.
- Third party items - any external plugin or widget that is used for specific functionality. This could be anything from marketing or analytics based plugins like Google Analytics, custom fonts or video embeds.
Various tools to measure performance
Each of the tools below can be utilised to provide insight on the four areas listed above. For each tool, I'll reference the premise of the tool and the areas it covers.
- GTMetrix - This is a free tool that analyses your website’s speed performance using the Google PageSpeed and YSlow methods. Each of these methods tests different attributes of the website and provides you a score for each. A low score, typically means lots of areas for improvement, though it's important to look at the breakdown of why the score was low and understand whether there is benefit in improving it. This tool tests across all four of the technical website performance areas listed above.
- Google Pagespeed - The standalone website testing tool from Google. It is incorporated as part of the PageSpeed test within GTMetric (#1 above) and is designed to help optimise a website's performance. This focuses mostly on Website Structure and Website Core areas. You can view the tool here.
As with making any improvement or performance adjustment, it's best to approach it based on most important, to least important. I've collated the quick wins and low hanging fruit below.
Depending on your business goals and the outcomes of either user or technical based testing, items which we often see or consider to be on the quicker side include:
- adding plugins or making server changes that can cache website elements or improve load time significantly. This helps reduce the waiting time for people to load your site and keeps things moving quickly
- optimising images and other site other content so that it downloads and displays quickly on their desktop or mobile devices
- adjusting or expanding on content to improve the way that you communicate your product/service or other areas of your website
When it comes to the more technical side of things, there may be more heavy lifting involved from your perspective. Some of these items which may require additional or outside help include:
- finding a new web host and migrating your site to improve speed
- making structural site changes to improve user experience, speed or load times
- improving the responsiveness of the site to properly support mobile or tablet devices
Benefits to improving speed and performance
Regardless of what the focus items are for you with improving website performance, there is an ongoing need to address and improve these elements over time. Some of the benefits of improving your website’s performance are:
- Increases in conversions - Recent studies have found that site speed directly affects revenue. A one second improvement in page load time was shown to deliver 7% extra direct revenue.
- Greater satisfaction from users - Once waiting times are reduced, discomfort in navigating the website is eliminated as well and website visitors are encouraged to spend more time on site. As a result of this there is also more chance that they'll engage with your content leading to sale/enquiry.
- Increased Sharing - Engaged website users are more likely to share content which leads to more potential visitors to your site and your content.
- Increased number of return visitors - Most transactions take many touch points. Improving the experience received leads to more chance they'll return in the future for both existing and new customers.
Overall there are a range of things that you can do to improve website performance. The first step is to decide that you want to take the lead and stand out at the top of your industry with a high performance website. At Assure Digital, we specialise in building high performing website solutions that actively drive sales and enquiries from your online presence directly into your business. If you are unsure where to start when it comes to website performance, get in touch with our specialists, we'd love to help you get everything running fast and running smoothly.