Like Dr. Frankenstein, we tend to overlook flaws in our own creations. So, if you suspect your ecommerce website is a bit slow, it’s probably seriously under-performing. That’s okay because there are plenty of options to fix the problem—and a serious problem it is. Here are some eye-opening stats about site load speed:
- 47% of customers expect web pages to load in two seconds or less
- 57% of visitors will leave your site if load times are longer than three seconds
- Of those 57% who leave, 80% will never return to your site
- Of those 80% never-returners, 44% will tell their friends about their bad experience
These stats read like the slow death of an underperforming ecommerce site. Customers are impatient and have high expectations. When those expectations aren’t met, they leave and never return. Then, they go out of their way to tell friends and family to avoid you. This cycle spirals as your traffic slows, visitors stop converting, and your revenue tanks.
Your site’s load speed and page load times are the bedrock on which you build your conversion rate optimization (CRO). Your product page might be flawlessly designed, but if it doesn’t meet the expectations of an impatient customer anxiously holding their credit card, it won’t get you the sale.
How Website Speed Affects Your Conversions
The purpose of CRO is to streamline your marketing and web design to get visitors to convert to customers. It’s about enticing them to click, follow, like, or download, and removing hurdles to those actions. Your conversion rate is a measure of the effectiveness of this strategy, and your site load speed has a tremendous impact on it. Here are a few problems you’ll encounter with slow page load speeds.
Higher Bounce Rates
When your page load times are slow, your carefully constructed site architecture designed to funnel traffic to product pages is full of twists, turns, and barriers. If your home page loads in a snap, but the product page takes twice as long, the inconsistency is annoying to customers. Instead of waiting, visitors will hit the back button or close the browser window, and you’ve lost a potential conversion.
Too many of these swift exits will increase your bounce rate. Google interprets bounces as a signal that your content isn’t relevant and will push you down in search results. Over time, this adds up to lower traffic rates and fewer conversions. To get the lowest bounce rates, studies show you need a load time that’s under 1.2 seconds.
Shorter Session Lengths
Sessions are a measure of visits, not visitors. So the metric is always higher than total unique visitors because each visitor can have more than one session. Lower sessions mean visitors are returning to your store fewer times. There are many reasons for this—seasonal trends, shifts in organic rankings—but a major cause is slow site speeds.
An Akamai report showed that a two-second delay in page load speeds correlates to a 51% decrease in session length. Fewer return visits mean fewer opportunities to expose visitors to your brand or products—oh, and fewer conversions.
Lower Brand Sentiment
Visitors who bounce from your store because of slow load times won’t keep it to themselves. They’ll tell friends about the time they wasted trying to use your site.
Website performance is a big part of the first impression you make to visitors—and that impression is highly contagious. Word-of-mouth recommendations or warnings are powerful influencers, and ecommerce businesses rely on them to bring in new customers and retain current ones.
Lower Investment for CRO
Performance studies estimate that for every 1 second it takes for your ecommerce site to load, your conversion rate drops 7%. If we assume all conversions are sales, that would total $25,000 in annual revenue loss for a store that brought in an average of $1,000 per day.
Not only is that lost revenue for you, but it’s also less money you have to re-invest in social media ads, email campaigns, and all of the other marketing strategies that underpin your CRO.
If you can’t invest in conversions, your customer base won’t grow, which means your profits won’t either. It’s difficult for small ecommerce businesses to escape the pull of this negative feedback loop. Avoid it by maintaining good website performance from the get-go.
How To Increase Your Page Load Speeds
While there are many ways to improve your conversions, speeding up your website performance should top your CRO list. Here are some ways to get those product pages popping up in front of customers quickly.
Test Your Site’s Speed
First, see how slow your site really is. Use a website performance tester like GTMetrix to identify your biggest problems. The service will analyze your page speeds, give them a grade, and suggest fixes.
Optimize Your Media
Even though images and videos can improve your CRO, you pay the price in longer page load times. So, make sure you optimize your images and compress your videos for the web.
When media is optimized, your server can push out files faster and your pages will load quicker. Instead of relying on HTML or CSS to resize your images, upload them at the smallest sizes you can get away with.
Leverage Browser Caching
If optimizing and compressing your media isn’t boosting your website performance, have your developers leverage browser caching. Browser caching stores frequently used data on your customer’s memory for a short period of time. So, when they visit your site again, the data is already stored locally, making it load faster. Ask your IT team to enable browser caching or try a WordPress caching plugin.
Clean Up Your Code
Minification is the technique of “cleaning” your code—eliminating all of the spaces and extra characters you don’t need. Use minification to clean up your website’s source code and make it run faster. Although minification removes characters and spaces, it doesn’t alter its function—just tidies things up a bit. You can minify your code with online compressor tools for CSS and HTML.
Get a Content Delivery Network
Internet traffic flies through thousands of miles of network cables, flying through space, and around the planet. The farther customers are from you, the longer it takes to load content for them.
Content delivery networks (CDNs) are strategically placed servers that help speed up delivery by storing your cached web files closer to your customers. The shorter distance means CDNs load your pages faster, even for customers that live halfway around the world.
Avoid Landing Page Redirects
When you have redirects on a landing page, it delays the page load as the redirect processes. And your customers wait. If you have a redirect, have it execute on the server side instead of the client side. This reduces client-side round-trip requests.
The time it takes for your customers to send a request and your server to send a response is called the round-trip time. Keeping HTTP redirects from one URL to another at a minimum cuts out additional round-trips, which means shorter wait times for your customers.
Use Lazy Loading
When a customer opens one of your product pages, the entire page’s content is downloaded, rendered, and cached. That includes all of the products on that page, which could include dozens of images. However, there’s no guarantee that the customer will view all of these images. They may only look at what’s “above the fold” of the page, without scrolling down. But all of that data has to be loaded anyway. This adds to your load times.
Lazy loading is a web design strategy for saving precious loading resources by delivering only the images and text that the customer needs. Website platforms like WordPress feature lazy loading solutions like Infinite Scroll that continuously load content as the user scrolls down the page. Similar lazy loading plugins exist for ecommerce platforms like WooCommerce.
Enable GZIP Compression
Any file your server sends to a browser can be compressed before delivery. Compressed files are transferred faster, cutting down on bandwidth usage and increasing page load times. Run a GZIP compression test to ensure things are running smoothly. And have your IT team configure your server to return zipped content when possible.
Choose a Dedicated Hosting Plan
If you really want to affect your website performance find the right host for your ecommerce needs. The right host serves as a website speed optimization service because it continually monitors your performance and automatically adds resources when they’re needed.
Often, smaller ecommerce sites choose shared hosting plans because they’re inexpensive. However, the trade-off is in speed. Check to see if you’re on a shared server hosting plan. If so, you’ll want to switch to a managed hosting account that’s optimized for your ecommerce platform. If you have an IT team, choose a virtual private server or dedicated server setup.
Improving your website performance is challenging but worth the effort. Don’t feel like you need to implement all of the changes at once. Optimization will take some time.
Locate the issues that are having the biggest effect and tackles those first. If you have an IT team, most of these are easy fixes. But even if you take on the task alone, remember your conversion rate depends on delivering content to match the speed of your customers’ expectations, not your own.
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