Every one of us knows from direct experience that if a website takes time to load, especially if we’re looking for something, we’re more likely to move on than to wait.
An Akamai report on the State of Online Retail Performance noted:
- For peak conversions, store sites have to load in under 2.7 seconds and closer to 1.8 seconds.
- For the lowest bounce rates on eCommerce sites, pages should load from 700ms to 1.2 seconds.
- A 2-second delay on eCommerce sites reduced session length (the amount of browsing) by 51%.
The Salesforce Commerce Cloud Shopping report noted that a 100-millisecond delay in load time hurt conversion rates by up to 7%.
You don’t have to look far to find reports that tell you the same thing: when it comes to eCommerce, every second counts.
That’s why whenever we’re talking to store owners, regardless of what platform they’re using, we recommend these four things they can do to optimize the speed and performance of their stores.
1. Take great images – but compress them
Bad images will hurt you when it comes to conversion. But a slow site will hurt you even more. So while it’s important to take beautiful photos of your products, it’s also incredibly important that you have a workflow that optimizes your photos for how they’ll be used online.
We worked with one store owner who was uploading photos to their website directly from the files shared with them on Dropbox from their photographer. These were huge images that would have been the perfect quality for a full-page ad in a printed magazine, but for their online store, it was way too much.
There are a lot of solutions out there that can help you optimize your photos before uploading them to your store. Here are just a few:
- EWWW Image Optimizer – works on your WordPress sites
- TinyPNG – an online optimization service that has a WordPress plugin
- imgix – another online solution that has a WordPress plugin
- ImageOptim – a Mac or Online solution
- Kraken.io – an online solution that let’s you say, “Release the…” you get it
- Compressor.io – an online solution
- Imagify – another solution with a lot of options and WordPress integration
- Optimus.io – an online service specifically for WordPress
Whether you process each image when you upload it to your store via an integration or API call from your store’s platform to an online service, or you process the images on your computer before uploading – the goal is to make sure that you don’t put images on your site that are so large that they’ll slow down your site.
As you look at some of these options you’ll see both lossy and lossless compression options. With lossless compression, all the data in the image isn’t lost as compression happens. With lossy compression, some of the data from the original image file is lost. You might think this means you always want lossless compression, but it’s not always the case. The compression you can get with lossy settings can be pretty darn impression.
Only you’ll know if the speed trade-off is worth it.
2. Solve your search issues with Algolia
In the same report mentioned above from Salesforce, they noted that purchase intent was never more clear than in 2017. In other words, the actions of people engaged on a site, even before they made a purchase, highlighted the difference between people who would ultimately buy something and those who wouldn’t.
What made the difference? Well, one of the leading factors was whether a shopper utilized the store’s search feature. Depending on your eCommerce platform, that could be great news or painful news.
For WooCommerce store owners who are provided a search feature that leverages what comes naturally with WordPress, it’s very painful. Search, in WordPress, is just a mediocre service.
But this isn’t just a WooCommerce issue. For years in the Shopify discussion forums, you’ll find people complaining about search (either on the store or on their iPad).
The good news is that you can optimize your search speed pretty easily these days. Before, the most common answer would be to build another set of servers that would do your indexing for you, using elasticsearch. But this approach could prove more complicated, costly, and require a level of technical expertise you may not want to develop.
Today there exists Algolia and it provides external servers for store indexing – for Shopify, Magento, or WooCommerce. Once you connect it to your store, it will provide instant results to any search, providing autocomplete features so users can see partial results even as they’re typing in their search terms.
Even better, when using a mobile device, a customer may fat finger their search terms, but Algolia is smart enough to know how to handle misspellings.
There’s just no good reason not to use Algolia.
3. Do not let your store do any reporting
Every store owner I know wants great reports. They also, once getting a taste of good and useful data, always want more of it. But there’s a high cost to those reports and it’s easy to get carried away wanting useful data at the cost of conversions.
Because here’s the reality – there is no way your store can process data and statistics while also being lightning fast in delivering content to your shoppers.
It’s one thing if you want to ask your store for something silly like the total order volume or total revenue on a daily basis. That’s not a lot of work and it’s fast to do.
But most store owners want much more than that. They want to know:
- Which products are selling better than normal?
- Which repeat customers are creating greater than average profit margins?
- Which channels are leading to a greater number of repeat buyers?
These questions can only be answered by doing operations on derivative data – meaning you have to first collect data, then run an operation on it (to get more data), and then use that data and a new query to get even more new data.
When these operations occur on sets of data, not just a few rows, the processing starts using your server’s RAM and CPUs – and that means it can’t serve up pages and images and help customers check out quickly.
This is why we recommend using another platform to do your analysis and reporting.
You could look at larger systems like Custora or Zaius, or simply try Heap Analytics. Of course, our favorite is Glew.
4. Leverage caching and CDNs as much as you can
When a visitor navigates the pages on your store’s site, most of what they’re looking at is the same as what others are looking at. There’s no reason why you can’t cache those pages so that you can eliminate expensive trips to the server.
Even if you’ve compressed your images, there’s no reason not to use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to store those images and deliver them faster based on where your traffic is visiting from.
Both approaches will optimize your store speed dramatically.
The problem comes when a returning visitor comes and you want to present some content that highlights you know them – from personalized messages to recommended products. Or they create accounts and log in during the checkout process to save or use saved data (like their shipping address). You don’t want them experiencing a highly cached environment in that case. In fact, every cart, checkout and person’s account page is unique.
So how can you do it?
You leverage a service like Cloudflare that allows you to create exception rules for caching so that you can make sure that the /cart, /checkout, and /my-account pages aren’t ever cached.
You can also leverage (if you’re on their business plan) a feature called “Bypass Cache on Cookie.” This allows your store to notice if the returning visitor has a cookie that can tell Cloudflare not to deliver cached content to them.
All of this will ensure that you’re serving as much cached data to customers as possible – and will accelerate the performance of your store.
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