Sam Bocetta

Why Slow Websites Test Audience Patience Now More Than Ever

When it comes to eCommerce websites, loading speeds can make or break a business’s bottom line. Customers simply won’t bother to wait around for a slow page to load in this age of 4G (with 5G on the way) wireless speeds and lightning-fast Wi-Fi, especially when there’s a competitor around every virtual corner.

Business owners need to constantly find new ways to decrease load times in the face of a (hopefully) always-increasing traffic flow. Doing so strengthens a company’s reputation and convinces more new customers to trust them with their shopping needs.

To help you thrive in the face of impatient visitors and Google speed standards of around two seconds, here are some tips to optimize your eCommerce website’s speed and performance:

1. Shrink File Sizes for Faster Page Loads

When a visitor navigates to a page on your eCommerce website, a number of different actions occur in the blink of an eye. First, the user’s browser communicates with the website’s primary server over the HTTP protocol and requests the contents of a specific URL address. The server will immediately begin pulling up all resources related to the request, including HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and image files.

Response time is a performance metric that tracks how quickly an application server can respond to web requests. However, it doesn’t measure the full time that elapses during an eCommerce page load. Site developers and administrators need to take into account how a user’s browser will handle all of the content that’s included in a basic HTTP request.

For example, if a page request includes a series of images for several products on sale, these JPEG or PNG files need to be individually loaded through the user’s browser. Resource loading speed depends on a number of factors, but the key rule is that smaller files equal better performance.

Minimizing the size of HTTP responses can noticeably improve loading speeds. Compressing the image file format or reducing the overall number of pixels is an easy step to take. There are a number of free tools online that will analyze your HTML, CSS, and JavaScript code and automatically shrink files to save precious milliseconds in load times, eg Minifier.

2. Invest in Dedicated Hosting Environments

In the early days of the World Wide Web, most sites were hosted from local servers or very small data centers. This gave administrators full access to their hardware. However, it severely limited the performance of the websites for end users because the experience depended on the speed of the company’s local network and bandwidth.

With the migration to cloud computing, the whole equation changed overnight. Now eCommerce outlets can host their website on large platforms like Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure. The immediate benefits are a decrease in overall server management costs and a significant boost in network speeds without concerns about upgrades and maintenance.

For those not ready to sign up with the giant platforms just mentioned, one big step towards a faster website is to use a quality shared hosting provider. Though this area of the hosting industry has received some flak related to security vulnerabilities thanks to lack of shared computing resources, savvy providers quickly learned that being able to manage the demands of all of their customers is good for business.

These days, a good shared hosting service should not give a site owner any cause for worry and can likely get you online at a lower price point.

3. Utilize Content Delivery Networks

Physical geography can make a huge difference in the context of website speed and performance. Wired and wireless networks are faster than ever before, but moving data between continents still involves a certain degree of delay thanks to the unavoidable concept of latency. Working around this issue can produce big benefits for an eCommerce website.

A content delivery network (CDN) is specially designed to cache a current version of your website in different locations around the world. For example, if your primary data center is situated on the east coast of the United States, a typical user in Australia would experience slowdowns when viewing products or filling up a shopping cart.

But with a CDN deployment, the user’s browser in Australia will talk directly to a localized cache within their own country and experience faster loading times as a result. Using a CDN can be cheaper than trying to replicate your entire web server and database across multiple regions on a cloud platform.

4. The Bottom Line

In the early days of the commercial internet, perhaps circa 1995, going online was such a novel experience that a slow website wasn’t necessarily the kiss of death to a business. Things have changed. The internet is now essentially another utility and, like flipping on the television, the audience is not willing to wait around for 30 seconds for stuff to show up on the screen.

What this means to an eCommerce site owner is that a slow website is not an option. The process of speeding it up, however, will never be complete because entropy (tendency towards random disorder in a system) is always in the mix. Slow and steady wins the race here. Develop a never-ending strategy that involves tweaking, tweaking, and then tweaking some more. Good luck.

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About the Author:

Sam Bocetta

Sam Bocetta is a freelance journalist specializing in U.S. diplomacy and national security, with emphases on technology trends in cyberwarfare, cyberdefense, and cryptography.

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