Having an eCommerce store is one thing, but having it optimized to facilitate the best User Experience (UX) is a whole another challenge. There are websites, in both B2B and B2C that are yet to optimize their eCommerce stores.
There exists a variety of metrics that influence the overall performance of any eCommerce store. Your eCommerce success depends on these vital variables. The increasing bounce rates or shrinking conversions rates are a direct derivative of not meeting optimum performance on your website.
Ultimately, you'll need to create web pages that are fast, smooth-loading, and prioritize user-experience above all else. It is well known how an increase in page speed improves the user experience and core business metrics. Hence page speed can no longer be left as an after-thought.
Image load delays, not having a mobile-friendly website are just some of the frictional elements that harm your website's performance. The performance of the site is a crucial driver of business sales. For a website to be impactful, it needs to be user-friendly, intuitive, and easy to navigate.
The last thing your eCommerce site wants to experience on a peak day is downtime and crashes that deplete the user experience. For an absolute best eCommerce experience - you'd have to accelerate for fast delivery of content and an increased capacity to handle the swarm of visitors.
When you are unable to deliver the requisite performance - you will need to invest in holistic performance optimization of your eCommerce website. Performance Optimization involves analyzing the website and initiating necessary tactics to catalyze its interface for increased conversions.
Page Speed Analysis
Even page speed is a performance and ranking factor. It is defined as the time it takes to display all the content on a page and is essential to your site's search engine position. Page speed has turned into a massive indicator of a website's overall user experience(UX).
Various tools give the best insight into the loading times. You may check your mobile site speed with Google. Outside of this, you can use Google's PageSpeed Insights, Pingdom, and GTmetrix, to get a detailed analysis of your website to deliver the best possible web experience to your customers.
Now, the analysis results may vary from tool to tool. For instance, nowadays, the results from PageSpeed Insights aren't an accurate indicator of the website's load time. Page Speed insights are free, but it comes with various limitations. PageSpeed Insights doesn't allow you to set a test location. It doesn't even allow connection throttling and customized tests. GTmetrix, on the other hand, allows all of this.
Pingdom offers uptime monitoring, transaction monitoring, and server monitoring features, with an alerting system if anything goes wrong with the site. GTmetrix provides a suite of features like preset creation, user-agent edit, screen resolution change, device simulation, and testing from multiple locations to optimize your website.
Hence, from the above, you can see that comprehensive testing is possible via GTmetrix and Pingdom. While PageSpeed Insights is a useful tool for checking your site against Google's speed rules, it doesn't offer customizations that other tools do. PageSpeed Insights identifies high numbers of 3rd party requests, lack of caching policy, or excessive DOM structures, but you are unable to specify connection throttling and server location.
The test location plays a significant factor in the analysis results. If the testing location is too far off from your website server - then expect latency and quality of network to become factors. Generally, the tool that tests closest to where you are located will give the best result. Hence, the results vary from tool to tool - because each tool offers a different set of features and uses unique testing methodologies.
Why Does eCommerce Performance Optimization Matter?
1. User Experience
Slow web pages cause a tremendous downfall in user experience. When visitors to your site don't receive a seamless and fluid browsing session, they feel fatigued and withdraw from the site after a while. The action of leaving the site despite the earlier eagerness to purchase is called abandonment. A slow and laggy interface is the principal reason for abandonment.
2. Bounce Rates
As more and more visitors abandon the website, the bounce rates escalate. The increasing bounce rates is not a good sign - as the effort and investment it takes to pull traffic to your site gets wasted. The footfall to your eCommerce website could've become potential leads. Instead, the poorly optimized website diminished the customer's experience and cost you a fortune in revenue.
3. Conversion Rates
When bounce rates escalate due to customers abandoning the site - simultaneously, the conversions also start to dampen. As a result, the conversion rate witnesses a continuous decline. A poorly optimized website is now severely denting your order placements. This wouldn't have been the case if your website provided quality performance.
4. Sales, Revenue, and Profits
When the conversion rate declines - you know it's because the sales have fallen considerably. The lack of sales will immediately affect revenue and overall profits. A slow-loading website becomes directly responsible for the loss of sales. Even worse, due to lack of sales, your coffers are emptying. But, had you improved the performance of the eCommerce site - this wouldn't have been the case.
5. Loyalty and Credibility
Poorly optimized websites that take forever to load, instill doubt in users' minds. It makes them question the credibility of the site. When users aren't confident about your site's quality - they'll likely abandon and transact elsewhere. If your site offered top-notch speeds, they'd not only place orders, but remain loyal and return in the near future as well. An optimized eCommerce site is capable of increasing the Customer Lifetime Value (CLV).
6. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
All of the above factors and others to be discussed later in this write-up will reveal how an unoptimized website can gravely affect your SEO. All the organic traffic to your eCommerce site will be redundant (not the target audience). Even worse, all the traffic to your site will lower substantially. All this is likely if your eCommerce store doesn't operate to its optimum best.
According to Search Engine Journal, 70-80% of all searchers ignore paid ads and focus only on organic results. As such, your actions of not optimizing the site will hurt your SEO. Google knows that a particular website has slow page speed, and thus it will be forced not to offer that website as the first choice to users. Load time not only affects engagement, retention, and conversion, but it'll also affect a site's ranking on search pages.
eCommerce Performance Optimization Techniques
1. Mobile Site Optimization
All your consumers are using their mobile devices. If they aren't completing purchases, they may, at the very least, be browsing on one to review products. In such a scenario, ignoring mobile will be harmful to sales. Thus, you'll need to ensure that the site is mobile friendly.
Responsive websites get higher rankings on SERP, which then increases the Click-Through-Rates (CTR). If your site isn't compatible with other devices, it'll be penalized by Google. Due to this, it will rank lower on SERP. Check for Google's Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). AMP is optimized for mobile web browsing and is intended to help web pages load faster.
2. Code Optimization
Merge and minify JS files and CSS files. Code minification helps to trim the excess of code pieces or even the buggy-unoptimized code pieces. Merging them helps to reduce the number of server requests, thereby speeding up the page load time.
Full-page caching will allow for quick loading of the display category, product, and CMS pages. Caching performs temporary storage of web pages to reduce bandwidth and improve performance. The visitor will be served a cached version when he lands on your website. This saves server time and makes things altogether faster.
Caching enhances performance by retaining frequently used data like stylesheets, images, JS files, and other info. Cache-control header or Expires headers are useful in helping web browsers cache the website. You will need to set this up and optimize the cache for the best performance on your eCommerce site.
4. Content Delivery Network (CDN)
The global nature of eCommerce means that your store is accessed from everywhere by everyone. In this scenario, anyone who is not close to where you are located mustn't see a reduced performance on the eCommerce site. This is when a Content Delivery Network (CDN) steps up to provide faster delivery of content.
This reduces bottlenecks on the same server due to overload from users' world over. The content within the CDN is replicated to exist in many places all at once. In other words, a CDN improves user experience and provides a more efficient network resource utilization.
A CDN will merely use geographical proximity for delivering web content. Choosing a CDN helps in loading the content faster. eCommerce companies, thus, use CDN operators to deliver their content more quickly to end-users. Leveraging a CDN is a non-negotiable element for your site, should you wish to optimize your website.
Images carry large amounts of additional data that can be compressed to make your website load faster. JPEGs take longer to respond than other image types and they are still the most popular format followed by PNGs and GIFs.
When it comes to product videos, consider embedding them via a 3rd party like YouTube. Embedding videos will not jeopardize the video quality. Also, if you work with large carousels, try focusing your content on the best pictures with minimal size, rather than sacrificing load time.
You would need to reduce the file size of your images. Strategically curate your image dimensions, especially when using additional images to display different shots of a product. When possible, make available a smaller image and thumbnails that can be viewed as a larger pop-up. Do not put the most prominent image on the landing page. Also, limit the use of multi-hero-image slideshows.
Crop unnecessary space, reduce color depth to the lowest acceptable level, remove image text, and save the image in an appropriate format. All this can be easily achieved with any image editing program. Further advanced optimization also involves compression of JPEG and PNG files. For this purpose, you may use tools like Tiny PNG and Kraken.
6. Redirects and Links
Each time a page redirects to another page on the website, a user has to wait for the HTTP request-response cycle to complete. Such redirects increase the amount of time it takes for the website to load.
The 302 redirects that are used to indicate that a page has been moved temporarily can hurt your SEO. They also result in additional HTTP requests and delay data transfers. Instead, use a "cacheable redirect" that is nothing but 301 redirects. Too many 301 redirects can slow things down on your website.
You'll also need to review all the broken links and conduct an extensive analysis of the same. Even try and set up custom 404 error pages. Remember that too many redirects and broken links also impact the site speed and your SEO rankings. Since, broken links for different elements on the page like images, CSS and JS increase HTTP requests.
Mobile pages, very often rely on a lot of redirects from one URL to another. Keep in mind that the caching storage on mobile devices is also much less than that on desktops. So ultimately, keep redirects to a bare minimum and serve pages directly.
All eCommerce store owners need to analyze whether their deployed hosting solution (hosting provider) can handle the traffic load and concurrent users expected at peak and during regular hours. If not, you'll need to optimize the web server configurations.
Better yet, choose a dedicated hosting solution, unless an online store is based on a SaaS platform like Shopify or Volusion, which handles the hosting settings and tuning. A physical server that is situated far from your target audience will lead to slow response time and, consequently, slow website load speed.
If your website uses a lot of widgets and plugins, it can severely impact the website's performance. You would need to optimize the use of these external add-ons to increase the site's speed. 3rd party extensions weigh down on the site's ability to load and refresh faster.
Very often the use of low-quality extensions, internal conflicts between installed plugins, or excess code in 3rd Party integrations, negatively affect the performance of your eCommerce store.
The same plugins are also known to introduce additional database queries and processing, which will further slow down your website. Hence ensure you add only the most necessary integrations and not go overboard with these add-ons. Every single requirement need not be addressed with bloated plugins.
9. In-built Features
Platforms that are equipped with inherent capabilities require fewer extensions. The more functionalities you get from the platform, the less third-party extensions and plugins you need to install. WooCommerce is a platform that offers very little in terms of built-in features. It leaves a lot of room for out-of-the-box features. It is just a free plugin that turns your WordPress website into an online store.
So, to turn your WooCommerce website into a feature-rich store, you'll need to install additional plugins. Magento and BigCommerce, on the other hand, provide merchants with various tools right out-of-the-box. These platforms are packed with tons of features to help you get started right away. Less reliance on extensions means your eCommerce website performance is not compromised. Next time, while selecting a platform, opt for one that gives you many intuitive features.
10. Database Optimization
All webpage loads that happen on the website require calls to your database to return data. The data is needed to help build out the page. From order placements to "Add to Cart," all require calls to the database. If your site search is slow, it's because of the database performance. On many websites, this is the first place to start troubleshooting for slow page loads. Even the number of orders you accept in a day will influence the database size and setup from the hosting provider.
To optimize your website for higher speeds, get your development team to perform a quarterly database cleansing. Clean out outdated log tables, get rid of expired coupons, archiving sales orders, unnecessary data build-up, and more. Even check the configuration of the database. Sometimes a 30-sec configuration tweak can make or break the performance of the website.
11. HTTP Requests
When visitors access your website, your server is hit with HTTP requests. As a store owner, you will need to make sure that as few requests as possible are used when accessing images, CSS scripts, or files within your website.
A higher number of elements on the page lead to more requests being sent by the browser to the server, and this then affects the load speed even more. Try as much to reduce the elements on the page or combine several small elements into one CSS Sprite.
That's not all; it is believed that having an HTTPS leads to almost five times faster load times than HTTP. This means you will need to get an SSL certificate for your online store to achieve higher speeds.
eCommerce Platform Optimization
WooCommerce has its pain points, like the lack of hosting. The absence of hosting gives you the freedom to choose your hosting provider - but not every hosting solution can handle the high traffic loads. WooCommerce makes up for it by providing ample caching options. On WooCommerce for caching purposes - you may use tools like WP Super Cache or W3 Total Cache. The themes available on WooCommerce are already optimized to load within 1 - 1.5 seconds.
Magento doesn't provide any hosting. But, Magento provides the most extensive caching capabilities. There are various types of Cache in Magento 2 like Configuration, Layout, Collection Data, etc., and each one is aimed at improving the speed of the store. Magento also offers a myriad of extension options, but how they'll integrate into the store depends on its quality. The full-page cache ability is another highlight of Magento.
Shopify is a SaaS platform and is thus already equipped with domain and hosting. They are also known to offer a high-quality CDN - on top of the fast server response and lack of downtime. Shopify Plus claims to have a 99.98% uptime. They even stress on their storefront loading 2.97X faster than any other SaaS platforms.
BigCommerce is another platform that delivers top speeds via a host of features. For instance, BigCommerce uses Content Delivery Networks (CDN) to store image information and improve the page speeds. Beyond this, the themes available on the BigCommerce marketplace use a streamlined framework out of the box. Further, BigCommerce uses the Akamai Image manager to optimize images automatically.
Volusion has a ton of responsive themes on their marketplace; this ensures you can directly integrate one without the need to go into extensive coding. When it comes to image optimization, Volusion offers ImageOptim, Optimizilla, and Kraken.io to compress and resize images for faster load times. More than anything, Volusion offers premium hosting to ensure the reliability and stability of your website.
The performance of your eCommerce website will influence the sales you get. Thus, overlooking it will see diminishing returns. However, if you fix the performance now, not only will you save your website, but in the long term, you'll also build more credibility for your brand.
Acquiring customers may be easy, but brands know how hard it can be to retain these customers. The higher trust in your website will lead to more site visits. Visitors who had a memorable experience will likely consider your brand for their next requirements. In turn, you'll start to see a considerable increase in your Customer Lifetime Value (CLV).
Of course, the price of the products, certifications, shipping, etc. will also influence the number of orders. But, with performance optimization, you have already won half the battle. A fluid, smooth, and seamless journey will undoubtedly encourage people to stay on the site longer, elevating your website's conversions.