Posted: Friday 29th November 2013 in Services.

92% of top UK online retailers fail the 3 second industry benchmark for site speed.

5 actions you can take today to speed up your website

Retailers understand that a slow website is bad for customer experience, but many see this as a technical issue and don’t appreciate the direct financial impact it has on sales. A lot of time is invested looking at marketing analytics, statistics for the latest promotion or how many orders have been taken each day, but website speed is rarely treated as a KPI.

At Summit we have released a piece of research looking at the website speed for the top 230 UK retailers. Our research shows that over 92% of these retailers fail the industry benchmark of 3 seconds for a webpage to load, and are therefore losing money every day.

Fortunately there are a number of things you can review and change that will give you an instant performance improvement and generate more sales.

1. Reduce and optimise images

Reducing the size of the images is one of the easiest areas to address quickly. Start by optimising any new images and then work back through each product group. Our clients are now seeing around 40% of traffic coming from smartphone and tablet devices and with these devices often experiencing slower connection speeds making sure your images are optimised has never been more important.

There are a number of free online tools that can be used to help you do this quickly and easily.

2. Do you really need all that video and rich media?

The use of rich media – such as videos and live streaming – can add significant weight to a page if not implemented correctly. You should assess which of the external elements are actually being used by visitors to the website, and remove any external content which isn’t relevant or improving the customer experience.

For those elements you decide to keep there are some things you can do to minimise the effort it takes the server to download. For example, when integrating a video into a webpage, make sure you don’t set the video to auto-play when the page loads. This will ensure that the page layout and content aren’t held up while the video is being downloaded.

3. Tidy up the tracking code on your pages

It’s surprising how many of the websites we review have tracking code installed that is no longer used. Although you may have stopped using and paying for the service, if you haven’t removed the code from the website it will still be loaded as part of the page.

The same applies to social integrations and external content feeds. You may have previously displayed the contents of your Twitter feed on your pages, and since decided to remove it, but unless you turn off the integration that is running in the background then your web server will still be processing it.

4. Give your code a spring clean

Websites evolve over time, with new features and integrations added to the original platform. The quality of the code for these new additions often varies based on the knowledge and experience of the developer.

Simple things like extra white space between lines of code and files that have not been compressed add to the time it takes your server to process the page. To address this you’ll need to set aside time and budget for your web team to conduct a code review and amend the discrepancies.

While they’re doing this they should also review the database server and check for any slow queries. These could be optimised and indexes added, or the query restructured to speed up the time it takes to return the answer.

5. Review your hosting structure

As more retailers expand into international markets, consideration needs to be given to the hosting architecture used for the website. A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a cost effective way to serve content when expanding into new markets. This involves servers local to the user caching files, which avoids them having to travel all the way from your main data centre (sometimes located on the other side of the world).

For small to medium sized businesses you should also identify whether or not you have a dedicated server for your site. Shared servers are cost effective but you may find that heavy traffic on another site on the same server can greatly impact the performance of your site.

There is often no single reason why a website is slow, but a series of small elements that add extra seconds to the page loading. Website speed is something you should be monitoring as frequently as you monitor sales, conversion and traffic. You should allow some budget for website performance improvements in much the same way as a budget is assigned for functional development. A page that takes just 1 second over the industry benchmark will lose 7% of conversions. So for a retailer with an annual turnover of £10,000,000 and a website speed of 4 seconds, a total of £700,000 is being lost as a result of the website loading slowly.

For more information on anything mentioned above, please reach out to us at [email protected].