Web Performance Optimization Basics

October 2016

When it comes to building and maintaining a successful website, web performance optimization is one of the leading priorities for the web team involved in site maintenance. Nowadays, even with high speed internet connections and the ubiquity of 4G on mobile platforms, many websites are struggling to succeed due to slow load time and poor execution. The optimization of the loading time is a technical discipline, but the web performance has a larger scope, as it is part of a culture that goes beyond technological expertise.

So why are some websites are slower than others? What are the economic impacts for such websites? How can the situation be improved? This article will introduce you to the basics of web performance optimization, and give you tips on how your site can benefit from some added performance tools.

The Importance of Web Performance Optimization

When was the last time you were frustrated and annoyed by the slow loading time of a website?

Whether you're a site manager or a user, a slow loading website can be very frustrating. Technical advances over the past few years have made us accustomed to very quick means of exchanging information. While this certainly has its benefits, it has unfortunately made us much less inclined to endure longer wait times. And this newfound impatience has impacts across the board.

A recent study conducted over a panel of e-commerce sites indicated that even one second added to loading time reduced the satisfaction of users by 16%. It has been noted that an excessive waiting time make users worry about the safety of the site.

Factors That Impact Website Performance

A website's performance can be impacted by a number of factors on both the site and user sides. These factors include internet connection, user location, the server response, as well as the front-end development.

Internet speeds have improved exponentially over the past decade, but unfortunately, not all users are privy to the same level of internet availability. Fiber availability, user location, and internet service providers each affect network availability and speed in different ways. As a result, many areas of the world are still experiencing some sort of latency. This means that some internet users must wait much longer for data requests to travel from their device to a web server. Latency can have a major impact on the loading of web pages. In order to load a single webpage, data may sometimes have to travel from device to server multiple times.

Latency is heavily impacted by the distance between a device and the server. The internet is fast, but far from being instantaneous. It is a complex network where data is converted and transferred at high speeds, but still there are several operations that can slow down the transfer of data. This phenomenon is accentuated by that distance data has to travel before reaching its destination.

Server response is the starting point of website performance. When a request is made, an internet server returns an HTML response, which will allow the web browser to "build" the page. This involves retrieving all of the necessary site dependencies (including images, JavaScript, etc.) and then displaying them correctly. In most cases, the response time is a small factor in a page's load time. However, poor coding and development errors can cause a significant increase in the response time of a page and therefore dramatically increase the time required to load a webpage.

A site's front-end represents all of the interactive elements of a web page that is downloaded by the browser (including HTML, CSS, JavaScript, etc.). For a user, the front end represents the visible part of a website. Once a site manager has fixed the issues related to server response time, the front-end elements should be optimized according to the impact of any possible technical constrains on a user side (including internet connection and latency, as discussed above).

Impacts of Web Performance Optimization

For businesses, web performance optimization has a direct economic impact. In today's internet age, users now have far more options for purchasing products, and are thus less brand loyal. As a result, they are much more likely to abandon a site if it is not performing well and go to that of a competitor.

A few years ago, e-commerce website AutoAnything.com noticed that its website's "bloated" homepage was causing an unnecessarily long loading time for their customers. Upon examination of their site, the company (which specializes in the selling of auto parts) found that its extensive navigation menu was one of the root causes of the lag time. In response, the company decided to add a sort of accelerator to their site that would route user traffic through two different system servers. The accelerator ultimately improved the site's loading speed by 50%, resulting in an 11% increase in average cart value.

Believe it or not, loading times also has a profound effect on the search engine optimization of a website. In 2010, Google penalized 1% of its indexed sites due to their excessive slowness (slow server response time). The faster a site can be indexed by Google, the faster it can climb the rankings in Google's search pages. It should also be noted that Google considers loading speed as a major ranking criterion for mobile websites.

Web Performance Optimization Tools

There are several tools to analyze and optimize your website:

Google PageSpeed Insights



Yellow Lab Tools

Image: © Rashad Ashurov - Shutterstock.com

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