5 Ways Great Online Brands Optimize Site Speed and User Experience
Creating a rich and engaging web experience depends on many factors, but web performance is one of the most crucial. A slow performing web application can make it very difficult to retain existing users and encourage loyalty. That’s why great web brands are proactive with performance, approaching it head-on with a number of useful techniques. Below are 5 things we’ve observed great brands doing to improve overall web performance, and to promote a unique customer experience.
How Big Brands are Speeding Up their Sites
1. Efficiently managing their third party tags and services
Third party scripts have been wreaking havoc on web pages since the dawn of the 2.0 era. Every chat widget, social media button, or advertisement that’s served from outside your own server is a potential point of failure. For awhile, the best solution was to make sure these scripts were loaded asynchronously (so that they wouldn’t block other assets from being downloaded and rendered in the browser) and to place them lower in the load order (again so that they wouldn’t inhibit the loading of more central items, like graphics and text). These are basically risk mitigation steps — in those scenarios the script will load, at some point, no matter what.
Nowadays, sites are fetching page content from more domains than ever before, and some big brands are going a step beyond those basics. This includes using advanced techniques to delay load or load them on command. This can be accomplished with custom code or automation. The advantage is clear: say a user never clicks the tab to reveal the reviews of a product. By not loading them at all, you’re helping the experience on that page. If the user clicks the area to reveal, they can be streamed in.
2. They handle their images
Image optimization is the corner of WPO with the most attention currently. The much-cited stats about images comprising the majority of web page weight are driving lots of free tools, new methods, and inspired debates. Variations of a few methods — image sprites, lossy and lossless compression, and lazyloading — have carried the day.
Great brands take these tactics a step further, though. For images, the best experience is to achieve “just in time” loading by leveraging a feedback loop from the client. That way, you can send properly optimized and sized images per the location and screen type required by the individual user. This avoids inefficiencies on the back-end (like having to store multiple versions of images in cache and redo the taxing setup process every time an image is changed) or, worse, on the front end (just sending one big image and letting the browser re-size it, which is asking for performance problems).
3. Optimizing for ALL users…not just the ‘popular’ ones
There’s a lot of talk about mobile, and optimizing for mobile visitors. That’s great — with mobile page loads twice as slow as desktop page loads, there’s still a long way to go.
But the fact is the pie of web users is still split out into a huge number of permutations. Great web brands realize this. They don’t let it slip when a new feature doesn’t work on an older browser version, or on a rare tablet viewport size. They find a way to leverage the responsive and adaptive principles of design and performance optimization to ensure that all users get a great experience. This involves extensive testing (again, can be done in-house but more likely performed as a service).
The best part about this is it doesn’t hurt performance — it actually helps. By thinking about performance in terms of different contexts, (see next list item) brands can take steps to consider performance in those contexts.
4. Utilizing context
Great brands understand the customer imperative. They know that across all touch points, it’s better to understand the individual user and tailor the experience to them. That might be seemingly superficial touches like personalization: a “Welcome back, Alex” showing up on the website where I’m logged in, or a smiling associate at the store who asks what she can help me with. Another level deeper, it might mean listening to requests from customers in a community portal and making sure they’re responded to and/or executed on.
More broadly, though, it’s simply a matter of building a customer experience mindset into the AppDev and IT processes: asking not what’s easy, or what’s trendy in the industry, but what your customers would like.
Importantly, great brands also see the performance through the lens of customer experience. They know that by looking at behaviors and preferences of users on certain combinations of device, connection speed, browser and more, they can adapt experiences to the individual.
This is where the performance tradeoff is laid bare. Should the user on an iPhone 4s see a banner or a grouping of images? Which loads faster? How much faster? What’s the difference in conversion rates between the two formats, agnostic of speed? These are the questions that come up when brands are focused on performance as a component of customer experience, not as a race to shave milliseconds by any means necessary.
It’s less that these big brands are speeding up their websites with context though that surely is an effect — it’s that they’re playing with the interactions and possibilities of speed and experience.
5. Make smart performance decisions from the beginning
Similarly, great web brands think about performance proactively, not reactively. Too many online companies slough the performance problem off onto some poor IT team at the tail end of the development process. Great web brands understand that the process of building web apps means lots of cooks in the kitchen, and lots of additive input that leads to bloated, convoluted pages and experiences. So they set a strategy that involves input and consideration of performance for every potential design or feature. They bring the right people into the conversation to ask questions like: “Will this feature cause a delay in time to start render on desktop?”; “How will this image format affect performance on mobile devices?”; and on down the line.
To this end, great web brands enable strong lines of communication between teams. When the IT team is talking to AppDev is talking marketing, this organization-wide performance focus becomes possible.
By taking a step beyond basic techniques, great brands are involving their entire team to better understand what their customers are looking for, and how they can personalize web applications to their needs. Brands understand that in order to optimize the user experience, you must be proactively thinking about context, site speed, and personalization that the site visitors would actually enjoy.
If your organization is also trying to optimize your web application, try using our free ebook to get started. Download “17 Performance Metrics You Should Care About” and understand which metrics to monitor that are essential to your application’s growth.