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When to Use Google’s Mod_PageSpeed for a Faster eCommerce Website

Making your eCommerce website fast should be a no-brainer. Deciding how isn’t as easy. One place to start is by using free tools like Google’s PageSpeed Module, more commonly referred to as Mod_PageSpeed. I was recently asked whether Mod_PageSpeed might be “good enough” to make an eCommerce site load faster. Here is my point of view on the pros and cons of Google’s open-source module, and when it should play a role in your eCommerce site optimization efforts.  

What is Mod_PageSpeed?

Google’s Mod_PageSpeed is an open-source plug-in for Apache and Nginx Web servers. The module automatically applies front-end optimizations (FEO) to the HTML to make it load faster in the end-user browser.  

Mod_PageSpeed is broadly applicable to any type of website. It applies optimizations that reduce the number of requests, the size of those requests, and the size and complexity of the files required to load the page. It does so by combining, minifying, outlining, inlining and moving CSS, JavaScript, Images and HTML, among other optimizations. A complete list is neatly outlined on the Google PageSpeed Wikipedia page.  

When should I get fast with Mod_PageSpeed?

Mod_PageSpeed is a good option for sites facing the following scenarios:

No history of optimization – Any optimization is better than no optimization. This module packages up many best practices that your developers can apply immediately.  

Static sites – If your site is primarily built from static images and content that does not change frequently, this module will help immediately by compressing images and making your HTML more performance friendly.  

In control of your Apache or Nginx servers – It’s a server plugin for these specific Web servers. Great for media companies and other content-heavy sites that host and manage their own servers.  

No budget for speed – If you used all your money on a CDN, this module is a good option for front-end optimization as it is open source. However, you will need developers to install, configure, and update it as your website changes.

When will it NOT Speed up the Website?

As your site brings in more traffic and becomes more complex, you will likely notice page load times increase even with Mod_PageSpeed.  Here is when you may need a more advanced approach:

Dynamic content –  Mod_PageSpeed optimizations ignore dynamic content (e.g. search results, etc.) and thus will not greatly improve performance on these pages.

3rd Party JavaScript3rd party tags are a frequent source of page load delays that are not addressed by Mod_PageSpeed optimizations.

Rapidly changing website – As your website content changes, the effectiveness of your Mod_PageSpeed optimizations will diminish. To maintain a fast website, you’ll need to continually reconfigure your optimizations at the same pace that your website changes.  This can be a challenge for most development teams.

eCommerce platform in place – Most major eCommerce platforms have already incorporated the best practice optimizations included in Mod_PageSpeed, making it redundant if you already use one of these platforms.  

Website acceleration technologies in place – Mod_PageSpeed optimizations typically represent a small subset of total front-end optimizations included in most website acceleration technologies. As a result, it is not advised to deploy both, as having two technologies transforming the HTML could lead to errors. If you do use both, you will need to take great care in disabling the similar functions in these two approaches.

Developer resource constraints – Open-source software is not for the faint of heart. Google has done a great job providing documentation, but you need development resources with the time to research, configure, and continually update your Mod_PageSpeed deployment to keep your site fast.  

eCommerce Demands more than Simple FEO

Google is doing great work in releasing best practice optimizations that are accessible to all types of websites. But eCommerce websites are much more complex than the typical site.  They feature dynamic content, 3rd party applications, and constantly changing pages and promotions. As a result, the optimizations contained in their PageSpeed Module will not be enough to deliver the page load times that eCommerce customers expect.  

Even if you hire a team of ninjas to implement Mod_PageSpeed perfectly, you’d still only be moving your site from first to second gear. If you want to make your eCommerce website pages load faster, investigate cloud based eCommerce acceleration technologies (like Yottaa). You’ll be able to accelerate even the most complex eCommerce pages, and get the page load times you want.  All without requiring a team of developers to build and maintain it.  

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