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The Web Performance Paradox Defined – and 6 Ways to Beat It

Marketers have come to realize that mobile is quite possibly the closest thing to a true 1-to-1 marketing vehicle to interact with their audience. Businesses have thus shifted their focus to keep up with today’s users; time spent on the mobile web now beats desktop browsing, while mobile advertising revenues have eclipsed print media. If a site fails to deliver an incredible mobile experience, the target user’s attention is lost.

According to Gartner, 2015 will be a year marked by investments in Digital Marketing and customer experience. Companies will strive to better connect with their customers, drive business growth, and maintain competitive advantages through their digital properties. Accordingly, 2015 budgets for improving the end-user’s experience are growing by 8% and digital marketing is taking on its own slice of the overall marketing budget.

So with extra budget going toward customer and mobile experience, where should a marketer start? Should you increase spending on customer research to understand the model of buyer behavior? Or could the answer be optimizing site performance through FEO (front-end optimization) on the current site? Could it be time to scrap the current site and start over, building it using Responsive Web Design (RWD)?

Before considering any of these tactics, first step in the larger customer experience strategy is to make sure the business has everything in place from a technology standpoint to deliver the great new experience once it’s ready. In other words, modern marketers need to look at composing, or perhaps redefining, their business technology platforms to address the needs of serving the mobile-first audience.

The Web Performance Paradox

As much as marketers want to believe their mobile strategy should revolve around the devices and apps at the point of customer interaction, the mobile strategy actually originates far from the interface. Mobile strategies should begin with the back-end technology systems that enable data transactions and optimizations.

Why? Evolving user requirements, multiple device form factors, and increasing complexity brought on by multimedia and rich interactivity are far outpacing the existing, legacy platform capabilities. The demands on system infrastructure are evolving in stride with the front-end innovations designed to boost user engagement.

The scary thing is, many of the companies today don’t focus on building an adequate platform to support their increasingly complex site requirements.   Ironically, this can cause a decline in user engagement–meaning digital innovations meant to increase engagement are doing the opposite. I call this the Web Performance Paradox.

The Paradox at Work

Here’s an example of the performance paradox: Using RWD, a company can deliver incredible user experiences that appear to be designed for a mobile device. Most companies stop here and think their site it ready for prime time. But the technology that drives great design on the front end causes problems if not properly supported on the back end.

With RWD, the dirty secret is that the weight of the entire desktop site, (HTML, CSS, javascript, images, etc.), is still sent to the device, even if the user never sees most of the content. The browser still needs to download, resize, and render the hidden data, which takes up the user’s precious time and adds no value. Users expect the page to load in less than 4 seconds, and many RWD pages can take 10 seconds or more to load. By that time, the user’s most likely bounced.

6 Ways to prevent the Web Performance Paradox

Overcoming the paradox requires a focus on, and rethinking of, your approach to technology and infrastructure. We suggest you:

1. Realize the landscape has changed – Users want mobile sites to work perfectly for them. What worked a few years ago to engage users might not work today. And new techniques run into challenges when the technology to support them has advanced faster than those adopting it into the stack.

2. Understand that the web is getting slower – It’s not necessarily that the web is slowing down entirely, but from the standpoint of mobile devices running on mobile networks the web can feel agonizingly slow. And your users still attribute slow experiences to your site, even if it’s not all your fault.

3. Adjust your Business Technology agenda – Consider your mobile strategy and see if it’s time to adapt your infrastructure. Your business technology team must understand mobile delivery is primarily out of your team’s control, and your business needs to focus on what is under your control.

4. Understand the root of the challenge – The main challenge is not necessarily your technology stack itself, but rather contextual variables that you must account for in delivery: different devices, operating systems, browsers all lead to different experiences for users. Also account for features that are engaging, but often slow down your site – high res images, 3rd party tags, and analytics tools all add to the performance paradox.

5. What you can’t see still hurts you – Like the RWD example, performance isn’t always about what you can see. Beware of hidden site content, third party tags, and oversized images that scale down to mobile but still carry the weight of the larger size.

6. Re-adjust your goals – Mobile delivery has changed expectations. Traditional ideas around delivery are less relevant; user experience is no longer defined by the speed of bits. True success should be about the end user’s experience, not relatively simple metrics like uptime or time to first byte.

We cover more examples of pitfalls marketers often encounter in our latest eBook – click below for your free copy!

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