Ecommerce Site Speed
Though site speed was announced by Google as a ranking factor, this has yet to make a significant impact in the search results. From what Google has said about site speed as a ranking factor, a site’s speed only impacts rankings when a site takes a really long time to load. As long as your site’s load time is within the realm of normal, you shouldn’t be worried about this impacting your organic performance. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore site speed though. According to Kiss Metrics, a 1 second delay in page load time can decreases conversions by 7%. How fast your ecommerce site loads has a direct and significant impact on your conversions and your bottom line. Amazon found that slowing their page load time by 1 second would cost them $1.6 Billion in sales. Revenue isn’t the only metric impacted by page load time though. Almost half of users expect a website to load in 2 seconds or less. If your site takes longer than 3 seconds to load, you are losing the opportunity to engage with 40% of your visitors – these are people who don’t buy on their initial visits and are highly unlikely to come back. While improving ecommerce site speed is very nuanced and unique to each individual site, experience has yeilded five common optimizations that yield the most significant wins. These are your server, GZIP compression, caching, optimizing images, and removing extra plugins/add-ons.
Your Server (and CDN)
Having a really fast and reliable server is one of the biggest things you can do to improve your site speed. A quality server will not only reduce your delivery time, but will reduce your response time – which can be one of the biggest culprits in large load times. If you are on a shared host (likely the cheapest hosting you could find) upgrading to a good server for ecommerce should be your first step. While a VPS solution is likely ok for many small ecommerce sites, most sites will want to move to a dedicated server or cloud solution. If you’re already running on a good server, you should look into leveraging a CDN. This will allow browsers to download images and other assets from a different and fast server in order to decrease the page load time. If your site is image heavy, you should definitely be using a CDN to optimize your ecommerce site speed.
GZIP simply compresses your files when your server sends them to your users’ browser. The browser then de-compresses the files and renders them. This allows for a faster page load time as the amount of data that has transferred to your users is significantly reduced. Using GZIP on text files (HTML, JS, CSS) provides optimal results, sometimes even in the range of 70% – 90% for larger files. GZIP tends to have a limited effect on images though; here you are better off optimizing your images (below) rather than trying to use GZIP to compress your images. You can test to see if your site is currently leveraging GZIP compression here. If you want to enable GZIP compression, and you’re running on Apache, simply paste the code below into your .htaccess file:
# BEGIN GZIP
# END GZIP
Another way to speed up your browsing experience for your users is to make sure you have caching enabled. Downloading assets from your server to your users’ browsers takes a lot of time. Caching allows you to save common assets to your users’ computers so when they are requested, they can be loaded directly from the computer rather than requiring bandwidth. To enable caching, you need to configure your headers to have a max-age command. This is simply the amount of time (in seconds) that the browser should keep a saved version of the asset.
Reduce Plugins and Add-ons
Plugin bloat, especially with WordPress sites, is a common problem that can bring a site to a crawl. When you are running a ton of plugins, frequently, these plugins will all be making calls to the database each time the page loads. This can have a huge impact on how long it takes your page to load. To combat this, start by removing any unused plugins. You should also look for opportunities to combine plugins – for example, the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin has capabilities that often makes several other plugins redundant. If you can remove several plugins by installing another, this can often reduce calls to your database and improve your site speed.