As we head into 2018 it is becoming more apparent that brands are starting to focus more on web performance issues. But what exactly should they be concentrating on?
The Drum speaks to Stuart Gibson, head of production at Ridgeway, to find out more about the current issues with optimisation and what brands should prioritise to maximise conversions on their website.
What are the main web performance optimisation areas that should be addressed in 2018?
Web performance optimisation needs to be prioritised as a whole by both agencies and brands, because even very small changes can have a huge impact on conversion. The brands who do this are likely to stay ahead of their competition.
The main web performance optimisation areas that I feel should always be considered are as follows:
Images can be some of the most performance hungry assets so it’s important you take steps to optimise them. When exporting your images from image editing tools such as Adobe Photoshop, be sure to select 'save for web' and export them in the format best suited to the type of image you are exporting. Adjust the image quality settings to see the visual trade-off between file size and visual quality. If you have a CMS then then you should speak to your digital agency about how your platform optimises the images for different devices and screen sizes, for example you don’t want to serve a desktop sized image to a mobile device.
Caching of static assets
Content Delivery Network (CDN)
CDN is a system of distributed servers that deliver pages and web content to a user, based on their geographic location. This service makes the delivery of assets much quicker. A few years ago, this wasn’t so important but as brands are becoming more and more international it is becoming a bigger priority. You will pay more to store content on the delivery network, but it will give you some real performance improvements so definitely something to think about if you are an international brand or have high traffic volumes.
One of the key things that will impact your website’s performance is how good your hosting is. Investing in your hosting infrastructure is vitally important and ensuring your hosting provider is clear on your performance requirements will help to ensure the right provision is defined. Everything else that can be optimised will make a difference but if you opt for low cost hosting then this will significantly hinder your site’s performance.
Which of the areas mentioned above should be prioritised?
All the above points should be prioritised as a minimum and brands should challenge their agencies to make sure performance is being addressed. Clients are starting to get more savvy with tools such as Pagespeed Insights but, they shouldn’t take this as gospel because there are lots of things that can impact it.
We find that we are squeezed on budgets, as I’m sure many agencies are, and so often it is the extra time to concentrate on performance that is dropped. I believe it is our responsibility as a digital agency to ensure our clients are educated and aware of the enormous difference small increases can make. Therefore, time spent on performance should not be viewed as a cost but an investment that will get results.
Does the size of the company or brand dictate what should be prioritised?
It doesn’t dictate what they should prioritise, but it will dictate what they are willing to do from a budget perspective. If you are a sole trader with one restaurant for example you are probably not going to want to spend on CDN and top-level hosting.
When it comes to web performance it can mean a little give and take, should functionality or the presentation of a site be sacrificed for performance? One way to look at this is by setting a performance budget. A performance budget is a group of limits to certain values that affect site performance, that may not be exceeded in the design and development of any web project. A performance budget acts as a guide towards designing and developing with performance in mind. So, it will help agencies and brands prioritise and make decisions.
How much technical or digital knowledge does the average brand marketer require today?
I don’t think brands are currently able to challenge agencies because they just simply may not know. The agencies should be able to inform and guide by following best practices. I think agencies need to be more proactive in ensuring that a basic level of performance is there and then educate brands about what techniques could be used above and beyond if they want optimum results.
For the brand marketeer it is more about awareness, they need to be aware of performance issues and techniques, they don’t need to know how to implement them. You can gather a wealth of information from Google Analytics, so marketeers should be able to pull out the right information – abandoned baskets, page views, bounce rates, how quickly are people disappearing because a page is slow to load etc. They should be aware of how much traffic they are getting and losing and what devices they are using. They can then take this information to their agency to make improvements. Alternatively, many agencies, like Ridgeway, will offer their clients regular performance audits so they are informed.