Ecommerce Club Working Lunch Manchester: Speed is of the essence!

The recent Ecommerce Club Working Lunch Manchester, hosted by UKFast, explored the vital importance of speed for effective ecommerce – and we heard some extraordinary figures regarding connections between speed and traffic from UKFast’s managing director, Jonathan Bowers.

Twenty per cent of audiences demand speed as a primary requirement when visiting a site. It’s a given that returning customers spend far more than one off visitors and its accepted that one of the stickiest things about its site for many visitors is its speed – impatient consumers simply don’t wait around.

Not only that, but speed has an immediate impact on your Google rankings: there’s a quality score in pay per click and the faster the page loads, the higher the quality score. Google has gone on the record saying that speed and UX are the twin keys to success – after all, time is the one thing equal to man.

In a load time test, a 4 second load time for a page saw an immediate 25 per cent drop off in visitors, while an 8 second load time saw the drop off increase to 33 per cent. There is a huge opportunity for ecommerce sites and services to accelerate their business. The 2014 Christmas ecommerce spend was £17.4 billion and if you can get your site that much faster than your rivals, you’ve got a good chance of scoring a higher share of the market.

There are five key tips from UKFast to keep your speed up to scratch:

  • Use plug-ins wisely: make sure you don’t load someone else’s site first, make sure you only choose what’s relevant to your visitors
  • Optimise your images: over 45 per cent of the UK’s top ecommerce sites don’t optimise their images, probably because it’s something that gets forgotten when you have access to massive bandwidth. But it does matter, and it will impact the page load speed.
  • Cash in on caching: remember that the more of your home page is static, the faster the rest of it will load. The BBC, for example, has a home page that is 91 per cent static, which means that once one visitor has accessed it, the majority of the content is now frontloaded for every visitor, speeding up their interactions with the site and service immensely. Admittedly for many ecommerce sites, caching can be difficult on the home page and cart, especially if you’re trying to cross-promote, but do think about where it might work for you. Think about different ways to deliver video and ways to provide a faster return visitor experience.
  • Plan ahead: there are a myriad number of articles about Black Friday, Cyber Monday, China’s Singles Day, Amazon Prime Day and the impact of peak traffic – but have you planned for them? Plan to cope with your own peaks; Weightwatchers for example tends to see peak traffic in January and the end of the summer, prime time for people to take stock. Think about technologies, designs and processes that can help you handle the load.
  • Hosting: unsurprisingly, hosting gets a mention from UKFast, but working with your hosting provider to optimise your service should be a no brainer. SLAs are key: a recent outage for Apple cost them $2.5 million per hour and remember, when you’ve agreed 18 days downtime a year for connectivity, what do you think the chances are that those outages are going to take place in the quiet hours when you’re doing little to no business? And never forget the relationship between hosting resource and traffic.       One of the examples used by Bowers was that of Prolific North, which discovered that Google wouldn’t send traffic to the site when it was overloaded and he points out, “the amount of resource you do have is symbiotic with your traffic.”

While a lot of this may seem like common sense, stories still abound about the disconnect between creative and data management – like the time Calvin Klein US had to pull its new site because the pages were too data heavy to load!

Remember to always think about where you want speed and why. How important is it to your business to be available at all times? Think about levels of redundancy, because one element of looking at structure to improve your page speed is also going to help in terms of ensuring your site doesn’t fall over.

There is little question that if you can keep your home page and your cart up to speed, it’ll lead to higher conversion rates. There’s a lot of talk these days about the importance of rich content and it’s a valid point, but the architecture of how you structure that content matters as well. Videos don’t necessarily need to be on the home page, nor does the cart need to be full of images. Should you personalise in order to ensure relevance to every visitor, because understanding who is going to come to your site, what they’re going to want to do and how you can make that easier for them is the first step to really optimising your site.

Think about what you’re trying to achieve and make sure you streamline that offer to the visitor – people want different things in different places, different parts of the customer journey. If you can get that right, speeding them on their way, then you’ve taken a big step towards optimising your business, and keeping your customers happy