Businesses that rely heavily on e-commerce – as most do these days – know that there are three principal issues which can reduce the effectiveness of their site. This blog is the third in Josh Hatfield's three-part series, “3 Problems that Plague E-Commerce Sites.” Find earlier entries in this series at our blog.
An e-commerce website earns or loses business in part based on how quickly it responds. Kissmetrics’ thorough studies on this subject tell us that 40% of online shoppers abandon a site that takes more than 3 seconds to load. As the Aberdeen Group puts it, customers are won or lost in a single second – it was true 10 years ago, and it’s true today.
But an e-commerce site's load times are difficult to accelerate. Product images are the lifeblood of an online store, and they can only be optimized so much. Third-party data for these sites is being loaded from a variety of addresses (where ads reside, CDNs, tracking programs, and so on), and it only takes one to stall your page.
Meanwhile, e-commerce sites are getting larger and slower all the time – according to Web Performance Today, the median e-commerce page grew 67% between Summer 2013 and Summer 2014, and loaded more than a second lower across the same survey period. According to Yottaa, the average image size on an e-commerce site is nearly four times that of a non-commerce website.
So how do you ensure that your e-commerce site runs at optimal speed while still delivering the graphics-intensive experience that sells your product? Here are five elements to consider to get the most speed out of your e-commerce site.
Content Delivery Networks: It’s important to remember that every picture on a site represents another resource the browser must pull for the page to completely load. The response time of the image source is crucial, so businesses with a huge list of products will often use a content delivery network, or CDN, to provide multiple sources for these images, ensuring each user pulls the items from the nearest server.
Caching: The most frequently accessed product pages and page elements should be cached so that they don’t have to be repeatedly retrieved on each visit. How many of your pages use the same header and footer, or ubernav and menu? Set those items to be cached, and they are removed from each reload.
Gzip: Load times are greatly affected by image size, so image compression becomes a key element of achieving the desired speed. Gzipping generally delivers a webpage at between one-half and one-third its original size. A server simply has to be configured to offer gzipped content if the browser can interpret it – and all modern browsers do. As long as you’re not catering to Netscape Navigator users, gzipping is a good idea.
Load Distribution: If you’re product catalog is very large, it may need its own server to thrive. Allocating resources separately to pulling this information can make a big difference for a high-traffic, big-catalog site.
Third-party resources: While a few social media widgets and analytics scripts may be required, always remember that you’re balancing external content against your site’s load time. For the items that are crucial, consider caching scripts if they aren’t update-sensitive or hosting the scripts yourself, or employ asynchronous loading – essentially telling that item to load after everything else so that more crucial items aren’t impaired.
And, of course, it helps if you have an elite hosting provider with top-notch hardware and networking, and 100% availability guarantees. Learn more about what Hostway can do for your e-commerce site.