Why website performance matters
I’d like to tell you the story of a website that I worked on last year. Built by a different web developer, the site had been in regular use by the client since launch. It had gotten regular content updates, but the site’s underlying WordPress install and various plugins hadn’t been kept up to date. At the server level, PHP was out of date, and I noticed several errors and warnings in the console. In short, it needed some work.
The client came to me complaining about slow site performance. Despite all the things that I had identified above, the site was still functioning, albeit quite slowly. It’s rare for a client to notice of site performance issues unless they’re either really savvy or the performance is really bad. So in most cases when a client notices, the site is probably bad.
In this case, an initial scan of the site using GTmetrix, the site was showing a load time of about 8.6 seconds, with a 2.38 MB total page size. I’ve seen worse load times, but it needed a good bit of work.
The site before optimization:
So why does performance matter?
In the web world, most of us understand that faster load times = a better experience. But we may not always think about what these numbers and concepts can mean for an organization’s bottom line.
The User experience
I have 2 primary goals with each website I develop. First, a site should serve the needs of the client. Second, the site should work well for users. Today, I’d like to focus on the second reason.
In the case of our example site above, the site was meeting the client’s needs in terms of basic functionality, but end users were having to wait up to 10 seconds for pages to load. I expect site users will put up with poor website performance if they have no other options, but the flipside is also true. If they have other options, there’s no way most people will put up with that 10 second load time. If your business relies on people interacting with your site to buy something or interact in some meaningful way, people that are giving up after a long page load are likely not going to turn into customers.
What Search engines want
Search engines like Google use the responsiveness of a website as one metric by which it ranks search results. If we consider two similar sites with the primary difference being that one loads in 2 seconds while the other loads in 5, the 2-second load time will get the higher ranking in search results, and presumably more traffic. If web traffic and user engagement is important to your business, you should work to remove any barriers that might be slowing people down.
Interacting with your website is one way that your customers form their impressions about your company or organization. A client, customer or potential client or customer that already has a generally favorable impression of your company won’t necessarily be turned away just by needing to wait a few extra seconds for your site to load. But that experience won’t do anything to further bolster their positive feelings about your brand. Companies should be working to improve their websites and ALL other touchpoints as they seek to increase engagement and brand loyalty
The site from above was being hosted on what I can only assume was a shared hosting plan on overloaded and outdated server. The client was already on-board with the need for better hosting, so we migrated the site to my powerful managed hosting environment. Without any changes to the site, the site’s load time after the migration was cut in half.
After the dust settled from the migration, I started work on further optimizations. I fixed some errors caused by various plugin and theme conflicts, optimized site assets, and put caching and a CDN in place. Most of the big fixes have now been taken care of, and the client has remarked several times how well the site now works. Further optimization work continues on the site, but the current result is that the site now loads in about 3-4 seconds and has none of the delays and issues previously experienced on the site. Would I prefer a sub-2 second load time? You bet. But getting there would require some significant re-design work which wouldn’t make sense for this client at this time.
Being part of a transformative process like this is quite rewarding. Seeing a site’s load times cut in half (or more) and having a happy client makes all the work worthwhile.
The site after migration and some optimization: