Website Speed: A Practical Guide for Ecommerce

Website Speed: A Practical Guide for Ecommerce

In the ecommerce business, much of your success hinges on how well optimised your website is.

When visitors come in, your site needs to be able to handle requests quickly and overall, deliver a good customer experience. If not? There are millions of other ecommerce sites and the customer will probably find an alternative.

Website speed is one of the important factors that form part of the customer experience. Slow load speeds are frustrating and most would just as soon click away, rather than wait for it to load.

What can ecommerce owners do about website speed? Here’s our practical guide:

What is website load speed?

Website speed refers to the amount of time it takes to download a page of your website from the server that hosts it. Adjacent to this, “page load speed” refers to how long it takes to display all content on the page for the user once they have clicked on it.

Sometimes the entire website can seem slow to load, or sometimes you’ll notice that particular content hasn’t loaded properly on a page. This can especially happen with images or other media. How quick should your site and individual pages be? The consensus among most experts is less than two seconds.

Why does website speed matter?

There are a couple of main reasons why load speed matters for ecommerce business owners. Firstly, as indicated, poor load speeds degrade the user experience. Around one in four visitors will abandon a website that takes more than four seconds to load, while a delay of just one second reduces customer satisfaction by 16%.

Slow website speeds are bad for business. It’s a short step for frustrated customers to click away from your website and find another to shop with.

Secondly, slow website speeds can poorly impact your SEO (search engine optimisation) and therefore your search ranking. Site speed has been a ranking factor for quite some time now; if your website is slower than it should be, search engines recognize this and penalize your ranking.

Additionally, visitor behavior due to the slow speed can mess with your SEO. If you get a high bounce rate when people leave in frustration over slow speeds, this is another signal to search engines that your website isn’t providing a quality experience. Part of the mandate of companies like Google is to deliver good results to their customers, so they’ll simply push your website down the rankings.

Website speed
Website speed matters for both user experience and SEO Share on X

How do you find your website speed?

How can you find your website speed? The simplest way is to pick one of the website testing tools out there and have it test your website. There a several to choose from so it’s just a matter of picking one you like – they all tend to have slightly different metrics, but each is valid for optimising your website.

Here are some website speed tools:

  1. Pingdom
  2. Google PageSpeed Insights
  3. Google Mobile Website Speed Testing Tool
  4. Google Analytics Site Speed
  5. WebPageTest

How can you improve your website speed?

There can be any of a variety of reasons in play if your website speed is slow. Here are some common reasons for ecommerce businesses:

You need better website hosting

What role does website hosting play in site speed? Basically, there is a range of hosting options and not all of them reach high standards for the stability of the platform and reliable delivery of your website to the visitor who clicked on it.

For ecommerce businesses, you may be tempted to look at a cheap hosting option, especially when you start out, but spending a bit more on a reliable host will pay off. Especially one that specializes in ecommerce sites.

Hosting provides the server that your website occupies. Some cheaper hosting services cram too many sites onto the same server, which can lead to problems such as slow-downs or even shut-downs. This can especially happen if there is a surge of traffic (like when you announce a sale!).

Obviously, there are a lot of hosting services to choose from, so find one that comes highly recommended by other ecommerce users, especially those with websites on the same platform as you. For example, if your site is on WordPress, an advantage of choosing a host that specializes in WordPress is that they have specific, technical expertise.

Keep HTTP requests to a minimum

An HTTP request is made to download each element on your website – things like scripts and images. When there are a lot of HTTP requests on one page, that’s when you get slow page load speeds.

If your speed tests reveal that you have a lot of HTTP requests slowing you down, you can take steps to declutter and minimise those requests. For example, maybe you need to update your design or reduce the number of images loading.

Another thing to minimise is any unnecessary redirects as these also are made via an HTTP request. These are often used for fixing broken links, but too many will slow you down. There are tools to help you identify your redirects, with Screaming Frog being one.

Use website caching

On dynamic ecommerce platforms, all of your product data is stored in a database. When people visit your website, the product page is generated for them (WordPress is an example of this).

What does this mean? Your website will have to run this process every time a visitor arrives and doing so can use a lot of bandwidth and slow your site down. Caching is an answer to prevent this slow-down.

Caching means that, instead of your website generating a page for each visit, it can show a cached version of an HTML page. This reduces pressure on your server and frees it up for other tasks. So it’s a bit like one of those cooking shows where they say  “here’s one I prepared earlier” – instead of starting from scratch, a pre-made version is served.

Make sure you’re running the latest version 

“The latest version” includes every aspect of your website that is subject to updates. For example, the platform itself, any templates, themes, or plugins. Updates are needed regularly to support new software, fix bugs, or improve security – missing updates can slow down your website, especially if it causes anything to “break.” 

Optimize your product images

Product images are an absolute must for optimising your website. Your visitors need to get the best possible view of your products and how they work. That means you need high-quality images, however, you also need to be mindful of file size.

All images should be compressed to a size that maintains optimal quality for your website, while minimizing the file size, and therefore the load time. Programs like Photoshop have “export for the web” options that optimize your pictures, or you can use image resizing tools.

As a general rule, JPG files are smaller so are a preferred file format, but you’ll want PNG for some graphics to ensure they render properly.

Website speed

Only use high-quality extensions

Extensions, plugins, or add-ons from third parties are common for adding functionality to websites. However, not all of them are built well. Some come with messy code that slows down your website, or, you might find that the third party doesn’t make necessary updates to their software.

It’s always a good idea to be picky and only select high-quality extensions. Look for those that have good reviews and responsive developers. You should be able to see them responding to queries and making regular updates.

Have a great developer on your team

One of the best steps any ecommerce business can take is to engage a developer to help keep their website in top shape. A good developer will be up-to-date with any changes needed and quick to spot if your website performance could be improved.

You may not be in a position to keep a developer on your internal team (most aren’t!), but you can definitely add to your team by hiring someone externally. An agency such as Elate Agency has committed developers in-house who are ready to work with ecommerce clients.

Talk to us today about how we can help to optimize your ecommerce website performance