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It’s About Time: How a Faster Site Accelerates Your Business

The one thing that guarantees a boost to your online business? Making a faster site.

Study after study shows customers demand ever faster-loading digital experiences—and shaving milliseconds can make millions. A tenth of a second in site speed can lift conversion rates by 8.4% and increase average order value by 9.2%. Just one-tenth of one second. 

Here’s how to measure your site’s performance and improve it.

Understanding page speed 

It’s important to use real user metrics (values seen by actual customers), not one-off page tests. If it’s not a real user metric, it’s a fake user metric!

Website performance is complex, with dozens of acronyms and potential metrics. A user-centric approach is the best way to evaluate your site’s performance. 

User Question Description
Is it happening? Is the page loading? Has the server responded? Is this thing on?!?
Is it useful? Is there enough content loaded that I can click, scroll or generally engage with the site?

 

This model for thinking about web performance reduces the complex world of web performance measurements into understandable meanings.

Is it happening? 

This is the initial response from your web server to the browser. Two critical metrics for a faster site are:

Time to First Byte (TTFB):  

This is the server’s initial response time. Slow is more than 250 milliseconds. 

First Contentful Paint (FCP):

The time it takes for the screen to go from blank (no content) to not blank (some content). A target goal: to get this under 2 seconds. 

Is it useful? 

The user now has initial feedback that the page works—the question is how long it takes until it’s useful. 

Largest Contentful Paint (FCP):

The cousin of First Contentful Paint. It reflects how long it takes to paint the largest text block or image element rendered on the screen—often your hero image. This is one of three metrics Google uses for search rank.

Time to Interactive (TTI) :

This is how long a site takes until a user scrolls, clicks, and adds items to the cart. TTI directly impacts conversion rate. An ideal target is under 2.5 seconds.

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How to Improve your Site Speed

To make your site load faster:

  1. Move less data
  2. Over shorter distances

You can dramatically improve site speed by optimizing what you deliver to the browser and how often you must redeliver it.

1) Move Less Data

Websites are comprised of assets—images, fonts— the more you need, the slower the website. A bare-bones website might load fast— it might also be useless. A website’s optimum performance balances what you want your website to show customers, and what your customer is willing to wait to see. Everybody knows the standard practices. Optimize images, choose a great hosting provider and use a content distribution network. All these techniques focus on delivering fewer data to the end-user.

2) Over Shorter Distances

The trick to faster page loads: Load each asset over the shortest distance possible. Keeping a copy of an asset in a nearby location is called caching — a term derived from cacher, French for “to hide.” Cache helps hide latency by minimizing the distance the browser travels to download an asset. The shortest distance possible is keeping copies of assets on the browser itself (called client-side caching).

When the browser doesn’t need to travel the network at all, access is near-instantaneous. This is a browser cache, a space on the device that is allocated for keeping copies of frequently needed assets locally.

How do you cache in the browser? 

One option: Hope the browser will cache your content if you give it the right hints, called Cache-Control Headers. They can be complex, but the main ones are to say this object is public (meaning the browser is free to store it) and to set Time to Live (TTL), which you can use to define how long a resource is stored in a browser cache before expiring. Set a long Time to Live (say, 30 days), then the browser might cache it. 

Unfortunately, the browser’s cache hit rate (the percentage of times it can pull an asset from cache) is low—10% or less. 

When you need to go faster, it’s time for a dedicated browser cache.

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Dedicated client-side cache

For the ultimate speed boost, create a dedicated client-side cache just for your website. The browser’s Cache API  allows you to do that. Unfortunately, interfacing with this system requires you to implement a mechanism to capture responses (to store them for later) and intercept requests (to fulfill them with stuff from your local cache). To do that, you need to build a Service Worker. 

These work by proxying requests from one side (the browser) to another (the network). More advanced Service Workers can add A.I.-powered prefetching —effectively running ahead of the user and pre-downloading content before they even request it!

Effective client-side caching can decrease page load time by 20%-50% and is one of the most powerful web performance tools.

Speed Matters

Speed is a silver bullet. Faster sites see higher conversion rates, checkout values, return rates—and a general acceleration of business metrics. Making websites run fast can be a difficult task, but the payoff for performance is worth it. 

[To share your insights with us, please write to sghosh@martechseries.com]

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