How Site Speed is Killing Your Advertising Results
"When was the last time you saw a doctor?" I'm one of those people that is generally healthy (and takes it for granted), which means I only see a doctor if something goes wrong.
But over the years my wife and others have reminded me that getting to a doctor every once in awhile for a checkup is a good idea. For one, you never know what a simple blood panel could tell you about your health, good or bad.
Plus it's a chance to catch the bad things early.
I'm only telling you this as a metaphor for the topic of this blogpost, but while we're on the subject, let me ask you: when was the last time you saw a doctor? 😉
And the next question: when was the last time you checked your site speed? It may not be a perfect analogy but it gets close to the mark. A site speed check is a great way to test the overall health of your website.
And let me tell ya, site speed *really* matters to your advertising success.
There are two reasons why:
- it matters to users
- it matters to the tech giants (because it matters to users)
I guess technically there's only one reason, the users, but it's important to realize that the tech giants are taking this very seriously so let's explore each one.
Why Site Speed Matters to Users
Nobody likes a slow site and the slower your site, the more attrition you have, and subsequently the less sales you have.
This is fairly obvious but it's important to understand the numbers behind this.
First, consider conversion rate and bounce rate:
According to this study, there is a direct correlation between page load time and conversion rate. Once you get past 6 seconds the conversion rate stays flat. I guess only the people who are really committed will stay for 6-second page loads.
But as you work backward from there, the conversion rate goes up dramatically.
In fact, this study suggests that if your site has a 4-second load time, you could essentially double your conversion rate by cutting the load time in half. That has a huge impact on your advertising!
Why It Matters to Tech Giants
Both Google and Facebook have made a big deal about page speed. The reason is simple: slow sites means a bad user experience, which cuts into their bottom line. And the tech giants don't like things cutting into their bottom line.
So if they have the option to show fast site A at a lower bid versus slow site B at a higher bid, they'll usually go with fast site A even though it means less money today. That's how important user experience is to them.
A slow site means you'll have to bid more to get the same impressions as a fast site. Having a slow site is a double whammy because it hurts your conversion rates AND you have to pay more for traffic.
A Dollars & Cents Example of How Important Page Speed Is
Let's assume your e-commerce site makes $30,000 per month in sales with a conversion rate of 1%. And further assume the average page speed is cut from 4+ seconds to about 2.5 seconds.
The faster page loads brings your conversion rate from 1% to 2%. How does that affect your store?
In theory, sales should double to $60k per month because your rate of conversion doubled. Keep in mind that nothing else has changed. The same traffic is coming in as before and the products are priced the same.
All that has changed is the site speed was cut in half. It's hard to imagine an easier way to boost your sales than to take a hard look at site speed, but sometimes it's the simple things that drive the most meaningful change.
Google's Test My Site service has a handy calculator that shows how much site speed could be affecting your site's revenue.
Simply enter your data and you'll be able to quickly see how much a faster site will affect your conversion rates and profits.
How to Measure Site Speed
There are a few free tools that will assess your site speed. I would recommend seeing how you score on all of them so you can tackle the biggest problems each tool finds:
When you check your site's speed, you should check several different pages, not just the home page. Check category pages, product pages, and checkout pages. See how each site scores you and make a note of any common problems each site highlights.
As a word of caution, don't obsess over every little thing. Some of these tools are overly picky and hold you to an unrealistic standard. From my experience, the three biggest changes you can make are host response time, image compression, and script optimization.
Host Response Time
This is the amount of time it takes your host to begin responding to an inquiry. It's the lag between your browser requesting info and your server sending it. No server responds instantaneously (yet?) but it's not uncommon for a server to wait 2-3 seconds before sending the first bytes. That alone could cut your load time in half!
If you're on a hosted shopping cart like Shopify, there's not much you can do about host response time except perhaps upgrade your plan with them. But the good news is Shopify sites don't usually have a problem with host response time so if you're a Shopify store, this probably isn't your problem.
If it is, I'd contact Shopify support to see if anything can be done.
If you're on a self-hosted platform like WooCommerce or Magento, then you're more likely to have an issue depending on who your host is. If you're using some kind shared hosting, there's a good chance your site is very slow.
Look into upgrading to a dedicated server with a company such as LiquidWeb. I've used them for years and I've had a great experience. The extra cost will pay for itself many times over.
Another thing to check is which php version your site is using. The older 5.x versions of php are much slower than the newer 7.x versions. That simple upgrade recently cut one of my site's response times by 1.5 seconds.
Host response time is an easy way to improve your site speed.
Lossless Image Compression
This is another easy way to boost your site speed. Having nice images is really important for branding and user experience, but it has a negative impact on site speed. Fortunately, there are some very effective forms of lossless image compression that will reduce load times.
Depending on your platform, you may have to do some research for add-ons or extensions that will automate this task for you. On WordPress, there is a free plugin called Smush that "smushes" every image to the optimal level.
Shopify has a compression feature built in to their platform. Magento has various extensions available that do the same.
Depending on your store platform, you may have to do some digging to address this issue.
Script Optimization and In-line CSS
Pretty much every site this day uses scripts and of course CSS. The problem is, a browser generally executes code in the order it's received, which means it waits until a script is resolved before processing the next part of code.
So if you have a slow script or CSS file at the beginning of the code, then the browser will be bogged down before it can load the first "paint" of the site. The first paint is whatever the browser needs so that the user can at least see the content that would fill their browser window.
From there the browser can load the rest of the page, but that first paint is a critical metric for page speed.
The good news is there are ways to tell the scripts to load in the background so they don't slow down the site through a process called minification.
If you're on WordPress, there's a free plugin called W3 Total Cache. This plugin works great but be careful with the settings! This video shows the correct options to select.
If you're using Shopify, Magento, or BigCommerce, look for a minification add-on that has good reviews.
The Biggest Bang For Your Buck
Tackling those three items will usually bring you the biggest bang for your buck with page speed. Again, don't stress over every little thing. Tackle the biggest problems and see if you can get your load time under 3 seconds. Or better yet, close to 2 seconds.
If some of this is too technical, don't be afraid to post a job on Upwork to get help implementing these changes. You can find some amazing coders on there for very reasonable rates. In my own personal experience, the coders from western Europe are the most reliable.
I've had less than stellar results from India, Pakistan, and the Philippines but of course your mileage may vary.
One More Place to Look: Google Analytics
Google Analytics has some helpful page speed tools under the Behavior tab. In this view, you can see how quickly your site loads depending on the browser used:
In the above example, you can see that Firefox struggles to load the site in a timely manner. That is something a developer from Upwork could test to see what's causing the issue. Or you could determine that there isn't enough traffic there to worry about it.
You can also select the Page view to see which pages on your site are loading more slowly. If they're important pages, you'd want to see what you could do to speed them up.
It's Worth the Effort
Digging into page speed isn't the funnest thing you can do in e-commerce but it's usually worth the effort. Take the time to fix the big problems and you're almost guaranteed to see a boost in conversion rates.
Just imagine how much more successful your advertising would be if you could double your conversion rate! Suddenly loser campaigns become winners and you can scale them up.
So take the time to address this issue. It's worth the effort!
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