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How to Create a Fast-Loading E-commerce Site

The Need for Speed

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How to Create a Fast-Loading E-commerce Site
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You may have the most beautifully designed online storefront in the e-commerce universe, with a stunning array of desirable products – but if your website stalls when it loads, leaving shoppers tapping their fingers in frustration, the rest of the online shopping experience won’t matter. Web users are becoming an increasingly impatient bunch, and they expect webpages to load in the blink of an eye – and if they don’t, shoppers will quickly abandon the site.

If your site performance is slow, you risk losing customers to the competition, maybe forever. In addition, Google now considers page load time as part of its ranking algorithm, so slow-loading webpages can undermine your SEO efforts.

Slow page-loading speeds can impact an e-commerce site’s success, according to most research, like these startling statisticsfrom the Gomez Performance Index:

  • The average online shopper expects webpages to load in two seconds or less, down from four seconds in 2006; after three seconds, up to 40% will abandon a site. (Forrester Research)
  • 78% of consumers surveyed went to a competitor’s site due to poor performance at peak times. (Compuware and Equation Research)
  • 71% of mobile web users expect websites to load as quickly, almost as quickly or faster on their mobile phone compared to the computer they use at home – up from 58% in 2009. (Compuware and Equation Research)
  • The conversion rate increases 74% when page load time decreases from 8 to 2 seconds. (Gomez.com real user monitoring data from 33 major retailers, 3 million page views, search transaction)

Speedy page loads aren’t just for your homepage and product pages: the need for speed also comes into play for site search and navigation pages. Fortunately, there some straightforward steps to take to deliver site search results faster and more efficiently, which helps ensure a shopper-friendly online experience.

Improve indexing for faster search

Your search index should be able to deliver relevant results in just a fraction of a second. Don’t make the mistake of having your site search directly query your product database – it’s not optimized for speed or relevance, and it will significantly slow down the process of loading results.

Use AJAX search

Site search using AJAX can help speed up search results by eliminating the need for a page-refresh each time a user conducts a follow-on query, chooses a refinement, switches between grid and list views, reorders results, or clicks to the next page. Only the data that is needed is requested from the servers so the results appear much faster. You can see how this works on the Spencer Gifts website – if you click on refinements, you’ll see that new search results don’t require a page refresh.

Optimize mobile sites

On a mobile commerce site, speed is even more crucial: mobile device users already have to deal with inconsistent data speeds, so you don’t want to compound the problem with slow-loading search results. The mobile site and mobile search should only include content and functionality that is absolutely necessary. For instance, one way to significantly improve load time of search pages is to use thumbnails instead of full-size images. The mobile website for Marco Promotional Products does this right, using small and simple images for mobile search.

Employ content delivery networks

Content delivery networks bring the files that are being delivered on the webpage, such as images and JavaScript, closer to the end users. By caching this data locally, you can significantly speed up the delivery of these files, particularly for your site visitors that are physically located far way from your servers. For our customer Boden, an online clothing retailer, we’re helped them set up multiple server locations to make sure that pages are loaded as quickly as possible. Also, images are stored locally for quick delivery.

Only include what’s necessary on your webpages

Are your webpages cluttered with images and scripts that really don’t need to be there? All this extra material will drag down page load times. If you trim the excess content from your pages, they will load faster – and the added benefit is that visitors will probably find your site easier to visit. If you’re not sure what content and features to remove, conduct A/B tests to gauge the impact of taking out these page elements.

Compress HTML

All modern web browsers support compression of HTML code. You can enable this feature on your web server, with the result that data is delivered considerably more quickly.

Install sufficient hardware and bandwidth

Monitor how your business is making use of machines, such as servers, switches, and load balancers, as well as bandwidth. Ensure you have plenty of spare capacity so you can handle peak loads, and any outages can be handled by machines that are operational.

Format images correctly

Check for good page weight, especially for images – make sure images are formatted appropriately. Provide height and width tags for images so the web browser can present the page while loading the images.

Once you’ve put as many of these ideas into place to optimize page load speeds, put your site through a real-world test: Visit the homepage yourself while you’re using a wireless connection at a local café, or while you’re at home (where, presumably, you don’t have a T1 line). If your site loads quickly and doesn’t cause you to think “Gee, what’s taking so long?” you’ve done the job right.

How to Create a Fast-Loading E-commerce Site
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About Terry Costa
As VP of marketing, Terry Costa is responsible for SLI Systems global marketing efforts as well as driving growth of SLI’s search technology and services in the e-commerce and publishing industries. He can be reached at terry.costa@sli-systems.com. WebProNews Writer
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