Starters guide: improve the speed

Decrease loading time of websites and apps

Great you end up here! At least you understand the importance of a speedy website for your business. As stated by many, but also underestimated by many, speed is critical. Crucial. Very important. Or, as formulated by Fred Wilson, a respected web investor, who listed “speed” as the number 1 of his 10 golden principles of successful web apps:

“First and foremost, we believe that speed is more than a feature. Speed is the most important feature. If your application is slow, people won’t use it.”

Another interesting way to look to performance is the “hierarchy of web needs“. It basically shows that high performance is a critical foundation for any website/app, just as food is for mankind in Maslov’s pyramid. And although more and more people have a fast “last-mile” connection that doesn’t mean your speed challenge is solved.. We call this the Broadband Myth. And in our humble opinion, in the many years to come, speed will stay a very critical feature for any website or application.

Some interesting facts:

Also it is shown that stickiness, average order value and conversion rates all improve on a fast website. For more facts & figures see the whitepaper of Gomez about “Why web performance matters” (PDF).

This guide pretends to give an overview for business owners or commercial managers to get a better understanding of speed. It is not a technical story; it is a business approach to this important subject. It links to other articles that go deeper into the many aspects of this important subject.

Being commercially responsible for (part of) a website or online/mobile application, you likely also decide or at least influence the investments. So how to decide? Do you extend the functionality? Or are you going after new markets? Or do you improve the user experience by making it faster? Difficult trade-offs. Read our ROI section about speed to get insights into what speed improvements might return for you. But before you start, make sure you have the right tools in place to measure real loading times for your site. Make sure you know the average loading time experienced by your users. (New Relic showed June 2011 that the average load time of pages is 6 seconds, while Gomez showed that every site above 2 seconds is loosing business!. Where are you?) You should measure it as part of you Key Performance Indicators; next to visitors and revenue. (That’s why Google introduced it in Google Analytics!)

Another important aspect is the definition of requirements for your website. Deciding that you want to add some new (external) functionality without validating the impact on the loading time is as stupid as ordering a plate in a restaurant without knowing what food you get served. (mmm, not sure this analogy makes sense, but you get the point.) So when initiating new projects or features, make sure you define your speed requirements properly. The branch benchmarks and the different market insights (e.g. China, the Netherlands) might give you proper reference on what you need to do to stay ahead of competition and to serve your audience properly.

Basically being commercially responsible means also people hold you accountable for the sites performance – if you like it or not. Who will be looked at when the site is down during a crisis that drove loads of traffic? Or when your sudden success wasn’t anticipated enough?  Make sure you have the right stuff in place. And although you still might believe that performance is just a matter of scaling up the servers, or optimizing databases, the art of speed goes way beyond IT. And as the commercial responsible, you need to set the directions and ensure responsibility and guidelines are in place. Ideally the person end-responsible for speed is some-one with a strong business acumen. This person can further detail out guidelines and educate your teams on all the different speed related topics.

Anyhow, the main take-away for you should be: make sure speed & performance is on your agenda. Part of your KPIs. Part of your DNA. Part of your teams DNA.

Good luck making your website faster and hopefully this “getting started guide” was useful. In case you need specific expertise or advice don’t hesitate to contact us, as we have a large network of Performance Experts that can help you out.

Thank you, and enjoy your speed gains!

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