The global eCommerce market is booming with statistics estimating a global sales value of over $7.4 trillion by 2025 at an annual growth averaging around 20 percent. Yet despite this growth, many online retailers are struggling to survive in what has become an extremely competitive industry.
Although many factors contribute to this struggle, one key theme remains consistent among many smaller, independent eCommerce sites and that is the difficulties in drawing in potential customers.
The lion’s share of sales goes to major sites like Amazon.com which then have the capabilities to advertise heavily online, further increasing their lead.
Rather than looking at market factors beyond your control, have you considered looking inward and trying to boost your website traffic in more organic ways? There are many methods that can be accomplished and one of those is by focusing on your own platform to increase technical performance.
Your Online Store Speed Matters
The sales process for an online store is much more than simply getting a visitor to buy something. The challenge starts right from the search level, which is your main method of drawing potential customers in. Site performance makes a difference at almost every level that an online store competes.
Let’s dive deeper into what impact speed can potentially have on your eCommerce business;
1. Low Search Rankings
Drawing potential customers to your online store is mostly accomplished through two main methods – pay for advertising or growing your traffic organically. Advertising costs money and it is unlikely that smaller online stores will have the deep pockets needed to make significant headway.
That leaves organic growth, which is highly dependent on how well you’re able to get your site to rank on search engines. By that, I’m referring to Google, which holds a commanding lead of more than 92% of all search queries.
Google has a complex algorithm with which it uses to rank web pages and match them with search queries. One of the most important things that it takes into consideration in these matches is the performance of websites.
While it has always placed an emphasis on speed, Google has expanded that its focus to include the performance of web pages on mobile devices as well.
According to a Statista study in September 2021, Google had over 97 percent mobile search market share. This was expected since search on mobile now outstrips searches performed on desktops.
The result is that no matter on desktop or mobile device, your website ranking in search queries will be affected if your site suffers from low performance.
2. Loss of Potential Customers
Considering that you’ve managed to lure some visitors to your site, the next thing you need to be concerned about is getting them to buy something. This is where user experience factors in. Slow websites make for very unhappy visitors.
Consider these statistics;
- About 50 percent of digital shoppers expects an online store website to load within three seconds.
- A one-second delay in loading can reduce conversions by 7 percent.
- 79% of customers unhappy with site performance are less likely to buy again.
With site speed affecting so many areas of the sales funnel, you can see why a faster online store will benefit your bottom line.
3. Brand Impact
Technology has made our lives better in so many ways but thanks to the ever-increasing performance of our digital devices and broadband speeds, people expect things to work much faster nowadays.
Think of it in a similar way as that of a physical retail store – it’s never good to keep your customer waiting.
Having to wait leaves customers with a bad impression and thanks to the age of social media, unhappy customers now have a myriad of platforms via which they can voice their discontent. These unhappy customers can cause untold damage to your brand.
The result is that the customers you lose due to poor site performance can have a much greater significance to your brand perception than merely the cost of a lost sale.
Boosting Site Speed with Server-side Improvements
Your website or CMS speed depends on many factors, some of which are unfortunately out of your control. Rather than worry about those, let’s consider what you can tweak on the server-side to get a leg up in performance.
1. Use Reliable and Fast Hosting
Caption: The web hosting industry is huge.
The web hosting industry, estimated to value over $200 billion by 2025, is huge. This means that we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to the selection of web hosts, so how do we make the right choice?
The core secret to having a successful website is a partnership with the right web hosting solutions provider. While features are important, even more so is the performance and reliability of the servers the web host has.
This means that you need to look out for two key metrics: Response Speed and Uptime. The response speed is how fast the web server takes to acknowledge a request. Uptime is a measurement of how available the server is for access.
There are some great sources that do reviews on web hosting solutions but unfortunately the current review standard only tests server performance at single points in time. This isn’t enough to give you a good idea of consistency in performance or reliability.
Caption: HostScore measures consistency of a web host based on server uptime and hosting speed.
One source, HostScore, has recently been trying to change how web hosts are evaluated by monitoring the performance of service providers over an extended period.
This gives a much better sense of the quality of a host. Alternatively, you can opt for a source which focuses on user reviews such as TrustPilot.
2. Optimize Large Files
Caption: Image compression can save lots of space with no great difference in image quality (Source: Compressor.io)
Many users make the mistake of focusing on what their site can do rather than optimizing how it works. This can lead to some issues, especially where file sizes are concerned. We all want beautiful websites that can ‘wow’ our customers but consider the cost of those ultra-sharp images and stunning videos.
Compressing multimedia files can save you a huge amount of overhead and speed up your page loads significantly.
Images and videos often take up the bulk of space for any website. Websites that mean business emphasize a lot on content marketing. Visual content is almost a necessity for them.
While most web hosts today are very generous in the storage space they offer, large files still take longer to load and require more resources to do so. This results in slower loading web pages.
To address this issue, try and optimize files through compression. Many popular web applications today such as WordPress have the capability to use extended features to do so automatically. All you need to do is to set a standard and the software will handle compression on its own.
Tip: If you’re using a popular web application such as WooCommerce for your platform, it is highly likely that there exists a quick solution for you.
WooCommerce is based on WordPress which has a huge pool of plugins available. Try using something like EWWW optimizer – simply install, configure, and you’re good to go.
3. Enabling Gzip
Aside from compressing images and video you can speed things up further by enabling gzip compression on your web server. This helps you make other files more compact, resulting in faster transmission.
All web servers support gzip compression and the way you do it will depend on which web server you use.
Although configured at the server level and the easiest way to do this is by adding a few lines of code to your .htaccess file. You can get to this file by using your file manager in your web hosting control panel. Inside, add the following code;
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/html
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/css
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/plain
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE image/x-icon
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE image/svg+xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/rss+xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/xhtml+xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/x-font
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/x-font-truetype
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/x-font-ttf
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/x-font-otf
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/x-font-opentype
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/vnd.ms-fontobject
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE font/ttf
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE font/otf
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE font/opentype
# For Olders Browsers Which Can’t Handle Compression
BrowserMatch ^Mozilla/4 gzip-only-text/html
BrowserMatch ^Mozilla/4\.0 no-gzip
BrowserMatch \bMSIE !no-gzip !gzip-only-text/html
Once you’ve done that you can test your site to make sure that gzip is working for you.
4. Minify code
Minification is exactly the way it sounds – shrinking your site’s code signature. This is done by removing all the ‘extra’ from code so that it is as streamlined as possible.
Some of the things that are removed during the minification process are code comments, formatting, and unused code. This process can save anywhere between 10 percent to 95 percent of code size!
5. Focus on Testing for Mobile
Earlier, I discussed how Google is prioritizing mobile traffic now and how much of visitor traffic are on this platform. To take advantage of this, make sure that you prioritize testing for mobile responses when you’re evaluating the performance of your website.
Google has a Page Speed Tool that lets you see how capable your website is to handle both desktop and mobile traffic. Pay special attention to the mobile results and work towards improving your results there.
Page Speed Insights will also offer you suggestions on how you can improve your mobile performance.
6. Manage Redirects and Broken Links
Redirect and broken links are the bane of any website and this is especially true for online stores which likely will have a ton of product pages.
The result is often multiple redirects and unintended broken links that will have an impact on both site speed and SEO performance.
To clear up your redirects, some basic housekeeping is in order. For example, try to avoid using 302 redirects to indicate temporary moves. It is always better to flag redirects as 301s instead. Unfortunately, you’ll need to keep an eye on how these are managed, so use them sparingly!
Avoid a redirect that points towards another redirect as this will simply result in additional speed loss for no benefit at all.
Caption: Make use of the free tools to check your outgoing links.
Broken links to page elements like images and script files can cause not just speed loss but also result in pages being displayed incorrectly to visitors. To ensure that your site is working without broken links, there are tools available that can do quick checkups for you.
7. Leverage on Server-side caching
Perhaps one of the most important ways of speeding up a site is the effective use of caching. There are two main types of caching; client-side and server-side.
We’re going to focus on server-side caching since there are many things here that you can do to tweak your performance.
Caching as a general term usually refers to the storing of things in memory for faster access. Server-side caching makes use of the resources on your server and can be applied a few ways. Some examples of this are Object caching, CDN caching, and Opcode caching.
- Object caching is the storing of database queries so that the next time a request is made, the results will be ready without having to repeatedly access the database.
- CDN caching is the use of content delivery networks to store parts of your site in remote locations. This helps you serve the site faster to visitors from different locations. It also reduces the load on your own server.
- Opcode caching is the pre-execution and storing of PHP code. Again, this reduces the need to repeatedly execute code when a request is made on the server.
By leveraging these types of caching you can not just speed up page loads for your customers, but also reduce the performance load on your server.
WooCommerce (WordPress) and Shopify are the two most popular eCommerce store platforms. It’s likely that your store is hosted on one of the two. Both platforms support plugins and apps for added functionality – most especially WooCommerce.
For example, you can install a plugin/app to manage payments, another to import products, another to create mock-ups, etc.
Any plugin or app you install instantly has an effect on your website which can be positive or negative. Among the negatives is slowing down your website.
To avoid such, use renowned plugins and apps. Some unpopular plugins are poorly coded with supernumerary scripts and sheets. Loading all of these scripts and sheets will slow your website without question.
Also, installing the right plugin or app isn’t all. Apps and plugins get updated from time to time. You must always update to the newest version. No matter how minimal an update may seem, the developers had a reason for releasing it.
We often overlook having too many emails, whether in our personal mail box or business mail box. When you set up an eCommerce website, or any website at all, your hosting provider typically provides you with a native email address.
This email, however, is usually limited. Therefore, having too many mails – both sent and received mails – could affect your hosting storage which will in turn affect your website’s speed.
You can avoid this by outsourcing your emails. In other words, make use of a third-party email provider. You can make use of popular mail services like Google and Yahoo.
If you want a custom mail domain – email@example.com rather than firstname.lastname@example.org, – you can always switch to the business option.
There are many SMTP options you can use including SMTP.com, Mail himp, Brevo, and GetResponse. These platforms are optimized to send mass emails and you can save your host server the stress.
This is most important if you use WordPress – WooCommerce. The WordPress platform was primarily coded in PHP and with each new version, it’s made faster.
Your WooCommerce store will run fine even on old PHP versions. However, if speed is what you want, you must update to the latest version. Aside from speed, using the latest version is ideal for overall security.
If your PHP is out of date, you’ll normally get a notification from WordPress asking you to update. You can check the PHP status of your website yourself from the Site Health section under Tools. From the section, select server and then PHP version.
You can then compare with the most recent PHP version to determine if you need an update or not.
No matter where you host your eCommerce store, one thing’s certain, you’ll use a theme. For WooCommerce, Shopify, and other popular eCommerce platforms, you have a variety of themes to choose from.
The problem is, not every “eCommerce” theme is an eCommerce theme. Some will outrightly slow down your website.
Therefore, you should be wary of the theme you install on your store. Most importantly, go for search engine optimized themes.
However, even if a theme is tagged an “SEO” theme, you should verify by the testimonies of others. Alternatively, you can run SEO tests on other eCommerce websites using the theme.
Generally, the best option, if you want a speedy website, is using a simple theme – minimalist theme. You can subsequently customize it to meet your taste using plugins and apps.
Do you use a lot of pop-ups to display products in your eCommerce store? If yes, it’s time to stop. Pop-ups can be a proficient way of inciting customer’s interests. However, when too much, slowing down your store is one of the negative consequences.
Too many pop-ups also affect a customer’s buying experience. Of course, a customer won’t – and can’t – buy everything on your website no matter how juicy the pop-up deals are.
If they keep coming up, they become time-wasters, prolonging the period it takes customers to checkout.
Fortunately, this is something you can easily fix. Simply load the plugin or app you use in managing pop-ups and cut down on the numbers.
Improving eCommerce site performance takes time
Just like SEO is more of an art than a science, improving the performance of your online store is an exercise in patience.
There are many more tweaks that you can carry out to improve server performance than I’ve listed out here, but even these will take you some time to implement, test, and optimize.
Focus on specific parts at a time and make sure you evaluate the before and after performance of your site so that you know what works for you and what doesn’t.
As always, I highly recommend you use site testing tools to help you to monitor this, such as Google Page Speed Insights or WebPageTest.
I also need to stress further on the first point I made, which is the emphasis of choosing a good host. Migrating a website from a hosting service provider takes time, effort, and money. As much as possible, try to choose the best host possible and look past the cost of investment in it.
A good web hosting provider can make the difference between sleepless nights and those spent in peace.
Tom loves to write on technology, e-commerce & internet marketing. I started my first e-commerce company in college, designing and selling t-shirts for my campus bar crawl using print-on-demand. Having successfully established multiple 6 & 7-figure e-commerce businesses (in women’s fashion and hiking gear), I think I can share a tip or 2 to help you succeed.