5 Ways to Improve Site Performance

Dec 01, 2013 8:37 PM  By

Setting up an ecommerce business may be a great idea from the outside but many businesses find that sales do not increase after the implementation of an ecommerce platform. This holiday season, merchants must focus extensively on application performance and usability, in order to get users to increase transactions.

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To prepare this holiday season, Compuware has compiled the following five suggestions for improving performance and boosting sales.

Avoid Unnecessary Network Load 
Although broadband connections are now considered a commodity and many internet users can stream videos online, it is still important to keep the size and download time of a website in check. Nothing influences a customer’s perception of a website’s user-friendliness more than speed. It can therefore be very helpful to weigh the time it takes for an operation to occur, from the true customer perspective, against the number of hits.

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A merchant may find that an online video is adding significantly to overall website load time, even though few customers are actually using it in the conversion process. By gaining better insight into the real customer interaction, many businesses discover they are pushing out heavy content unnecessarily.

It’s also important to ensure a site is properly cached. If a web browser needs to download the same content over and over, even if the page is not too heavy, the “round trips” involved can result in slower page downloads. Content delivery networks (CDNs) can be extremely useful in speeding the delivery of website content. But when relying on services from any external third-party, it’s important to remember that “you’re only as strong as your weakest link.” If a CDN slows down under heavy aggregate traffic like during the holidays, each individual customer is apt to slow down too.

Monitoring from the true customer perspective is the only way to understand if a CDN, or any third-party service, is delivering consistently strong performance.

Improve Back-End Performance
In addition to network-related problems, the increasing complexity and multiple tiers of modern data centers can make it much more difficult to pinpoint sources of problems in the back-end (i.e. slow database calls). The key to weeding out these problems proactively and quickly is tracing all transactions, 24×7, from the customer’s browser back across the multiple tiers of the data center, even all the way back to the mainframe.  Many ecommerce businesses have seen huge end-user performance improvements resulting from very slight tweaks made at the back-end.

Understand Your Clients
A common challenge merchant’s face is delivering superb user experiences across all browsers. Ensuring that a website will look and work flawlessly on Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera and Internet Explorer can be a lot of effort. Not to mention merchants now need to take into account an extremely wide range of mobile browsers and devices.

For these reasons, it is important to understand one’s customer demographic, which may or may not reflect general demographics. Modern performance monitoring tools can now recognize the nature of inbound traffic, making it easier to determine which customer segments are most prevalent and should be prioritized  (i.e. Internet Explorer users).

Know When the Conversion Path May Be Too Long or Cumbersome
Annoyances, whether caused by poor application performance or bad design, can be very disruptive to an online business. Online merchants should not threaten customer loyalty with an aggressive push for registration requirements.

When presented with a long registration form, many customers terminate their site visits by closing the registration page even while it is still loading. Unless a customer can quickly complete their purchases through a simple checkout process, an ecommerce site may lose the sale and turn the customer away from future visits.

Once again, merchants can benefit from a true view into the conversion funnel, paying particular attention to shopping carts, check-outs, registrations and other critical junctures where abandonments often occur. Not only does this help identify performance problems with third-party services contributing to and supporting applications, but it also reveals areas of frequent abandonment that aren’t necessarily performance-related.

Ensure Scalability of an Ecommerce Site
Many ecommerce merchants use load testing to ensure their sites can handle peak traffic. But in many cases, these load testing approaches rely on synthetic traffic generated from within one’s own data center.

This does not reflect the application experience at the actual browser, which is subject to a wide range of performance-impacting variables outside the firewall – i.e. third-party services, the cloud, ISPs and other network elements. Load testing from the true customer perspective is the only way to identify weaknesses across this complete application delivery chain and fix what is possible.

Klaus Enzehnofer is a technology strategist at Compuware.