5 Ways to Enhance Digital Performance Right Now

Mar 09, 2014 4:40 PM  By

By now, most retailers have felt the tremendous pressure that the explosion of mobile and tablet devices has put on the e-commerce industry. Sales made both on- and off-line are increasingly the direct result of multiple digital “moments of truth” that can either win or lose customers entirely.

To meet the needs of today’s customer, retailers and digital marketers have scrambled to provide a combination of content on a variety of channels, from online and in-store to everywhere in between.

But simply showing up isn’t enough.

Most importantly, retailers’ content must perform. In today’s hyper-connected environment, producing slow-loading or unavailable content is equal to providing no digital content at all. While the challenge to produce always-on, high-performing content is daunting, the truth is, it can be done. In fact, it starts with some relatively easy first steps:

Optimize Images and Videos

Most digital retail experts and marketers know that they must trim high-resolution videos and images to adapt to the countless shapes and sizes of the web. This doesn’t mean, however, that things can’t go wrong. Consider:

  • Runaways – It’s not uncommon for large assets to still get “into the wild” through a technology glitch. To avoid this, do periodic reviews of your webpages using Google PageSpeed, webpagetest.org or any number of tools or browser plugins.
  • Device Fragmentation – Today’s consumer is no longer limited to just one screen. From tablets to smartphones to PCs, retailers now have to account for screens in a variety of sizes and resolutions. As a result, you must review your asset-sizing policy for different screen categories and spot-check on actual devices to ensure that, for example, small screens aren’t overwhelmed by too-large assets.
  • Dynamic Sizing – Many organizations use advanced tools such as Adobe’s Scene 7 to manage assets across devices. These can be a tremendous investment – but only if they’re executed correctly. Keep them honest by continually spot-checking devices to ensure that these tools are working as needed.
  • Artistic Compromise – While designers will argue that you should always use the highest resolution for photos, the new trend in digital marketing is to trade resolution for fast loading. Brands that compromise resolution reap the rewards in faster load times and lower bounce rates.

Use a Content Delivery Network

In just a few years, adoption of Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) has increased rapidly, going from 20.5% in 2011 to 79% in 2013 among top online retailers.  The concept is simple: cache copies of static assets on servers closer to your users. Since issues often arise, stay on top of your CDN by:

  • Keeping Them Honest – The top CDNs are well-run and provide superior service, but even they experience issues. Ask your CDN partner to aid in monitoring your site to ensure that customers are actually getting content from closely located servers, not from across the country.
  • Reviewing Cache Settings – All CDNs – even the best of the best – rely on developers to put the right cache settings on content. All it takes is one wrong setting and the CDN may not cache a piece of content and add back the load time you’ve invested heavily to prevent. Ask the developers to review cache settings from time to time.
  • Being Dynamic – CDNs characteristically cache anything static, leaving out dynamic content that depends on numerous user variables. You should, however, also work with your CDN to cache semi-variable content. For example, if you have a store locator with several hundred locations, a CDN may be able to cache the results, saving time for your customers.
  • Investigating – Once you’ve established a CDN, figure out what additional value it can offer you as the first technology layer. Investigate using your CDN to perform various services, such as dynamic tag injection, device detect-and-redirect and security.

Check Your Render Patterns, Lighten the Page and Repeat

In a perfect world, your page would load the main, above-the-fold content first and everything else – including background tags – last. But due to unpredictable network connections, web pages have a tendency to load in an irregular fashion. The more complicated your content, the more unpredictable your browser – no matter what you’ve told the browser do to.

Your best defense against a page that loads secondary content first? Simplicity. Avoid complicated CSS, JavaScript, Ajax or Flash containers that can often distract the browser. To find more targeted issues, many IT pros utilize a combination of manual visits, video of site rendering order and deep diagnostic tools to find the biggest offenders.

Reduce Expensive Server Redirects

Any time a user types or follows a URL that doesn’t lead them to the content you intended them to see, you get them back on track with a redirect. For example, if a user tries to visit a retailer’s main URL on their mobile phone, the retailer will route them, instead, to its mobile website. Redirects can be costly because they cause loading overhead. The more redirects you have, the more time your browser will spend on background, administrative actions instead of loading content for the customer.

Specifically, redirects commonly occur in places such as:

  • Inefficient routing between mobile and desktop sites
  • Extreme cases where redirect loops can actually break the page in certain browsers – especially mobile
  • Long chains of redirects associated with 3rd party analytic tags. 

Lessen Reliance on Third-Party Tags

Whether related to site analytics, advertising, social media or targeting, third-party tags are used to collect data on the Internet. They are a key tool for marketers, specifically, trying to gather more information about retail customers. Today, many brand sites load more than 20 tags alongside their user content. Frequently, these tags load after the main content, but even the long tail of loading tags can make users think that the content isn’t ready and thus, delay their clicks.

To overcome this issue, audit your tags for obsolescence. Often, tags are left on pages long after they are needed. This typically happens after a campaign ends or technology vendors change. Another option is to balance the value. Digital marketers typically don’t have digital performance in mind, so they tend to add more data and tags. The decision must be made to eliminate the nice-to-haves in the name of performance. 

In today’s competitive retail landscape, improving digital performance can greatly enhance your customers’ experience. That, of course, leads to another key performance indicator: higher sales.

Rob DuRoss is a Digital Performance Consultant at CW Professional Services.

  • AndrewL

    Agree that CDNs allow you to keep cached copies of website content on servers closer to users. Going further, though, allows even faster performance. Endpoint Web Optimization also allows you to speed up websites by caching content directly on the endpoint (PC or mobile). This makes the site load even faster as there are no unnecessary roundtrips to the server or edge cache.