Website Speed Optimization – Why it Matters

Written by Dani Sherman

In the fast-paced world of eCommerce, website speed can make or break your business. With customers' attention spans growing shorter by the day, a slow-loading website can drive them away to your competitors in seconds. That's why it's crucial for online businesses to prioritize the speed of their websites. In this blog post, we will explore the importance of website speed for eCommerce and highlight the key elements that make it essential for your success. So, buckle up and get ready to turbocharge your online store!

By utilizing various tools and techniques, such as compressing images, enabling browser caching, and minimizing redirects, your online store can significantly enhance its performance and, in turn, satisfy your customers' need for speed, and match their expectations. 

I can almost hear you saying, “Website speed optimization”-- not a very sexy-sounding topic, Dani!" But, pay attention to this:  Not only does website speed optimization improve user experience, but it also leads to higher SEO rankings, improved conversion rates, and increased revenue for your business. So it's kind of a big deal. 

Ultimately, by prioritizing the speed of your website, your e-Commerce business can stake claim to a myriad of opportunities and thrive in the digital marketplace. And the slower websites that can’t keep up will be left firmly in the dust. You do not want to be included in the latter camp!

So, I hope you’ll agree that website speed is something that you can’t afford to be complacent about.  You want your site visitors to be free of frustration, and to stay awhile– to browse and buy. In other words, you want your shop as much as possible to be a bounce-free zone!  

Website speed optimization: because slow websites turn away customers.

Factors Affecting eCommerce Website Speed

Website speed optimization, therefore is absolutely crucial for eCommerce websites to improve performance and enhance customer satisfaction, thereby increasing your revenue.

When it comes to online shopping, no one likes a slow-loading website that takes forever to present product images or complete checkout. I’m sure that you’ve experienced this agony yourself on different sites over the years.  Personally speaking, my frustration goes from 0-60 in about 3 seconds!  It’s not a good look (for me or the website!). 

Optimizing website speed is do-able, and involves using various tools and methods to speed up page loading on computers, phones, and apps-- in other words, wherever your potential customers may be scrolling from. To achieve fast and seamless user experiences, several factors affecting eCommerce website speed need to be realized.  We’ll look at them here.

Server response time

One of the key factors that impact website speed is the server response time. When a user requests a web page, the server needs to process the request and send the relevant data back to the user's device. It’s a bit like having a conversation. If the server response time is slow, it will significantly affect the overall page load time. Factors that can contribute to slow server response time include a peak volume of traffic, inadequate server resources, and inefficient server configurations. So, there are a few factors at play.

To optimize server response time, it is essential to ensure that the servers are properly configured, resources are sufficient, and traffic is distributed evenly across multiple servers if required.  A large part of your store’s success, therefore, is going to rely on these external operations. 

Large images and media

Another factor that can slow down eCommerce websites is the use of large images and media files. High-resolution product images and videos can greatly enhance the visual appeal of an online store, but they can also increase page load times. 

When files are large in size, they take longer to download and display, causing delays in the overall loading process. To optimize website speed, it is important to compress and optimize images and media files without compromising their quality.

You may have seen prompts when uploading photos to your store that JPG files, while inferior quality to PNG ones, will allow that page in your store to load faster.  I always opt for that, but go for the best-quality design files (PNG or SVG) so that the actual product is printed at the best standard. It doesn't bother me so much if the product photo is not maximized-- and it still looks fine as it is to the viewer.  If they turn into a buyer, the only thing that really matters is that the item's design has come out sharp and clear. 

Excessive HTTP requests

Each element on a web page, such as images, scripts, and stylesheets (CSS), requires a separate HTTP (initials) request to be made to the server. The more HTTP requests a page needs to make, the longer it will take to load. It's a bit like a gathering where there are multiple conversations going on, and questions being asked back and forward. This is prime time for getting error messages, usually about the request 'timing out'.

Web hosting

The choice of web hosting provider and plan can also have a significant impact on website speed. If a website is hosted on a server with limited resources or shared with numerous other websites, you can bet it can lead to slower loading times. Opting for a reliable and high-performance web hosting provider is crucial for eCommerce websites that demand fast loading times. 

Choosing a hosting plan that offers sufficient resources and server optimizations specifically for eCommerce can greatly improve website speed. For this reason, I highly recommend against buying into any one-payment-and-done hosting platforms, especially for you fellow bloggers out there. You know, the type that you see advertised at certain times of the year with flashy visuals and mile-long sales pages.  Do you think that there will be a solid customer support department, should anything go wrong?  Or that these are built on a network of quality servers? Think again!  

In this arena, as in life, you get what you pay for. So, don’t scrimp on the foundations of your business or blog. It's one of the best investments that you'll make for your present, and future.

Optimizing website speed should be part of your business's priority budget.

Techniques to Optimize eCommerce Website Speed

To improve website speed and provide a seamless user experience, eCommerce websites can implement various techniques and optimizations. Here, I've summarized seventeen lay-person-friendly pointers that can be applied to optimize eCommerce website speed:

Compressing images

Compressing images is a widely used technique to reduce the file size of images without sacrificing their quality. By using image compression tools and techniques, eCommerce websites can significantly reduce the loading time of product images and other visual content.  My personal favorite is 7-zip, and it's free. There are other ones to choose from as well, proving that there is no need to pay for file compression software.

Enabling browser caching

Browser caching allows web browsers to store certain files locally, such as images, CSS, and JavaScript files. When a user revisits a website, the browser can retrieve these cached files instead of making new requests to the server, resulting in faster page load times.  On the flip side, files can quickly build up through this process and at some point it becomes necessary to 'clear your cache', to free up disk space on your computer and execute fresh commands on a site, in some circumstances. I'm sure that you've experienced this necessity firsthand as a computer user. So, while caching can speed up operations, it can also slow them down but that's easily remedied.

Limiting redirects

Redirects are additional requests made by the browser to fetch a different URL. Excessive redirects can slow down website speed as each redirect adds an extra request and processing time. Limiting the use of redirects helps in reducing unnecessary requests and improving page load times. 

Implementing lazy loading

Lazy loading is a technique that defers the loading of non-critical resources, such as images or videos, until they are about to be displayed on the screen. By implementing lazy loading, eCommerce websites can prioritize the loading of above-the-fold content, reducing initial page load times.  So, listing photos will only appear as the user scrolls down, saving precious resources and protecting page speed.

Limiting the use of plugins

While plugins can add functionality to eCommerce websites, they can also slow down website speed if used excessively. It is important to carefully select and limit the use of plugins to only those that are necessary, as each plugin adds additional code and requests that can impact loading times. And, sometimes there can exist incompatibilities between certain plug-ins. The trouble is that most often this is only discoverable through trial and error. If you are lucky, you can find posts on the internet warning of some particular conflicts-- so it may be useful to do some research like this before adding any new plug-in(s) to your site.

Plug-ins are most often associated with WordPress sites, but in the case of Shopify you could encounter something similar in that some apps are incompatible with one another. I have run into this before, and sometimes there is no other solution than to remove the 'offending' app until a fix is found by either the platform itself, or the app's creator. This can be disappointing if you love an app's offerings, but it's at the cost of site speed.

Optimizing for mobile

With the increasing use of mobile devices for online shopping, optimizing for mobile becomes crucial. Responsive web design, mobile-specific optimizations, and mobile-friendly features can greatly enhance the mobile shopping experience and website speed for mobile users.  There is little you can do here to optimize the presentation, it's more or less a function of the platform that you're using how well your site will look on mobile.  Good for us, established e-Commerdce platforms have a key understanding of this need for mobile optimization.  I truly can't complain about how any of my Etsy or Shopify stores have looked on mobile, or how efficiently they have loaded anytime I've checked them.  

Prioritizing above-the-fold content

Above-the-fold content refers to the content that is initially visible to users without scrolling. Prioritizing the loading of above-the-fold content ensures that users can start interacting with the website and viewing essential information without waiting for the entire page to load. That echoes my earlier point about lazy loading.

Benefits of eCommerce Website Speed Optimization

Optimizing the speed of an eCommerce website offers several benefits that directly impact user experience, search engine rankings, and business performance. By implementing website speed optimization techniques, eCommerce websites can enjoy the following advantages:

Enhanced user experience

Faster website speed leads to improved user experience, as visitors can quickly browse and navigate through the website without experiencing delays or frustrations. Users are more likely to stay engaged and make purchases on a website that loads quickly and smoothly.

Improved SEO rankings

Website speed is a significant factor considered by search engines when ranking websites in search results. Faster websites are more likely to rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs), increasing visibility and organic traffic. Optimizing website speed, as mentioned earlier, improves SEO rankings and enhances the chances of attracting potential customers through organic search.  What's not to like?

Higher conversion rates

Website speed optimization directly impacts conversion rates, as users are more likely to convert into customers on fast-loading websites. Studies have shown that even a 1-second delay in page load time can result in a significant drop in conversion rates. Now, that's pretty unforgiving!  But, by providing a fast and responsive website, eCommerce businesses can avoid that and increase their conversion rates and drive more sales.  A worthy goal, don't you agree?

Lower bounce rates

Slow-loading websites often experience high bounce rates, meaning that visitors leave the website without viewing additional pages. This can be detrimental to eCommerce businesses, as they risk losing potential customers-- and Google 'learns' as a result to lower a site's rankings which can affect future traffic. 

By optimizing website speed, bounce rates can be reduced, and visitors are more likely to explore multiple pages and engage with the website. All good for Google, too!

Better mobile shopping experience

As mobile commerce continues to grow, providing a seamless mobile shopping experience is essential for eCommerce websites. Slow-loading websites on mobile devices can lead to frustration and abandonment. By optimizing website speed for mobile devices, eCommerce businesses can provide a smooth and enjoyable mobile shopping experience, increasing customer satisfaction and driving mobile sales.

Here are some statistics that confirm the need for website speed.  According to Outerbox  in March 2023:

Over the last year its estimated that 56% of all online sales came from a mobile device – a number that has been increasing year-over-year since smart phones were invented...

The fact is, it’s now statistically much more likely that eCommerce customers will be interacting with your website from a smartphone or tablet than a desktop. Armed with this knowledge, it’s your responsibility to create a shopping experience that appeals to your customers. Mobile shoppers are finicky, and rightfully so. With the highly competitive nature of the eCommerce industry, your customers will not hesitate to buy from your competitors if even the slightest headache arises.

Statistics show that 40% of users will go to the competitor after a bad mobile experience, yet an alarming 84% have experienced difficulty completing a mobile transaction. That is an incredibly high number, and it shows just how great the opportunity is for companies to capitalize on consumer conversion just by creating mobile responsive and user-friendly websites. It’s one reason Amazon focused on making an easy shopping experience and was able to gain a massive audience and grow.

As they say, statistics never lie. The speed of an eCommerce website has a direct  and significant impact on sales and revenue. A fast-loading website not only improves user experience but also influences customers' purchasing decisions-- including whether to revisit your site as a repeat customer based upon their experience.  Don't forget that satisfied customers are more likely to become repeat buyers and even refer others to the website. By consistently providing an optimized website experience, your eCommerce businesses can drive customer loyalty and generate long-term revenue.  Customer lifetime value is important to us, too.

In conclusion, optimizing the speed of an eCommerce website is crucial for enhancing user experience, improving SEO rankings, increasing conversion rates, reducing bounce rates, and driving sales and revenue. By addressing factors such as server response time, large images and media, excessive HTTP requests, and utilizing effective techniques like image compression, browser caching, lazy loading and limiting the use of plug-ins and apps, eCommerce businesses can achieve faster loading times and provide a seamless online shopping experience for their customers.

It's a clear win-win for everybody!

Until next time,

Dani x

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About the Author

Dani Sherman, CEO at EcomGemini

Dani's been immersed in the online space for the past several years, and she knows what it takes to establish a presence on multiple eCommerce platforms. She would like to help you get started with your own dreams of running a successful online business. Her weekly blog focuses on all things Print-On-Demand and eCommerce.  So, check back often to see what's new, and to be inspired!