Site Speed Can Make or Break Your Digital Brand
The speed of your Shopify store directly impacts your business. Customer experience, sales, the Google ranking of your website, and mobile performance are all impacted by site performance. While site performance is a key aspect of your store’s success, it isn’t the only contributing factor. Your store is made up of many different elements, like your theme, apps, collections, and more.
For example, beautiful high resolution imagery or video contributes to a positive user experience, which can help convert customers. But, images and videos may also slow your site. To optimize your site for the best results, you’ll need to achieve a balance between performance and functionality.
Remember that while your store’s speed is important, it isn’t the only thing that matters. Customer experience is about more than just speed, it’s about functionality and features that enhance their shopping.
Read on to discover how to measure your store’s performance, the impact of site speed on your business, how to balance performance and functionality, and tips for improving your store’s speed.
How can you measure your Shopify store’s performance?
To find out how well your Shopify store is performing, you’ll want to access your speed report. You can view your speed report through the Shopify admin. Go to “Online Store,” and hit “Themes.” You’ll be able to view your full report in the Online Store “speed score” section. Your speed score is recalculated daily, and it shows as a number between 1 and 100.
There are three main factors that impact your score:
Lighthouse performance: Google Lighthouse is an open-source, automated tool that measures the quality of web pages. It can be run against any web page, public or requiring authentication. It audits performance, accessibility, and search engine optimization of web pages. It is hard to achieve a high Lighthouse score, because Lighthouse compares your online store to all types of websites, not just other ecommerce sites. Since other websites have different functionality than ecommerce websites, Shopify includes two other factors in your overall speed score. You can learn more details about Lighthouse Performance Scores, here.
Relativity: Your Shopify speed score takes into account how your store speed compares to Shopify stores that are similar to yours. For merchants, the goal is to achieve a speed that is at minimum, equal to the speed of similar stores. If you are able to achieve a score that is faster than similar stores, then you’re providing an exceptional shopping experience for your customers. If your report shows that your store’s speed is low compared to similar stores, you may need to do some optimization to improve it.
- Period of time: Your speed score is recalculated daily, but it is based on data spanning several days. To calculate the score, Shopify weighs the average of the Lighthouse performance scores for your store's home page, product page with the most traffic over the last 7 days, and your collection page with the most traffic over the last 7 days.
Comparing your site speed with perceived performance
Your speed report is a great tool for analyzing the performance of your store, and identifying pain points. But, there is a difference between your speed score and perceived speed. New research shows that while speed definitely matters on the web, user perceptions of speed can be just as important. That’s exactly what the term “perceived performance” describes: how fast a website seems to a user.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any online tools that can measure perceived performance. The best way to get a sense of your user’s experience is to ask them. This can be done using visitor surveys, or through usability testing. With user feedback, you can then make informed improvements to your site’s perceived speed.
There are a few tactics that can help to optimize the perceived speed of your store. Here are three that might make sense for your business:
- Add an activity or progress bar
If there are page elements or specific pages that load slowly, consider adding an activity or progress bar. Activity indicators help to reassure your customers that the page is working. By seeing a visual representation of the page’s loading progress, your customer is less likely to become frustrated and leave.
- Load above-the-fold content first
Structure the code of your store to load above-the-fold content first. This content is what a customer will see first, and so it is critical that it loads the quickest.
- Use progressive and/or lazy loading
Progressive, or lazy loading is a technique for loading web content when it's needed rather than all at once. For example, progressive images load immediately but with a low resolution and then increase their resolution as the website loads. This strategy helps to create a fast perceived speed for your customers.
What impact is site speed having on your business?
Your Shopify store’s speed has an impact on various aspects of your business. For example, your customer experience and Google ranking are informed by the speed of your site. Understanding what aspects of your business are being impacted is the key to resolving pain points and optimizing your store for sales. To help you get started, we’ve identified the main areas:
- Customer experience
According to Kissmetrics, 47 percent of consumers expect a page to load in two seconds or less. Kissmetrics' analytics say that 40 percent of consumers will abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load. Further research shows a correlation between increases in load speed and bounce rate. As load speed increases, bounce rate increases too. These metrics demonstrate the importance of site speed. If your site loads too slowly, your customers will have an unfavorable user experience that leads to customer frustration.
- Customer loyalty
Site speed will further impact customer loyalty. Research suggests that 79% of customers that are “dissatisfied” with a site’s performance are less likely to buy from them again. Because consumers today have so many stores available at their fingertips, it’s easy for them to pop over to a competitor’s site instead. Consumers expect speed, and when those expectations aren’t met, they’re likely to abandon your site, and not return.
- Conversion rate and sales
Studies show that the quicker a webpage loads, the more likely a user is to perform the targeted action on that webpage. This means that speed of your site is impacting your conversion goals, like building an email list and reaching sales targets. The reason site speed has such an effect on conversions and sales relates back to our first two points. When a customer has a bad experience on your website, they are likely to abandon it and not return. As a result, your conversion rate suffers.
- Google ranking and SEO
A Forrester report found search is a leading tool at all stages of the customer journey. It’s used by over 90% of consumers for discovering new products and services, for making purchasing decisions, and for brand exploration and engagements. And search engine keyword ranking (SEO) is an integral element of your business's searchability online.
At Google, users are top priority. And Google is well aware that users will abandon a slow-loading site. As a result, Google penalizes websites that are too slow by reducing their SEO ranking, and instead rewards sites that are fast. With a high SEO ranking, your store is more likely to appear when customers search keywords related to your business. This makes your store more discoverable.
How to balance performance and functionality
Customer experience, customer loyalty, conversion rate, sales, and your Google ranking can all be negatively impacted by a slow website. Clearly, performance is integral to the success of your business, but optimizing for speed should be approached with care. While some of the factors impacting site speed can be resolved with maintenance, like a code audit, others, like 3rd party features, are important for functionality.
Some of the issues that contribute to slowing your speed are code bloating, oversized images, and lack of mobile optimization. These issues can be managed with regular maintenance, which we’ll cover in the next section of this blog. But one of the site speed culprits is a little more complicated to handle: third party solutions.
Third party applications can enrich the customer experience and earn you more conversions. But, every script you add has the potential to slow your site. According to our partners at Yottaa, as long as you have visibility and control of your third party technologies, you can add as many as you want. To provide the most optimized shopping experience possible, and to maximize revenue, you’ll need to strike a balance between third party features and a fast, consistent site.
The best way to strike this balance is through regular evaluation of the cost and benefits of your third party solutions. Here’s how to evaluate the impact of your apps:
- Actively keep an inventory of which third party solutions are installed on your website.
- Quantify the value of each solution. Look at how actively the feature is used by your customers. Ask yourself, is this solution contributing to a user experience that converts?
- Compare the value of the feature with its impact on performance/
- Identify which solutions you continue to need, which can be removed, and which should be replaced.
Having a feature rich store that is also fast is not an impossibility. It simply requires ongoing evaluation. By actively monitoring the inventory of apps that are installed in your store, you can make sure that inactive apps are removed, and only the apps that provide necessary features remain. This strategy will help you to maximize the cost/benefit of your third party solutions when it comes to site speed.
Tips for improving your Shopify store speed
There are several steps you can take to speed up your site beyond balancing your third party features with performance. Let’s look at three of the most common factors that impact an ecommerce store’s speed: Code bloating, high-resolution images, and mobile optimization.
- Avoid code bloating
When modifying your Shopify theme, you risk slowing down your site as it becomes loaded up with more code. This contributes further to the “code bloating” we mentioned before - the back end of your site is filled up with unused code that results in unnecessarily long loading times. Remember that apps add code to your site as well, so every app that you install will contribute to slower load times. According to Google Think, slower load times frustrate users, so avoiding code overload is better for your business.
Clean code is key to the ongoing maintenance and scalability of your site, because with a steadfast code base in the back-end, added features won’t contribute to slowing things down in the front-end. “Code bloating” describes when your site has redundant or unnecessary code. When the back end of your site is filled up with unused code, you’ll start to see symptoms like unnecessary long loading times.
Are you concerned about code bloating in your website’s back-end? We can help. Get in touch with Diff to request a performance audit.
- Consider the impact of images
Visual content directly impacts the perceived value of your brand. High quality photography and video can be the difference between a conversion or no sale at all. But it’s important to ensure that your images and video are properly optimized, because a large volume of unoptimized images is a common reason behind slow page loading. High resolution images can consume lots of bandwidth, resulting in your customers having to wait for the images to load.
Decreasing the size of your images will help increase your page load speed. To reduce a file size, you can use the “Save for Web” command in Photoshop. This helps adjust the image to the lowest size possible while still maintaining quality. If you don’t have Photoshop, you can try out free image editing tools such as Pixlr, Canva, PicMonkey or GIMP. If you are a Shopify merchant, the ecommerce solution will automatically compress images, so you don’t need to worry about this.
You can learn more about optimizing photo and video content for your Shopify store, here.
- Pay attention to mobile performance
In the 2020 Retail Systems Research Report, a survey found that 32% of shoppers want to finish their transactions on mobile. And during Black Friday/ Cyber Monday in 2018, mobile accounted for 66% of all sales on Shopify. Providing a mobile-first experience is more critical than ever before, and when it comes to speed, your mobile speed needs to be evaluated separately from your site’s desktop speed.
Site speed is about enhancing the customer experience
Understanding what features provide the most value to your customers is key to striking the perfect balance between customer experience and site speed. Having a lightning fast store won’t be effective if that store lacks the features that your customers rely on. And vice versa, your store may not perform if it is packed with features but takes ages to load a page.
The functionality and performance of your site should always revolve around creating the most balanced and valuable experiences for your customers. By evaluating what features your audience’s needs and continuing back-end store maintenance, you can ensure your Shopify store is fast, converts, and keeps your customers coming back for more.
Do you want to optimize your ecommerce store for performance and speed? We can help. Contact us to request a performance audit.