In just a little over two weeks, the online holiday shopping season begins in earnest over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, culminating in Cyber Monday. By now, most eCommerce sites have finalized their code, have a plan in place to ensure a quality online experience for their customers, and are busy testing against that plan. But even if you’re in a code-freeze, as most sites are by now, you can still take some final simple steps to make sure your site is ready for the holiday shopping rush and protect your customer experience at this critical time of the year for eCommerce.
We asked our web performance evangelists at Catchpoint for their suggestions for some last-minute performance improvements and optimizations. They help some of the biggest names in eCommerce with these challenges everyday. Here’s what we came up with:
1. Subscribe to a website acceleration service.
This is just about the easiest and quickest thing you can do to speed up your site’s performance. Website acceleration services require no hardware or software installs or code changes to your site. They run in their providers’ own private clouds as edge services hosted close to major metropolitan areas around the world. Once you subscribe, your site can take advantage of their content delivery networks and caching services to reduce network latency, remove Internet bottlenecks, and optimize your content, delivering consistent performance levels to your customers regardless of their location. These services are about as plug-and-play as you can get with little to no implementation required. All they need is your URL. CDN companies like Akamai, Cloudflare, Fastly, Instart Logic, and Verizon Edgecast are a good choice for web acceleration, and they can protect your sites from security threats as well. Some CDN and Website Acceleration services can also run your site on the faster HTTP/2 protocol, without any code or API changes on your end.
Disclaimer: All of the above CDN companies are Catchpoint customers and are listed here alphabetically.
2. Optimize images and HTML
This may seem like a no-brainer, but images that are too large continue to bog down web pages. Images remain the largest content element on most web pages, accounting for 1.4 MB of the 2.2 MB average site content total, according to the HTTP Archive. So how large should your images be? No more than 80 KBs for your desktop site, 20 KBs for your mobile site or app. If your images don’t make that cut, there are plenty of free tools you can use to get those file sizes under control, including Image Optimizer, RIOT and Site Report Card.
It’s especially important to optimize images on your major “above the fold” content and for any “deals” pages you’ve created for Black Friday/Cyber Monday. Your customers will be looking for them.
You should also make sure that HTTP Keep Alive is enabled and working. This functionality allows the browser to re-use the existing TCP connection to the server, rather than creating new connections that add delays.
3. Audit third party tags
Third party tags, whether for advertising, social media, or content services remain a potential pitfall for Web performance as our own benchmark study earlier this year explained. And if those third party services go down, they can take your site with them. Make sure you know where your tags are and which third party services they link to. We recommend running as lean as you can when it comes to third party tags on major online shopping days. Your site’s availability and performance are paramount and take precedence over any other activities on your site. Definitely remove any advertising tags that are not needed during holiday shopping. If there’s still a compelling business reason to keep them there, make sure the ads aren’t delivering Flash, video or large images.
And if you keep any tags, make sure you monitor the third party services behind them for availability and performance to ensure that they don’t cause unexpected outages to specific geographies or users.
Once you’ve followed these tips, be sure to load-test your site before the big day to simulate how it performs under the duress of having potentially millions more customers hitting it at the same time. There are plenty of commercial services that can do this as well as open source tools like Apache Jmeter.
Performance issues are a fact of life this time of year and we expect many sites will still have some hiccups this holiday shopping season. But the more you do ahead of time to protect your customers’ experience, the happier your customers will be.