Make sure you check your website’s performance before Christmas

As we head towards the busiest shopping period of the year, it’s worth giving your website a dress rehearsal to ensure that it can cope with seasonal fluctuations in traffic.

An Ofcom report, published in August 2015, revealed that British people are now more likely to search for goods and information on their smartphone than their laptop.

PayPal has also revealed that 40 per cent of millennials will search for gifts and purchase them on their mobile devices.

Google recently adjusted its search algorithm so that it is easier to find sites that load quickly on mobile devices.

On the flip side, sites that deliver a sluggish mobile experience will be pushed down Google’s search rankings.

The change in the way that customers search for suppliers underlines the importance of maximising website performance and in particular making your business website mobile friendly.

Don’t freeze up

Your landing page ideally needs to load in less than two seconds. Slower sites equal lower sales.

Staples, the office stationery retailer, found that its online conversion rates increased by 10 per cent after it tweaked its site so that it loaded one second quicker.

Amazon, KissMetrics and Akamai have also reported that reducing page load times by 1 second increased conversions by around 7 per cent.

Tread the boards

If you’ve already invested in responsive design so that your website performs just as well on mobile devices as on desktops and laptops, then all that’s left is to check that there are no unforeseen bottlenecks on your site that could slow it down, resulting in abandoned pages and lost sales.

It is recommended that you check the full user journey, through to the call to action, to check that every element loads correctly on your site, including third party elements.

If your landing pages are linked through from paid services, such as AdWords, you need to ensure that they are available to all device users. Otherwise you could be paying to drive traffic to a landing page that is not available to mobile users, for example.

Dress rehearsal

If you are running an e-commerce site, you are strongly advised to conduct load testing and user journey monitoring before your busiest sales periods. This provides a crucial dress rehearsal to help identify broken links, slow loading pages and other points where the user experience might be impacted.

Load testing allows you to ensure that you have sufficient server capacity to support expected spikes in your web traffic during sales and promotions.

It’s working fine (Oh no it isn’t)

Your website performance may be great for UK visitors, but what about visitors from New Zealand, USA and the rest of Europe? User journey monitoring allows you to see how real users access your site from all over the world so that you can check whether you’re delivering a consistent experience across all devices, markets and time zones.

An example user journey might follow this sequence:

  1. Browse for a product
  2. Select the product in the right size and colour
  3. Add item(s) to shopping basket
  4. Proceed to checkout.

Real User Monitoring, using the W3C Navigation Timings API, allows you to use data taken directly from browsers to show how long each element of your website takes to load on real users’ devices, be they desktops or mobiles. Once configured, this allows you to monitor your website performance, from a real user’s perspective, and tweak it to optimise the performance of your website.

Sleeping Beauty?

The only issue with Real User Monitoring is that it won’t pick up on impending issues while your customers are sleeping. Sites often slow down before they crash. So it’s also worth using Synthetic User Journey Monitoring on your site to help identify overnight issues.

A website monitoring and alert system will buy you valuable time to react and remedy any problems before they impact the user experience or cause an outage.

A happy ending?

As we head closer to the Christmas holidays, when technical staff may not be available, it’s worth checking your site’s performance from your users’ perspectives, so that you can address any issues now and avoid a post-crash pantomime.

Andrew Mason is co-founder of RapidSpike.

Further reading on website performance

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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