How to optimize web shop speed

Slow websites kill conversion rates. Optimizing the performance of your ecommerce site will lead to more revenue and higher customer satisfaction. Read here how to make your web shop fly!

Countless research articles confirm that in ecommerce, every second counts. Visitors don’t like to wait for your pages to download, and are likely to jump ship after only a few seconds.
In this post I’ll give you some tips that – in addition to the earlier optimization tips in this series – will make your web shop perform as fast as possible. As I already wrote in my first post on speed optimization, most performance can be gained in the designing and planning phase. This is especially true for ecommerce sites, so let’s start our optimizing there.

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Site abandon rates due to slow page load speeds (strangeloopnetworks)

Before you build: choose your stuff wisely
Nowadays, the most popular ecommerce software for small to medium sized web shops is still Magento, though there are countless comparable alternatives on the market. They all offer a ton of features and options, in many cases augmented with a host of third-party plugins that offer even more. Everything that you can ever dream of for your online shop. Right? But, all this functionality comes at a price: most of these shopping carts are just slow. Even more so with a host of sometimes poorly written plugins.

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Most Popular Ecommerce Software Solution Rankings June, 2011

So, as mentioned in my first article on speed optimizing, ask yourself: “Do we really need all these features?” Or is a simple WordPress site with eShop plugin enough for what you have in mind? And say, you do need a Magento shop, do you really need all those plugins? Do you put a Facebook Like-button on your pages because it really adds value, or just because everybody else is doing it? Consider the cost, especially if there’s nobody clicking on that button (yet)… On the other hand, always choose the best hosting option that you can afford. It will pay you back!

Before you build: setting up your hosting environment

Even if you’re only planning on running a small web shop, invest in hosting your site on a dedicated server. Not only do you have a lot more bandwidth and can you tweak and optimize its configuration as needed, but you’ll also be free of performance problems caused by other people’s slow sites.
Host your site in the country where your customers are. If you run PHP, give it plenty of RAM and install an accelerator like APC or XCache. Install only the necessary Apache modules, or better yet, use a NGINX web server.

Building your shop: optimize your templates and images

Once you’ve selected your ecommerce software and decided which plugins you can’t live without, it’s time to build that shop. All the optimization tips from my earlier posts apply here and will lead to better performance. Special attention should go to your templates and images: the default HTML and CSS templates from Magento for instance, tend to be unnecessarily complex and poorly coded (not to mention not semantically correct, nor suitable for responsive designs) so a lot of performance can be gained by cleaning up and simplifying your templates. Most shopping carts also use a lot of external CSS and JavaScript files (usually all in the <head> of the document…) and the situation usually even gets worse when you need to use plugins. Try to combine and minify these files as much as possible. In many cases there are plugins available for this, for instance the GTSpeed plugin for Magento.
Considering that almost all web shops contain a lot of images, it goes without saying that these should all be optimized, correctly scaled and in the right file format. If you have a lot of images (and which ecommerce site does not?), consider using a CDN like CloudFlare to speed up delivery of your static assets.

Before you launch: test and tweak

As mentioned before, there are many online services to test your website’s performance. So after building your shop, make sure you test it thoroughly to make sure you’ve applied all the optimization techniques available. Most likely, you’ll have a competitor whom you measure yourself against, in which case Which Loads Faster provides the service you need: here you can load two different sites concurrently, comparing their download speeds.
Remember, focus on real page load speed, not YSlow or PageSpeed scores!

Maintaining your site’s performance: clean up the mess

Congratulations! Your web shop is up and running, and if you did optimize well, it’s running fast. Make sure it stays that way by regularly cleaning up. Remove files that are no longer needed. If you use MySQL, repair and optimize all your tables periodically or after a major (catalogue) update. Turn off or reduce server and application logging, the writing to disk can slow your site down. Last but not least: always upgrade to the latest version of your software and plugins.

A few words on SSL speed optimization

So you’ve done everything right and your web shop is running at lightning speeds… Until Checkout, that is. Your secure pages seem to be still as slow as ever. That’s because SSL is slow. Unfortunately there’s not a whole lot you can do, but there’s a few tricks that may help.
Make sure your server uses Keep-Alive connections.
Avoid Mixed Content warnings by ensuring that everything on the page is accessed over HTTPS. It doesn’t have to be from the same site but it must use HTTPS.
In addition to using Expires headers for your static content, use ‘Cache-Control: public’ for caching to work with SSL, like so:
Header append Cache-Control "public"

More web shop optimizing

Though this has become a rather long post, there’s still a lot more to tell and learn about web shop speed optimization. As a matter of fact, I will shortly start a series on this blog about developing an ecommerce site optimized for mobile phones and tablets. Not only will this series cover the optimization of user experience and interaction, but I will also write more in depth about speed optimizing, which for mobile use is even more crucial as you know by now.

Conclusion

Slow websites kill conversion rates. However, when it comes to page load speed, most web shop software leaves a lot to be desired. Most ecommerce sites suffer from overly complex applications, with too many unused features, bloated HTML and images, and poorly integrated plugins. This post tried to offer you some tools and best practices to make your web shop faster.

Next is the last post in this series on speed optimizing small websites: a page with optimization links & resources (there are a lot!). Thanks for reading and please stay tuned!

Comments

  1. E. Ruijtenberg
    Reply

    Complex en toch helder verhaal. Niet dat ik alles begrijp maar wel waar je naar toe wil. Ziet er goed uit, succes met de voortgang. Else Ruijtenberg

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