Finding growth in your website: The changes that can improve both your performance and your bottom line

by Arun Arora

Customers have no patience for slow, error-ridden websites whether they’re using a mobile phone or a laptop. If the experience is poor, they’ll leave your website without a backward glance.

While companies accept this reality, most are slow to act on it or understand how that poor performance affects their bottom line. The first one-second delay in page-load time, for example, equals a 7 percent loss in conversion, 11 percent fewer page views and an 11 percent decrease in customer satisfaction, according to Aberdeen Group, a global performance-research group. Error messages resulting from unstable sites have the same effect. And a slow, buggy website soon becomes an invisible website, because Google factors website performance into its search rankings. Companies need to fix their sites or spend more on search engine marketing to compensate.

One way to start improving performance and site stability is to create a standalone website performance-tuning team. Typically, such teams launch a tune-up with three objectives in mind: a comprehensive improvement in front-end performance—which, generally speaking, is the source of 80 percent to 90 percent of site performance problems; selective modifications of back-end performance to support the front end; and instilling a continuous-improvement mindset by adopting DevOps best practices, in which software development is integrated into the IT operation to automate software delivery and infrastructure improvements iteratively and continuously.

To ensure that the team operates effectively, team leaders should create a work plan with measurable targets, identify the team members responsible for each work stream, and define tracking metrics (some companies have even created a tool to measure results consistently and quickly).

As a first step, most performance tuning teams tackle the front end first, focusing on identifying material errors and site performance issues as well as quantifying their financial impact. It can be an eye-opening experience. It’s not unusual to review CSS (cascading style sheets) specifications and discover a cluttered, outdated collection of JavaScript requests (many of them seldom if ever used), as well as large, complex images that gum up the page-loading process.

Using a step-by-step methodology to evaluate errors and site performance problems is required in order to prioritize those issues that have the biggest impact on performance. In parallel, teams should develop code drop (ie. code release) plans to bring them into line with best DevOps practices.

This approach can deliver impressive results. One leading wireless telecommunications carrier, has seen customer evaluations of website performance and stability improve dramatically in just two months. Better yet, the company’s conversion rate has jumped 40 percent over the same period.

Making improvements to a company’s website is just part of the answer. The best performers cultivate a mindset of continuous improvement, establish repeatable practices and effective governance, have a rigorous focus on performance metrics, and constantly monitor the revenue impact of site changes.

We think performance-tuning teams are a significant opportunity for any company that uses digital assets to bolster lead generation and e-commerce capabilities. While companies are often eager to invest in flashy new apps or interactive features, they tend to overlook core performance issues in their sites. Focusing on these issues, however, can be a fast and effective way to drive new growth.

Arun Arora is a digital partner based in our Chicago office.