How to improve website performance

Websites need to work a hard and fast to gain attention from audiences with high expectations. A traditional shop owner wouldn’t stand still in the middle of their shop allowing customers to come and go without creating attractive displays, or talking to them. Similarly, online presence needs to engage, excite, interact with and encourage action. A website can no longer be just a static glossy brochure – looking good helps, but it isn’t enough.

Mobile has now exceeded laptop as the most popular way to get online. Your company is at everyone’s finger tips, on everyone’s desk and in everyone’s pocket! Websites need to accurately reflect the face-to-face brand experience of customers, which means website performance optimisation is massively important. Yet many smaller to medium sized companies leave their sites untouched for years, missing out on organic growth or new business and damaging their brand.

So, what can be done to increase traffic, enquiries and conversions – both in terms of the content and technical build?

1. Keep it fresh – If your business is to be a success it must be constantly evolving, innovating and adapting to customer needs. Your website should be the same. Static pages mean a website dates extremely quickly and you’ll lose out to the competition in terms of search engine optimisation. Moving from a static website to a content management system like WordPress means it’s very easy to reflect these essential elements of success online. Fresh and engaging content that is regularly updated is the bare minimum you should be aiming for.

2. Improve the customer journey – Great user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) is essential for good website design. This means it’s not just about making the website look pretty, but ensuring it works as hard as possible for you; guiding different types of users through the routes that suit them best. This journey is now seen as the most important factor in a successful website.

If you walk through your website in your customers’ shoes, think about how easy is it to access information; is it visually exciting, are your core points of difference clearly articulated, does it take too many clicks to take action? Then talk to your customers about their experiences of your website and what they feel could be improved. From this you can create different user personas and look at what they do when they get to the site – they might save preferences, go straight to browsing or be quick to order on a mobile phone. Every single page of your website should have a clear and compelling call to action. Without this you fail to harness visitor interest and your conversion rates will be low. Ensuring each of these paths is as streamlined as possible will help to improve website performance.

3. Speed up! – Optimising the speed of your website should be a priority and is key to ensuring online success. Visitors are impatient and give up on websites slow to load – quickly moving on to the competition and therefore lowering conversion rates. With the WordPress sites we develop, we ensure that the load time is reduced. We also design our sites with ‘content first’, which means a better user experience because your website adapts depending on what it is being viewed on. A restaurant might want to promote its atmosphere or the origin of the produce it uses when viewed on a bigger screen. But with content first if viewed on a mobile, it changes the order of the information so that the restaurant telephone number, online booking and opening hours takes precedence. Larger images, which are slower to load, are compressed for viewing on mobile devices.

We recently switched Rippingham Art to an optimised WordPress server and loading time reduced from 7 to 2.5 seconds. This is especially important when showcasing high quality images of the artwork. The difference achieved is a massive amount of time in the web world because one in four people will abandon a website if it takes more than four seconds to load; users are already thinking about something else or switching to a competitor’s site.

4. Be compelling – People make judgements online very quickly, so make your website as enticing as possible and give visitors a compelling reason to stay. Clear messaging using easy to understand language and visuals is crucial to ensure products and services are showcased in the best possible way. Easy navigation, clear menus, social media plug-ins, e-commerce, blogs, hints and tips, special offers and email subscription all go a long way to achieving this. Videos and animation, rather than tons of text, are a great way of telling your brand story and layering messaging for different audiences. Having a regularly updated YouTube presence will also help your Google ranking.

5. Test and evaluate – Really try to understand the business and your customers and the way they interact with your website – be flexible and seek customer feedback. What prevents your customers and target audience from taking action? Use surveys, feedback forms, reaching out directly, or look at your current website analytics and user activity.

This information is critical to ensuring your website performs well. Once you have identified some core issues from your customer base, it’s possible to test solid hypotheses using A/B testing to evaluate page design and improve the user’s flow through the website and subsequent conversions. It could be something as simple as including the word ‘free’ in your ads, creating a video to tell your brand story, having a simple visitor sign-up button that scrolls with the visitor, reducing form fields or changing button colours.

To test two different website prototypes and identify how the interface works in practice to maximise conversion rates, you can link two pages with Google Website Optimiser to A/B test. Whenever someone visits, Google randomly selects a version and you can see what works best and fine-tune the website. A/B testing works effectively with over 1,000 regular visitors and you can run tests weekly and adapt accordingly. Although A/B testing is useful, if there are fundamental problems behind the website, A/B testing won’t address those, so it’s important to test a range of concepts over time. Make sure you pick really key test elements to assess and analyse the results correctly to ensure they are statistically significant. It might be that you’ll need to do multiple testing for lots of smaller wins. And don’t forget, what works today, might not work in six months, so keep on moving!

If you would like advice on how to optimise your website performance, please give the Preface Studios team a call on +44 (0) 1252 820 022 or fill in our online project enquiry form.