Tips for Optimizing Performance and Site Effectiveness
In a session yesterday at the eTail West conference in Palm Springs, Calif., a panel of e-commerce experts discussed tips for optimizing website performance and effectiveness. Sarah Kleinman, vice president, digital commerce and experience, The North Face; Jim Richmond, vice president, e-commerce, Kirkland’s; Abhishek Shastry, director, product strategy, Dell.com; and MC Garofolo, director of e-commerce, Apmex, offered their thoughts on how retailers and brands can make changes to their digital properties — websites (desktop and mobile) and apps — to increase conversion.
A Collaborative Approach
To tackle website usability challenges and projects, Garofolo noted the importance of team collaboration to help get things up and running quickly. For Apmex, an online retailer of precious metals, the first step in any website project is getting executive buy-in first. After that has been attained, the project becomes a collaboration between product management, IT/Development, marketing, and customer experience teams. Garofolo also advised setting clear and realistic expectations and goals for any website project.
“Collectively we want to have a win,” Garofolo said. “Increasing conversion by 40 percent isn’t realistic. We’re looking for the best user experience — eliminating barriers to checkout and driving sales.
Dell is running hundreds of optimization tests on a daily basis, noted Shastry. With so many tests being run concurrently, the company has implemented a waterfall approach to prioritizing testing. Identifying the intent of a test, and then weighing its value is to the business guides Shastry and his team.
“We try to understand one or two key pain points from the intent of a test,” said Shastry. “For example, if we’re selling a laptop designed for gaming, there’s a lot of data and information that we need to serve up about that product. However, that compromises [page] speed. We look at it on a case-by-case basis. What’s the prioritization? Speed is super important, so does adding more elements to the page bring enough value to sacrifice speed? You need to weight the optimization strategy.”
Balancing the Mobile Experience With Desktop
Mobile is the incredible equalizer, said Kleinman. Mobile devices are used by North Face’s customers in so many stages of the consumer experience — to distract themselves, to play, educate themselves, accomplish a task — that the brand has adopted a mobile-first mentality.
“Every time we evaluate features and functionalities for our site, we test on mobile first,” Kleinman said. “Does the added feature or functionality make it worth the impact on customer experience? Mobile helps clarify experience. For example, navigation. If it works on mobile, it’s almost certainly going to work just as well or better on desktop.”
Shastry added that brands should leverage functionalities that are specific to mobile, such as geolocation.
Site Speed and Conversion
The two are inextricably linked. Richmond identified some areas that Kirkland’s focuses on to improve page speed (and thus drives more conversions):
- image compression;
- tag management (need to be audited and updated on a regular basis);
- conducting rendering tests on desktop and mobile across different devices and browsers;
- use of lazy loads or late loads for content below the fold; and
- the use of progressive web apps (PWAs) and accelerated mobile pages (AMPs) to improve load speed (almost all budgets can handle this, and they deliver astronomically improved performance to site speed, said Richmond).
Shastry added that brands need to consider perceived speed vs. actual page load speed. Perceived speed refers to the key competencies that absolutely need to be available to enable commerce, while less-critical elements load in the background. Actual page load speed is the time it takes for all of the web page’s elements to load.
Roundup of Tips
The session ended with each panelist offering some takeaway tips for the audience. Here are some of their thoughts:
- Ensure real-time data is connected with all of the channels that your customers are interacting with, shared across the full end-to-end customer experience, advised Kleinman. Don’t degrade the experience in one channel by not having data shared with another channel.
- A content delivery network (CDN) can allow you to look at which tags on a page are firing, which are not, Richmond said. He noted that Kirkland’s has done testing on some of its web pages, and there have been 80-plus events happening before the page loads, a lot of which were nonessential or outdated tags.
- Share information across all teams, said Garofolo. For example, when you make a change to your site experience, let the customer service team know so they can better handle the increased queries from customers.
- Use focus groups and other tools to capture the entire customer journey and see where sticking points are, Shastry said. For example, from a laptop-purchasing experience, we walked through the experience with customers, then structured the data we captured to take action based on the findings, he added.
- Partner with your IT team to monitor site traffic, watching for bot traffic, said Richmond. It’s a reoccuring problem for Kirkland’s, and degrades site performance. One way to address the issue is to block the IP addresses of known bots.
- Publish testing road maps so other teams and departments can reference before starting on as well as during their own tests, Kleinman advised.