Four important web performance lessons for SMBs

It’s been a busy week here, but I want to take a few minutes to talk about a couple of ecommerce case studies we recently published here at Strangeloop — for Wine.com and LuckyVitamin.com. For both of these case studies, we talked to people very high up on the food chain, yet each of these executives has an extremely sophisticated understanding of performance. This made for some great corner-office insights:

Lesson #1: Sub-3-second page loads are a serious (and attainable) goal, even for SMBs.

While LuckyVitamin.com and Wine.com are good-sized companies, they’re not Amazon or eBay. But they have Amazon- and eBay-sized performance goals. According to Wine.com CTO Geoffrey Smalling: “A four-second download was acceptable at one time, but today it’s far too slow, given advancements in computer technology and growing consumer expectations. Getting closer to two seconds was an ambitious goal, but we had to reach it or lose potential customers, especially first-time visitors.”

Lesson #2: Conversion/revenue gains are a given.

In the past, our case studies have focused heavily on highlighting the relationship between page speed and metrics like conversions. It’s very interesting to me that, these days, these gains are a given. “We’ve known for a long time that faster pages equal more revenue for our business,” says Sam Wolf, President of LuckyVitamin.com.

So, if we’re not focusing on KPIs during our proof-of-concept phase with customers, what are we focusing on? These days, site owners who “get” performance are much more focused on finding solutions that:

  1. deliver,
  2. deliver consistently and reliably, and
  3. deliver consistently and reliably across massive sets of complex and extremely dynamic pages.

This brings us to the next lesson…

Lesson #3: Optimization is complex.

Geoffrey at Wine.com told us that “Our site is probably more complicated than most e-commerce sites because of the extremely complex regulations that govern where and how we can ship our products. These regulations are constantly changing, which has an effect on every page of our site. A cookie-cutter solution would never work for us.”

I talk to a lot of site owners, and almost all of them tell me their own version of the “here’s why my site is exceptionally complicated” story. Sam at LuckyVitamin.com told us this: “The more complex a site is, the greater the risk of breaking pages. It’s not enough to optimize on a simple per-page basis. Pages don’t function as standalone destinations. Each page is just one part of a customer’s path through the site. An optimization technique that works on one page can break the next page in that path.”

The takeaway here: Most successful ecommerce sites are complicated. Complicated sites have complicated performance requirements.

Lesson #4: “There’s no single magic bullet for making pages faster.”

This is a great quote from Geoffrey: “Anyone who tells you there is [a single magic bullet] does not have a deep understanding of the myriad issues that affect performance. Performance tuning requires a multi-tiered approach.” (It should be noted that Wine.com uses Strangeloop alongside its Akamai DSA and in conjunction with the efforts of its small in-house performance engineering team. Most of our customers use a combination of FEO, CDN, ADC, and in-house engineering.)

What are your hard-won lessons? Let me know what you’d add to this list.

Check out the full case studies: Wine.com and LuckyVitamin.com.

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