The Four Pillars of Website Performance

When you read the phrase “Website Performance,” what comes to mind? If you’re like the majority of people, performance is synonymous with one thing: speed. And sure, the speed of your website is important, but there are so many other pieces to the performance puzzle. 

If you caught our webinar with Pantheon, you’ll be familiar with our four pillars of website performance: technology, UX, conversions, and retention. Instead of echoing the ideas from our talk, we wanted to expand on them to provide you with more information on the interconnectedness of all the pieces off the performance puzzle.


Pillar One: Technology 

While performance is all-encompassing, the technology you use to build your site acts as the foundation for everything that comes after. What falls under the “technology” umbrella of performance? 

How you build your site

Front and backend development processes can drastically affect the overall performance of your site. Visitors are mostly affected by frontend site performance, e.g. the way that your site performs when a user goes to the homepage or clicks on an internal link. It’s the most visible indicator of site performance, because it’s pretty obvious if a user is staring at a blank screen for 5-10 seconds, that a site isn’t performing at its peak. 

To ensure high frontend performance, site owners should be constantly testing and gathering new performance data. When you change a piece of tech, add a new feature, or even update an existing plugin, you should always test your performance to see if it was negatively impacted. That way you can continue to upgrade your tech, while also improving overall performance.

How you host your site

Where you host your site also has a huge impact on front and backend performance. Check what kind of performance-enhancing features your host might offer, like caching or a global CDN. Having these kinds of features with your host can really take the burden off of your internal development team.

How you maintain your site

Updates are a reality of all sorts of software. Whether it’s your smartphone, your printer, or a plugin on your website, updating is necessary to ensure you’re taking advantage of the latest and greatest a platform has to offer. 

While a lot of updates add new functions or improve the performance of their particular piece of software, we’re all familiar with how one seemingly miniscule update can bring even the most immaculately maintained site to its knees. This, of course, will have terrible effects on your site performance. As you continue to update individual pieces of your site, you need to remember to maintain the whole, or find a partner to perform regular site maintenance for you. This can include anything from monthly updates and compatibility checks, to adding new pages and features. 

How you gather data

No matter what you do to improve performance, if you’re not collecting data, you’re really not doing anything at all. There are plenty of tools and datasets you can use to gather and understand data to help improve your overall performance.

New Relic

The New Relic browser gives you full-stack data visibility in one convenient package.

CrUX

Chrome User Experience reports give real-world performance results, plus allows you to see how experience changes over time.

GPSI

Google PageSpeed Insights gives lab test results for the core web vitals metrics.

WebPageTest.org

WebPageTest addresses more waterfall-specific data concerns by running website speed tests from around the globe using real browsers.

Find a tool that works for you and your specific needs. Be sure your team is on the same page on what data is being gathered and what tool you’re using.


Pillar Two: UX and Usability 

The basic goal of UX work is to reduce friction, i.e. to make the experience feel as seamless and smooth as possible. Believe it or not, friction is actually a measurable datapoint. There are plenty of frameworks that exist to measure friction. One of the easiest ways is to observe users interacting with your site. Perform an evaluation on your site to see where exactly users are experiencing friction, and where you can improve. Some of the most common areas of friction are:

Site Speed

Source

Page speed is a huge indicator for how happy a user will be on your site. After all, if a page never loads, how can you ever see if it actually converts?

UX Writing

Constantly getting sold and marketed to has made users numb to the sales-centric copywriting of days past. Now users just want the information they’re looking for explained clearly and concisely. Try combing through your site and look for ways to improve CTAs, menus, and headers. You’d be surprised at the impact a seemingly tiny change can have.


Pillar Three: Conversions

Conversion can mean a lot of different things. Is your site converting visitors into leads? Leads into customers? Are users converting from one page to another? Filling out a form? There are plenty of ways to define conversions. Put plainly, if your site isn’t converting, is it really performing the way it should? 

That wasn’t a rhetorical question. Of course it’s not! Every pillar of performance is connected, and if users aren’t converting, your technology or user experience is probably lacking. So what can you do? Make some changes! Of course, those changes don’t mean anything if you’re not…

A.B.T. (Always Be Testing)

We might sound like a broken record… err… corrupted? MP3 by now, but if you’re not testing and collecting data on the changes you make to your site, you’re wasting your time. Make one change to a specific piece of your site you’ve identified as a problem area. Gather some data over the next few weeks and see what effect your change had. Should you stop there? Definitely not. Make another change to see what effect that has compared to the first. 

There are plenty of great platforms out there to help you improve your testing capabilities. Here are a couple to consider: Optimizely and unbounce.


Pillar Four: Retention

Which costs more? Attracting a new customer, or reselling to an existing one? Not surprisingly, keeping existing customers happy is a lot less expensive than attracting new ones. A large part of keeping existing customers happy depends on your platform and how it performs, not just when the initial sale gets made, but as customers continue to interact with your business. 

Set the expectation for long-term customer success.

Retention and churn are often seen as an issue of platform or service, but in reality churn can be attributed to something much more simple: attracting the wrong customer. When you spend your time creating a great user experience, speedy website, testing changes, and collecting data, you attract the right customer to your product. This means less churn and more long-term customer success.

Prime customers for referral and advocacy opportunities.

Have an affiliate or referral program? Be sure to let your new and existing customers know! By turning your existing customers into advocates and rewarding them for it, you show that you care about your customer’s success. This is an easy way to continually maintain a pipeline of leads and conversions.

There’s so much more to performance than just speed. There’s even more than we were able to cover in this piece! Just remember that testing, data collection, and analysis are the key to a high-performing website. Every change you make, whether it’s to the technology behind your site, the content within it, or the way it functions, should be rigorously tested to ensure you’re getting the most out of your work. By looking at each pillar of performance as part of the whole performance picture, your site will be set up for success. 

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