In 2011, I posted an article, “Webpages turning into Airports without a Traffic Controller!” which talked about the complexity of current pages relying more and more on so many third parties from fonts, to ads to tracking pixels and the impact on web performance. You can visualize those trend by visiting the HTTP Archive (Another great contribution by Steve Souders & Patrick Meenan).

I have always been a proponent of “relative speed” when it comes to performance. I am not calling for every web site to load under 0.5 seconds! For example, I demand and expect that Google Search loads as quickly as possible because I want my search results so I can move on and this is what makes Google the best at what they do. When I am on Priceline, I am looking for the best deal and willing to sacrifice speed for better results and better discounts. So performance is relative to what a user is doing. Sometimes end users equate Web Performance to workflow. I will call an e-commerce site “slow” because it takes 20 steps to checkout, or they ask for the same information 10 times even if they have the fastest site in terms of seconds to load! So performance is always relative to what I am doing online.

But web performance can be a huge differentiator in e-commerce. You can buy an iPad at Apple.com, Bestbuy.com, Buy.com and Amazon for the same price, I think performance plays a role on which site I use. Performance is a business differentiator. Slow performance is not only annoying but it also creates bad associations and it’s very hard to undo, see the famous Google performance study and the conclusion: “Even if the page returns to the faster state, users who saw the longer delay take time to return to their previous usage level.”

As a user, I will tend to assume that a slow web site performance from ABC.com will also mean slow or unreliable shipping, slow customer service… and ultimately a lack of trust. Same as if I saw a bad SSL certificate or an SSL page with Non SSL tracking pixels… it breaks my entire trust in the site.

Example:

When I look at a scatter plot of number of hosts, objects, bytes downloaded and number of HTTP connections on an e-commerce site for a 1 day period you can clearly observe the fluctuation of all those metrics. This is a product page which should in theory be fairly static.

Ecommerce Page with Fluctuation in Bytes, Hosts, HTTP Connections and Items

The reason of that fluctuation is because of Retargeting tags on the page.

The Retargeting industry has been growing lately and becoming more and more popular among publisher and e-commerce sites. The concept is amazing and very valuable to end users and advertisers although it can be a little creepy sometimes :-). It certainly has come a long way since we did some cool ad campaigns in 98/99 at DoubleClick with Boomerang for Dell and WSJ.

However, based on my observations, I want to urge the Retargeting industry to adopt a more performance-friendly approach and develop standards to ensure excellent user experience and web performance. (Please review our 10 Golden rules.)

We recently completed a study with one of the leading Retargeting companies and noticed a significant difference between their speed and another large Retargeting company during a simulated shopping experience (12 page views on a site) driven mostly by the number of beacons transactions.

This chart was compiled by just looking only at the number of extra items loaded by the Retargeting companies studied.

As I noted in my Airports blog post, the number of pixels on your page is a huge issue that e-commerce companies need to wake up and pay attention to! There are companies who have figured out how to do retargeting without all this mess, and the improvements are dramatic, as you can see above.

So as many of the top Internet Retailers get ready for the 2012-2013 shopping season, keep this in mind. Performance is the silent killer to an online brand!

My Web Page is not a Disco Dance Floor!

Mehdi – Catchpoint.

Author Mehdi Daoudi

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