Slowly Going Mobile – Poor Site Performance Is Holding Us Back

From the NY Times , published: January 29, 2011

Ed Robinson is the CEO of Aptimize, a company that produces software to accelerate websites.

So long as the astronomical growth in mobile web surfing continues, it’s quite possible that many will overlook the performance issues of their mobile sites and content. But a site owner can’t rely on the carrier networks to deliver a clunky, un-optimized mobile site at desktop speeds. If a company isn’t optimizing its site for mobile performance, it’s literally throwing money out the window.

How much money could mobile possibly be worth? Well, eBay reported $2 billion in mobile sales in 2010, up from $600 million in 2009, and eBay isn’t an outlier. Reports indicate that mobile commerce more than doubled in 2010 to $3.4 billion, and that didn’t include travel sales, like buying plane tickets online, which added another $1.5 billion.

That’s the opportunity — the upside. But there’s also a downside if a developer doesn’t choose to improve a site’s performance. The e-commerce world has long been familiar with abandonment rates, particularly when the abandonment happens in the shopping cart. The same issue is presenting itself in mobile commerce as well – with

Even without redesigning, some basic adjustments to a site can make a big difference right away — and this low-hanging fruit can provide some of the biggest gains of anything you do to improve performance. The trick is in understanding how mobile sites are different from the standard site that’s designed for the desktop.

First, understand that most websites are built for the large screen.

Let me make this point again: A visitor’s iPhone is literally downloading giant desktop files and resizing them for their 3.5-inch screen once the files reach the smartphone. Needless to say, smartphones and their browsers don’t have the processing power to make this a quick procedure. This is particularly noticeable with images on your site, which should be re-sampled to reduce their size for mobile devices.

Second, optimize even the seemingly “lightweight” components of your site, like the text-based HTML, XML and stylesheet files. All these can be compressed before being sent to the browser, and it can shave a good chunk off of load times when optimized in aggregate, particularly if the site is heavy with these types of files (media sites and other content-rich properties are prime examples).

Third, consider a more aggressive approach to caching settings. If a site owner sets his caching for far-future expires, it will dramatically lower load times, and the site owner will reduce the data traffic between the server and the user’s mobile device: a win on both sides.

The Big Performance Picture

Ultimately, this issue is all about perception. Web performance has long been perceived to be a network issue, an infrastructure issue or a hardware issue. However, web performance has as much to do with the way someone codes and optimizes a site as any other factor in delivering it to the end-user’s device.

This misperception has also masked the fact that load times are about much more than just “being fast.”

Load times directly impact your customers’ experience of your brand and your service. They dramatically impact revenue and sales on both mobile and desktop devices. And load times can make an advertising revenue model much more effective for your business. We have empirical data on top of empirical data to support this.

With the dramatic rise of the mobile web upon us, it’s about time site owners stop ignoring performance woes, and start providing better experiences to users, while also fuelling revenue growth. These are multi-billion-dollar market opportunities.

Taking control of a mobile site’s performance issues is responsible business decision-making in today’s mobile world. You’re just kidding yourself if you think otherwise.

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