Wednesday 3rd February 2021

Is Your Shopify Site Performance Getting You Down?

Amba Wilkes

Slow site speed, frustrated users, high bounce rates – sound familiar? Poor site performance can affect your eCommerce store in many ways but more often than not, it results in visitors leaving your site to visit your competitors.

The eCommerce market is a saturated one. You’re under pressure to stand out and provide a great user experience every time someone lands on your site. But in a bid to be the best, additional functionality, nice-to-have features and large amounts of imagery can leave your website bloated.  

Common causes of site performance issues

If your Shopify site’s performance is getting you down, it’s time to get to the root of the problem. We take a look at the common causes of site performance issues and how you can improve yours.

Page weight

Page weight is essentially the overall size of a webpage including all the files that form that page. It’s easy to find your total page weight with Shopify, simply use the Network tab in Dev tools.

A range of factors can contribute to your page weight including:

  • Carousels and product images
  • JavaScript
  • CSS
  • Other media formats such as videos
  • HTML documents

Think of page weight like a mountain – the bigger the mountain the longer it takes to load. The aim of the game is to get your page weight as low as possible. If it’s 20MB, it’s going to take far too long to load. Research shows that 93 percent of people have left a website because it didn’t load fast enough – are you willing to take this risk? It’s worthwhile noting that the speed of a user’s broadband will also affect how long your site takes to load for them.

Poor coding standards

If your Liquid (code) isn’t written in an efficient manner, it can cause a number of site performance issues. Firstly, it will add to page weight and slow your site down. But, more importantly, it can affect how your site is processed from a server side which can cause even more problems for loading times and site performance.

Themes

When it comes to the site design, your Shopify store works on a theme-base system. This allows you to fully customise the look of your store by developing theme code. There are two routes you can take with this:

  • Adapt an existing theme to your store’s needs - this can result in less development time but a lower level of customisation.
  • Develop a bespoke theme from scratch - this enables you to meet the exact needs of your business.

The problem with downloading and adapting an existing Shopify theme is that not all of them are great from a page speed perspective - how the theme has been built is key to this. On the other hand, developing a bespoke theme requires extra development time but it gives you more control over various elements which can affect loading times.

Working with a Shopify Plus agency, a bespoke theme can be built specifically for your store. We choose to always develop custom themes for our clients to not only ensure we’re meeting their specific needs but to also guarantee optimum site performance.

How to improve your site performance

Once you’ve recognised that site performance is hindering the success of your eCommerce store, there are many tools available to support you in improving these issues.

Lighthouse

Google’s page speed analysis tool, Lighthouse, allows you to drill down into performance issues and see what’s causing the problem. Lighthouse can be run against any webpage and offers audits for performance, accessibility, progressive web apps (PWAs), SEO and more. By providing the tool with a URL to audit, it runs a series of investigations against the page to generate a report on the quality of that page. The report also contains a reference document explaining how to fix the issue(s).

Core Web Vitals

Core Web Vitals are an initiative by Google as a way of providing guidance to webmasters on the signals that are essential to delivering a great user experience. In a bid to simplify the market and help sites focus on the metrics that matter most, an update is set to occur in May 2021 that will make Core Web Vitals a key ranking factor.

Although Core Web Vitals are expected to evolve over time, the update will initially focus on three main aspects of the user experience – loading, interactivity and visual stability – and include the following metrics:

Driven by an aim to deliver the very best results and experience to the user, Google is rethinking how site performance is considered. The search engine giant is now measuring perceived performance rather than just actual performance. Implementing slow loading, deferring code and asynchronicity all support the perceived performance of your site.

Tracking

Have you considered how many advertising platforms you use? In order to track user activity, we’ve seen sites with as many as 15-20 different tracking codes onsite. That’s 15-20 requests being made onsite at any one moment and this activity can have a huge impact on your site’s performance.

It’s worthwhile considering how you can streamline your tracking activity and if you need to use as many tracking codes onsite as you are.

Image optimisation

Product photography and general site imagery is a cornerstone of your online store. However, using images that are too large or too high in resolution can hinder your site performance and cause images not to load at all.

Image optimisation is a simple but significant fix for many eCommerce websites. Reducing the file size of your images as much as possible without sacrificing the quality of the image is important if you want to lower your site load speed.

Apps and plugins

While apps and plugins can offer the extra functionality your site needs, they can also cause performance issues when too many are installed. Although your business requirements and objectives can influence the need for apps, you should try to limit the amount you implement and how they’re used.

Do you really need that feature?

Many brands fail to ask questions such as, “Do I really need that?” or “Is this the best way to get that functionality?” before doing it. For example, added social share buttons to your pages can add significant weight but, in many cases, the benefit of having them is probably not worth it for how much they’ll be used. It’s important to take a step back and weigh up the impact of adding something new to your site versus the benefit to the user experience.

The same can be said when contemplating which apps your Shopify store needs. Not all apps are created equal – some are great and some not so great. This needs to be considered before simply adding another app to your store without a second thought.

Working alongside an expert Shopify agency, a lot of functionality can be built bespoke or customised as part of the theme. When we build websites, we follow a general principle of the fewer apps on site, the better. That’s why we aim to create the solution that you’re looking for within your site which forces us to be very selective about the apps we apply to the stores we work on.

One app we advise every merchant to use on their eCommerce store is Accentuate Custom Fields which enables easy management of all meta fields. From a site performance perspective, this app is extremely useful as all the overheads are in the back end rather than the front end of your site, so there’s no impact on site speed.

In many cases, we build custom functionality as part of the bespoke theme, latching on to meta fields using the Accentuate app to reduce the number of apps needed. Accentuate can be used to:

  • Add custom fields: When logged into your store, customers can access and edit custom fields such as nickname, shoe size, birthday etc.
  • Content forms: Any form of content such as a product page or blog post can have a number of meta fields. This app can define custom fields and cross-reference content including products, collections, articles, blogs and images to build related products or link blogs to products.
  • Product tagging: Products can be automatically tagged as you enter values for your custom fields allowing you to filter collections by custom field values on your storefront.

For personalisation, site search, customer loyalty, social proof, site management – there’s a Shopify app for every occasion and some of them really are worthwhile. If you need guidance on what apps are right for your eCommerce store, take a read of our blog or contact us direct.

Hosted platform: Site performance benefits

Always striving to better site performance across merchants’ stores, Shopify have recently further improved their server-side performance including:

  • Hosting
  • Security
  • Stability

A common issue other merchants struggle with is their site being unable to cope with a big influx in traffic. Thanks to Shopify’s infrastructure, it offers a secure and reliable option for eCommerce stores which is often one of the top reasons brands choose to make the switch to Shopify.

As Shopify is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform, they take care of the technology for you so you can focus on your business. Fast and reliable with unlimited bandwidth and an average uptime of 99.9%, Shopify provides constant peace of mind that your store is always working as it should be.

How can an eCommerce agency support you?

A good agency will strike the balance between optimum site performance and a great user experience. After all, why shouldn’t you have both?

As part of our ongoing optimisation services, we work with existing Shopify merchants to analyse their store and discover the main offenders that are causing site performance issues. Working alongside our clients on an ongoing basis, we’re able to know the ins and outs of your site to spot any performance troubles as and when they occur.

Providing a regular health check ensures your website is always working at its best. This iterative approach to website maintenance enables us to identify any performance issues as they arise so they can be resolved faster.

As a Shopify Plus expert agency, we can advise on what will cause bloat on your website and help you reduce your site performance issues. Complemented by the tools and knowledge - not just of Shopify Plus, but the real retail world - we ask the right questions and make the right recommendations to ensure your site is performing at its best.

Always keeping up to speed with digital advances, we’ve even started rolling out a programme in anticipation of the Core Web Vitals update, working with our clients to ensure their site is fully prepared.

Taking this approach with many of our clients including NEOM and Slendertone, we’re in a position to support them with their future growth and ensure their Shopify stores are always performing at their best. Is your site performance getting you down? Chat with our eCommerce experts to find out how they can fix your issues and help you reach your goals.

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