Web Page Performance – Such Are The Mysteries of Life

For over 15 years a group of us have run Pre-Dating.com, the largest speed dating company in the US.

Pre-Dating.com, like many websites that have been around a while is somewhat of an enigma at this point in time.

Time has moved on, but we haven’t at Pre-Dating.com! Some tech things we work on don’t have to change that rapidly.  They are great because they just work!

There is good reason why we don’t change rapidly. If you search on “speed dating seattle” and place that search into Google, we are number 1 organically, so we don’t exactly want to change that.  We are found by at least 110 other city names on page one. And we have more to risk with some serious changes now than to gain.

That explains a lot when you look at Craigslist, Reddit, Ebay and others.  Some of the risk is SEO based (you could lose your ranking).  Some of the risk is customers not being happy with a change.

There is a case study where eBay came up with design change the customers hated.  They put back the old design and never changed it. So if push comes to shove, as a web manager you are most likely to leave it as is!

Major Changes You Can’t Ignore

But there are some real risks to your website and web business as technology evolves without your site evolving.  The world changed dramatically in 15 years in online dating for instance.  You have to keep up with some of the critical changes or you are going to be out of business.  I can list about 10 online dating sites no longer around.

You just have to determine which technical changes are important and critical and which ones are not that critical.

For instance, did we need an online dating site with a login and membership for our event company?

It would have been nice, but we were fine without it.   Our customers did not need it.

Did we need a mobile app for our dating event company?

Actually, we were fine without a mobile app, even though every web guru, tech startup guy and their mother was crying up till recently you need a mobile app or you are out in the cold.   There are many of these potential technical directions and changes we could undertake, but the big two changes we can not afford to not keep up with are mobile ready and page speed.

Mobile Ready

This is a really a ten year old discussion.  When the first smart phone emerged, the very first smart phone people started to surf Pre-Dating.com.  About 4 years ago we recognized that our mobile traffic on Pre-Dating.com was growing by the day.   So, we decided to make a few key pages mobile ready and we have converted at least 50,000 event sales via smart phones since then.

Page Speed Comes A Knocking

And you would think page speed (The actual time it takes to load a page) would have always been a concern.  The answer is yes.  But it is now even more critical considering mobile requires faster speeds.

And in the US we don’t necessarily have the fastest connections on all our smart phones, yet we are beating the crap out of the networks with our smart phones and tablets!  So yes speed of a page load is important!

And I believe Google is ranking sites based on speed, somewhere in the Larry Page Rank, so its all part of getting found through nature search.  Plus people who have a long loading time on  your web page just leave!

So, I took a hard look at our web speed.  The first tool I used is the free tool here at Web Page Test:

http://www.webpagetest.org/

This is a real techies tool.  I use it to see if the problem with speed is at the first click or is it a javascript include, a plugin or some other issue like database query speeds.

And I started to find a bunch of new tools that were not around back when we started that are less technical, like this one by Google (Should be able to click on the text below):

Google PageSpeed Insights tool

Just stick your web page (any page URL on your site) into the box and click the Analyze button.

It comes back and says a bunch of things are not good, like often you don’t have a compression or browser caching deployed.  It also comes back and shows you what your mobile looks like and it defines a score on your mobile separate from your desktop users.

What I found fascinating is if you analyze almost any website through this Google PageSpeed Insights tool, like in this case Match.com, Yahoo.com, Huffington Post, Drudge Report and a thousand other websites out there, they all have problems with speed.  Even Apple.com sucks when it comes to speed. In fact, the entire web world is way behind on this.  In fact, it seems most big websites don’t care or don’t know they have issues and problems.

The entire web is now comprised of popular websites that couldn’t give a rats ass if it takes 10 seconds to load on your iPhone.

So, I shouldn’t feel so bad for our lowly speed dating site.

But, this also means if you run Google PageSpeed Insights and make the changes Google recommends, you will get a leg up on competitors.  So I started to make these changes.  And along the way I ran into all kinds of cobwebs of the Internet past and present that needed to be looked at and sometimes fixed.  It is a cornucopia of web issues…

A lot of us started to implement open source WordPress sites and we kind of left this kind of stuff to the plugins and the framework.  We just started writing our blog articles and not worrying about the HTML, CSS and everything in the kitchen sink.

We (who have been in the web world) for over 15 years already knew how critical these small details were for web page speed.  We just need a good tool to tell what is wrong!

So, let’s face it.  In the end, you need to research, read and get a PHD in web site speed to master this little baby of a problem.  I am thinking about blogging about all the issues I found and fixed.  In fact, check out http://pre-dating.com on your desktop or mobile and you will notice it is now lightning speed in most cases.  Well one of the secrets I will give away is local browser caching.  The first click may be slow, but then the browser caches it all and you end up fast on the second and every other click because or reused resources!

Have a great day!

Dan Gudema
dan@startuppop.com

This article was originally published on Linkedin under: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/web-page-performance-mysteries-life-dan-gudema?trk=pulse_spock-articles

Search, The Internal Frontier

I’ve recently taken on a project which includes a complicated “Internal” site search.  This website not only needs to be found on the web, but members can run specific searches against specific elements on the website, click on subcategories and then create filters.  Sounds a bit like an eCommerce search, right?  Well, it’s not, but eCommerce is a good starting point.  This blog article is going to explore what I know about internal website search and places they have solved it well or not so well.

First off, there are two kinds of searches online as you should know by now.  You got your World Wide Web search now referred to as a Google search, and an internal website search.  It may not be so easy to figure out which kind you are doing these days, because an internal search quite often is using Google and/or the Google Appliance, a box Google sells you that manages a “Google like” private search engine for your website.

I first ran into a hybrid search, what I call “Directed Search” when I was hired for a consulting gig at The Limited, VictoriasSecret.com.  They had no search box at the time.  The year was 2005.  I mention that, because that shows how large, successful brands, can get stuck in the past.  They required the customers to click on the word search, then click on something like a bra. Then you would have to choose your size and finally choose a style and color.  It was like 9 clicks to checkout. Well that was unacceptable.  But it made sense from a technical standpoint.  A lot of things make sense from a technical point of view.  Having a system that holds people’s hands through a step by step search can make sense, but not with bras.  At VictoriasSecret.com, later that year after I had left, the search became a search box, and finally you could put the word “Pink” in that box and get some results and then make adjustments on the left for price, color, size, etc.  Point is, that not all searches are equal.

I have been studying two well used online internal search paradigms to solve my problem, Linkedin.com and Bankrate.com.  Both websites have a complicated, MIT level issue with data, and getting customers to the right answer, without taking up too much time and without losing them in “advanced” areas.  I think both sites live and die by helping the members find their way to a person/company or whatever int he case of Linkedin.com and to a mortgage company in the case of Bankrate.com.

Basic Versus Advanced

I think we can all agree that the best searches have a limited amount of functionality at first.  If you read my article on “2 Online Marketing Segments: Insecure Focused, Secure Unfocused“, you will see that you need to accommodate the less sophisticated, yet ready to go, user like myself first and foremost.  I admit I don’t read everything, and I would guess that 80% of the population is like me.  But for that 20%, there are extreme details they want to know, and they WILL use the advanced search. So, you got to keep everybody happy.  It is not easy for Linkedin.com for instance.  You will notice they have it easy to find people, but if you start peeling back the layers, the advanced search is there.

One Click Versus Many

One UI goal and conversion goal for all searches is to reduce the clicks.  This means if something can be done in one click that’s great and lets say no clicks, that’s even better.  Remember with JQuery you can have a no click solution, where people type things in, look at Answers.com and others, and have it change as you enter your search terms.  The way that Linkedin.com solves this is by having a little drop down for the search, which means you can choose what kind of search you are starting before you enter data, people, company, group, etc.  This is really innovative and useful.

Complications & Third Parties

So sometimes a search can not be as straight forward.  There could be third parties who have ad-space making it advantageous for search to take a little bit longer (a few clicks).  Bankrate.com is a great example of searches where, in order to search customers correctly, they have to know where you are looking to get a mortgage and what type  you are looking for to even start the search.  For instance I would be looking for a 30 Year Fixed in Boca Raton, Florida.  Then they can start the search… So for some searches it is more about getting the basics in place, and then start the filtering.

No matter what kind of search you set up.  Trust me the Google Appliance is not for everybody and there are still about 15 companies out there which provide third party internal Saas search products like Omniture and Autonomy.  If you are an eCommerce company you can’t live without them.