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

Web Analytics History – Part 2 – SEO Becomes A Thing

Click here to read Web Analytics History – Part 1

In my last web analytics history post I mentioned that the reason we ended up switching to from web log files to cloud based analytics (Hitbox was the first one I can remember) is that the server logs were getting too big when combined together.  A million visitor site was getting at least 10 gigabytes of “hit” data, and the old Webtrends reports could not run properly.  Remember back in 2000 you had to move files around at pre-gigabyte rates, so just file moving was a big issue.

Sampling Data Is Never Going To Be Accurate

Anyway, this leads to what I refer to as “sampling”.  Sampling means that you will never have complete accuracy in the data.  But just the fact I could dive deep into the page views and visitor data through my browser for the first time was amazing.  I was able to get some basic KPIs (Key Performance Indices) for the first time.  There was no turning back, real analytics for the web was here to stay.

SEO before there was SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

So, in late 2001 when I was a web analyst on a big ecommerce company, we had just founded Pre-Dating.com, the speed dating company.  We found out right away that how we placed our text into title tags, keywords, meta tags, H1, H2 meant life or death of our fledgling speed dating company.  Since then, if you put the key word terms “Speed Dating Fort Lauderdale” or “Speed Dating Seattle” or most any city, our site comes up pretty high in the natural search if not #1.  Now we have some advantage with the aging of the domain “Pre-Dating.com“.  Sometime around early 2005, I was working on a web analytics gig for VictoriasSecret.com using Coremetrics as well as abcdistributing.com, when somebody pointed out to me that SEO is now a growing consulting field.   I understand the value of it, but not to the extent that the market valued SEO.  I was and I am an expert at SEO because of my experience.  A few of the guys who chatted with me about SEO became innovators in the field and some had multi-million dollar SEO companies within a year or 2.  Did not see that coming.

Anyway, the final part of this is Web Analytics was kind of pushed aside for these SEO cowboys who came to town and were all about SEO, which was getting more natural traffic, sometime the right way and sometimes black hat.  We were experts at this already, but the SEO guys and gals rode this train from the station.  Sadly enough the SEO people have relegated Web Analytics to a minor task. That would be a big mistake in most of these large enterprises.  If you are in a business that is serious about your data and your site, then it is critical you get somebody working on it today.  You need strategic thinking, business management skills, understanding of programming and web technology (helps to be a developer), being a writer and presenter.  That is the skills we bring. StrategicPoints can do this for you.  We have over 20 years of web experience and we can do the job. Contact us through this form below: