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What can slow down the loading of your Shopify store?

An ever-growing list of individual factors can contribute to a sluggish online store. I’ve divided them into three major groups:

  1. Slow servers
  2. Big files
  3. Slow code

Slow servers are out of your control. Almost. They take a long time to connect to and that is their contribution to the overall waiting time. Knowing that they are slow, the only thing you can instruct the visitor’s browser to do is start connecting to servers earlier. This lets the browser prepare for downloading resources by establishing connections ahead of time and batching this process in the background, waiting to connect while working on rendering parts of the page on the screen.

Big files are obvious offenders—a big chunk of data takes longer to download than a smaller chunk of data. When you get down to what is actually needed by your store to satisfy the needs of your visitors, you can really cut down on the data transferred. Here lies 80% of the optimization potential of your Shopify store.

By the way, the compression algorithms used in the mp4, mp3 and jpeg file formats work the say way—they subtract the unnecessary, subtract what is hardly perceptible and then leave you with a believable perception of the original data. Yes, some data may be lost in the process, but the result is usually perceived as identical to the “full data” version. Same happens with images, icons, stylesheets, font files, animations/gifs and page code after they get optimized—only what is truly needed remains and everything unnecessary gets removed.

Slow code affects are rarely felt on a desktop machine, but easily perceptible on mobile. That’s because code evaluation (initial stage before running) and actual running incur can occupy the slow mobile processor for a long time, before giving way to another task, like drawing something on your screen. This stage takes 80% of time in a Shopify Speed Optimization project and is responsible for 20–30% of the improvements.

Is your Shopify store fast enough for your visitors?

To answer this question you have to know 2 things—what is considered “fast” and what is the average page speed of your store.

1. The threshold of patience

Back in the days people used to say “if your visitors can’t understand what your store is about in 60 seconds, they’ll leave”. Later this number got to 30s, then to 10s and then to 5s. Now it is even worse: “if your site doesn’t show something on the screen in about 3s, most of your visitors will leave”. No wonder why bouncerates of 75-80+ are very common in the e-commerce industry: most online stores are notoriously big, heavy, complex and as a result—slow to load.

Three seconds”. That’s your yardstick.

Now, let’s see how you measure against it.

2. A speed test is not a speed test is not a speed test

Most of the online tools for speed testing load your site over a high-bandwidth connection on a very fast server. That’s why a slow site really has to put in some work to show up as slow as its customers are perceiving it. Few of the popular tools are trying (or have the option) to throttle the connection to approximate 3G speeds and lag. Still, these are just approximations.

Nothing beats actual load time measurements from the devices of your visitors. And that’s what Google Analytics’s Site Speed Reportcan provide for you.

When you go to Behavior > Site Speed you’ll see how much time it took your actual visitors to load your pages from start to finish. You can see the average page load time and check if a particular page is causing a slow down.

If some of your pages are showing 0 seconds, this doesn’t mean they are lightning fast. It just means Google Analytics hadn’t gathered any data for that page in that period.

Sidebar: the default sampling rate for speed timings is 1%—if you have 1000 views for the current period, you’ll get just 10 data points recorded.

To fix the lack of data in the report start increasing the date range till you hit a major redesign/theme change/app installation or removal milestone. With the increase in range of time you should get more data in the report.

Why is this better than PageSpeed Insights, GTMetrix, Pingdom Speed Test or WebPageTest.org?

Because this report contains data from your actual visitors being themselves in their context. Maybe your target audience uses high-powered iMacs with retina screens on a gigabit broadband, or maybe they are people on the go with sketchy signal coverage fluctuating between 2G/3G/4G speeds. You won’t get all of that detail in the report, but you’ll see how it impacts their page load timings.

And that’s when you measure against the “3s yardstick”. Is your average page load time good enough? Which pages need attention to clear the “three second mark”?

P.s. No, this article doesn’t mean the above mentioned tools are of no good use for you. Yes, their speed reports are better than nothing, but still not the “real thing”. Yet, where these tools excel is in automatic diagnostic of the issues that slow down your Shopify store. Knowing what slows your site down is the first step to a faster store, decrease in bouncerate and higher conversions.

Would you shop fast or slow?

Why people hurry? There is so much to do, so much to see, so much to read and consume. So much more stimulation to be had.

Since online shopping is just a fraction as stimulating as the real thing, you don’t look at online shopping, as something overly enjoyable in itself. What keeps you going is the positive expectation of the thrill you’ll get when you finally hold what you’ve purchased.

Would you go slow through this process, and savor every second of it, or you would rather be done with it faster, so you can hold the object of your desire sooner? Most people would opt for “faster”.

It is not that online shoppers don’t value the journey, it is just that the current state of online shopping and especially checkout, doesn’t offer a pleasurable, positive, memorable experience. The thrill of holding your product, going to the cash register and smilingly interacting with the sellers there, then proudly walking out with your purchase are just not present online.

So people want to get done with it faster

In as few steps as possible. With less info as possible. Magically. With the speed of thought and light.

People don’t like waiting in queues for something they could get elsewhere. To choose you over the competition, not only does your store have to sell products that are unique (so people can put up with any small difficulties in obtaining them), but you also have to provide a good service.

Good service makes me feel good

Which is feels the opposite of me waiting.

How does this translate to your Shopify store?

You shouldn’t keep people waiting just so they can have a peek at your products. Sadly, with bloated, chock-full of apps stores, that’s how the visitors feel—they have to wait just to satisfy their curiosity. But waiting is a drain on their patience tank.

Once you get the patience tank dry, they go away. Your visitors won’t have the attention span needed to orient themselves around your store and even consider your products anymore.

One of the first fixes to apply in cases like that, besides better store organization, search and useful product titling, is Shopify speed optimization.

Making your Shopify store load faster would help your visitors keep their attention on your products. They won’t have the time to object against your site (“ah, it is loading too slow”) and the blazing speed will keep the hope alive that they can look through most of the products (“in no time”) and actually find something they like.

Because that’s why people browse your site—they are well-intentioned and curious—they want to see something interesting. They want to be surprised. They want to see something that will solve a need of theirs. Put bluntly, they want something to want. And if they can find that in your store, they’ll try to get it. Sooner, rather than later. But only if you are fast and interesting enough to keep their attention.

Do you think your Shopify store is fast enough to keep your potential customers happy?

Don’t panic over the decrease of one variable from the revenue formula

In practice all of the variables in your Shopify store in constant flux.

Say you manage to bring more traffic, but it isn’t as targeted as before. These new people won’t respond so well to the offers on your store. This will drive conversion rate down.

Are you going to freak out? Probably.

Is there a need to freak out? Not at all.

Despite the decrease in conversions, because of the increased traffic your revenue may stay the same or even get a slight increase. So, before you start worrying, remember to look at the big picture. Evaluate variables in context. Measure revenue against previous periods.

Increasing Average Order Value, Part 3

The third and most simplest way in increasing average order value is just to sell more. Is there a way to bundle your products and provide a quantity discount so that you encourage people to spend more money with you?

Here are some ideas:

  • Offer a “family” or “friend” pack and help people image how grateful their friends would be for the gift
  • Selling consumables? Increase your minimum pack size or create a bigger bundle with bigger savings (emphasize shipping savings, too)
  • Encourage buying more than one item by moving the free shipping threshold to cover 1.5x or 2x of your single-item price.

Influencing Average Order Value, Part 2

Sometimes you may not be able to increase your price due to lack of uniqueness of your product or general market perception about its cost. But you can sell something along with it!

A second strategy you could use, besides increasing individual product prices can be in well-timed, meaningful upsells. Selling additional related products will definitely increase your AOV.

What do I mean by meaningful upsells? The product offered should make sense in the context of the main purchase:

  • If I’m buying a nerf gun, upsell me on a pack of additional nerf darts.
  • If I’m buying a zen incense burner, upsell me on some incense or sticks to burn.
  • If I’m buying a camera, upsell me on the best carrying case for that particular model.
  • If I’m buying a 2-piece suit, upsell me on the third piece OR an appropriate shirt OR third piece + matching dress shirt
  • Buying a dress shirt? Upsell me on a pocket square OR a neck tie

What do I mean by well-timed upsells? Again, pay attention to the context:

  • picking the size of my dress shirt is not the right time to upsell me on a skinny tie
  • choosing between the options of storage capacity for my new smartphone is not the moment to upsell me on protective cases

The above will be better if offered on the cart page, before finalizing the order, or immediately after the order in a follow-up email. This is something you should also test.

Influencing Average Order Value, Part 1

Here is the last variable from the revenue formula—how do you influence the average order value (AOV) of your store?

If you increase traffic, increase conversion rate, but drastically decrease AOV, your revenue won’t go up. Your customer support efforts, order fulfillment and admin will undoubtedly jump through the roof, though. So you should aim to increase your average order value over time, not decrease it.

Could you increase your prices without your customers batting an eyelash?

If so, do it. This means that you are charging way less for the value you are providing in your Shopify store. The additional work of sourcing the right products, providing useful information and organizing your products in a way for people to find them is valuable for the people in your niche. Experiment with increasing your prices to charge accordingly.

How much can you increase the prices, before conversion rate starts to go down?

The more expensive a product is, the more friction the price creates in the mind of the potential customer. At some point increasing your prices will result in conversion rate drop. “How much of a drop?” is the important question. To answer that, measure the movement of conversion rate AND total revenue while running the “price hike” experiment. Why? Oftentimes I’ve seen revenue go up with a price increase, despite the friction. Here is how that happens:

Imagine that you decide to charge premium rates for your $50 product. You recognize the value you are providing to your customers and you want to signal that by increasing your prices. What could happen when you start offering the product at $75?

Say before the price hike your revenue formula looked like this:

10000 visitors/month x 1% conversion rate x $50 AOV = $5000

Now, increasing the product price to $75 (and thus the AOV if this is your only product), the expected drop in the CR occurs, but total revenue is still better than before:

10000visitors/month x 0.75% CR x $75 = $5625

Your store’s revenue has grown by 12.5% while reducing the number of served customers by 25%.

That is good! Should you find yourself in such situation you now have more mental bandwidth to improve your website and get that conversion rate up again 🙂 ! That’s why, in all of these articles I insisted you don’t measure the numbers in isolation. A decrease in one metric combined with the growth of another may still result in increased revenue.

Derailers On Your Own Site (Improving your Shopify Store Conversion Rate, Part 3)

Last time I mentioned how the real-life context of your visitors can interfere with their interaction with your store. Aside from the reality-based derailers that you can’t influence, here are some you could optimize:

  • pop-ups, like wheels of fortune or email opt-ins, which break the visitor flow
  • surveys
  • flashing banners
  • multicolumn layouts
  • related products
  • articles
  • chat widgets
  • comments with outbound links in them

These, albeit some of them useful, can waste the attention capital of your visitors and contribute to their declining will power. The lesser their willpower goes, the lower the chance they’ll click “Add to Cart”.

You can improve on these, when you understand your visitors’ behavior better. Basically anything on your website that is unrelated to the goal of picking a product and checking out is a potential derailer.

To strengthen the main path that leads to checkout: make sure there is one clear action that you want people to take on each page/step.

To reduce the power of derailers on your store: if something stands on the road towards the end goal, it as a derailer—try to soften its negative effects or completely remove it.

In the end, instead of using gimmicks to re-capture the attention of your visitors, you would be better off to focus on crafting a captivating product title, product description and product images. They are what must hold the attention of your customer, not flashy pop-ups that cover up for any lack of initial preparation.

Beyond friction—anticipate the derailers in the life of your potential customers (Improving your Shopify Store Conversion Rate, Part 2)

Friction can make it harder for visitors of your Shopify store to complete a purchase. But this is not the only threat to your conversion rate.

Enter derailers—all the shiny things around you that divert your attention away from your goal.

You wouldn’t be filling shipping info forms while:

  • there is a crying baby in the room.
  • your house is on fire.
  • your bus/train/taxi has just arrived and you have to jump in

In such extreme cases of urgency the real world around you pulls you out from your screen. You stop what you are doing and take care of the “fire”. But mild derailers are hard to recover from, too.

You can get bored, uncomfortable on the sofa and want to move to the bed, you receive a message, get a phone call or your boss enters the room.

After the real-life interruption has passed it takes some time and willpower to get back to what you were doing. And if reality persists, you may not even remember what you were doing before.

Well, your visitors are not unlike you. They are human, too. They have their emergencies and what they’ve done before the derailing emergency rarely comes back to mind.

These derailers are something you can’t control in e-commerce, but you can anticipate them. That’s why you have cart recovery emails, exit intent pop-ups and Messenger notifications—to remind people to continue the process of purchase from where they’ve left.

Aside from cart recovery emails, one thing you can to minimize the chance of your visitors getting interrupted, is to make the steps from your funnel as clear and as quick as possible.

When your Shopify store is lightning fast people are less likely to notice they are “traveling” through pages. As they are hopping around hey’ll be able to look through more products and pages, engaging more and more with your website.

This engagement is like a trance. The more engaged they are, the harder is to divert their attention. The more they pay attention to your store, the more they trust you. The more they trust you, the easier they’ll buy from you.

How Do You Improve Your Shopify Store’s Conversion Rate?—Part 1

You know that your site’s revenue depends on the amount of traffic you get, but also on the rate with which people turn into customers.

To understand what influences the conversion rate of your Shopify store, we must first talk about friction. Friction is the resistance that one object encounters while moving over another object’s surface. Put in simpler terms, friction is what slows you (or even stops you!) from getting from point A to point B.

When you are trying to cross the street, friction is everywhere—resistance of air to your body moving forward, the resistance of the pavement to the soles of your shoes and the friction of your clothes gliding over your skin. Too much friction in these areas and your forward motion will be impossible.

On the other hand, in an ideal environment without any friction, nothing stops you to reach your goal. That’s why in a vacuum, a feather falls down as quickly as a stone.

Your Shopify store visitors exhibit friction, too. Say your end goal is to move them from the start of your funnel to the checkout. Landing on your site is their point A, getting them to survive checkout is point B.

The following list (which is by no means exhaustive) will point you to possible friction points people can exhibit on their way towards purchasing from you:

1. Trust friction

  1. Lack of essential information
    “I don’t know anything about this website—who are they serving, what is this site for?”
  2. Unclear content of your store policies (privacy, delivery, returns) or unfavorable terms in the same policies
  3. The content of your information pages is unclear, filled with errors, confusing
  4. The content of your product pages is more confusing than useful:
    – descriptions are not available or not incomplete
    – images are unprofessional, not from angles that can answer visitor’s questions about the product
  5. Bugs, glitches and visual inconsistencies are present around the site
    (“This site is broken. I doubt my product will come without issues either.”)
  6. Price
    If absurdly low—“Rolex™ on sale! Just $19.99”—will create doubt
  7. Does your logo look amateurish or inadequate to the niche? This is the grain of salt that starts the doubt in your business.

2. Usability friction

  1. Asking for too much info during checkout
    The more fields to be filled in, the quicker purchase motivation evaporates
  2. Asking for irrelevant info during checkout
  3. Is your layout confusing? (“I’m having a hard time finding the description on this product page”, “Where is the cart?”)
  4. Navigation is confusing
    — Placement—if people don’t find the elements they are used to, they’ll think they are not present.
    — Naming—if they don’t understand what you mean with your category titles it is less likely they’ll click
  5. Lack of search
    “I can’t find what I’m looking for, but I can’t find the search field either.”
  6. Tapping a button requires effort
    — Poor coding makes tapping require wait before the tap is registered on mobile devices; this makes people think the site is broken
    — Poor design may make the buttons unrecognizable
    — Poor design may make the buttons untapable—putting buttons too close to other buttons makes hitting them without errors harder
    — Too small buttons may even be impossible to be tapped on mobile, because fingers are not as precise as the mouse pointer
    — Broken buttons that do nothing
  7. Last but not least, your site takes ages to load
    People are far too impatient, especially with online shopping. Don’t expect them to wait 10s for your product page to load when they can search google for 2s and be on a competitor website in another 3s.

These are some of the places to look for unnecessary friction in front of your potential customers. Finding and removing/reducing friction points will undoubtedly increase your conversion rate.