September 02, 2016

Your Website’s Effectiveness & Performance: Less is More; Simpler is Better

One of the most difficult tasks we face in our day to day lives as web developers is balancing what we can realistically achieve with a website against what our clients expect their website to be able to do for their business. Better put, we have to be honest about our capabilities and effectively express to clients why some things simply won’t work.

A website is a powerful tool for any business. Every business needs one. And every business has a unique set of specific needs from their website in order for it to effectively support that business. Our job, ultimately, is to learn and understand those needs, and to then translate them into a piece of web technology that performs for our clients.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Many businesses expect too much from their website. Or they blur the lines of what the website should be and do. Is your website a sales tool designed primarily to drive customers to your business and increase conversions? Or is your website the software you use to run all aspects of your business? It should probably be the former.

The more you try to force your website to do, the less effective it will be for your business. Simpler is better. Let’s wrap some specifics around this:

DESIGN: “I want my website to be a work of art”

But does it need to be? In the modern web, speed and performance are king. The days of heavy graphics, beveled edges, dark gradients, glossy buttons, etc are far gone. Your website design should be sleek, subtle, elegant - and above all - well performing. Your content should dictate your design, and the only focal point of your web presence should be your photography, your messaging, your products, and your identity as a business. Clean, simple, lightweight. You don’t need to call in fourteen different typography fonts. You don’t need to elaborate build jquery animations. You don’t need a 3600px high-res photo at the top of every page. Simply forego all the giant images and snazzy graphics in favor of a streamlined look that effectively conveys to your site visitors what you want them to take away from their experience on your site. Your site will load faster on all devices, perform better across all networks, and have greater longevity in terms of trends and changes in the industry the more simple and subtle you keep your design.

NAVIGATION: “We want to group products by Brand, Category, Color, Size, Type, Date Added, Price, and Rating.”

Of course you want that. You want customers to have as many different ways to find what they want on your site as you can possibly think of. But… each time you add another value to filter your results by, that adds a query that taxes the database that slows down the performance of your site and ultimately reduces the relevant options that your site visitors are trying to find and see. Here’s the secret of ecommerce - statistically, no one cares about having nine different ways to navigate your products. All they do is search.

So simplify your menu - one nice, clean cascade of broad Categories that can then be filtered by relevant values - like price or bestsellers - and leave it at that. Don’t overthink it. And make sure you have a big open search box at the top of every page. That’s all shoppers want and need.

INTEGRATION: “The website needs to connect directly with our accounting software and nine other sub-systems”

Can it? Maybe. Should it? Probably not. Integrating two different pieces of software is a pretty laborious task, and because of the dependencies on either end it usually never results in the seamless experience you were hoping for. Moreover, every API call, scheduled task, and data export taxes your website’s database and dramatically increases your hosting overhead and decreases your site’s performance. Really consider the needs and potential advantages of adding heavy-weight code to your website to support integrations with your back office. You may find that the time it takes someone on your staff to occasionally import a CSV file is negligable compared to the technological debt incurred when you shoehorn a not-for-web service into your web application. Keep your back office in your office and let your website focus on selling for you.

PERFORMANCE: “I ran a Google page-speed report and my site got a 30 out of 100! Why?!”

Well, take a look above. That’s why. You have 4mb high res photos in your marketing panel. You have four different custom style sheets loading in a dozen separate fonts. You have 30 different marketing scripts, pixels, and trackers installed - 20 of which all do the exact same thing. You have your site integrated with Fishbowl, Yotpo, and Picreel. You’re using your web server as a file manager to move around 80gb of tiff files in your extranet. Your site’s navigation menu runs four different exponential queries every time someone tries to browse a category because of the convoluted way you wanted to sort your products. Instead of leveraging YouTube or Vimeo, you decided you wanted to autoplay a 165mb video directly on your homepage... Eh, you get the point.

To rank well with Google, all pages of your site should load in under 2 seconds. The only way that’s possible is if your website is well-optimized and lightweight. We built our Echo+ platform to be exactly that - a streamlined, high performing framework for the modern web. But all of the advantages of a great code base can be immediately undone if you add too much complexity to your website.

Take a step back and evaluate what you need your website to be and do. And let it be and do only that. Less is more. Simpler is better.

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By: TR Williams

Director of Project Management