5 years ago, Google declared that they would begin incorporating page speed into search rankings. Page speed–a metric often ignored by marketing teams–had been largely seen as a developer concern. But with Google declaring page speed a significant SEO ranking factor, many marketers began to take notice.
Whether you thought the Google announcement was a turning point or just one in a long line of shifts toward experience-driven marketing, it is hard to ignore the evidence that experience drives loyalty, improves purchase intent, and differentiates the brand. And no modern experience can succeed without optimized performance and efficient delivery.
A few data points should help bring things into focus:
- Conversion rates plunge once page load time rise above 1 second
- People will visit a website less often if it is slower than a close competitor by more than 250 milliseconds
- Millennials now account for $1.3 trillion in annual consumer spending and 78% of them prefer experiences over things
- By the end of 2015, mobile’s share of e-commerce transactions will reach 33% in the U.S. and 40% globally
In short, your customers are impatient, on-the-go and value rich experiences on their terms, whenever and wherever. Unfortunately, many brands are not meeting these expectations, noted in this 2014 Forrester report:
“Despite all evidence that slow web experiences punish key business imperatives, web experiences are getting slower as pages get fatter. According to HTTP Archive, the average page weight hit 1,821 KB in August 2014, up 19% year over year.”
Both B2B and B2C consumers are demanding richer, more dynamic, more relevant content along their purchase journey. Videos, interactive media (360-degree product views, virtual tours) and high-res images have become the norm. Existing approaches are often inadequate as many of those experiences are delivered via mobile devices, where bandwidth connections can vary greatly and are often slower than wired or fixed connections.
So how can you offer the best experience to your customers without slowing page load and impacting other performance metrics? Marketing and IT professionals must look to new technologies and tools (ie. advanced caching, responsive and adaptive techniques) to optimize the delivery of content and experience in the context of their comprehensive technology architecture and capabilities.
Why Current Caching Solutions Fail
Widely used caching platforms focus on full-page caching–holding versions of entire pages in a caching layer to decrease load times. But as web pages get more complex and as marketers seek control over multi-channel experiences, content and delivery optimization must move beyond the web page to focus on specific elements and components. Through fine-grain controls and analytics, marketers can create business rules to manage dynamic content and can see how these components are performing.
By creating a delivery tier that provides advance capabilities (like the ability to schedule and invalidate caching on product-specific pricing and promotions across channels), marketers are no longer limited in the experiences they can create and optimize for their customers. In addition, marketers and IT professionals should expect infrastructure costs to be reduced, search engine rankings to increase and delivery speeds to all devices–from mobile phones to smart TVs to the Apple Watch–to be drastically improved.
So, How Did We Do It?
Kanban and our clients have worked to create an optimized, more effective delivery technology tier that builds on top of typical caching solutions and seamless content-and-commerce integrations. We evaluated the marketplace, identified open source tools and commercial vendors and implemented solutions with significant results.
Here are a few areas of opportunity for many organizations:
While rich content experiences create fat pages that overburden mobile devices and slow experiences for people with limited connections, component-level caching expands possibilities for marketers. But component caching is limited without tightly-managed invalidation.
Adaptive cache invalidation at the content component level allows you complete control over what is cached and when that cache should be invalidated (aka flushed). If this control is integrated with your CMS and/or commerce systems, you can enact content and commerce rules at a granular level. If your CMS is built with structured content components, you can create a more personalized and dynamic experience for your visitors without sacrificing performance.
A lot of caching platforms provide analytics so you can see how your caching strategy is impacting overall site performance. But to get a complete picture of site performance, marketers need granular insights beyond the page level, understanding discrete elements of the page and their impact on performance. Real-time analytics on page components can help you identify lags and address performance issues faster and more efficiently
Make sure your caching platform offers customized analytics so you can choose which elements of your technology stack to track. Most importantly, ensure that your analytics platform goes beyond your caching layer and extends s to APIs and third-party tools. More advanced delivery optimizations allow marketers to cache API access controls to optimize their performance. With analytics that extend to APIs, marketers can optimize for performance by identifying underperforming tools and making better technology decisions in the future.
A discrete delivery tier is about more than improving performance for a single system. It is about pinpointing integration lags across all systems and addressing them faster. According to a recent eConsultancy study, 51 percent of organizations are now using 20 or more digital marketing solutions—a 42 percent increase from just three years ago.
That is why the considerations for optimizing your delivery tier must exist inside of a broader technology roadmap; a plan for how data and content will move through the technology stack. This allows marketers to see potential gaps in their increasingly complex infrastructures and identify those inefficiencies that, if addressed, will dramatically improve user experience, operating efficiency and host of other key performance indicators.
Of course, the selected areas noted above are just a sample of ways to optimize your delivery tier. Any delivery tier optimization must take the full technology stack into consideration, going beyond the cache-specific items above to include, for example, content delivery networks (CDNs), asset compression, digital asset management (DAM) and page component sequencing.
What We’ve Learned
Content delivery is a challenge for business and IT stakeholders now, and it is only going to get worse as customers demand and respond positively to things like personalization, consistent experiences across channels and rich media on mobile devices. As devices proliferate, these problems become even more complex. Whether it is server side (CMS, ecommerce), middle layer (APIs, third-party tools) or front end (sequencing, caching), efficient delivery is about getting out in front of the problem and speeding your web delivery at all levels, no matter where or how customers may find you.
For more information on our approach to the Delivery Tier, check out our work with Varnish Plus!