WPO – Web Performance Optimization
Everybody loves web performance
When I started evangelizing high performance web sites back in 2004, I felt like a lone voice in the woods. Fast forward six years to Fred Wilson speaking at the Future of Web Apps. Fred is a (the) top tech VC from NYC with investments in companies such as Twitter, del.icio.us, Etsy, and FeedBurner. He spoke about the 10 Golden Principles of Successful Web Apps. Guess what was #1 on his list?
First and foremost, we believe that speed is more than a feature. Speed is the most important feature. If your application is slow, people won’t use it. [...]
We think that the application has to be fast, and if it’s not, you can see what happens. We have every single one of our portfolio company services on Pingdom, and we take a look at that every week. When we see some of our portfolio company’s applications getting bogged down, we also note that they don’t grow as quickly. There is real empirical evidence that substantiates the fact that speed is more than a feature. It’s a requirement.
What started as a list of performance tips coded up in a browser plug-in has evolved to the point where a “leading voice of the venture capital finance community in the nation’s largest city” is citing speed as the #1 principle for successful web apps.
Impact of performance on the bottom line
This is confirmation that what we set as the theme for Velocity 2009 – “the impact of performance on the bottom line” – was timely and impactful. I suggested that theme because after years of evangelizing web performance to the tech community I realized we needed to reach other parts of the organization (managements, sales, marketing, etc.) to get support for the work needed to make web sites fast. Here are some of the now well known performance success stories that came from Velocity 2009 and afterward.
The major search engines measured how much web site slowdowns hurt their business metrics:
- Bing – A page that was 2 seconds slower resulted in a 4.3% drop in revenue/user.
- Google – A 400 millisecond delay caused a 0.59% drop in searches/user.
- Yahoo! – A 400 milliseconds slowdown resulted in a 5-9% drop in full-page traffic.
On the faster side, companies from a variety of vertical markets had praise for the benefits gained from improving performance:
- Shopzilla – Speeding up their site by 5 seconds increased the conversion rate 7-12%, doubled the number of sessions from search engine marketing, and cut the number of required servers in half.
- Mozilla – Shaving 2.2 seconds off their landing pages increased download conversions by 15.4%, which they estimate will result in 60 million more Firefox downloads per year.
- Netflix – Adopting a single optimization, gzip compression, resulted in a 13-25% speedup and cut their outbound network traffic by 50%.
Google, in their ongoing effort to make the Web faster, blogged last month that “we’ve decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings.” This is yet another way in which improving web performance will have a positive impact on the bottom line.
Web Performance Optimization – an emerging industry
This convergence of awareness, even urgency, on the business side and growing expertise in the tech community around web performance marks the beginning of a new industry that I’m calling “WPO” – Web Performance Optimization. WPO is similar to SEO in that optimizing web performance drives more traffic to your web site. But WPO doesn’t stop there. As evidenced by the success stories mentioned earlier, WPO also improves the user experience, increases revenue, and reduces operating costs.
Having just announced this new industry, let me be the first to give my predictions on what we’ll see in the near future. Here’s my top ten list done in Letterman fashion:
- TCP, HTTP – The network on which the Web works needs to be optimized. SPDY is one proposal. I also think we need to try to get more support for pipelining. Any improvements made to the underlying network will trickle down to every site and user on the Web.
- Standards – We’re going to see standards established in the areas of measuring performance, benchmarks, and testing. The Web Timing Spec is one example that exists today.
- Industry Organizations – Within the WPO industry we’ll see the growth of professional organizations, training, certification, standards bodies, and cooperatives. An example of a cooperative that came through my inbox today was a proposal for web publishers to share information about slow ads.
- Data – Monitoring performance and finding new performance opportunities requires analyzing data. I predict we’ll see public repositories of performance-related data made available. My favorite example that I’d love to see is an Internet Performance Archive, similar to the existing Internet Archive except that the IPA’s wayback machine would show the performance characteristics of a web site over time.
- green – Finally we’ll see studies conducted that quantify how improving web performance reduces power consumption and ultimately shrinks the Web’s carbon footprint.
- mobile – Mobile performance is at square one. We need to gather metrics, find the major performance pain points and their root causes, discover solutions, create tools, evangelize the newly discovered best practices, and collect new success stories.
- speed as a differentiator – Going forward, many of the decisions made around the Web will be based on performance. Customer device purchases, vendor selection, web site reviews, and user loyalty will all include performance as a major consideration.
There’s a lot of work to be done. It’s all going to be interesting and will greatly improve the Web that we use everyday. If you have the interest and time, contact me. There are tons of open source projects that need to be started. I look forward to working with you on making a faster web.