WPO – Web Performance Optimization

May 7, 2010 12:35 am | 14 Comments

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:

On the faster side, companies from a variety of vertical markets had praise for the benefits gained from improving performance:

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:

  1. Fast by default – To make it easier for developers, we’ll see performance best practices get built in to CMSs, templating languages (PHP, Python, etc.), clouds (AWS, Google App Engine), JavaScript libraries, and most importantly in major conduits of the Web – browsers, servers, and proxies. A lot of this is already happening, such as jQuery’s focus on performance and performance optimizations in Rails.
  2. Visibility into the browser – In order to make web pages faster, developers need the ability to find which parts are slow. This requires visibility into the time it takes for JavaScript execution, applying CSS, repainting, DOM manipulation, and more. We’re seeing early forays into this area with tools like Speed Tracer and dynaTrace Ajax Edition.
  3. Consolidation – Projects around web performance tools, metrics, and services have been disjoint efforts. That’s going to change. We’ll see tools that combine JavaScript debugging, JavaScript profiling, DOM inspection, network utilization, and more – all in one tool. Performance metrics will be aggregated in one dashboard, rather than having to visit multiple separate services. Consolidation will also happen at the company level, where smaller performance-related companies are acquired by larger consulting and services companies.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. green – Finally we’ll see studies conducted that quantify how improving web performance reduces power consumption and ultimately shrinks the Web’s carbon footprint.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

[This blog post is based on my presentation from Web 2.0 Expo. The slides from that talk are available as Powerpoint and on Slideshare.]

14 Responses to WPO – Web Performance Optimization

  1. hi Steve,

    Site owners (the business person) underestimate how much truth there is in “speed as a differentiator” and in “speed as a moneymaker”. I recently helped a Shopzilla-like site in The Netherlands improve the load time and they saw a 10% revenue increase!
    And they are not even done with the all optimization work…

    Thanks to Google’s speed mission and adding load time to the SERP algorithm, site speed is making it to the agenda of more and more site owners. But for many, it’s not a *big* priority: it’s something new and interesting, that *might* be important. SEO, usability and features (and iPhone App) are more important.

    Site owners know little about WPO and don’t know how to act on it. This is understandable. All the information on the web about WPO is about gzip, expires headers and Javascript minification. This is tech talk. So, WPO is ‘something for IT’.

    Site owners don’t know how fast their site loads, and if load time has an impact on bounce rate, conversion etc.
    Their webanalytics software will not tell them this. Google Analytics does not track page load time by default, neither does Omniture Sitecatalyst. Site owners often turn to free online services like Pingdom, but lack the knowledgde to interpret the test results. Sometimes they use an internal tool that really only measures server response times and misses browser render time, but presents the data as ‘load time: x.x seconds’. Bad.

    Site speed/WPO needs to move out of the techosphere and into the businessosphere.

    For this, we need:
    – more case studies: improving site speed is good for business
    – industry organizations (as you mention) that hold events and publish business-oriented facts & findings
    – load time as a KPI in webanalytics software

    I’d love to participate in open source projects, especially relating to Green and Mobile.

    – Aaron

  2. Hi Steve,

    the links to the case studies in the “impact of performance” section above miss the http:// protocol part. I guess you pasted them from Chrome, but other brothers still need the protocol. ;)


  3. Darned auto-correction. s/brothers/browsers/

  4. Hey Steve, great piece … coincidentally, I just presented Wednesday about the Mozilla.com speed improvement experiment at the Emetrics conference in San Jose. I also had a slide recommending your High Performance Web Sites book, so perhaps your ears were burning? :)

    Fyi the link you had for Mozilla was missing the http. That link should be:



  5. Very interesting article Steve. I’ve shared it with a couple of my performance team members where I work. FWIW everytime I recommend at work one of your performance recommendation my peers look at me with great admiration. Then I tell them where they can get the same information (your books of course), and the balloon just pops.

    Anyway I appreciate your work. It has helped us a lot when working with our internal customers.

  6. @Aaron: I appreciate getting your confirmation that you’re seeing something similar.

    @Martin: Thanks – I fixed the link.

    @Eric: Thanks for plugging my book!

  7. Nice post Steve.

    Make sure to fix the link to webmastercentrals’s “Using site speed in web search ranking”.

    Is’nt working :(.



  8. @Nico: Fixed, plus more. Thanks.

  9. Can I have a question about this speed ranking thing? Google bots only care for textual content right? So to speak front end performance cannot be measured by them. Or google is using a different technology for testing website performance?

  10. @Peter: The data isn’t from Google bots. The time measurements come from real users who have opted in to Google toolbar page rank. See Your site’s performance in Webmaster Tools.

  11. Hi Steve,

    Great post, only confirming how important speed and performance are becoming, not only to improve conversion and revenue, but also as one of the only ways to differentiate from the vast (eCommerce) competition (IMHO).

    Ever since Google officially announced speed as a part of the page ranking algorithm business I see the interest of the business owners (ultimately the person we want to engage with) grow for this topic, but unfortunately they still care more about their pagerank than conversion en customer loyalty..;-(

    But it is a beginning, there hasn’t been a client we haven’t seen conversion improve after we started, even so much that they cannot live without anymore ;-)

    But agreeing with Aaron, we need to evangalize the topic more with events and real-live cases (the Strangeloop case being a prime example). Love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this part.

    Looking forward to see you speak at Velocity Conference this year!

    Jeroen Tjepkema

  12. If speed is a feature, so should the speed of troubleshooting. Some other application monitoring and analysis tool you may want to check out: OPNET ACE Live, ACE Analyst and Panorama. Performance Optimize your applications across all network, application and server elements. Your mission critical applications deserve better.

    A related blog post if you really want to understand what is happening behind the scenes with web applications. Brower rendering is insignificant when it comes to Web Page Loading.


    Best regards,
    Andy Fields

  13. Hi Steve,

    If you’ll take a look on analyst recommendations we’ll see that we are on the right direction but there is still much to do:
    * Before 2006, Jupiter research recommended a page load time of up to 8 seconds
    * In 2006 they recommended up to 4 seconds
    * In 2009 Forrester Research recommended up to 2s page load time

    Best Regards,
    Moshe Kaplan

  14. Interesting stuff, I have always been focused on search engine optimisation for my site, but load time hasn’t really been considered. This is something that I am going to look into closely and start to incorporate it into my optimisation processes.

    Thanks for this really useful article and reference links – I’m going to check those out right now!