2020 was an inflection point for digital transformation. Almost overnight, work, shopping, life itself transitioned to the digital realm. Brands and businesses had to adapt and pivot quickly, embracing social and online commerce and other new channels. Website performance became a key differentiator as online demand and traffic soared. Delivery slots for the bigger retailers became gold dust and consumers turned to alternative sources for some of the fundamentals such as the weekly grocery shop. Businesses small and large had to step up to the demand.
In October 2020, some 8 months into the pandemic, Wunderman Thompson conducted consumer research in the UK that revealed that while 62 percent of consumers were using more online services than they had previously (no great surprise), almost half (46 percent) were less forgiving of poor online experiences than pre-Covid. Moreover, 37 percent said that slow websites were their biggest frustration, with over a fifth stating that a slow website would stop them from interacting with a brand altogether.
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Why performance matters
Today, digital experience performance is at the heart of ensuring that consumers’ expectations are met. Your Google ranking, the speed at which your site loads, the accessibility of your content and your customers’ perception of how safe your site is, can all lead directly to new revenue and future growth or, conversely, the loss of that revenue and growth.
Covid aside, Gen Z and millennials are the generations that have changed the way people shop. Their device of choice is mobile and Google have changed their indexing accordingly. This means that your mobile site experience is used to generate search listings, not your desktop. Every single website needs to be mobile responsive at the very least, as a bad mobile experience will impact your Google rankings and make it harder for consumers to find your site. In today’s business landscape, milliseconds matter – and if brands offer a mobile experience that feels smooth, younger consumers will buy more.
Meanwhile, consumers at the other end of the age spectrum, who have turned to online services possibly for the first time as a result of the pandemic, have other needs and concerns. They’re less familiar with giving up their data so they need a site they can trust. And they’ll find your site less easy to navigate, meaning that you’ll need to prioritize accessibility and make sure your UX is as simple and as intuitive as it could be.
Six key performance fixes
Prioritizing where performance matters most can be tricky. However, there is definitely some low-hanging fruit that will have the biggest impact. Here are 6 key performance fixes that should ensure that your website is visible, fast, accessible and secure.
1. Performance – Does your site load quickly? How does this impact your users? How do your competitors compare? Poor performance will be detrimental to the customer experience and result in greater bounce rates. Generally, issues are mainly rooted in basic website performance, and these are also reflected in the new Google search algorithm, which prioritizes speed.
2. Accessibility – Does your site comply with accessibility standards? Not only does this ensure that all your customers can fully engage with your website, it also ensures that it is available to all consumers. If you fail to make your site accessible, some customers (such as those that are more elderly) may go directly to a physical shop if the online platform is difficult to use. As more and more consumers turn to online services because of the pandemic, accessibility has never been so important.
3. Consumer security – Do you have any obvious web security vulnerabilities that are visible to your customers? Data leaks and compromised platforms are major security concerns for a brand site – and any pages that present issues are likely to be removed from search engines or face downgrade ratings. Brand reputation can be severely impacted by breaches and the legal ramifications.
4. Privacy – Do you comply with global and local privacy laws? Your customers' personal data is one of your most precious assets. They need the assurance that you are visibly complying with regulations and building their security into your website DNA. As we move towards a cookie-less internet and with a growing focus on privacy legislation, this challenge is only going to get greater – so brands need to get a handle on it sooner rather than later.
5. Mobile First UX – Does your site work well on mobile devices? Mobile internet usage is surpassing that of desktop. Your customers need responsive, easily navigable interfaces to ensure they can effectively engage with your business. Tapping into the native capabilities of a mobile device can also reduce the amount of friction users experience; a prime example being to provide the option to pay via Apple Pay or Google Pay.
6. SEO - Does your site present correctly to search engines? Can you improve traffic generation to your site through customer searches? Good SEO practices ensure that your site presents your customers with optimized, contextual content to meet their needs.
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Get the fundamentals right
To understand where performance gaps lie, brands should begin by conducting an audit. This should involve evaluating performance across desktop and tablet devices, but with a specific focus on mobile. As mobile accounts for 50 percent of all internet traffic and dictates how well a brand performs in Google searches, it is crucial to ensuring future growth.
While it’s tempting to then build a digital experience roadmap around ambitious personalization strategies or baking in AI, so as not to get left behind in that conversation, it’s fixing some of these fundamental performance issues that may have the greatest immediate impact on your business. Yes, brands should always be looking to get ahead – to do things faster, bigger, smarter. But this should be tempered with a rock-solid digital foundation to build upon.
It’s important to balance the new with the old: move forward but don’t ignore the fundamentals. Bravery is still key for gaining a competitive advantage. But sometimes the bravest thing that can be done is to have an honest conversation about what can be improved.
James Squires, lead technology consultant, Wunderman Thompson Technology