It sometimes seems like everyone's obsessed with performance these days. And why not? In the data age, we have the tools to analyze and improve processes in every area of our lives, from health and fitness to productivity and relationships.
We're obsessed, too. Not with fitness optimization (though maybe we should be) or even with time management optimization (though we definitely should be). We are obsessed with website optimization. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will be too.
What is website optimization? Why should you care?
Years ago, I read something that stuck with me: there's no such thing as "more optimal." Optimal is binary; you're optimal, or you're suboptimal. Optimization is a march toward an ideal form. It's a series of attempts to reach perfection, and let's be honest: you won't.
Website optimization is ultimately about improving outcomes. In common parlance, website optimization is all about technical optimization, how the website is built and served to its audience: the quality of its codebase and its server's performance. As marketers, we might include the usability of the website's features or lead generation conversion rate.
This article will argue that best practices for technical performance naturally result in improvements to other areas. By optimizing your technical performance, you will see improvements in your marketing performance indicators. We will prove it.
Technical Optimization: A Crash Course
Technical website optimization can get complicated, surprising nobody, but some of its principles are easy to understand. Let's explore some areas of optimization at a high level.
Just as there are many ways to skin a cat, there are many ways a web developer can code the same web page. Visually, two web pages can look identical. But not all methods of web development are created equal. Some websites are inefficient. Like a high school essayist trying to reach the minimum word count for an assignment, some websites use more HTML code than they need to.
Over the course of a whole web page, this kind of inefficiency has a tangible effect on website speed: it increases file sizes. It also simply takes more processing power to render the same design. Your device has to read every part of the code, so the more pieces you include, the slower the page becomes.
Most website designs rely on media — photos, videos, illustrations, etc. — to grab attention and make the page attractive and memorable.
Just like code, media can be efficient or inefficient. Through the black magic of media encoding (don't ask us how it works - really, don't ask), we can reduce the file size of an image by 90% while barely impacting its quality.
When we upload full-sized images, videos, and other media without optimizing it, we can wind up adding a massive amount of data to each page. A 500kb web page can very quickly become a 15Mb web page. That's no bueno.
When you visit a website, you connect to a server. Because servers are computers, they can be faster or slower depending on their hardware. Suppose your server has about as much RAM as an original 1985 Nintendo Entertainment System. In that case, you will not have a fast website. No amount of code optimization or image encoding will make your website fast because the server acts as a bottleneck.
On top of that, servers run all kinds of software. All of these systems require configuration and tuning to perform their best. Problems with server configuration cause frequent errors, instability, and degraded website performance.