Is your website prepared for a two-tiered Internet?
Chances are you’re not quite sure exactly what this means, but we don’t really expect you to….at least not yet.
In this article we are going to explain what a tiered Internet is, why you should care about it and what website performance tips to implement to survive a tiered web.
What is a “Tiered” Internet?
Net neutrality is a term that’s been tossed around for years, referring to the even-playing-field nature of the Internet.
Under this paradigm, there isn’t one company, website, or provider that has any distinct advantage over another, per se. However, everyone with a presence on the Web exists on the same channel, on the same superhighway, as everyone else.
It’s also commonly called the “Open Internet.”
Open Internet promotes competition and innovation, placing the power in the hands of consumers by enabling them to choose what content they consume, interact with, and share with others.
In January 2014, though, federal courts threw out the FCC’s existing rules that required Internet service providers (ISPs) to treat all traffic equally.
That means that websites or corporations with Internet presences that consume significant bandwidth could be subjected to higher fees, among other implications.
A Two-Tiered Internet
While the FCC currently is seeking input to develop ongoing strategies for preserving net neutrality, these sweeping changes likely will result in what is best described as a “two-tiered Internet,” one that consists of a slow lane and a fast lane.
The fast lane, industry observers predict, will be occupied by major companies with the capital to pay up for quality broadband service, while the slow lane would consist of small businesses and start-ups either unable or unwilling to pay higher costs for quality service.
In the two-tiered Internet, small companies that could once compete with major competitors online may now struggle to gain ground.
All is not lost, however.
By employing some strategic tactics and simple approaches to clean code, low-budget competitors can survive in the Internet slow lane.
Here are nine website optimization tips to make the maximize life in the slow lane.
9 Site Performance Tactics to Implement Right Now
1. Analyze Your Page Load Times
Above all, your website’s performance will be crucial when it comes to surviving in a two-tiered Internet.
Opting out of paying major cash for optimal bandwidth might mean that your website loads more slowly for users, especially when compared to major players forking over the cash for top-tier performance.
Optimize your website loading times to the fastest possible in the slow lane, and you stand a chance of competing with bigger sites.
There are some easy, cheap ways to do this.
Use free tools like Pingdom’s Website Speed Test or WebPageTest.org and find out where you stand. Google’s PageSpeed Tools is another free resource for web developers for analyzing and optimizing website loading speeds, offering tons of useful tools like browser extensions for staying up-to-date on the latest rules and functionality for continuous optimization.
WhichLoadsFaster.com is an especially useful tool in the era of the Internet fast lane, pitting two websites against one another in a direct comparison race. If you’re wondering just how much faster your direct competitors’ websites load compared to your own, this tool answers that question.
Using tools like these to analyze your website performance gives you a clear picture of exactly where you stand.
Approximately 47 percent of consumers expect an e-commerce Web page to load in two seconds or less, and 57 percent of consumers will abandon a website taking three seconds or more to load.
In other words, the faster, the better, and speed is key to conversions. Knowing how many seconds it takes your Web pages to load demonstrates just how much work you’ll need to get up to par.
2. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) are a group of web servers distributed geographically for the purpose of delivering content more efficiently to the end-user.
Using a CDN, content is delivered from the closest and/or fastest server available on the user’s request.
This, of course, gives your website a boost in page load times without further intervention on your part.
That being said, it’s not a free option, so it might be out of reach for smaller-budget companies.
3. Optimize Your Images
Images are one of the main factors impacting page load speeds.
Competing with major players in the fast lane means your website must be among the fastest-loading sites in the slow lane, and non-optimized images can seriously slow down your load times.
There are a few general rules of thumb for using images wisely without sacrificing your website speed.
- Define dimensions within image tags. Using the height and width definitions within your image tags prevents browsers from rendering incorrectly on the first load, requiring the browser to re-render the page for the proper flow to accommodate images properly.
- Use actual-size images. Using a larger image file and forcing the browser to scale images down to the desired size is a big load-time waster. The browser always downloads the original size, so by using a larger file than you actually need, you’re forcing it to take extra time and do unnecessary work.
- Use JPEG image format when possible. PNGs are also acceptable, but note that some older browsers don’t support this format, so your images may not render for some users. If your analytics show that few to none of your visitors use older browser versions, this is less of an issue.
- Always use the src attribute. This is the attribute that appears within the image tag: <img src=” “>. If no source appears within the quotation marks, the browser sends a request to the page or page directory, which slows down your page load speed. Most importantly, make sure the URL contained within the quotation marks is valid to avoid errors.
4. Take Advantage of Browser Caching
Cache headers enable you to store assets for your Web pages at remote points along the route to users’ browsers.
Browsers also, on their own, cache assets and pages, avoiding the need to make a request each time the user pulls up the same Web page.
Caching isn’t ideal for dynamic content or content that changes frequently, such as message boards, as caching would produce outdated content.
There are a number of headers that you can use within your website code to cache specific assets.
Google offers some good resources that cover how to optimize caching. Read through to learn the various cache headers and what they should be used for, as well as tips on handling dynamic content.
5. Minimize Redirects
The term “redirect” describes a URL that sends the user to another URL immediately.
SEO professionals have debated the pros and cons of using redirects for years, including the best methods for doing so without sacrificing SEO value.
In the era of a two-tiered Internet, though, redirects must be used sparingly and implemented properly.
While sometimes necessary to track clicks or traffic sources or to have two different, branded URLs that produce the same website, redirects result in the browser sending another HTTP request to the server, resulting in sluggish load times.
Avoid redirecting multiple domains to your website.
This is a tempting tactic for capturing common misspellings and close variants of your branded URL. However, this habit can quickly escalate to buying dozens of domains merely to avoid competitors and squatters capitalizing on your brand. Train your audience to use your primary URL, and you’ll deliver your content to them more quickly.
Also, never use two-stage redirects or redirects that follow an A, B, C sequence, with the first Web page redirecting to a second, which redirects to the desired Web page. Redirect all pages directly to the desired final Web page with no intermediaries.
While avoiding redirects on your own behalf is usually simple enough, you may run into situations in which pages you’ve linked to change and now redirect to new pages. Some applications have methods for updating these links automatically.
If your website is small or doesn’t contain many outbound links, you can do this manually by checking your outbound links periodically. Otherwise, investing in a tool or building in the functionality needed for automatically updating redirecting links is a worthwhile investment.
6. Check For and Rectify Broken Links
Broken links, or bad requests, result in errors and lost business.
Not only do broken links frustrate consumers who wait anxiously for the content they’ve requested only to receive an error message, but broken links negatively impact SEO.
In the era of the two-tiered Internet, broken links give your competition more leverage than they already have, and it’s a problem that’s easily fixable.
There are plenty of link-checking tools and plugins that will produce a list of broken links within your website, and many of them are free:
- Broken Link Checker – WordPress Plugin
- W3C Link Checker
- iWebTool’s Broken Link Checker
A simple Google search brings up dozens of other free options, including browser-based tools, downloadable applications, plugins for content management systems (CMSs), and other link-validation tools that come as part of more comprehensive website performance management software programs.
It’s as simple as entering your website URL into one of these freely available tools, and getting a list of broken links. From there, it’s a matter of correcting or updating links to point to more up-to-date information.
In the Internet slow lane, maintaining your brand reputation is critical.
Having website links that produce errors can be damaging to your brand reputation and can result in a loss of consumer trust, sending your target prospects directly to your fast-lane competitors.
Custom style sheets (CSS) are widely used to comply with W3C standards, which “define an Open Web Platform for application development that has the unprecedented potential to enable developers to build rich interactive experiences, powered by vast data stores, that are available on any device.”
CSS, in simple terms, serves as a single document containing styles that apply to the Web pages that make up your website.
Most (or all, in many cases) of your HTML documents can refer to a single style sheet. This ensures design and style consistency and streamlines content delivery and speeds up page load times.
This process removes all extraneous and unnecessary characters and code, but the downside is that the code becomes difficult to interpret and edit for inexperienced developers.
Minifying code removes all white space and comments, reducing the size of the files and speeding up load times.
8. Use Streamlined Landing Pages
Some of the most effective landing pages rely on compelling copy and a few simple, strategically placed calls-to-action.
By using simple, proven design methodologies like ample white space and bright, contrasting colors to differentiate CTAs, you can score more leads with streamlined pages that load in seconds, even in the slow lane.
In other words, if you can keep it simple, then by all means do so.
In the two-tiered Internet, huge, flashy graphics and videos may have their place. But they mean little to nothing if your target audience never sees them, because they bounce from your Web pages before your content ever has a chance to load.
So test some simpler options and find some effective alternatives to the fancy and flashy. There are dozens of affordable tools for conducting A/B and multivariate testing that can be found online.
Some tools even allow for hosting landing pages on a third-party platform.
If a third-party landing page provider has a spot in the fast lane, this can be a simple strategy for ensuring key landing pages load quickly and are readily accessible by key prospects, particularly when combined with a strategic marketing campaign for driving traffic to these specific pages.
You’ll want to evaluate your landing page using the five-second blink test, which will allow you to take stock of users’ critical first impressions of your landing pages. Those crucial first few seconds can mean the difference between a click and a bounce.
Your landing page experience can also impact your Google AdWords Quality Score, which in turn plays into your Ad Rank. However, if you do use the AdWords advertising platform, you have access to an ongoing landing page rating for any landing pages tied to your ads.
A rating of “average” or “above average” means your landing experience, including page load speed and other user-experience factors, is adequate enough to avoid negatively impacting your quality score. A rating of “below average” means your quality score could be lower as a result of your landing page experience.
Keep the design simple, use visual elements strategically to impact visitors’ eye path, and ensure that important information and CTAs are placed above the fold.
These key factors will improve your landing page experience and produce landing pages that quickly satisfy visitors’ needs.
9. Be Present on Third-Party Platforms Like Social Media
If paying for optimal performance in the Internet fast lane is out of budget, you can capitalize on the fast loading speeds of prominent social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Odds are these major players will be positioned squarely in the fast lane.
Building your social presence means getting your brand name in front of a broader audience and growing brand loyalty among your target consumers. Done right, this will increase the likelihood that some consumers may wait an extra second or two if it means purchasing from their preferred brands.
If you sell products, you can take this tactic to another level by leveraging third-party eCommerce platforms to list and sell your products.
Operating as a third-party seller on a platform like Amazon.com has a number of benefits, such as tapping into millions of ready-to-purchase buyers that may otherwise never land on your website.
However, selling on Amazon.com has its downsides, namely that Amazon’s goal is merely to get new customers overall, not necessarily to advance your brand or generate brand loyalty for your products. Amazon.com markets its full range of products in any category, so standing out in a saturated product niche can take some work.
The same is true of social media platforms, but there are tons of ways to get more exposure on social platforms organically without spending a dime. Here are a few:
- Run a contest or promotion on a social network like Facebook. Be sure to check the rules and policies before implementing a contest, as every social media platform has its own regulations about what is and is not allowed as part of a contest.
- Create custom Facebook tabs to serve as mini-landing pages, offering product discounts, email marketing list sign-ups, or other valuable offers that get consumers excited about your brand and your products or services.
- Provide thorough content on your social platforms that highlights the benefits of your products or services. By pretty much getting the sale in the bag before you send visitors to your website from a social media network, you can simplify landing pages even further, thereby reducing page load times and increasing the odds of sealing the deal.
- Use visual social media platforms to market products. It’s not costing you any bandwidth to post product images on Pinterest and Instagram; it is, on the other hand, costing you bandwidth to send all those images to users’ browsers from your own website. A 2013 study conducted by L2 Think Tank finds that Instagram drives 25 percent more engagement than any other social platform.
- Try paid social advertising. Facebook Offers or Boosted Posts, for example, can be used in various ways to draw attention to products or special discount offers off-site, lessening the demands on your main website.
- Offer free resources and build your email marketing list. Email marketing is a useful method for showcasing products, up-selling, and other strategies off-site, again working consumers further down the sales funnel before they ever click through to your website.
Marketers are always coming up with creative ways to utilize social media to drive sales. Keep a finger on the pulse of the social media marketing industry for new ideas and strategies for getting the most from social media.
Optimize or Get Left Behind
It’s not yet clear exactly how these new rules will play out online. It is certain, though, that some changes will be coming down the line, and there’s a good chance it will result in an uneven playing field and higher hosting costs for some businesses.
If your website doesn’t require a lot of bandwidth, you might find that you can squeak through this era of change with minimal damage.
However, small business eCommerce vendors and other businesses that rely on large amounts of traffic for profitability will be faced with the prospect of paying up or finding new ways to make things work.
Fortunately, even businesses for which it’s not feasible to pay for higher speeds can survive using a few crucial strategies to navigate the slow lane.
These website performance tips will not only give your website a fighting chance, but they will drastically improve the experience that each of your visitors have on your website.
Prefer to leave this technical stuff to the experts?