The internet feels like a place where your location doesn’t matter. We’re used to seeing content & interacting with people from around the world. And no matter where you are online it feels like every site is equally close.
One concept that might surprise new website owners is that the location of your web server matters. I live in Denver Colorado and if I want to access a web server in Denver it’s going to be much faster than one in Europe, South America, or Asia.
To illustrate this let’s do some speed tests around the world. My web server is in South Carolina. On the east coast of the US. So let’s test our site with a couple of different locations to see how much it could help.
I’ll be using the KeyCDN speed test since they make it really easy to test locations.
New York – 800 ms
London – 1.59 s
Bangalore – 3.12 s
Tokyo – 3.85 s
If your server is a half continent away it could add a 1/2 second easy. If it's on the other side of the world it could add 1-2 seconds.
My advice to you is to make sure your webserver is located in the same continent as your audience – or the largest chunk of your audience.
Since I’m catering to a US audience with my site I’m very happy where I am and don’t need to change anything. If you are thinking about moving server locations first ask your host because they likely have a server location closer to your customers and it’s much easier to move between data centers than to setup a whole new hosting account.
It’s important to remember that hosting directly affects the initial page load. And it's worth investigating even if it is incredibly time-consuming and possibly expensive to change.
Speeding up your website is exciting but before you start adding a caching plugin to your site it’s good to think about the whole process of building a web page. Because each part of building and rendering a web page can be done efficiently and fast OR inefficiently and slow.
One of my favorite things to do is collect data. I love collecting ALL the data because you never know when you need it and if you collect it you'll always have it when someday you could find a use for it. This brings me to one of my favorite quotes:
“What gets measured gets improved.”
Robin S. Sharma (inspired by Peter F. Drucker)
There’s some truth to this. And lucky for us website speed is easy to measure, breakdown, and analyze. And this is important because what works for one site might not work for another. So if you're looking to improve your site speed we always want to measure & confirm our sites are getting faster.
The traditional model of buy ads, get eyeballs on your product, and make sales is a tired model. Sometimes when a new ad platform debuts there's a brief period where ads are so cheap it's easy to get in and get a ton of eyeballs on your product but eventually those cheap ads disappear.
You can continuously innovate in the advertising space making more and more advanced ads to minimize your advertising costs. Or you can choose to not play that game and instead invest in a product that markets itself.
One of my favorite parts of my job is asking people “why?”.
When it comes to conversion rate optimization for e-commerce we use a lot of heuristics (aka rules of thumb). Things like:
Use short forms
Don't make people login to checkout
Have the add to card button above the fold
There are thousands of pretty widely held heuristics. And CROs swear by these as a good starting points. And while many of these are important they're not the holy grail. These rules can be broken and you can still make sales as long as you have the right product.
Sharing a Joke
Earlier this week I sent an image I found on Pinterest to my friend who loves Moscato.
A shirt you can wear and point at when you want a refill
And a few hours later she asks me which color should buy. And a few texts later she purchased the shirt.
Not How E-Commerce is Supposed to Work
This is not at all how experts say e-commerce works! There's supposed to be consideration, price comparisons, reading reviews, and then getting stuck somewhere in the checkout.
Let's go through the problems any CRO would point out.
1) No Website
The first issue is that she wanted a particular joke. But didn't know where to find it. And she has particular needs. She doesn't like typical crew neck shirts. She wanted a tank top. So she did a search.
Search engine results page for “Hakuna Moscato”
She finally ended up on lookHuman which was the 5th result on Google. She had to scroll past or explore 2 Etsy links & 2 Amazon links to find the right site.
Not to mention all of the sponsored results. There were similar products all over the place and she navigated to the 5th site.
Everything was done on mobile. Which I find fascinating. I find it incredibly frustrating to type on the mobile keyboard and god forbid entering checkout information.
But for my friend speed was exactly why she decided to use her mobile device instead of a computer.
I had my phone with me. I hardly ever use a computer anymore. So I would have had to start and login to my computer which would have taken several minutes including walking downstairs. I did have several tablets handy, but they are devices I share with my husband and kids and don't have autofills options like my email for PayPal saved in. So it would have been slightly slower and more steps.
She used mobile knowing that there are some fields her phone will auto-fill instead of going downstairs to use the computer.
And she used PayPal. I've used the PayPal app on my phone and that makes checking out with PayPal much more convenient. So I assumed she also used the app.
But she didn't she manually typed in her PayPal account & password. I don't even know my PayPal password! 🤯
I've done a lot of transactions through PayPal and like their buyer protection and customer service. And not having to enter in my shipping or billing address is convenient. Not as big as a difference nowadays with autofills and such, but those don't always fill in correctly and using PayPal I don't feel like I have to double check everything several times to make sure it's right. It's what I'm used to using so I'm more familiar and comfortable with it which helps me make a faster transaction.
It is nice to hear from users that they do like the buyer protection on PayPal. It reduces risk and it's much easier to use than canceling a charge on your credit card.
4) Too Much Chrome on Mobile Device
On the mobile site there's a lot of “chrome” or useless interface. The URL, the social icons on the bottom (which I partially cut off), and the annoying chat button that covers up the product description.
The actual screenshot she sent me asking about colors.
And there's things you can even see without scrolling down.
Add to card button
These are important considerations on a product page and I'd make sure to put them above the fold. The color especially since as you choose a new color the product page changes you can see what you're going to purchase.
The worst aspect is that you don't know you're missing information. There's no indication that there's more information and you should scroll. On mobile you'd have to scroll down to see the different color options, select one, and then scroll back up.
That's a lot of work to do on a mobile device. And my friend did all of this, followed by taking a screenshot of each color, and sending me three screenshots. That's a lot of work on a mobile device. I constantly have to google “how do I take a screenshot on my mobile device”.
The biggest lesson is that you don't need a perfect site. If someone wants to buy something they'll figure out how to do it. They don't even have to be that motivated. If someone tells someone a joke they might want to buy a t-shirt with that joke on it.
In this specific case:
Brand didn't matter
SEO didn't matter (other than getting on page 1)
Advertising didn't matter
A mobile optimized site didn't matter
Cluttered product page didn't matter
Only having one product photo (per color) didn't matter
Reviews didn't matter
Free shipping didn't matter
Typing a password to checkout via PayPal didn't matter
To be clear: I believe all of these things do matter to an extent. But more important than all of these is:
Having the product the user wants
If so, the rest will help you get a step up on your competition but they aren't necessary. Store owners need to focus on quality products first. Then work on branding, SEO, mobile optimization, and everything else.
Black Friday is the day where you're make so many sales your store goes from in the red (owing money) to in the black (making money). To do that you need to make a lot of profit. The keyword there is profit not revenue. If you aren't making enough profit on each sale you could still be losing money.
Getting people in the door is easier said than done. To draw the crowds you have to offer discounts and those discounts start eating away at your profit. So it's a balancing act to offer the right discount to draw people in and still make enough profit.
The good news is that you don't have to run a Black Friday promotion like everyone else. You can give tiny discounts, freebies, or you don't have to run a promotion at all if you don't want.