Slow load times is often cited as one of the key reasons why people leave a website. Making a website really fast is quite complicated though, and unfortunately there is no silver bullet. At Grundfos, the world's largest pump manufacturer with more than 18,000 employees globally, they built performance into their website relaunch project from the very beginning. How did they manage to implement as many performance gains as possible and thus improve the user experience?
I recently had a conversation with Thomas Ørgaard Bredgaard who is Department Head, Web Management at the Denmark-based headquarters and a member of our groups for online professionals. He shared several critical and hard-earned lessons on performance and how it relates to a global, complex and large business-to-business company.
The Grundfos website performance challenge
Unlike media or transportation companies who experience extreme peaks due to breaking news or inclement weather, Grundfos as a B2B company did not have to worry so much about load balancing to handle peaks. With up to 6 million visitors projected next year to Grundfos websites and a distributed IT infrastructure led from the headquarters in Bjerringbro, Denmark, the key challenge in the recent website redesign was to ensure that the website was equally fast for a customer or distributor visiting the site from Beijing, Boston or Brisbane.
As illustrated by this recent tweet from user experience expert Jared Spool, slow performance can lead to bad publicity. For Grundfos, the main concern was users leaving the site for competitors or resorting to more expensive phone calls or e-mails for product inquiries.
Besides the global reach, Grundfos also has a website packed with several different content types, including videos and several applications. This required extensive testing and several layers of performance improvements to get right.
Further complicating the matter was the lack of industry best practices when it comes to performance guidelines. As Thomas said:
We were unable to find any standards or reports detailing performance requirements for a large, complex and global B2B company. To establish a working definition of acceptable performance requirements we had to get inspiration from the consumer space and vendors specializing in content delivery.
According to Thomas, Grundfos used the below 2 sources as main inspiration to define acceptable performance:
- Guidelines from Jakob Nielsen on response times, where 1 second is used as the limit for the user's flow of thought to stay uninterrupted,
- Findings from a study commissioned by Akamai, where between 2 and 4 seconds are defined as the "threshold of acceptability for eCommerce Web Page Response Times"
The many elements of the solution
To make sure that the new website would be delivered within a time-frame of 2,5 to 5 seconds, depending on content type, Grundfos had to undertake several actions, some complicated and technically demanding, while others were more about project management.
A key step according to Thomas was creating a cross-functional web performance team including members from IT and business units. As Thomas said:
This team meets regularly to review performance improving initiatives and also discuss any issues, such as areas of the website which are performing poorly. The main focus of the team is to find potential improvements, whether governance initiatives to prevent large images on the frontpage or purely technical issues
Here some other steps which Grundfos have implemented:
- Performance goals have been built into the service level agreement (SLA) with the IT department, profiling both up-times and load-times
- To measure and benchmark performance globally, Grundfos decided to work with Gomez, a vendor specializing in web load testing, cross-browser testing, and web performance management
- The relaunch was based on a new Web CMS (Day CQ5). During the Day CQ5 CMS implementation Grundfos used web performance best practices from Google and Yahoo Yslow to keep the focus on performance from the beginning. Testing happened often and early to make sure that potential slow areas could quickly be identified and addressed
- During the project planning the concept of static vs. dynamic delivery, also known as "frying vs. baking", was carefully considered. In brief, the idea is to ensure that only those website elements which are truly dynamic, e.g. application output, are generated at every request, while other static elements (e.g. the Grundfos logo and press releases) are published to a server for quick delivery. Day CQ5 has several performance guidelines and Grundfos implemented caching as well as static publishing as much as possible
In addition, Grundfos is currently considering using a content delivery network, such as Akamai, to leverage a globally distributed hosting infrastructure.
If you don't have a large and globally distributed IT infrastructure like Grundfos, another option for performance improvements may be cloud computing.
Besides quick response-times and doing what you can to makes your website fast, you should also consider up-times, to ensure that the website is actually up and running most of the time.
In a recent eConsultancy article, slow load times were cited as one of 25 reasons why I'll leave your website in 10 seconds
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