You probably already know this, but if your site takes three seconds to load, you’ll likely see more than 50% of your traffic disappear. That’s horrible news if you’re running a blog or business site, but it’s catastrophic if you’re running an online store.
The tips on store performance optimization are endless
Maybe you read about AirBnB, and how they increased their performance by 8% using Google Tag Manager. And that sounds great until you realize that it may be more technical than you’re comfortable with.
Or maybe you’ve read articles that give you a list of things you can do to speed up your store. Below are three articles that help store owners running on Shopify.
These tools were created for developers. And if you’re a store owner that isn’t a developer, these approaches won’t help you very much.
We surveyed more than 500 WooCommerce stores
Remember that Google statistic that said pages that take longer than 3 seconds to load get left by 53% of their audience? In a review of more than 500 WooCommerce stores across the globe, we found that the average page performance for more than 450 of them was 3.4 seconds. Ninety percent of the stores were too slow to keep customers browsing – that’s a problem!
While it’s easy to assume that the problem is WooCommerce (or WordPress) that powers the store, we’ve found that there’s a more important culprit – the hosting provider.
The single biggest factor that affects the performance of your store is the hosting configuration that comes from the host you’ve chosen.
It’s like buying a new car that looks beautiful, comes with a great leather interior, a fantastic stereo and enough space for your entire family and a few friends. If you noticed the performance wasn’t what you wanted, you wouldn’t start by emptying the trunk, would you? No way! You’d check to see if the engine was working.
If your store isn’t performing well, image compression is a great idea but it’s not where you should start. You start with the engine that powers your store – and that’s your hosting environment.
Not all WooCommerce hosting is equal
When you compare hosting companies, there’s a difference between what’s possible and what’s probable. Every host can tell you that they can help your store run well. They’re telling you what’s possible. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll enjoy that performance as a probability.
WooCommerce runs on WordPress and there are a lot of hosting companies that have created solutions focused on WordPress. Right off the bat, those hosts will run a WordPress site faster than hosting companies that don’t specialize in WordPress.
Maybe you’ve heard of one or more of these companies that have created dedicated solutions for WordPress sites. They are, by far, the most famous hosting companies that work with WordPress.
- WP Engine
Each of these companies have invested in infrastructure and built custom solutions that help speed up your WordPress websites.
What’s critical to understand is that the very investment that was made to ensure that WordPress sites run fast may not serve your needs when running WooCommerce.
Caching Layers may help WordPress but not WooCommerce
There’s a good chance you’ve already heard different people talk about cache as a magical solution. For the uninitiated, cache is the temporary storage of parts of your website so that customers don’t need to wait for your servers to generate the content again. It’s a shortcut.
If you’ve ever walked thru an airport at lunch time you’ve likely noticed the pizza stands that have personal pizzas pre-made and pre-heated so that you could easily walk up, grab a pizza, pay and walk away. Compare that to the time it would take to order and have a custom pizza made for you, and you’ll easily see why people talk about cache as a great way to deliver high performance to customers.
But these airport pizza places work well precisely because they don’t treat every customer as a unique customer that has unique wants and needs. And the same is true when it comes to the difference between WordPress and WooCommerce.
If you run a WordPress blog or site, the pages you’ve created can be prebuilt and stored, ready for your readers because the pages are the same every time. So having them ready makes things really fast.
But if you do that with your shopping cart, where every customer gets the same cart, with the same items in it, it’s easy to consider that a disaster. Every customer needs to browse the store separately with their own cart. You can’t cache that interaction.
And that’s why we say that the strategies and investments many hosts have made, deep investments, into caching systems don’t actually help WooCommerce stores at all.
Can we talk about another technical aspect of your store?
Imagine you were shopping at a Walmart or Costco, for just a second. Imagine you filled your physical shopping cart and headed to the checkout area. That’s when you notice that there are 20 cash registers but only 2 people checking customers out.
Pretty crazy, right? Well, most hosting companies are just like that.
Let me explain. Most hosting companies like to talk about storage and memory (hard drive and RAM) as the factors that you need to consider when it comes to the plan you choose. But if we think about your shopping trip, the amount of storage your minivan or truck has is pretty immaterial when you’re in a line of 20 customers waiting to check out. And the credit limit on the card you’re about to use to pay for your purchase isn’t much help either.
What you need is more cashiers. In the hosting world, for stores running on WordPress and WooCommerce – both written in PHP – those are called PHP workers.
When those hosting companies built their platforms, they were counting on their caching systems to ensure that you didn’t need so many PHP workers. The cache would help. And that’s true for WordPress sites and blogs. But it’s not true for WooCommerce stores.
This is why we say not all WooCommerce hosting is the same.
What store owners can do to speed up their WooCommerce store
We promised you that there was something you could do to speed up your WooCommerce without writing any code. By now you likely know what we’re going to tell you.
The simplest thing you can do to get performance gains without doing any development work at all is to change your hosting provider.
But don’t take my word for it. Let’s look at the numbers.
Here’s what we did to compare store performance
The first thing we did was create a sample store.
- This store had 2000 products in it
- We then loaded more than 37,000 orders
- Then we added more than 9,000 customers
Once we had a sample store, we bought hosting plans at mulitple hosting companies and imported our store onto each of them.
From there we created two sample paths of user interactions – store browsing and store buying. In the first case we navigated between the main catalog and the product pages. In the second, we added items to the cart and checked out.
We did these tests with varying loads – from 50 virtual users to 200 virtual users hitting the store – for fifteen minutes.
Here are the performance results for the same WooCommerce store
|HOST||Browsing – 50 VU||Browsing – 200 VU||Buying – 50 VU|
|BlueHost||10.14 s – 12 min||Too Many Errors||4.59 s – 12 min|
|GoDaddy**||317 – 429 ms||390 ms – 6.77 s||772 ms – 2.48 s|
|WP Engine||3.13 – 3.21 s||3.16 – 3.21 s||5.08 – 6.03 s|
|SiteGround||1.89 – 4.74 s||2.52 s – 2 min, 42 s||2.93 – 58.54 s|
|Kinsta||1.91 – 2.46 s||1.95 – 2.17 s||1.73 – 1.91 s|
|Liquid Web||1.65 – 1.99 s||1.67 – 1.76 s||1.65 – 1.88 s|
** GoDaddy is one of the hosts that has an aggressive cache in place that makes it great for WordPress sites but completely incompatible for WooCommerce stores. Because it’s impossible to turn off their caching, orders are not able to be processed. The result is a very fast page load that doesn’t allow customers to buy anything.
The comparison isn’t much of a comparison, is it?
The one thing that both Kinsta and Liquid Web have in common is that they’re relatively newcomers to the WordPress and WooCommerce hosting environment. We normally get hesitant about new companies, waiting to see how things pan out. But what these two hosts have demonstrated is that the older paradigm of building cache-heavy solutions for WordPress hosting isn’t a solution for today’s highly interactive sites and stores.
In the case of Liquid Web that provides a dedicated solution for WooCommerce hosting, they go further by automatically optimizing images, adding performance tuning, and database-specific optimizations for WooCommerce stores.
The point we’re making here is that store owners have one move that could change the performance of their stores without any coding. And the result of that change could be a 30-300% different in load times.
Most importantly, a faster store delivers a better experience for customers, and that’s a difference that leads to greater revenue.