Conversion Rate Optimization

2007-01-26by Frederick Townes

Conversion Rate Optimization:
Does Your Host Have the Cure for Attrition?

There are plenty of reasons visitors convert and even more reasons they don’t. The site’s layout, color choices, word choices and call to action, button/anchor text, layout, nomenclature and similar factors all have an impact on a site’s conversion rate. These are factors that you can manage and control.

You can make changes, tweak and refine your site to limit visitor attrition, but if your web host isn’t helping, all the tweaking in the world won’t give you the nice bump in conversions that you’re looking for. If your host doesn’t partner with you for success, you’ll never fully position your site for optimized conversion rates.

The Impatience Index

The easier and more convenient your site is to access, the more it will be accessed by visitors. However, in this Digital Age, we’ve become impatient. Any perception on the part of web users that time is being wasted will hurt your bottom line. Call it The Impatience Index. There’s a direct correlation between download times and visitor attrition.

The numbers speak for themselves. 84% of visitors will sit through a 10-second download. The number drops to 54% with a 20-second download, and the stick-around rate really tanks with a 30-second download. Only 5% of visitors are willing to wait that long. You lose 79% of potential visitors between 10 seconds and 30 seconds. Obviously, the faster your site downloads, the more visitors you’ll have and the more visitors you have, the lower your site’s attrition rate.

HTTP Acceleration

Most web hosts don’t want you to know about HTTP acceleration or compression, as it’s also known, because it would impact their bottom lines.

HTTP acceleration improves site performance by delivering pages faster to the user’s computer screen. It does this by compressing certain types of files before those files are delivered to a visitor’s browser, where the content is then decompressed. In effect, HTTP acceleration takes the “air” out of site pages before visitors ever see them. And there’s a lot of “air” in even the simplest web sites.

HTTP acceleration will compact almost any type of file. HTML files, load between 65-85% faster. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS files) have a faster delivery rate by 80-95%. With  XML and JavaScript, HTTP acceleration makes rich applications (Web 2.0 apps) based on AJAX, JavaScript and XML for example, even more responsive and moves them closer to the goal of creating a desktop application-like experience.

For purposes of illustration, let’s say a home page uses 100kbs. When deflated (compressed), that 100kb page becomes a 10kb page, increasing the speed at which it is delivered to the user by a factor of 10. This leads to significantly faster content downloads, enhancing the visitor’s site experience.

So, why don’t web hosts want you to know about HTTP acceleration? Because web hosts make a lot of money on transmission costs – bandwidth. A 10kb home page will cost less to transmit, use less bandwidth and generate less revenue for the web host than the 100kbs uncompressed version of the same page.

HTTP web site compression software is a server-side application, meaning it’s loaded on to a host’s server. If your web host doesn’t employ the software, there’s no way your site is fully optimized for conversion.

"Smart" companies, like Google and its web accelerator (http://webaccelerator.google.com/), are trying to resolve this problem by downloading and caching pages before you visit them, but this still doesn't solve the problem. It actually creates another one because they are abusing networks in order to give users a better experience. The fact is, it's the responsibility of site owners (and their hosts) to ensure that they're correctly and optimally enhancing the users’ on-site experience.

It seems clear to me that when you head over to the shopping mall, it’s each store’s obligation to ensure that there’s room for you and that you don’t have to wait in line. Following Google’s approach to solving the problem you’re either waiting in the food court for entry to the store, stuck shopping for last years products or not allowed entry into certain stores ever. As always websiteoptimization.com (http://www.websiteoptimization.com/speed/tweak/accelerator/) has a thorough review on the matter.

Who Needs HTTP Acceleration?

Chances are you do.

Let’s start with e-commercial sites. The ability to deliver data faster, and with complete transparency, will make site visitors happier. And a happy visitor is more likely to make a purchase than one who just sat through an interminable download. The Impatience Index, again.

On-line businesses, which use the web primarily as a billboard or calling card, will also benefit from acceleration software by presenting an up-to-date, thoroughly professional image to visitors.

Businesses that employ LANs and WANs need HTTP acceleration to lower transmission costs. The fact is, any web presence will benefit from this server-side compression technology – if they can find it.

Will HTTP Acceleration Work With My Site’s Software?

The technology doesn’t function as a separate application. A quality web host will not only employ this widely-used server software, it will also employ compression software for the benefit of their clients. These are the web hosts that recognize that their long-term success rest squarely on your site’s long-term success. After all, it’s a lot easier to keep a happy client than it is to find a new one and a happy client is one who stays in business.

Are There Other Advantages to HTTP Acceleration?

There are several.

SSL (secure socket layer) or encrypted files are usually slow to make their way to a visitor’s computer screen because they have to encrypted and unencrypted before the visitor can view them. These two steps slow down the delivery process, often by over 90% compared to unencrypted files. However, with HTTP acceleration, the process of conducting SSL file transfers increases both a site’s capacity and speed to deliver more files faster because less data has to be encrypted

SSL files are compressed prior to encryption that means less data actually has to go through the encryption process, boosting delivery rate by up to 1000%.

Obviously, this enhances the visitor’s experience while lowering your transmission costs – critical to site profitability, especially for businesses working on slim margins in competitive markets.

Second, if you think of a site as a pie, compression software makes more of that pie available for other features, i.e., Flash animation, graphically rich interfaces, QuickTime videos and other features that define a sophisticated, well-designed site. With those sites buying limited transfer from a web host, this allows site owners to do more things and provide more goodies with less resources – a money saver in both the short- and long-term. In fact, you’ll start to see savings immediately when you go with a host that offers this technology.

And finally, this is a big one: file compression software on your host server increases any commercial site’s profitability by increasing the site’s ability and capacity to deliver data without requiring or using additional bandwidth. This leads to a noticeable drop in operating costs – costs that most owners have always believed are fixed. They aren’t when you go with quality hosting.

In fact, if you’re with a web host who, for its own, obvious reasons, doesn’t employ this technology, you’re losing profitability every month you stay put.

So, Should I Migrate to a Host That Provides HTTP Compression Software?

Absolutely, even if there are still a few months left on your annual subscription. If your host doesn’t offer this technology, which benefits you, the client, and not the hosting company, then you’re not working with a partner interested in your site’s ultimate success.

Start by asking your host’s customer service reps whether this software is activated on your server. If you get a long song and dance about why it isn’t (compatibility issues, overblown performance stats, etc.) start shopping around for a new hosting service.

You’ll see improved site performance, an enhanced visitor site experience, and lower bandwidth costs. In the bang for buck equation, it’s a must- have for any site owner, and well worth the time to find a web host that wants your site to succeed just as much as you do.

The Bottom line? E-commerce hosting companies should recognize their role in the conversion funnel and help to ensure that your site delivers a user experience conducive to the most desired action for your visitors, before they fall into the visitor attrition stat’ column.

You can have it all. It starts with the delivery.

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Frederick Townes


FrederickTownes is the owner of W3 EDGE Web Design.W3 EDGE is a Boston web design company specializing in custom solutions for businesses large and small.They provide a full range of solutions from Internet Marketing to high-end design solutions.

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