Preparing for the 2012 Summer Olympics: 8 Tips to Enhance Website Experience

6 minute read
Parvaze Suleman avatar

The 2012 Olympics officially kicks off in London today. Is your website prepared? It better be.

Websites Will Be Affected by the Olympics

Major events such as the Olympics are not only broadcasted all over television, but all over the Internet as well, leading to an influx of traffic to news and sporting websites as people from all over the world tune in to the games. In addition to these types of sites getting more traffic, retailers in London will also see a flood of traffic to their sites with the increase in athletes and tourists in the city.

With the 2012 London Olympics just around the corner, it is a good idea to review your website to ensure that it is optimized to cope with this increased traffic. It is important to continuously enhance visitor and customer experience of your website/brand and notable events such as the Olympics create a good opportunity for you to do so (especially for companies that may be procrastinating such enhancement).

A key factor in enhancing the user experience for their websites relates to improving the performance of the site;a slow-performing site will provide a poor user experience and could result in lost revenue. Even small improvements in performance can have an impact on user experience on heavily trafficked sites and ultimately lead to better conversion rates -- i.e. more customers who go on to buy from the website.

It is essential that you improve your website's ability to cope with increased traffic by reviewing both the physical architecture and the application architecture. Make use of client-side performance testing tools such as Firebug and YSlow, which will give you a better view of which pages and which elements on the page are causing the performance bottlenecks. Website site managers should already be doing this and should make additional preparations for major events such as the Olympics.

Learning Opportunities

8 Tips to Optimize Your Site

In light of the upcoming Summer Olympics, below are eight tips for optimizing your website:

  1. Serve all static content from a Content Delivery Network (CDN) or a separate domain -- Using multiple domains or a dedicated CDN allows the browser to download static assets in parallel. FireFox 3+ and IE8+ browsers can handle 6 parallel connections to serve HTTP requests. Using a separate domain for static assets would allow all available connections to be used. The best practice is to use a maximum of two domains to serve a page: one for the main Web Server serving your site and the second for the CDN serving the static assets.
  2. Never serve static content (images, CSS, JavaScript, etc.) using the Application Server (always use the Web Server) -- Web Servers are far more efficient at serving static content than Application Servers. Application Servers should only be used to host the application and business logic. Doing this will increase performance and result in reduced traffic to the application server leaving it to do what it is designed to do i.e. serve application and business logic requests.
  3. Minify JavaScript/CSS files, compress and concatenate files where possible -- Smaller files achieved through compression, minification and concatenation will result in faster downloads, and ultimately will increase performance. Minification reduces file size by removing whitespace and comments from files. Concatenation is fairly self-explanatory; it involves linking individual JavaScript (or CSS) files into a single JavaScript (or CSS) file. Most web servers support compression that can be enabled easily through configuration, so this should be done in most cases.
    In addition to compression, minification will reduce file sizes further albeit by a smaller margin than compression. Concatenation can be applied to CSS and JavaScript to reduce the number of HTTP requests, resulting in a faster page load and an improved user experience.
  4. Move references to JavaScript files to the bottom of the page -- When JavaScript references are at the top of the page, parsing the scripts stops the page from loading, leading to a poor (frustrating) user experience.
  5. Avoid inline CSS and JavaScript in pages -- Externalizing the JavaScript and CSS into files allows for greater reuse of code across pages. The files can also be cached in the browser, which could improve performance. However, the primary reason for doing this is to ease of maintenance of the code.
  6. Keep cookies as small as possible -- Cookies are commonly used on websites to store information about the user. It is important to keep the size of the cookies as small as possible, as the cookies are part of every HTTP request back to the server. It is important to keep the amount of information stored in the cookie and therefore the size to an absolute minimum to keep page load times as fast as possible.
  7. Static content should be served without a cookie -- As stated above, cookies can increase the size of the data being transferred between the browser and the server. It’s therefore important to avoid cookies for static content such as images, JavaScript, etc. Doing this will reduce the amount of data being passed between browser and server for some of the requests and lead to a slight improvement in page load times.
  8. Combine images into CSS Sprites --Using CSS Sprites enables a number of related images to be downloaded using a single HTTP request and then referenced within the page without resulting in additional HTTP requests. Doing this will result in fewer HTTP requests and therefore faster page load times.

As most website managers know, implementing the above tips individually will only yield slight improvements in performance, but done all together there will be a noticeable improvement in performance of the website and therefore the overall user experience. For traffic heavy sites, even small improvements will have a positive impact on user experience and could lead to better conversion rates.

It is also important to consider these tips as part of an overall strategy that encompasses simplifying the user experience by better UX design, monitoring performance of the website to identify bottlenecks, employing industry best-practices in designing the back-end application architecture and flexible sizing of the infrastructure hosting the website to cope with periods of increased traffic.

About the author

Parvaze Suleman

Parvaze Suleman is Senior Director and Head of ECM Practice in Europe, Virtusa Corporation. Parvaze (Parv) has over 15 years experience in IT consulting and has worked with a variety of clients and in multiple vertical sectors.

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