Your Web Performance is Too Reactive; It’s Time to Do More Than Put Out Fires

Karolina Szczur

Karolina Szczur

January 26, 2023

Illustrated by

 Jeffrey Phillips

Web performance problems are far easier to proactively prevent than clean up. Rather than spending time diagnosing why a page is broken or slow, it’s more efficient to make sure that each page you create is already built for quick load times.

This proactive approach is already present in most aspects of web design. For example, it’s common practice to perform user research on new CTAs or product features before and after they go live. We should also apply the same thought and care to web performance. Instead of waiting for pages to break or slow down, teams should proactively detect, prevent, or put out web performance fires before they burn out of control.

If you’re investing resources into a website that only seems to get slower and buggier, it’s time to try something new. Instead of focusing your efforts on fixing what’s broken, engage your team in proactively improving your site, so it needs less maintenance in the long run. A proactive web performance approach ultimately saves work for your team, and it garners better results with quicker pages, more accessibility, and better SEO outcomes. The current wait-and-see strategy isn’t best for you and your readers. It’s time to rethink your approach to web performance so that you can achieve the better performance outcomes your website deserves.

Putting out performance fires isn’t a sustainable long-term strategy

Many websites already have performance problems, so team leads devote their time and performance resources to reactively putting out the fires that inevitably pop up. If a page slows so much that visitors complain, they’ll diagnose the issue, patch it as best they can, and then move on to the subsequent fire.

The best result is a website that never gets any faster. More likely, it’s a website that’ll slowly crater as decisions burden it with more and more to load each time a visitor clicks through.

The fallout of this reactive approach is disastrous for your website and the people who use it. People often immediately leave when sites take more than a few seconds to load. As more people bounce, Google will take this as a signal that your page isn’t providing a good user experience and will lower your rankings on search engine results pages.

Slow web pages are also a significant accessibility issue. If your site is too slow, you may be locking out anyone on slower connections, less capable devices or using assistive technologies. That’s not fair to them, and it will negatively influence your bottom line, as large segments of the world are excluded from your site.

The only sustainable solution is to change how you approach performance issues. Instead of focusing on what’s going wrong, address the root causes of those problems to avert them from ever happening in the first place.

The best day to start thinking about web performance is today

Fast and responsive websites don’t become that way overnight. Instead, they come from teams considering site speed with every design decision. Ideally, you’d start doing this work from day 1. However, if you don’t have the luxury of a blank slate, the next best time to get started is now.

Every day your team will need to make decisions about your website. Even seemingly benign choices can have an outsized impact on performance. For example, if you want five kinds of web fonts on your pages, it might look nicer, but they could also slow download times by up to ten seconds.

When site speed becomes a core factor in your team’s decision-making process, it’s easier to find solutions that improve or preserve current performance levels. For instance, many pages include GIFs for educational purposes, even though GIFs are often large files with slow load times. If your team knows this, they could improve performance metrics by using compressed video or static images instead.

If your team isn’t considering site speed when they make these decisions, then those unknowing trade-offs will build up into massive performance problems. The only way to rectify this is to change how your team works and thinks about site performance.

How to become proactive with your approach to web performance

You need to do three core things to nurture a proactive web performance culture in your business: test, educate, and experiment. Testing gives you data to work with, education enables colleagues to help, and experimentation unleashes the creative power of your team.

Each of these plays a unique part in getting your team ready to improve web performance on your site proactively. Here are the details on what you’ll need to do to make them a reality.

1. Test your site

The first step to becoming proactive is getting a complete grasp of your site’s performance. To do this, set up frequently recurring speed tests on each of your pages to begin collecting data. You’ll want data on the Core Web Vitals to see how each page loads and to find potential problems holding them back.

Also, make sure you’re collecting data based on different kinds of devices and user locations. By replicating different situations, you know whether your site works for everyone, not just a tech CEO in Silicon Valley.

Collect this data daily to stay on top of how your site improves or worsens. This data also lets you know which metrics you’re failing in and why, so you can prioritise the biggest blockers your website is facing.

2. Educate your team and get buy-in

Web performance cannot only be the responsibility of one person or department. You’ll need to get your whole team involved if you’re going to make progress.

Set your teams up for success by educating key team members. Start by:

  • Forming speed teams that include members from across your company who you’ll train as site speed experts.
  • Having Speed Team members run seminars and consult with their teams to raise the level of knowledge across your organisation.
  • Establish internal guidelines within departments to make site speed a factor in their decision-making processes.

With this in place, every department can work toward your team’s performance goals. Each team will also have experts fluent in site speed and their specific niche to weigh in on site speed matters. Not only will this encourage proactive thinking, but it’ll also free up your developers to work on the more technical aspects of web performance.

3. Experiment with everything

To proactively make your site faster, you need to run tests to ensure the decisions you make will result in faster load times. No amount of guessing or experience is a good enough stand-in for raw data.

Instead of pushing changes live and then testing them for speed, reverse the process. Come up with changes, test them with synthetic monitoring tools before deployment, and then only push them live when they’re ready. Not only will this prevent slow or buggy pages from affecting real visitors to your site, but it’ll also encourage your developers to run speed experiments.

Websites are complicated, and you’ll never be quite sure how a particular speed optimisation will affect them. By investing in proactive testing tools that allow your developers to test changes before they go live, you foster an environment of experimentation. Your developers see how removing this font file or changing that compression setting affects overall performance. With this mindset, they’ll begin to find unique solutions no one ever thought possible.

With easy experimentation on hand, developers get your team actual data on how potential design decisions will affect site speed. Instead of having to weigh a concrete choice with a nebulous loss in speed, you have hard data to base decisions on. For example, if you know Google Ads costs you two seconds during loading, you might be willing to see if lighter-weight alternatives are better for you.

With this kind of culture in place, you’ll quickly see a change in fortune for your site’s performance. No longer will you be at the mercy of unintended consequences. Instead, you’ll be making proactive choices that secure your site’s speed gains and improve usability and accessibility for your readers.

Proactive tools help you take the first steps toward being proactive

One of the most significant hurdles facing companies that want to improve site speed proactively is that most tools aren’t designed to work that way. For instance, Google Pagespeed Insights only tests live pages, so you can’t experiment and test before launch.

With Calibre’s 15-day free trial, you can give your developers access to our Pull Request review feature at no cost to your business. This tool allows them to automatically test changes to your site directly in GitHub. While they’re trying out this feature, you’ll also get access to our testing platform to see how your site is progressing.

With that data, you can start working on making your site faster. Still trying to figure out where to start? Try reading some of our guides that’ll help you navigate how to make noticeable differences in your page’s loading speed:

Karolina Szczur

Karolina Szczur

Karolina is a Co-founder and Product Design Lead at Calibre. With years of design experience under her belt, she’s responsible for the comprehensive user experience spanning over product, visuals and content. Find her on Mastodon or LinkedIn.

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Addy Osmani

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