Peter Chamberlin

Performance is a feature

Web performance remains a missed opportunity,

Joseph Wynn and I gave a talk in December last year at LdnWebPerf, the capital’s foremost and best catered web performance meet up. It was entitled, "Performance is not a technical problem".

You can view my slides and Joseph’s online. There is also a video.

In case you can’t be bothered to look at those, the gist of the talk was:

  • An overview of the Responsive News project we’ve been working on at the BBC
  • A dive into a performance audit we did last year
  • A bit at the end where I pontificate about why performance is really difficult to achieve

I’m not going to go over all that here, I’ll just pick up from where I left off with the pontificating.

Performance is not a technical problem.

We know how to make websites fast. Or rather we know what makes websites slow, as by default the web is fast.

We are in a position where we know what to do to make nearly any website really damn fast. People have worked tirelessly to solve the problems of web performance and raise awareness.

But websites are still slow. Why?

The problem is that performance is a feature that is not on anyone’s product roadmap.

For whatever reason, the fact that it correlates directly to bounce rate, time on site, pages-per-visit etc. has not struck home with many product owners.

Most websites, certainly in the publishing industry where I have worked for a good part of my career, see those metrics as core KPIs. So you would think that anything that improved them would get prioritised. But no.

My own theory is that a combination of the intangibility of performance and the stakeholder push nature of the snake oil agile most organisations practice means that it is never even considered as an opportunity for growth.

But that is what it is.

Performance isn’t a technical niggle that "we should get around to fixing". It is an opportunity to grow your audience, to grow your business, to convert more sales (or whatever it is eCommerce people do).

Performance is an opportunity, and a risk, the same way that a redesigned template is. Or a new logo. Or a change to the colour of a button CTA.

The tragedy is that now that Google (AMP) and Facebook (Instant Articles) are banging the performance drum, the response of publishers is for the most part to flock into their walled gardens without a thought to fixing their own sites.

If you visit Google's own page "How AMP speeds up performance" there is a convenient list of the actual things you could do to your own site to make it fast like AMP. There is no secret sauce.

I broadly share Tim Kadlec’s opinions on AMP. It is the control of distribution I take issue with. His proposal CPP is interesting. Whether or not it ever makes it off the drawing board remains to be seen, but I would be happy to give it a shot.

The story of publishing on the web has been a twenty year race to the bottom. Advertising and tracking scripts have all but destroyed the open web for publishers. But the opportunity is there. Make your site fast and your visitors will stay longer and view more pages.

Who knows, advertising might even still pay as a model for publishers. Or maybe not.

Either way, you could do much worse than to make your bit of the web fast.

* The LdnWebPerf organisers graciously donated half of the door money for the evening to Children in Need. So they are all round wonderful.

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