Images and videos are proven online engagement boosters, hence many brands’ increasingly popular media-first approach today. The more media an e-commerce website has, the more revenue it’s likely to generate through increased sales and conversions.
And according to the HTTP Archive’s 2022 study, 99.9% of websites have images today. On top of this, pages are only getting bigger as the years go by – in fact, it’s gone up by 594% in the last ten years! Creating and displaying high-quality visuals that resonate without dragging down web performance is a delicate balance. Businesses today can handily achieve that balance by taking deliberate steps to optimize media.
You study analytics and KPIs to monitor your site’s performance, click-through rates, engagement, and more. Plus, you add more to your site to make it perform better, usually with more media, to boost sales and performance. All of this can lead you into a vicious spiral that just creates more problems.
Media optimization tools are crucial for breaking this unintentional cycle of bloating an already slow website. To better understand why, let’s take a look at some of the biggest trends in website performance.
What Is Web Performance and Why Is It Important?
Web performance, which refers to the speed at which pages are downloaded and displayed on the viewer’s browser, is all about loading websites fast, including making slow processes seem fast. Also measured is how quickly a site responds to user interaction.
This is crucial for both site visitors and businesses because slow sites frustrate visitors, who generally end up abandoning the site if it takes too long. That’s why speed has emerged as the major factor for retaining visitors and boosting conversions.
Web performance – and its associated best practices – are an integral part of user experience, which accounts for the user’s device and connection speed, reflecting a site’s overall effectiveness. The obvious question is how to improve these speeds. And while internet speeds are on the rise, a huge portion of international users still don’t have the same speed as the West – making fast-loading pages even more crucial.
Understanding How Content is Rendered
If we want to dive deeper into the web performance world, we first need to understand how web content is rendered. As a reminder, rendering displays web content on a user’s device. The rendering process involves several steps, including parsing, styling, layout, and painting. Each of these steps contributes to the overall performance of a webpage, and optimizing each step can help improve web performance.
Let’s look at each step separately:
Parsing: The first step in rendering web content is parsing all of the code that makes up your site. The browser reads the HTML and creates a Document Object Model (DOM) tree representing the webpage’s structure. It will also read the CSS and create a CSS Object Model (CSSOM) tree, representing the styles applied to the webpage. The parsing process can be optimized with efficient, clean code and techniques such as minification and compression to reduce file size.
Styling: The next step is applying styles to the webpage. The browser uses the CSSOM tree to determine the styles that apply to each element in the DOM tree. This process can be optimized by using efficient CSS selectors, avoiding inline styles, and reducing the number of CSS rules.
Layout: Once the styles have been applied, the browser calculates the position and size of each element on the webpage. This process is called layout. The layout process can be optimized by minimizing the use of expensive layout properties, such as floats and absolute positioning, and by using flexbox and grid layout techniques to create more efficient layouts.
Painting: Finally, the browser paints the webpage on the user’s device. This involves creating a bitmap image of the webpage and displaying it on the screen. The painting process can be optimized by reducing the number of elements that need to be painted, using efficient image formats, and minimizing the use of expensive CSS properties, such as box-shadow and border-radius.
The State of Modern Web Performance
Modern websites are extremely visual, but the visual elements come at a price. Images and videos take up a substantial amount of bandwidth and need to fit all sorts of screen sizes. The more compelling and complex the media, the more data is involved, adding to the site’s weight. Absent optimization of visual media content, performance lags, and visitors bounce off.
Delivering unoptimized media costs you – literally. Why? Because they cause sluggish page loads, resulting in users abandoning your site. Simply put, optimizing your media helps grow business revenue. Studies indicate that as many as 40% of visitors would abandon a site if a page takes more than three seconds to load. In today’s competitive environment, you can’t afford to lose page views.
Core Web Vitals: Critical Performance Metrics
In 2020, the team behind Google Chrome introduced its Core Web Vitals, three metrics based on exhaustive research on the aspects of an ideal web user experience. Starting in June 2021, those metrics, which assess a website’s load time, interactivity, and visual stability, started determining search rankings on Google, paired with previous UX-related search signals like mobile friendliness and HTTPS encryption. As a result, improving your site’s Core Web Vitals is absolutely paramount.
Let’s take a look at each of these metrics and why they matter:
Load Time: Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
This metric measures the time the largest image or text element takes to appear on a page. Usually, that element is the above-the-fold content, such as a hero image. To be adjudicated a good score, the load time must be under 2.5 seconds.
According to HTTP Archive, 37% of desktop websites and 49% of mobile apps must improve their LCP, which means that more than half of all existing websites have an LCP metric of more than 2.5 seconds. So most likely, you may be in the clear, but you should monitor this anyway.
Interactivity: First Input Delay (FID)
However, nearly all sites have an excellent FID, according to the HTTP Archive. Google has also taken notice of this, and has been working on a new metric that will replace FID in 2024.
Visual Stability: Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
We’ve all come across this scenario: the page partially loads; you begin reading the content, and the page suddenly shifts, moving the portion you’ve been looking at out of view. CLS is a measure of the largest layout shift that occurs on a page. While these are usually harmless, there is a real chance for it to severely impact your user experience.
So, how do you raise your CWVs with SEO rankings on the line? By optimizing your media. An ideal solution is Cloudinary, which will help you:
- Compress images while maintaining high visual fidelity.
- Convert images and videos into newer formats and codecs, such as AVIF, JPEG XL, JPEG 2000, WebP, MP4, or WebM.
- Generate responsive images whenever feasible.
- Deliver media through multiple content delivery networks (CDNs) and cache media variants at the edge.
Web Performance: Trends and Insights for 2023
We already know that web performance is critical to any website or application. As the internet continues to evolve, users’ expectations for fast and reliable web experiences have only increased. So what can we expect regarding web performance in 2023 and beyond?
1. Mobile-first approach
Mobile devices are rapidly becoming the primary means of accessing the internet. In 2023, over 70% of all internet traffic is expected to come from mobile devices. This means that web developers need to prioritize mobile performance when building websites. A mobile-first approach involves designing and developing for mobile devices first and then scaling up to desktops and other devices.
2. Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)
PWAs are web applications that are designed to provide a native app-like experience. They are fast, reliable, and can be accessed offline. In 2023, PWAs are expected to become more popular as they offer a seamless user experience across devices. PWAs can also improve web performance by reducing page load times and increasing engagement.
3. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)
AI and ML are rapidly transforming web performance. In 2023, AI and ML will optimize web performance by predicting user behavior and providing personalized experiences. AI and ML can also optimize images and videos, reducing page load times and improving the user experience. However, it’s important to remember that this can often add a delay to your app while your AI completes tasks for users.
4. Serverless Architecture
Serverless architecture allows developers to build and run applications without managing servers. In 2023, serverless architecture is expected to become more popular as it can improve web performance by reducing latency and increasing scalability. Serverless architecture can also help reduce costs and improve security.
WebAssembly is a low-level programming language allowing developers to run web code at near-native speeds. In 2023, WebAssembly is expected to become more popular as it can improve web performance by reducing page load times and increasing interactivity. WebAssembly can also run complex applications directly in the browser, such as games and simulations.
Web performance is critical for providing a fast and reliable user experience. In 2023, we can expect to see a continued focus on mobile-first approaches, PWAs, AI and ML, serverless architecture, and WebAssembly. By embracing these trends and insights, web developers can ensure that their websites and applications are optimized for performance and provide a seamless user experience.
If Google’s Prioritizing User Experience, So Should You
Optimizing the media displayed on your site goes a long way in ensuring visitors will find it on a search and engage meaningfully once they’re there.
To adopt automation capabilities and streamline your media-management workflow, consider a tool like Cloudinary’s Programmable Media, which optimizes both the quality and file size of media assets for automatic delivery, all without coding or manual work on your part.
To request more information on the product specifics or additional use cases, visit our Contact Us page. Or, if you’re ready to see Cloudinary’s Programmable Media in action and start planning for the performance improvements for your web-based media, schedule a demo with us.