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Akamai at IRCE 2013

Two weeks ago, a large number of eCommerce professionals converged in Chicago for IRCE 2013.  I was one of the presenters to talk about "Building m-commerce: Different approaches, different outcomes."

There were plenty of instances throughout the conference where the growing mobile traffic and revenue numbers highlighted the importance of delivering fast, quality mobile experiences to consumers.  As most of us know - fast, quality mobile experiences are better for business.


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Yet as most of us also know, delivering fast, quality mobile experiences isn't exactly easy.  The challenges associated with mobile performance are well documented (browsers, network, devices, etc.).  For those who are interested in diving a little deeper into the topic, I recommend watching Ilya Grigorik's Google I/O talk - Mobile Performance from the Radio Up: Battery, Latency and Bandwidth Optimization.

The fact remains shoppers expect fast, quality mobile Web and app experiences and they generally don't know or care about the technological challenges associated with delivering them.  In addition, as we start to think about the latest techniques to engage mobile users such as Responsive Web Design (RWD) these challenges become even greater.  Responsive Web Design is a Web development approach that suggests Web pages should respond to the context in which they're loaded (primarily screen size) and change their user interface accordingly.

So what does delivering large, complex pages to mobile devices mean from an end-user's perspective?  Below is a snapshot of the experience of an end-user visiting a US retailer's RWD site's home page on a variety of different devices/networks.  The conclusion is obvious.  The delivery of a relatively small 700KB site to a mobile device, over wireless networks, has resulted in serious performance shortcomings.

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Optimizing RWD site performance is not easy and requires considerable expertise and resources however.  As mentioned earlier, RWD pages contain the HTML required to display all versions of a Web site, including both mobile and desktop views.  CSS and JavaScript run in the browser and hide or modify the content to fit the screen size.  On smartphones, this often means the browser downloads the entire content needed to display the desktop site, only to have CSS/JS hide the vast majority of it.

The first step to deliver fast, quality RWD sites is to focus on the actual page and the associated objects delivered to the end-user.  As Web performance optimization guru Steve Souder likes to point out: "80-90 percent of end-user response time is spent on the frontend. Start there."

There are a variety of options available to developers looking to overcome the challenges associated with delivering heavy RWD sites.  To start with, move content as close to the end-user as possible (i.e. use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)) and leverage optimal delivery mechanisms such as SPDY that are particularly relevant for wireless networks.  Next, focus on the components of the RWD application; the HTML, images, JavaScript and CSS objects.  To deliver faster pages, focus on:

  • Reducing the number of requests
  • Reducing the number of bytes
  • Accelerating rendering

For a more detailed view of how to actually reduce the number of requests & bytes and accelerate rendering download Akamai's Front-End Optimization primer.

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Independent of your approach to engaging mobile users, it is always worth to remember the following:

  • Deliver consistent, fast, quality web and application experience
  • Adopt your customers' perspective
  • Optimize for mobile first
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