Q&A: Gary Angel on Page Load Performance and Tag Management, Part 2

Gary Angel is president and CTO of Semphonic, a consultancy that helps companies improve web analytics implementations. Together with Tagman CEO Paul Cook, he’ll present a webinar on Thursday, Sept. 29 entitled “Accelerate Your Website, Accelerate Your Sales”. We caught up with Gary to learn more about what he’ll be discussing, and who should sign up to participate.

This is the second of a two-part interview. You can read Part 1 here.

How do you find out your site has a page load performance problem?

There are a number of services out there that provide really complete monitoring of your page load times. Those range from fairly simple services that are often free. They ping your site, or a couple of pages on your site, and tell you about page load times. There are fancy, more sophisticated and comprehensive services that will ping your site from a variety of locations, including international locations, and do it on a regular basis. They’ll give you back reports that tell you which pages on your site are loading, what your average page load times are, and in some ways even more important that average page load times, how much variation there is.

It’s just not the case that there’s a single number that represents how fast your pages load. It varies a lot depending on where people are coming in from, the time of day, what your server volumes are, what pieces of the site they’re trying to access.  There’s not just one number to look at here, but there are a number of services that provide that kind of information and intelligence on an ongoing basis. It’s not super-expensive for the most part. It’s something companies who are serious about their web site would be well rewarded for investing in.

Are all tag management systems created equal when it comes to increasing site performance?

I don’t think so. Tags in general have become a more significant part of the performance problem. Web analytics tags tend to be some of the heaviest tags on pages. As far as  web analytics goes we have a similar temptation to what I spoke about earlier in terms of user interfaces: it’s natural enough to want to include as much functionality as you can, and sometime that leads to fairly weighty tags. Many tag management systems can actually help reduce the burden tags place on your site.

Many of our enterprise clients don’t have just one tag on their site, they often have half a dozen, 10 or 12 tags. That starts to add up. It’s just one piece of the overall page performance equation, but it’s a very controllable piece.

Most tag management systems give you at least some benefits when it comes to tag loading, but there are very significant differences in the way tag management systems are engineered and the way they take advantage of what’s on the page. Some simply load in a tag governance system but they don’t improve the performance that dramatically.

Then there are ways the tag itself can be engineered to actually improve the performance loads. All those things are significant. The bottom line is the faster your tags can load and still do the job, the more room it gives you to play with the user interface and still have fast-loading pages. It’s definitely a win-win situation where if you can make the measurement component really tight and fast, it gives you more opportunities to do things and experiment and build out your page GUIs without impacting page load times.

Any final thoughts?

One thing that I really wanted to talk about in the webinar is what I often see people not pay enough attention to when they think about page load times. People often over-focus on a few pages on the website. There’s the homepage in particular, and then sometimes the shopping cart functionality. Those are vitally important pages, I’m not going to argue against that. But we have seen sites that were good about optimizing those pages but they let significant performance problems creep into other areas of the site. I’m going to present a case study in the webinar of one client who let that happen to their search functionality. Search is a critical intermediate step between the home page and the shopping cart! Yet it’s not something people really measure on an ongoing basis.

One of the points I want to make is to really explain you need to understand a wide variety of page performance issues across your site. Sometimes there are systems within your site, like search, that will perform dramatically differently than the rest of the site. So it’s really important to look at page load times across the spectrum of pages in your site and try to optimize them – and be aggressive about that.

Please register to attend the Sept. 29 webinar.

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