A whitepaper by Darrell Wilkins on 08 Oct 2021
Summary: Most people define website performance as the measurement and optimisation of page load times. But this narrow view hinders your firm's ability to achieve the high performance site your FinTech business needs. Start by properly articulating what high performance means and learn the steps needed to achieve it.
Every business wants its website to perform well. And this is especially true in FinTech where you need every competitive advantage you can get.
Yet despite an intrinsic understanding that you need “High Performance” from your site, you likely can’t define what it means. And if you can, your definition is likely incomplete.
To build a best-in-class FinTech site, you need:
- A clear definition of high performance;
- To understand what building a high-performance site entails; and
- To know how to set yourself up for success.
Website Performance Isn’t Just About Speed.
Most people define website performance as the measurement and optimisation of site speed. More precisely, the time it takes pages to load and become interactive. Improving load times is a worthwhile goal and has many benefits, but this doesn’t go nearly far enough.
Under2 defines a high-performance website as one that does what it was designed to do brilliantly. Of course, the key phrase here is ‘what it was designed to do’, but more on that later.
The discrepancy between the standard definition of performance and ours stems from the traditional technically led nature of web performance.
The faster, the better.
But as web performance experts know, page load speed should more correctly be seen as a foundational aspect of a site’s User Experience (UX). And it’s the overall experience a user has which affects how a site performs.
Google agrees. Way back in 2016, it added Lighthouse into Chrome. Lighthouse analyses websites and gives performance scores for aspects like SEO and accessibility — and yes, site speed. This tool is a window into what Google considers important when ranking your site’s pages. Since Lighthouse’s introduction, we’ve seen Google move away from pure speed-based metrics and towards those that better represent the overall UX.
Of course, speed is a significant component of UX. So it’s not that the traditional definition of website performance is wrong. It’s correct, but it’s just too narrow. A blank page will load incredibly fast, but it is also pretty useless. Site speed alone is not enough to define high performance.
A Better Definition for High Performance
So how do we accurately define an enterprise-scale, high-performance website?
The key is building a site that does what it was designed to do. After all, a website is (or should be) a solution to a business problem. That might be to generate leads, reduce support costs, attract new staff, or impress investors. Unless you define the problems you are solving, the whole premise of achieving high performance is meaningless.
So start with defining what your site needs to do really, really well. Build a solid foundation and then optimise a few specifics until you achieve the high-performance you are looking for.
5 Common Traits of High Performance Websites
Reading a definition is one thing, but to truly understand what high performance means, it’s helpful to look at some of the things successful high performance websites have in common:
- Clear goals
- Great data
- Solid foundations
- Regular measurement and continuous improvement
- A focus on outcomes
1. High Performance Websites Start with Clear Goals
One of our favourite questions to ask when speaking to a client or prospect is, “Why do you have a website?”
You’d be surprised at how many don’t have a good answer. It takes time, effort and good research to uncover what matters to your business and your users. It’s often not what you assume it is. But without the research , it’s impossible to set meaningful objectives for what your site needs to achieve. Many avoid the hard work of strategy and goal setting and skip to the sexy visual design stuff, which is much more fun.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to start a web build before you know why you are doing it and what you have to achieve. And without clear goals, it is tough to keep your team focused and accountable.
A well-designed site balances the businesses goals with users’ needs. One without the other does not add up to a high-performance site. Web performance guru Tammy Everts talks eloquently about mapping specific business goals to web performance metrics.
Be more visible → SEO metrics
More sales → Conversion rate
Higher engagement → Bounce rate & time on site
Reduce recruitment costs → Jobs applied for directly
Improve support → User retention & user happiness
And there are many more KPIs you can consider. Do your research to determine which metrics are most important to your site and where you’ll place your benchmarks. Again, it’ll take considerable effort to discern a goal that suits your business and user needs, but it’s the only way to work towards a genuine high-performance site.
2. You Must Have Great Data to Measure Performance
As Peter Drucker is credited as saying “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” So if you’re trying to increase leads, but you’re not measuring conversions, how will you know if your site is solving the problem it exists to solve?
Figure out the problem you’re trying to solve, set appropriate goals to ensure you’re working towards a solution, and track the right metric(s) to see your progress.
Optimisation towards a goal requires a deep understanding of who is using your site and what they’re trying to accomplish. But once you know, it’s simple to measure your success rate in giving it to them.
A word of warning about analytics. There is a temptation to add all sorts of analytics and tracking software to your site in an attempt to get more data. Don’t do this. Apart from the negative effect it will have on site speed, you almost certainly don’t need it.
Once you work out the 3 or 4 KPI’s you will be tracking, you’ll soon realise that even Google Analytics is massively overkill.
3. To Get High Performance, First Build Solid Foundations
You have your goal. You have the infrastructure in place to measure the right metrics so you know if you’re meeting that goal. Now you need solid foundations on which you can optimise towards success.
These foundations include a well chosen tech stack, a quality hosting service, on page and technical SEO, good UX and aesthetics, and an appropriate CMS to enable your content strategy. You don’t have to do all these basics perfectly, but you must get all of them to a certain minimum standard.
Why? Because there’s no point optimising for search on a site that doesn't convert visitors into leads and eventually into customers. And it's a waste of time optimising conversions on a site that doesn’t appear in search results. Not getting the foundations right can indirectly get in the way of your goals, too. If your content people struggle to use the CMS, they are less likely to update the site. Or if your hosting sucks, your site is slow or goes down, brand experience is affected. Both will count against your goals — no matter what they are.
These considerations may seem elementary — and they are. But it’s far too easy to overlook them and jump to the flaisher and fun parts of creating a site. Don’t fall into this trap. Poor foundations are the number one cause of poor performance.
If you do have bad foundations, there are always things you can do to improve. But the later you try to fix a foundational issue, the more expensive it will be. If you really want a high performance site you need to make the right choices at the beginning.
4. Regular Measurement and Continuous Improvement Are Non-Negotiable
Regular measurement and improvement are the most overlooked — and arguably the most important — traits of a high performance website.
You should always strive to optimise your site based on what your data is telling you. In fact, most of the work on your site should happen post-launch. More on this later.
For now, know that the importance of measurement and improvement again require you to get the foundations right. That way, when you optimise your site and improve performance, you’re not wasting your time.
5. Focus on Outcomes Over Visual Design or Technology
While most people (wrongly) focus on visual design and technology selection, what really drives high performance are usually small, hidden and, frankly, boring optimisations that happen over time.
Your CMS selection, image choices, or latest beautifully designed PDF may all have a small impact on success. Often though, small technical changes to page structure or gaining an insight from a user test will lead to far better results. Focus on what works, not on the obvious or what’s easy and you’ll see more success.
Barriers to a High-Performance FinTech Website
Understanding and then creating a high-performance website isn’t as simple as incorporating the common traits above. Roadblocks still exist for many companies — roadblocks that have less to do with action items like setting goals and more to do with your company’s mindset around web development It’s possible that:
- Your company’s culture stifles a high-performance mindset.
- You view web development or performance as a sprint (short term project) when it’s a marathon (a long term investment).
- You think off-the-shelf solutions will get you to high performance.
The good news is that if you can include the common traits and sidestep these barriers, you’ll have genuinely grasped what high performance means for your firm’s site.
Achieving a High-Performance Website is a Cultural, Not a Technical Problem
In many ways, the technical choices are easy next to the internal politics of an organisation. Tech industry management coach Lara Hogan says it best: “The largest hurdle to creating and maintaining stellar site performance is the culture of your organisation.”
Too often, an individual or even a whole team of people take on the role of “performance cops.” But, unfortunately, the culture is such that these “cops” exist only to call out what others are doing wrong and how it’s hurting web performance — basically slapping people on the wrists.
That’s not an empowering culture. And it won’t result in a high-performance website. So instead, aim to be a performance educator. Be productive with your feedback by asking how specific tasks might affect performance.
We would advocate for a website performance champion within your organisation’s leadership. Even better, hire a CWO, a chief website officer, to evangelise best practices. All FinTech firms who are serious about creating an enterprise-scale high-performance site should hire for this role.
A high-level champion can influence the culture and change it when necessary, so the importance of web performance permeates throughout your company. Get to a place where everyone understands why performance matters, not just web engineers.
There are other ways to inspire a high-performance culture within your company. First, find out what people in your organisation care about and map that to a corresponding performance metric. For example, performance affects the quantity and quality of conversion such leads generated. If you put it in those terms to your marketing and salespeople, you turn them from roadblocks to performance advocates.
Long-Term Web Performance Success Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Most companies spend the majority of their effort and budget on their website’s initial design and build. But much of this is often a waste. Why? Because they don’t understand what their customers need from their site and haven’t articulated goals to match. Consequently, they create sites with content and features based on supposition — not data. As a result, they are effectively guessing at the solution to their business problems.
Say you do the work to define your goal by leveraging quality user research. You’ll likely still be wide of the mark (although closer than others who skip research entirely). To hit that mark, you must build your website, test it, refine it, and repeat — relentlessly.
Since website performance, in particular, is not a one time project but rather an ongoing concern, you need to put more resources into your site post-launch than you do during that initial build. That way, when your business inevitably changes, you can afford to change your site alongside it.
You will never be done building your website. At least not if you want a high-performance site.
High-Performance Websites Are Custom, Not Off-the-Shelf
You might think buying something off-the-shelf is similar to building from scratch because it looks the same on the front end. But it’s much harder to get a customised template-based site to perform at a high level than using tools and techniques that bake performance.
Sure, WordPress has a lot of plugin capabilities, and that’s tempting when you’re trying to get your site launched as quickly as possible. Of course, you can add features quickly, but (just like those analytics packages) adding these plugins is almost always bad for performance.
Building the features your company and users need requires the carefully considered, studious work we discussed before. You often have to compromise creative vision for effectiveness and accept that high performance isn’t cool or sexy. It’s hard work. But a bespoke, built for purpose site gives you the flexibility and data to get to our definition of high performance. A website that does what it was designed to do brilliantly well.
To Get a High-Performance Website, You Need Expert Help
To attain this kind of bespoke site that’s tuned to your FinTech firm’s needs, you obviously can’t go with an off-the-shelf solution. But building a site from the ground up also requires a long-term commitment from experts.
Yes, it’s a more significant investment than the customised template option. That said, if you have customers with lifetime values measured in the £millions, then losing just one from a bad site experience is a huge missed opportunity. Conversely, one extra sale because of a positive website interaction means a considerable ROI.
If your FinTech company is ready to have an actual high-performance website, Under2 would love to serve as those committed experts for you.
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