Our team has collectively optimized hundreds of Shopify sites.

We’ve seen a lot, we’ve learned a lot, we share a lot.

We’ve had happy clients (woohoo! ๐Ÿ˜ƒ) and sad clients ๐Ÿ˜ž.

In most cases, the negative experiences we’ve had with a client are either a difference in expectations or a lack of communication on our part.

This post explains what you can expect when optimizing a Shopify site.

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What is Optimization?

Optimization – the action of making the best or most effective use of a situation or resource.

We work primarily in 2 areas of optimization:

  1. Performance optimization
  2. Conversion rate optimization

Performance optimization is the art of making a website faster.

Making a site faster is a mix of technical optimizations (like compression and code changes) and math (loading fewer and smaller resources).

Conversion rate optimization is the art of increasing conversions per user or session.

I’ll focus on performance optimization for this post but if you’re interested in CRO check out this conversion rate optimization guide with proven methods to increase conversions.

What are the benefits of performance optimization?

Improved SEO

Google has indicated that site speed is one of the signals used by its algorithm to rank pages.

Even if you don’t notice a speed perceived speed change, a technically faster site can be measured by search crawlers.

All other things being equal, a faster website will rank better than a slower website.

Better User Experience

Faster sites are more fun to interact with.

Most Shopify sites are pretty good with speed on fast internet connections.

The x-factor is on slower mobile connections. This is demographic that you’ll get the most significant gains from optimization.

Increased Conversion Rate

Making a site faster lowers bounce rates, gets customers to checkout faster, and provides an overall more enjoyable experience. These metrics translate into more conversions.

Increased Customers and Revenue

Those first 3 points lead to more traffic and more orders, which leads to your key bottom line metrics: more customers and more revenue.

What to expect when optimizing a website for speed?

Expect slightly better metrics that will compound over the long term.

Don’t expect huge gains (for most sites).

We’ve made huge gains (some case studies here for example) but most sites will see marginal gains.

Marginal gains yield compounded gains over time, so you still get value even by improving your load speed by half a second.

Shopify is a great platform with a mature ecosystem. The fundamentals are pretty well dialed in already so while your site probably has room for gains, it’s probably performing at least OK.

There are tangible factors that control page load speed:

  • Page weight
  • Number of server requests
  • Speed of server
  • Speed of user’s connection

You can optimize the first 2, not the bottom 2. Server speed is handled by Shopify and user’s connection speed varies.

When you add more images, apps, and elements on your page it’s going to load slower. Optimization can mitigate that extra load time but it’s still going to factor into your overall load speed.

When you do a full optimization, you can expect a slightly faster and more efficient site.

If you order our full service optimization service from us (Entrepreneur package), you can also expect an A score in the Shopify Analyzer or explanations why certain areas are still failing (usually app related).

Analogies: Website optimization is like…

  • Using race fuel instead of low octane gas. Makes a difference but a clunky Geo Metro can’t turn into a Ferrari with just race fuel.
  • Eating nuts and raw veggies vs a big donut for breakfast. You’re not going to be dunking from the freethrow line by eating veggies and nuts, but you’ll perform slightly better. If you replace donuts with veggies every single day, then that slight edge turns into long term gains.
  • Sleeping 8 hours instead of 5 hours. You’re the same person just operating closer to 100% potential vs being sleep deprived.

Summary: optimizing your website will make it faster but won’t make it load instantly.

If that’s not the answer you were looking for, check out Google AMP. It strips your pages and caches them on Google servers, so they load instantly when accessed on a mobile device in Google search.

Learn more here: Shopify AMP Guide.

What can you optimize on a Shopfy site?

There are a variety of tactics to optimize Shopify sites, here are some key areas:

  • Image compression
  • File minification
  • Implement lazy loading
  • Removing old or unused code
  • Fix javascript and console errors
  • Deferring or conditionally loading resources
  • Technical code tactics like resource hints
  • Reducing loaded resources through design changes

The main problem areas we see are usually a ton of store facing apps, uninstalling apps but not removing the code from the theme, and using extra large uncompressed images without responsive loading.

To see our up to date list of common Shopify optimizations check out our optimization services page.

To analyze your site for common Shopify optimizations, run your site through our Shopify Analyzer app.

We also created a Shopify optimization guide so you can see how to optimize yourself if you’d like, and also to see a lot of what we do when optimizing sites.

Here are some common optimization warnings that you might get in general analysis tools, but that might not be a good idea for Shopify stores:

  • Leverage browser caching
  • Critical resources / resource blocking warnings
  • Avoid excessive DOM size
  • Remove unused CSS
  • Serve images in next-gen formats

These are good general principles but usually don’t make sense with a Shopify site, either because you can’t control the code giving the warning or because doing so would be expensive and time consuming with little to no benefit.

To get more details on points like that (and why we don’t invest energy into them on Shopify sites), check the PSI Warning Explanations section from post about Google PSI.

How to measure performance on a Shopify site

Shopify Analyzer

We built this tool to give you a quick overview of what can be optimized on a Shopify site.

Click through on the optimization points to see details and recommendations how to fix.

The scoring system is based on real life data points based on Shopify sites we’ve optimized.

WebPageTest

This is a great tool to use for calculating load speed of your web page.

We use this tool to capture before / after stats during optimization or testing.

There are a lot of factors that determine exact load speed. Most tools will jump around from test to test. WPT is the 1 tool for speed that we found to jump around the least.

WPT is nice too because you can select the connection speed of the emulated test.

We use mobile LTE speed setting when doing tests for optimization, since this is the range of users that will be most affected.

More optimization tools

We primarily use the Shopify Analyzer and WebPageTest for Shopify optimization projects.

Below are some other tools that might give additional insights or ideas when doing a full optimization.

Pingdom

This is a good general tool with a nice easy layout of how your website is loading and what’s contributing to loaded resources.

The load speed jumps around significantly, but can give you a general idea of how fast your site is loading for desktop users.

GTmetrix

This is a good general tool with detailed optimization recommendations.

If you’re on a Shopify site, you can ignore the score, but checking the details can yield some optimization ideas and pinpoint issues.

PageSpeed Insights

This is the most popular general performance analysis tool, probably because it’s sponsored by Google.

We use this occasionally for research but found that it doesn’t work well for eCommerce sites.

Since the score doesn’t correlate to actual speed (case study reference), we don’t use or reference PSI scores.

Note about analysis tools

All of these are automated tools that give algorithmic recommendations (including ours).

You might not be able to get a good store depending on your platform, apps, and website goals. That’s OK, it doesn’t mean your site is bad.

Score on any tool does not equal revenue.

Optimize what you can but don’t sacrifice your overall business goals for a report card.

What is the ROI of performance optimization?

Performance optimization is a lot like search engine optimization – it’s an inexact science.

We can make assumptions on the results of performance optimization by analyzing case studies.

To calculate your estimated ROI based on combining stats from a handful of ecommerce case studies, plug your numbers into our ROI Calculator.

If your site has major issues you may get a nice fat ROI instantly.

If your site has minor issues or is already pretty fast, the ROI would be measured in the long term.

Even a slight improvement of performance should net a positive ROI in the long term, likely from increased SEO rankings and increased conversions for users on a slower connection.

We’ve had clients say their conversion rate increased immediately after we optimized their site. We’ve also had clients that said it didn’t change at all. It’s impossible to predict.

Summary

Should you optimize your site? YES.

Will optimizing your site make it faster? USUALLY.

Will optimizing your site make massive improvements in speed? PROBABLY NOT.

Can you achieve a grade / score of X on a specific tool? MAYBE. Depends on the tool and what you’re willing to sacrifice.

Can optimization guarantee a site to load in X seconds or improve by Y seconds? NO. There are limitations to what can be optimized, especially if you have 3rd party apps.

Should you remove apps to make your store faster? NO. Apps help customer acquisition and revenue.

Do you optimize sites? YES. Check our services here or contact us.

Final words

I recommend optimizing your site as much as possible, but keep in mind the goal of your site is to generate sales, not to have the fastest site in the world.