Are your users dropping their purchase because your product pages are painfully slow? Been there, done that! I mean, in a world where we're accustomed to buying almost anything online, your users can't stand to wait for your WooCommerce pages to load. Besides that, Google will also retouch your rankings pretty hard and position your pages down under. Or even worse, to the second page.
According to latest usability research, users begin to drop off a site when its response time is longer than 2.5 seconds! Just to give you a real-world example: a 100ms load time increase for Amazon would result in 1% loss of their revenues.
That's all to say speed isn't just the icing on the cake, something you could ignore when you run a WooCommerce store. Speed and performance optimization has to be one of the pillars your store's maintenance is built upon.
So the question is: how long do your WooCommerce product pages take to load? Are they fast enough for your users to buy?
If you're not sure what to answer here, or just have no idea where to look at to fix your slow product pages, here are five things for you to check out and see if they're causing your pages to lag!
Let's dive in...
The "size matters" side
The overall size of the product page contributes a lot to the speed at which it loads. As a rule of thumb, if your product page is loaded with images and is more than 2MB, it'll surely affect the loading speed and will stall your website. WordPress Developer and Codeable expert Robin Scott explains how to determine if your pages are too heavy:
If you need to check whether your page is heavy (or not), what I would do is run a page test on tools.pingdom.com. That will tell you the size of the whole page (HTML and images). Just as a rule of thumb, if your page is 10 MB or even 20 MB, which can happen in a store that has a lot of gallery pictures, it's just too big and almost always because of too many, very large images.
When you want not only to fix but also improve your WooCommerce store's performance, you always need to start by collecting the data related to your pages. This way you'll earn a more detailed and precise picture of whether something is clogging up your product pages on the frontend and plan how to fix it accordingly.
The "good hosting vs bad hosting" side
I can't stress this even enough: a good hosting service plays a major role in the amount of time your product pages take to load. It is vital to choose a reputable host so that your site is not marred by lag issues. On this matter, Robin names some of these hosting providers:
It's best to use one provider that's demonstrated itself to be effective for hosting WordPress and WooCommerce websites. There are probably four off the top of my head that are very good. These are all the managed hosts. We got Cloudways, we got WP Engine, we got Kinsta and then there is Pantheon as well. Those four, I will basically be happy to fully endorse them as being unlikely to be the problem if you've got slowness in the frontend.
This slowing down might not necessarily be blamed on the host all the times, rather on how your host handles requests or how it's configured, as Robin further elaborates:
It's not necessarily that you've got a bad host, but potentially you're using too many resources. Let's say there are too many concurrent connections. Which is people all accessing the website at the same time, or more to the point, transactions all happening at the same time.
You can optimize a lot of things and aspects in your WooCommerce store to make your product pages faster, but if "the engine" isn't able to perform at maximum speed, you'll see little tangible improvements. Investing in a more robust provider, with higher-performance servers stack and optimized configuration, is an effective way to prevent future headaches in the long run while getting almost immediately speed boots.
The "caching setup" side
Roughly speaking, caching is a process that speeds up website loading times by storing webpage data temporarily and bringing it up when requested, instead of loading the whole site again. As you can easily imagine, how your caching solution is set up directly affects your store and pages' speed, either for good or for bad. As Robin further stresses developers often ask questions about your caching configuration:
One aspect that I'd suggest to look into - or have an expert do that for you - is 'Have you got caching set up properly?' because that's something you have to have correctly configured. Whether it is WP Rocket, W3 Total Cache or, if you're using a good managed WordPress hostings, they come with their own pre-rolled caching systems which are, to save a long conversation, pretty good.
These outlined above are pretty common elements to always check when your product pages seem slow on the frontend. Of course, they're far from being the only ones you could perform on your WooCommerce store to optimize its performance.
In fact, if your store handles lots of transactions, visitors, and requests, you might want to focus on the backend as well and check if it's is underperforming. Specifically, on advanced techniques that have to do with your database.
The "larger store" side
With large WooCommerce stores, the fixes are different because the dynamics of these stores are different and there are much more technicalities involved. One of the options for bigger sites is database optimization, with a key role played by a change in the database engine that's been used since. Robin points out:
For large stores with lots of orders and lots of products, there are some advanced database techniques that can speed up the way that WordPress works once it gets to a very large size. They have zero impact on a small store. Changing the database storage engine is one of them. In fact, MySQL has changed it's default storage engine quite a while ago (MyISAM), and stores now could benefit greatly by using the storage engine InnoDB. This is a simplified description, as there’s more to do in the database to make a larger store faster, but it’s really a developer-level conversation, and can get very advanced. Larger stores should pay a developer who knows WordPress and WooCommerce to optimize their database.
These optimization procedures, as well as doing some clean up on the WordPress options table, will bring in a very noticeable speed impact.
The "Now what?!" side
If you've checked off all the aforementioned things, and everything is up-to-date chances are your theme or a plugin or several plugins are either misconfigured, or there's something wrong happening in the system. As Robin highlights:
If despite these steps, your website performance doesn't improve, it might be time to call in a specialist to look over the site and help you figure out what's wrong.
Is WooCommerce a slow software, in the end?
Speaking about WooCommerce and speed brings up a whole different story here, as there's a school of thought that thinks WooCommerce isn't the right piece of software to handle big eCommerce stores. The main reason? Because - they say - it doesn't scale well. But that's just a short answer to a deeper question related to the software ability to adapt and grow smoothly when visits, transactions, queries, database records, and so on, exponentially increase.
As Robin explains, such short answer is biased:
It was mentioned at a conference two years ago that WooCommerce doesn't scale particularly well; it kind of is slow is the short answer. To that, I'd say that yes, out of the box and without performing database optimizations, as you get bigger, it will get slow. But it's worth saying the database is being improved: WooCommerce 3.0 brought a load of problems. It broke stores. But the reason it did that was to create an environment that can be much faster in future. Overall, there are improvements being made and there are some massive improvements coming. But even now, we are comparing WooCommerce favourably with the very best hosted eCommerce platforms, because it's a great software, and a real market leader: it can stand up to this level of competition.
With a strong and growing market share of 28% of all online stores, WooCommerce is the most adopted eCommerce platform worldwide. As any other living piece of software, it is under constant development to bring in better performances and a more stable environment. Given that, though, if you're experiencing slow product pages with your store, it won't be that easy to fix them as many factors have either directly or indirectly an impact on them.
But that doesn't have to stop you from acting on them, whether yourself or with the help of an experienced developer, because it's your business and your revenue the elements that are ultimately at stake here!
This blog post features Robin Scott, an experienced WordPress developer who's also one of the founders of Silicon Dales, an agency focused on WordPress, WooCommerce, and a variety of other services. Robin has specialized in several areas such as Custom Plugins, Gravity Forms, Hosting Transfer, Maintenance, and WooCommerce Extensions, just to name a few.