Optimization - pupul.ir pupuol

Optimization - pupul.ir pupuol
Advance Praise for Website Optimization
“Andy King has drawn attention to the inherent synergy between search engine
marketing and web page performance. Andy is a thought leader and genuinely understands the complexity of website optimization. The depth of research and experience in
this book is astonishing. This book is a must-have for best practices to optimize your
website and maximize profit.”
— Tenni Theurer, Engineering Manager, Yahoo! Exceptional
“Thoughtful and rich in examples, this book will be a useful reference for website
— Vint Cerf, Internet pioneer
“Andy King has done it again! His latest book will help make your website better, faster,
and more findable. This is destined to become the definitive guide to web optimization.”
— Peter Morville, author of Ambient Findability and coauthor of
Information Architecture for the World Wide Web
“Website Optimization brings together the science, the art, and the business of Internet
marketing in a complete way. From persuasion paths to search engine algorithms, from
web page load performance to pay-per-click campaign management, and from organic
search ranking metrics to multivariate testing, this book is a resource that goes from soup
to nuts.”
— Jim Sterne, emetrics.org
“Andy King has distilled years of research and experience into a cohesive approach
designed to get maximum value from your website. The book explains what measurable
objectives to focus upon to increase website traffic and improve the value of the experience
to your customers and your bottom line. Andy King provides a comprehensive set of
concrete, practice-oriented principles, strategies, experimental methods and metrics illustrated with clear studies that provide the know-how to achieve your objectives. To me, as a
researcher, what is particularly impressive is how all of this is backed by scientific studies
and how the approach is rooted in experimental techniques and quantifiable metrics for
engineering the best website possible.”
— Peter Pirolli, PARC Research Fellow and author of Information
Foraging Theory
“I’ve never met anyone who didn’t want more traffic, sales, or leads to their website. This
is the first book to cover optimization from high-level concepts down to code-level details.
WSO will guide you through the world of SEO and Pay Per Click to bring you more traffic,
and breaks down the many things you can do to your website to make sure your visitor
takes action. The first step, though, is for you to take action and do the things WSO tells
you to do and buy this book.”
— Bryan Eisenberg, bestselling author of Call to Action and Always Be
“Andy has combined theoretical best practices with real-world examples, making Website
Optimization a ‘must read’ for anyone who cares about their site’s technical quality. As
someone who has worked optimizing some of the largest websites in the world, everyone
who cares about site performance has something to learn from this book.”
— Ben Rushlo, Senior Manager of Keynote Performance Consulting
Website Optimization
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Website Optimization
Andrew B. King
Beijing • Cambridge • Farnham • Köln • Sebastopol • Taipei • Tokyo
Website Optimization
by Andrew B. King
Copyright © 2008 Andrew B. King. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America.
Published by O’Reilly Media, Inc., 1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472.
O’Reilly books may be purchased for educational, business, or sales promotional use. Online editions
are also available for most titles (safari.oreilly.com). For more information, contact our
corporate/institutional sales department: (800) 998-9938 or [email protected]
Editor: Simon St.Laurent
Production Editor: Rachel Monaghan
Copyeditor: Audrey Doyle
Proofreader: Rachel Monaghan
Indexer: Lucie Haskins
Cover Designer: Karen Montgomery
Interior Designer: David Futato
Illustrator: Jessamyn Read
Printing History:
July 2008:
First Edition.
Nutshell Handbook, the Nutshell Handbook logo, and the O’Reilly logo are registered trademarks of
O’Reilly Media, Inc. Website Optimization, the image of a common nighthawk, and related trade dress
are trademarks of O’Reilly Media, Inc.
Many of the designations used by manufacturers and sellers to distinguish their products are claimed as
trademarks. Where those designations appear in this book, and O’Reilly Media, Inc. was aware of a
trademark claim, the designations have been printed in caps or initial caps.
While every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this book, the publisher and author assume
no responsibility for errors or omissions, or for damages resulting from the use of the information
contained herein.
This book uses RepKover™, a durable and flexible lay-flat binding.
ISBN: 978-0-596-51508-9
Table of Contents
Foreword . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xi
Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xv
Part I.
Search Engine Marketing Optimization
1. Natural Search Engine Optimization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
The Benefits of SEO
Core SEO Techniques
Ten Steps to Higher Search Engine Rankings
2. SEO Case Study: PhillyDentistry.com . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
Original Site
First Redesign: Mid-2004
Second Redesign: Late 2007
3. Pay-per-Click Optimization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55
Pay-per-Click Basics and Definitions
Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Everybody Else
Goal Setting, Measurement, Analytics Support, and Closing the Loop
Keyword Discovery, Selection, and Analysis
Organizing and Optimizing Ad Groups
Optimizing Pay-per-Click Ads
Optimizing Landing Pages
Optimizing Bids
Other Pay-per-Click Issues
4. PPC Case Study: BodyGlove.com . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103
Body Glove PPC Optimization
5. Conversion Rate Optimization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111
The Benefits of CRO
Best Practices for CRO
Top 10 Factors to Maximize Conversion Rates
Staging Your CRO Campaign
Part II. Web Performance Optimization
6. Web Page Optimization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 155
Common Web Page Problems
How to Optimize Your Web Page Speed
7. CSS Optimization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 186
Build on a CSS Architecture
Top 10 Tips for Optimizing CSS
8. Ajax Optimization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 216
Common Problems with Ajax
Ajax: New and Improved JavaScript Communications
Proper Application of Ajax
Rolling Your Own Ajax Solution
Relying on Ajax Libraries
JavaScript Optimization
Minimizing HTTP Requests
Choosing Data Formats Wisely
Addressing the Caching Quandary of Ajax
Addressing Network Robustness
Understanding the Ajax Architecture Effect
Table of Contents
9. Advanced Web Performance Optimization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 257
Server-Side Optimization Techniques
Client-Side Performance Techniques
10. Website Optimization Metrics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 297
Website Success Metrics
Types of Web Analytics Software
Search Engine Marketing Metrics
Web Performance Metrics
Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 349
Table of Contents
“How do we make our website better?”
I’ve been answering that question for 15 years and had to write eight books on the
subject to lay it all out. But I could not have written this book.
“What should we measure on our website?”
I’ve been answering that question for eight years and had to write a book on the subject, create a category-dominating conference, and start a professional association to
lay it all out. But I could not have written this book.
I wrote about strategy and philosophy. I blazed a trail of logic and common sense,
bringing marketing and technology together in the service of customer centricity and
increased profitability. At least that’s what I told myself.
I spouted opinion, conjecture, perspective, and punditry. To others, I said that this
was a Brave New World and that although the jury may be out, the insight was obvious. I created 10,000 PowerPoint slides showing the good, the bad, and the ugly in
an attempt to diminish the quantity and grief of aggravating encounters with electronic brochures laden with bad electronic penmanship.
When pressed for examples and case studies, I pointed to the newness and shininess
of the art and practice of Internet marketing and declared that companies that had a
clue and had figured out best practices were not talking. It was all too secret sauce
and competitive edge to give away to potential competitors.
Today, we not only have examples, but we also have experiments and documentation.
The result is scholarship.
One of the things that sets Website Optimization apart from the articles, white papers,
blogs, books, and pundits is that it taps all of those to deliver a well-considered, wellresearched, well-organized treatise on how to get the most out of your online
This book brings philosophy, strategy, and tactical advice together, dressed up like
avuncular guidance but incorporating a decade of emergent research. It lays out all
the issues to consider and cites seminal sources. When you come across a passage
that intrigues or something you need to implement right now, you can follow the
thread to the source, drill down, and dive deep.
But that’s just one of the things that sets this book apart. The other is its scope.
The history of online marketing started with the technology. Business people first had
to understand what the Internet was and how it worked—technically. Then came
the difficult task of understanding Internet culture. The gift economy, Permission
Marketing, The Cluetrain Manifesto, and the desire of web surfers to share and
commune all had to be assimilated and folded into marketing programs and web
development efforts. But something was lost along the way: marketing. Good oldfashioned advertising, marketing, and sales skills that have been around since John
Wannamaker invented the price tag.
A whole generation of web designers, information architects, and customer experience engineers missed those classes in school and haven’t been in their careers long
enough to have absorbed the lessons that those who did not grow up with their own
domain names have lived and breathed for generations.
Those who can code Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) in their sleep and use Twitter to
update their Facebook friends about the most viral YouTube videos are not familiar
with phrases such as “unique sales proposition,” “risk reversal,” and “solution selling.” They are in need of this book.
Those who remember three-martini lunches on Madison Avenue are still uncomfortable with link equity, robots.txt files, and Google analytics page tags. They need this
Website Optimization brings together the science, the art, and the business of Internet marketing in a complete way—if you’ll excuse the expression, in a textbook way.
From persuasion paths to search engine algorithms, from web page load performance to pay-per-click campaign management, and from organic search-ranking
metrics to multivariate testing, this book is a resource that goes from soup to nuts.
My advice? Do not read this book. Spend a day scanning this book with a pad of yellow sticky notes at hand. You will repeatedly find topics that you want to explore in
depth—passages you will want to read again and pages you will take to the copy
machine to spread liberally around your company.
Website Optimization is the book that will help you make the case to your boss—and
her boss—for more resources to help you make the most of your online investment.
How do you make your website better? Start on page 1.
—Jim Sterne
Jim Sterne is an international speaker on electronic marketing and customer interaction. A consultant to Fortune 500 companies and entrepreneurs, Sterne focuses his
25 years of experience in sales and marketing on measuring the value of the Internet
as a medium for creating and strengthening customer relationships. Sterne has written eight books on Internet advertising, marketing, and customer service, including
Web Metrics: Proven Methods for Measuring Web Site Success. Sterne is the producer
of the annual eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit (http://www.emetrics.org/)
and is the founding president and current chairperson of the Web Analytics Association (http://www.WebAnalyticsAssociation.org/).
“We’ve had a website for years now, but it hardly pays for itself.”
“Our site’s pulling in more than 30% of our revenue, at a far lower cost than our
other venues.”
There’s a world of difference between these two very real Internet experiences. Yet they
provide a window into the landscape of web survival that plays out daily. Success is the
result of a multitude of adaptations to this constantly changing environment. The fate of
companies worldwide is at stake, yet few players grasp the full scope of the problem.
Fewer still can clearly and thoroughly articulate its solution: website optimization.
Ultimately, website optimization (WSO) is about maximizing the (usually financial)
return on a website investment. Research shows that attaining that ultimate goal is
dependent upon fulfilling a set of known benchmarks, including making the site easier to find, easier to use, faster, more aesthetically pleasing, cheaper to run, and more
compelling. Site stakeholders need accurate resources that spell out best-in-class,
proven strategies and methods to reach those benchmarks, and thereby attain success.
I wrote this book to fill this need. By reading it, you will learn a comprehensive set of
optimization techniques for transforming your website into a more successful profitgeneration machine. You’ll save money by shifting your marketing budget from hit-ormiss mass marketing to highly targeted, online marketing with measurable results.
WSO will teach you how to engage more customers by making your site more
compelling and easier for search engine users to find. Part I, Search Engine Marketing
Optimization, will teach you how to use natural search engine optimization (SEO),
pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, and conversion rate optimization (CRO) to boost
your site’s visibility and convert browsers into buyers. Part II, Web Performance
Optimization, will help you optimize your HTML, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS),
multimedia, and Ajax to improve response times and reliability. You will learn that
these two components of WSO have synergistic effects; faster sites convert more
users, save money on bandwidth bills, and even improve potential search engine
rankings, while search-friendly sites built with standards-based CSS are faster and
more accessible.
Taken as a whole, WSO is a discipline of efficiency. Optimal search marketing makes
the most of advertising budgets by boosting rankings, click-through rates (CTRs),
and landing-page conversion rates. Optimum website performance makes the most
efficient use of limited bandwidth and short attention spans. You’ll learn how to
achieve an important key to website success: balancing aesthetic appeal with responsiveness, while delivering a persuasive message.
The secrets to successful sites are contained in these pages. This book breaks ground
by gathering disparate and seemingly unrelated disciplines under one marquee: website optimization. If you master the techniques that you’ll find here, you will achieve
website success.
Who Should Read This Book
This book is intended for three distinct groups:
• Web marketers
• Web developers
• Managers (project managers, business managers, site owners, etc.)
Different parts of the book are designed for these different audiences.
Web Marketers
For web marketers, this book assumes the following:
• You have some familiarity with SEO and the terminology thereof.
• You know what PPC, CPC, CTR, and ROI stand for and how they work.
• You understand that improving conversion rates is important to website success.
• You are comfortable with using metrics to guide your decision making.
Web Developers
Web developers will find it helpful to have an understanding of:
• CSS rule syntax and the principles behind the separation of presentation from
• JavaScript programming
• Server-side scripting and modifying server configuration files
xvi |
This book does not assume that you are an expert in all of these areas, but it does
assume that you are able to figure these things out on your own, or that you can
consult other resources to help you follow the examples. Server-side examples are generally done in PHP or text-based server configuration files. The figures (most of which
are reproduced in color) as well as key code examples and chapter summaries are available on this book’s companion website:
Managers need not be versed in all of the prerequisites just described, but we assume
that you have some familiarity with SEM and the process of website development.
Managers will probably want to spend more time on the book’s first two chapters on
SEO best practices, as well as on Chapter 5, to find out how to make the most of
existing traffic. The introduction to Part II of the book shows how the psychology of
performance, the size and complexity of web pages, and response time guidelines
have changed over time. Finally, this book expects that Internet terms and phrases
are familiar so that you can follow along with the examples provided.
How This Book Is Organized
This book has 10 chapters and consists of two parts, each focusing on different yet
synergistic aspects of WSO: SEM and web performance. It is not necessary to read
the book sequentially, although some chapters build on previous chapters (e.g.,
Chapters 2 and 4).
Part I, Search Engine Marketing Optimization, which comprises the first five chapters
of the book, is for web marketers who want to increase the visibility and conversion
rates of their sites. Part II, Web Performance Optimization, composed of the next four
chapters, is designed for web developers who want to speed up their sites.
Chapter 10 bridges the two topics. It explains how the effects of search engine marketing and web performance tuning can be quantified and optimized.
Part I
Part I, Search Engine Marketing Optimization, explains how to use best-practice
techniques to boost the search engine visibility and conversion rate of your website.
It consists of the following:
Introduction to Part I, Search Engine Marketing Optimization
Briefly explores the behavior of users as they interact with search engine result
pages, and how tight, front-loaded headlines and summaries help to improve
natural referrals and PPC conversions for search result pages.
Preface |
Chapter 1, Natural Search Engine Optimization
Shows best practices for improving organic search engine visibility, as well as
how to overcome the most common barriers to high rankings. The chapter demonstrates the 10 steps you can take to achieve high rankings, including writing
optimized title tags, targeting specific keywords, and building popular inbound
links. You’ll learn how to “bake in” keywords, as well as the importance of using
your primary keyphrase.
Chapter 2, SEO Case Study: PhillyDentistry.com
Demonstrates the benefits of natural SEO and best-practice WSO techniques. In
this chapter, you’ll see how CRO, credibility-based design, natural SEO, and a
dash of PPC were used to increase the number of new clients for a business by a
factor of 47.
Chapter 3, Pay-per-Click Optimization, written by the team at Pure Visibility Inc.
Explains how to boost the ROI of your paid-search advertising campaigns.
You’ll learn how to become a successful PPC optimizer by developing targeted
campaigns based on profit-driven goals. Through ad copy, auction bids, and
landing-page optimization, you will maximize CTRs and increase conversions
within a set budget.
Chapter 4, PPC Case Study: BodyGlove.com, written by the team at Pure Visibility Inc.
Demonstrates best-practice PPC and CRO techniques. In this example, PPC and
landing-page optimization increased conversions by more than 600%.
Chapter 5, Conversion Rate Optimization, written by Matt Hockin and Andrew B. King
Reveals the top 10 factors to maximize the conversion rate of your site. You’ll
learn how to use persuasive copywriting and credibility-based web design to turn
your website into a more efficient sales tool. Through benefit-oriented copy,
applied psychology, and source credibility, you can persuade visitors to take positive action and increase their desire to buy. This chapter also shows how to craft
a unique selling proposition, use risk reversal, and leverage value hierarchies to
get visitors to act.
Part II
Part II, Web Performance Optimization, discusses how to optimize the response time
of your website:
Introduction to Part II, Web Performance Optimization
Explores the benefits of high-performance websites and shows the effects of slow
response times on user psychology. It provides perspective with average web
page trends such as how the “speed tax” of object overhead dominates today’s
web page delays. You’ll learn why the 8- to 10-second rule has diverged into the
haves and have-nots as broadband has become more widespread. You’ll also discover new response time guidelines based on the latest research.
xviii |
Chapter 6, Web Page Optimization
Reveals how web page optimization is not only about raw speed, but also about
managing the user’s experience. We’ll show you how to streamline your pages
so that they download and display faster. This chapter offers the top 10 web performance tips as well as a list of common problems to avoid. It covers HTML
optimization, minimizing HTTP requests, graphics and multimedia optimization, and loading JavaScript asynchronously with an emphasis on standardsbased design.
Chapter 7, CSS Optimization
Reveals how to optimize and modularize your CSS to streamline your HTML by up
to 50%. You will learn the top 10 tips for optimizing CSS, including shorthand
properties and grouping, leveraging descendant selectors to replace inline style, and
substituting CSS techniques for JavaScript behavior. This chapter also demonstrates how you can create CSS sprites, how to make CSS drop-down menus, how
to use reset stylesheets, and how best to use CSS2.1 and CSS3 techniques.
Chapter 8, Ajax Optimization, written by Thomas A. Powell
Demystifies the emerging technology that is Ajax, and explores ways to optimize
JavaScript code and make Ajax applications more robust. Optimized use of JavaScript updates portions of pages asynchronously, boosts interactivity, and increases
conversion rates. This chapter features example code, criteria for evaluating Ajax
libraries, pointers on parallelism, and the advantages of different data formats.
Chapter 9, Advanced Web Performance Optimization
Explores advanced server-side and client-side techniques for improving performance. Server-side techniques include improving parallelism, using cache control and HTTP compression, rewriting URLs, and using delta compression for
RSS feeds. Client-side techniques include lazy-loading JavaScript, loading
resources on demand, using progressive enhancement, and using inline images
with data URIs to save HTTP requests.
Chapter 10
Chapter 10 bridges the topics covered in Parts I and II:
Chapter 10, Website Optimization Metrics, written by David Artz, Daniel Shields, and
Andrew B. King
Illustrates the best metrics and tools for optimizing both search marketing campaigns and website performance. Here you’ll learn the mantra “Data trumps
intuition,” how to use controlled experiments to compare website alternatives,
how to maximize website success measures, and the importance of minimizing
response time variability. This chapter also explains best-practice metrics such as
PathLoss and cost per conversion, as well as presenting performance tools such as
waterfall graphs and Pagetest to quash problems before they become trends.
| xix
Conventions Used in This Book
The following typographical conventions are used in this book:
Indicates new terms, URLs, filenames, file extensions, and occasionally, emphasis and keyword phrases.
Constant width
Indicates computer coding in a broad sense. This includes commands, options,
variables, attributes, keys, requests, functions, methods, types, classes, modules,
properties, parameters, values, objects, events, event handlers, XML and
XHTML tags, macros, and keywords.
Constant width bold
Indicates commands or other text that the user should type literally.
Constant width italics
Indicates text that should be replaced with user-supplied values or values determined by context.
This icon signifies a tip, suggestion, or general note.
This icon indicates a warning or caution.
Using Code Examples
This book is intended to help you optimize your website. In general, you may use the
code in this book in your programs and documentation.
You do not need to contact the publisher for permission unless you are reproducing
a significant portion of the code. For example, if you are writing a program that uses
several chunks of code from this book you are not required to secure our permission. Answering a question by citing this book and quoting example code does not
require permission.
Incorporating a significant amount of example code from this book into your product’s documentation does require permission. Selling or distributing a CD-ROM of
examples from O’Reilly books does require permission.
xx |
We appreciate, but do not require, attribution. An attribution usually includes the title,
author, publisher, and ISBN. For example: “Website Optimization, by Andrew B. King.
Copyright 2008 Andrew B. King, 978-0-596-51508-9.”
If you feel your proposed use of code examples falls outside fair use or the permission given here, feel free to contact us at [email protected]
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Please address comments and questions concerning this book to the publisher:
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On the web page for this book we list errata, examples, and any additional information. You can access this page at:
You can also download the examples from the author’s website:
To comment or ask technical questions about this book, send email to:
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| xxi
David Artz is Director of Optimization at AOL, LLC. His team’s charter at AOL is to
ensure that all experiences are optimized for speed, SEO, and browser accessibility.
His team develops, maintains, and evangelizes a broad set of optimization tools,
standards, and best practices that stretch across roles in design, development, and
copywriting. Their innovative solutions have led to real results in page monetization
for AOL.com, and their evangelism has paid off in lighter, more streamlined designs.
Their ultimate goal is to infuse the optimization mindset and skillset into AOL’s
workforce and their outsourcing partners and help drive and track results, maximizing
revenue by optimizing pages. He is currently living in the DC area with his Brazilian
wife, Janaina, and dog, Ziggy. See also http://www.artzstudio.com.
Interactive Marketing is an Internet Marketing company founded by Matt Hockin of
beautiful Bend, Oregon in 1997 (http://www.interactivemarketinginc.com/). Hockin’s
company helps business owners increase their sales by using website optimization
strategies including conversion rate optimization, persuasive copywriting, and search
engine marketing. In 1995, during the inception of e-commerce, Hockin gained a significant amount of his experience with Internet marketing while working with pioneers in the online marketplace such as John Audette’s Multimedia Marketing
Group, Inc. (MMGCO). He has worked on successful marketing and publicity campaigns for companies such as Intel, Art.com, and many others.
Thomas A. Powell is the CEO of PINT, Inc. (http://www.pint.com/), a web design and
development agency with headquarters in southern California that has serviced corporations and educational institutions throughout the United States and Mexico since 1994.
He is the author of numerous books on JavaScript, XHTML, site design process, and
Ajax including Ajax: The Complete Reference (McGraw-Hill). Powell is a frequent
instructor in web design, development, and programming languages for the University
of California, San Diego Computer Science Department. His interest in site delivery
optimization is well known, from his articles in Network World to his founding of
Port80 software (http://www.port80software.com), a firm that develops numerous products for compression, caching, and code optimization used by developers worldwide.
Pure Visibility (http://www.purevisibility.com/) is an Internet marketing company based
in Ann Arbor, Michigan, dedicated to growing businesses by connecting them to new
qualified prospects online. Pure Visibility’s Own Page One™ methodology starts with a
commitment to understanding the distinctive positioning of each customer, and surfacing those qualities to receptive audiences through industry-leading, analytics-based processes. Dedicated to discovering industry needs—and innovating to fill them—Pure
Visibility’s combination of creativity, knowledge, and resolve to provide unbiased information on Internet strategies and techniques has earned it the rare combined status of
both a Google Analytics certified consultant and AdWords-certified company.
xxii |
Daniel Shields is the chief analyst and founder of Wicked Business Sciences in Fort
Lauderdale, Florida (http://www.wickedsciences.com/). His company specializes in
developing application measurement technologies to enhance function and increase
metrics output from e-commerce web sites. He is frequently sought after for
advanced multivariate testing services, strategic personalization analysis, and lab-based
usability testing. He got his formal introduction to enterprise web analytics through
CableOrganizer.com, where he was formerly manager of e-commerce initiatives.
This is my second book, the first being Speed Up Your Site: Web Site Optimization
(New Riders). That book focused mainly on web performance. This book focuses on
a broader set of issues in WSO, which is a combination of SEM optimization and
web performance tuning.
For this book, I got a lot of help from many talented people. First, thanks to Louis
Rosenfeld (http://www.lourosenfeld.com) for his help and early encouragement. I
especially want to recognize and thank the chapter contributors: Matt Hockin of Interactive Marketing, Inc., who has been a tireless partner in our business, Website Optimization, LLC. Thanks also to chapter authors David Artz of AOL; Daniel Shields of
Wicked Business Sciences; the team at Pure Visibility Inc. (namely, Catherine Juon,
Linda Girard, Steve Loszewski [Chapter 3], Mark Williams [Chapter 4], Daniel O’Neil,
Michael Beasley, Dunrie Greiling, and Edward Vielmetti); and Thomas A. Powell of
PINT, Inc. David Artz also persuaded AOL to release Pagetest to the open source community. I am very grateful to them all.
I also want to thank Jim Sterne for his input and for writing the Foreword for this
book. I’d like to thank my editors who helped: Robert Peyser, Devon Persing, Shirley
Kaiser, and Wendy Peck. I’d like to thank my editor at O’Reilly, Simon St.Laurent, for
guiding me through the process, answering all my questions, offering encouragement, and accepting my proposal in the first place.
The following people also helped me substantially in crafting this book, and I am grateful for their help: Samson Adepoju, Bill Betcher, Gregory Cowley, Micah Dubinko,
Bryan Eisenberg, David Flinn, Dennis Galletta, Bradley Glonka, Dr. William Haig,
Lawrence Jordan, Jean King, John King, Ronny Kohavi, Ryan Levering, Jem Matzan,
Peter Morville, Eric Peterson, Stephen Pierzchala, Peter Pirolli, Ben Rushlo, Danny
Sullivan, Jeni Tennison, Tenni Theurer, and Jason Wolf.
Finally, thanks to Paul Holstein of CableOrganizer.com for letting me borrow his web
analyst, Daniel Shields, and for permitting me to reveal new metrics and site examples.
| xxiii
Search Engine Marketing
Search engine marketing (SEM) is the process of using natural search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to increase the visibility of your
website. To convert your newfound browsers into buyers and make the most of your
advertising budget, SEM also includes conversion rate optimization (CRO). The
chapters that follow will show you the best (and worst) practices for each of these
topics, complete with case studies showing the techniques in action. First, let’s
explore how people behave when using search engines.
Search Behavior
To best optimize your website, it is important to understand how users interact with
search engines. As you’ll discover, searchers are selective in their viewing of search
engine result pages (SERPs) and spend little time on each page browsing results.
SERP Viewing Statistics
Good search result placement is important because most searchers (92.5%) don’t
explore beyond the third page of search results.1 In fact, about three-fourths don’t look
past the first page of results.2,3 About 90% of searchers view only the first or second
page of results. Yes, even on the Web the three most important elements of success are
location, location, location.
Jansen, B., A. Spink, and S. Koshman. 2007. “Web Searcher Interaction with the Dogpile.com Metasearch
Engine.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 58 (5): 744–755.
Ibid, 750. Found that 69.1% viewed the first SERP and 85.7% the second. Seventy-four percent is the average
of 69.1% and Beitzel’s 79%; 89.8% who viewed up to the second SERP is the average of 85.7% and Beitzel’s
94%. Note that results are based on an analysis of Dogpile.com and AOL.com search logs.
Beitzel, S. et al. 2006. “Temporal Analysis of a Very Large Topically Categorized Web Query Log.” Journal of the
American Society for Information Science and Technology 58 (2): 166–178. Found that 79% viewed until the first
SERP and 94% the second. Beitzel analyzed the query logfiles of AOL.com for this study.
Click Patterns: Higher Is Better
Even within individual SERPs there are diminishing returns. During the initial search
result view, higher SERP positions get measurably more attention, and consequently
get more clicks than the lower positions (see Figure I-1).4
Figure I-1. View and arrival time versus search position (© 2007 ACM, Inc., reprinted by
Although lower-ranked results still get some notice (especially upon subsequent page
views), the lion’s share of user attention and clicks are devoted to the first few
results. This drop-off when attending to search results may be due to the perception
of relevance for high-ranking results and information scent.
Cutrell, E., and Z. Guan. “What Are You Looking For? An Eye-Tracking Study of Information Usage in Web
Search.” In CHI 2007 (San Jose, CA: April 28–May 3, 2007), 407–416; http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1240624.
Part I: Search Engine Marketing Optimization
Prune Your Prose
For search results, brevity is the soul of success. Short attention spans necessitate
terse verse that is front-loaded, especially in PPC advertising. Confronted with an
average of 25.5 links per query result,5 e-commerce users view the average search
result for only 1.1 seconds.6 The average view for a natural result is 1.3 seconds, with
only 0.8 seconds spent on a sponsored result at the top. Sponsored results on the
right are viewed for only 0.2 seconds on average.
Clearly, people spend little time reading search results. These findings show the
importance of crafting compelling, front-loaded title and description meta tags, and
PPC headlines and summaries that are designed for quick scanning.
Let the Optimization Begin
In the group of SEM chapters that follow, you’ll learn how to address these issues.
In Chapter 1, you’ll learn best (and worst) practices to boost your rankings.
Chapter 2 shows these SEO techniques in action. Chapters 3 and 4 do the same for
PPC optimization, showing best-practice techniques to set up and optimize your
PPC campaigns, with a case study showing how to execute these techniques within
profit-driven goals. Chapter 5 shows how to optimize your landing pages with tight,
persuasive copywriting and credibility-based design, and how to transform your
website into a veritable lead-generating machine.
Finally, after Part II, Web Performance Optimization, Chapter 10 ties together the
best metrics and tools that you can use to measure and optimize your SEM campaigns as well as your website performance to ensure your website’s success.
Jansen, B. 2007. “The comparative effectiveness of sponsored and nonsponsored links for Web e-commerce
queries.” ACM Transactions on the Web 1 (1): 25 pages. Analyzed search queries from Yahoo!, Google, and
van Gisbergen, M.S. et al. 2006. “Visual attention to Online Search Engine Results.” Checkit, http://
www.checkit.nl/pdf/eyetracking_research.pdf (accessed February 24, 2008). Eye-tracked Google, MSN,
Ilse, Kobala, and Lycos.
Part I: Search Engine Marketing Optimization
Chapter 1
Natural Search Engine Optimization
“We’re number one!”
That’s the dream of site owners everywhere, as they seek to attain the highest search
engine rankings for their sites. It’s the Web’s equivalent of having the best storefront
location. The process of attaining those rankings is called search engine optimization (SEO).
The SEO process consists of two main components: on-site optimization and off-site
optimization. On-site SEO focuses on three objectives: keyword-optimizing your
content, effective content creation, and strategic cross-linking. Off-site SEO focuses
on maximizing the number and popularity of inbound links with keywords that
match your particular subject.
In the past, on-site optimization was enough to boost your website rankings. But the
abuse of some meta tags and other SEO shenanigans such as invisible text and keyword stuffing1 have forced search engines to weigh external factors, such as inbound
links, more heavily than on-site optimization.
So, how do you achieve your SEO dream now? Today’s successful SEO strategy
requires a long-term approach with frequent postings, targeted content, and regular
online promotion designed to boost inbound links—in short, a combination of offsite and on-site SEO.
The Benefits of SEO
A high ranking in search engine result pages (SERPs) has become a business necessity. High rankings have been found to increase the following characteristics:
Keyword stuffing is a practice whereby keywords are “stuffed” within HTML elements too many times. “Too
many” varies with each HTML element and search engine. For example, Google may flag more than three
uses of the same phrase in an HTML title tag, but multiple keywords within body text is OK. In general,
adopting an approach that uses natural, sentence-like titles and text is best.
• Site traffic (see Figure 1-1)2
• Perceived relevance3
• Trust4
• Conversion (to sales) rates
Figure 1-1 shows the effects of higher rankings. A Oneupweb study found that soon
after the average client site appeared in the top 10 search result pages, both conversion rates and new traffic increased significantly. After one month on the first SERP,
the average conversion rate rose 42 percentage points, and new traffic more than tripled. A similar effect was observed for sites appearing on the second and third result
pages for the first time.
Figure 1-1. New traffic and conversion rate versus Google position
Oneupweb. 2005. “Target Google’s Top Ten to Sell Online.” http://www.oneupweb.com (accessed February
19, 2008).
Jansen, B.J. 2007. “The comparative effectiveness of sponsored and non-sponsored links for Web e-commerce
queries.” ACM Transactions on the Web 1 (1): 25 pages.
Pan, B. et al. 2007. “In Google We Trust: Users’ Decisions on Rank, Position, and Relevance.” Journal of
Computer-Mediated Communication 12 (3): 801–823. Most people click on the first SERP result.
Chapter 1: Natural Search Engine Optimization
Core SEO Techniques
Rather than using obscure jargon such as search term vectors, web graph eigenvalues,
click entropy,5 and the Google similarity distance,6 in the following sections we’ll simply describe the core techniques that we have found to actually work for clients.
First we’ll expose some barriers that can harm or impede your rankings. Then we’ll
give you our top 10 guidelines for higher search engine visibility.
Common SEO Barriers
Certain website characteristics can harm or limit your potential search engine rankings. By avoiding these common SEO pitfalls, you can pave the way for higher search
engine visibility.
Inadequate inbound links
One of the biggest problems with low-ranking websites is a lack of popular inbound
links. Without a healthy number of high-quality links that point back to your site,
you’ll be at a disadvantage against a competitor who has more.
Other linking issues include links to flagged sites, overuse of parameters, improper
redirects, lack of keywords, and generic link text. We’ll explore link-related issues in
“Step 10: Build Inbound Links with Online Promotion,” later in this chapter.
Drowning in splash pages
Splash pages are usually graphically rich pages designed to impress visitors or to direct
them to alternative views of content, such as high- or low-bandwidth versions of a site.
A “Skip Intro” link on a web page implicitly says that the page isn’t very important.
The problem with splash pages—whether they include “Skip Intro” links or not—is
that they are a wasted opportunity. Splash pages usually reside at the top of a site’s
hierarchy. Pages that are higher in your site hierarchy tend to get more links and
more traffic than pages that are lower in your hierarchy (see Figure 1-2).7 If visitors
must click and if search engines must crawl farther to reach the real home page (i.e.,
what should be your top-level index page), you’ve put up a barrier to success.
Dou, Z. et al. “A Large-scale Evaluation and Analysis of Personalized Search Strategies.” In WWW 2007
(Banff, Alberta, Canada: May 8–12, 2007), 581–590.
Cilibrasi, R., and P. Vitányi. 2007. “The Google Similarity Distance.” IEEE Transactions on Knowledge and
Data Engineering 19 (3): 370–383.
Mandl, T. 2007. “The impact of website structure on link analysis.” Internet Research 17 (2): 196–206.
Higher is better. Figure reprinted by permission.
Core SEO Techniques
Figure 1-2. Relationship between average number of inlinks and position in hierarchy (© Emerald
Group Publishing Limited, all rights reserved)
Flash fires
Flash is installed on nearly every computer (98%) that accesses the Internet.8 This
popularity has caused a conflagration of Flash gizmos on the Web. The problem
with Flash is that search engines do not index it properly.
We recommend using Flash to enhance the user experience, not to create it entirely.
So, a Flash news ticker or embedded hotel reservation system is OK, but creating
your entire site in Flash is not OK.
Following is a Flash SEO trick from Flash expert Gregory Cowley (http://
One technique you can use to make your Flash pages more SEO friendly is the two div
trick. Use one div for the Flash movie, and the other with your HTML equivalent. Use
JavaScript to hide the HTML DIV if the Flash plug-in is available, and the HTML is still
available for search engines.
This doesn’t work in complicated multi-page sites though. The key to a multi-page
site, however, is to have all your text in an XML file outside of Flash.
Adobe Systems Inc. March 2008. “Flash content reaches 98% of Internet viewers.” http://www.adobe.com/
products/player_census/flashplayer/ (accessed May 31, 2008). Adobe claims that more than 98% of users
have Flash 8 or earlier installed in mature markets; 97.2% of the same group had Flash 9 installed.
Chapter 1: Natural Search Engine Optimization
This code requires a FlashObject class, available at http://code.google.com/p/swfobject/:
<div id="flashcontent">
This is replaced by the Flash content if the user has the correct
version of the Flash plug-in installed.
Place your HTML content in here and Google will index it just as
it would normal HTML content (because it is HTML content!)
Use HTML, embed images, anything you would normally place on an
HTML page is fine.
<script type="text/javascript">
// <![CDATA[
var fo = new FlashObject("flashmovie.swf", " flashmovie", "00", "300",
"8", "#FF6600");
// ]]>
To avoid the appearance of cloaking, be sure to not change the textual content
between the two divs.
Unprofessional design
A first impression of your website can take only milliseconds9 but will affect its longterm success. You wouldn’t go on a date poorly groomed and with dirty fingernails,
right? Don’t make a similar mistake with your website. Having a professionally
designed site is the most important factor for perceived web credibility. The higher
the aesthetic quality of your site, the higher its perceived credibility will be.10 Consumers are more willing to buy from (and presumably webmasters are more willing
to link to) firms with well-designed sites.
What Is Professional Design?
Professionally designed sites share a number of traits, including a credibility-based
logo and layout that conform to accepted and tested usability standards. They use a
pleasing color scheme; persuasive copy that is benefit-oriented, error-free, and relevant
to a target audience; relevant graphics to engage users; and meaningful markup that is
easily updated—all wrapped up in a responsive, intuitively navigable package. To
learn more about what constitutes a professionally designed site, see Chapter 5.
Lindgaard, G. et al. 2006. “Attention web designers: You have 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression!”
Behaviour and Information Technology 25 (2): 115–126.
10Robins, D., and J. Holmes. 2008. “Aesthetics and credibility in web site design.” Information Processing and
Management 44 (1): 386–399. The same content with a higher aesthetic treatment was judged to have higher
credibility. Credibility judgments took, on average, 2.3 seconds.
Core SEO Techniques
Web credibility, valuable content, and useful tools are key factors that compel webmasters to link to you, and visitors to stay and spend money.
Fix your focus. Some sites do not focus specifically enough. A store that sells everything,
or that wants to be the next Amazon.com, has a long, painful road ahead. Such a
broadly focused site is unlikely to succeed in natural SEO and probably needs to advertise with pay-per-click (PPC). It’s best to narrow your focus topically or geographically
so that you have a better chance of ranking well and having higher conversion rates.
There is one exception to this rule, however. If you can optimize every individual
product page (e.g., HP LaserJet 6MP printer replacement toner cartridge C3903), it is
possible to rank highly for those very specific terms.
Obscure navigation
The navigation on your site should comprise text that is easily indexed and that
wasn’t created from graphical text, JavaScript, or Flash. Search engines can only
index the text within your pages. They don’t read text that is embedded in graphics
or Flash movies, nor do they execute JavaScript. A reasonable compromise for
image-based navigation is to include alternative text for images.
Give up graphics-based navigation. Macromedia Fireworks (now owned by Adobe) and
Adobe ImageReady popularized the automatic slicing of graphics that made creating
fancy navigation menus easy. Search engines don’t read graphical text, however. By
embedding your keywords in graphics, you lose a golden opportunity to bake your
SEO directly into the information architecture of your site.
Junk JavaScript-only navigation. Avoid JavaScript-only navigation such as this:
<script src="/scripts/menunav.js" type="text/javascript">
Switch to list-based Cascading Style Sheet (CSS)-style menus or provide a text equivalent to your navigation elsewhere on the page for search engines to follow.
Duplicate content
Avoid exact or near duplicates of pages at different URIs. Although Google engineer
Matt Cutts has said that there is no penalty for duplicate content, Google’s own webmaster guidelines say “don’t create multiple pages, sub-domains, or domains with
substantially duplicate content.”11 Google generally tries to display the best version
of a resource, but in rare cases it can penalize a site that appears to game the system
with duplicate content.12
2007. “Webmaster Guidelines.” Webmaster Help Center, http://www.google.com/support/
webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35769 (accessed March 21, 2008).
12Google. 2007. “Duplicate content.” Webmaster Help Center, http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/
bin/answer.py?answer=66359 (accessed March 26, 2008).
Chapter 1: Natural Search Engine Optimization
The use of duplicate titles and meta tags across too many pages on the same site can
harm rankings. Duplicate content will confuse the Googlebot as to which page is
authoritative, thereby diluting your PageRank among the various URIs. You can use the
robots exclusion protocol to exclude duplicate content (see http://www.robotstxt.org/
On the other hand, creating mini sites, each with valuable content on a different
topic related to your business, is one way around the two-URIs-per-domain limit to
Google SERPs. Some companies buy domain names for each product or service, create and promote separate websites, and attain multiple top 10 spots on the first
SERP. We don’t recommend using this technique of creating multiple sites to crowd
all of your competitors off the first SERP.
Netconcepts.com believes that Google looks up domain registration
information and accounts for it. If you register many sites, Google will
know that they are all connected and will reduce the ability to pass
link juice from one to another. See http://www.news.com/8301-10784_
3-9748779-7.html for more information.
Ten Steps to Higher Search Engine Rankings
Let’s boil down this entire process into 10 steps. To achieve high search engine rankings, you first need to find the right keyphrases to target. Then, create content
around those keyphrases that is optimized with well-written titles, meta tags, headers, and body text. Finally, build inbound links and PageRank by tirelessly promoting your site.
Best Practices
We will discuss the 10 steps to follow to achieve higher search engine rankings
shortly. While following the steps, keep these best practices in mind.
Deploy keywords strategically
SEO is a numbers game. Each web page can effectively target one or two phrases well.
Rather than shooting for one keyphrase that ranks number one, strive to have many
keyphrases that rank high. Overall, you’ll get more leads because your keyword
reach will be higher. Take advantage of the long tail of search query distribution by
targeting very specific phrases (see Figure 1-3).
Reinforce the theme of your site
The theme of a web page should flow through everything associated with that page:
the title tag, the headers, the meta tags (keywords and description tags), the content,
the links, the navigation, and even the URI of the page should all work together.
Ten Steps to Higher Search Engine Rankings |
Figure 1-3. The long tail (picture by Hay Kranen/PD)
Playing the Long Tail
Given enough choice and a large population of consumers, search term selection patterns follow a power law distribution curve, or Pareto distribution. The first part of the
curve contains 20% of the terms, which are deemed to be the most popular, and the
rightmost long tail of the curve contains the remaining 80% of the terms, which are
searched less frequently (as Figure 1-3 shows). With the widespread use of the Internet,
targeting less popular terms has become a viable strategy. The more specific terms in
the long tail can give you faster results and higher conversion rates.
Optimize key content
Search engines favor title tags, body copy, and headlines when ranking your site.
They also prefer the meta description element for search result pages.
Optimize on-site links
You can map complex URIs to search-friendly URIs that include keywords and hide
the technology behind your site to improve your rankings. To concentrate your PageRank, be selective regarding what resources you link to (e.g., avoid linking to flagged
sites), and use the nofollow attribute.
Make it linkworthy
You have only one chance to make a first impression. Don’t blow it with an
unprofessional website. You are much more likely to get links when your site is
professionally designed, with valuable, fresh content and useful tools. Make your
site a focused beehive of activity.
Chapter 1: Natural Search Engine Optimization
Acquire inbound links
Search engines use external factors such as inbound links, anchor text, surrounding
text, and domain history, among others, to determine the relative importance of your
site. Most of your rankings in search engines are determined by the number and popularity of your inbound links.13
These concepts will come up again and again as you optimize for search-friendliness,
and we’ll discuss them in more detail shortly.
Step 1: Determine Your Keyword Phrases
Finding the best keyword phrases to target is an iterative process. First, start with a
list of keywords that you want to target with your website. Next, expand that list by
brainstorming about other phrases, looking at competitor sites and your logfiles, and
including plurals, splits, stems, synonyms, and common misspellings. Then triage
those phrases based on search demand and the number of result pages to find the
most effective phrases. Finally, play the long tail by targeting multiword phrases to
get more targeted traffic and higher conversion rates.
News Flash: SEO Competition Lengthens Campaigns
A few years ago, optimizing a site to rank high on search engines typically took four to six
months for reasonably specific keywords. Now it can take from 6 to 12 months for many
keyphrases to rank well because the Web has become more competitive.
Tools for keyword research
You can use Wordtracker’s free keyword suggestion tool to research your keyphrases (see Figure 1-4). Wordtracker uses a database of queries from Dogpile.com
and Metacrawler.com to estimate the daily search volume across all search engines.
Check it out at http://freekeywords.wordtracker.com.
Wordtracker’s free tool is limited, however, because it only shows search demand for
phrases that contain the keywords that you enter. For more powerful keyword
research, SEO professionals turn to Wordtracker’s full service to perform keyword
demand analysis and brainstorming. Visit http://www.wordtracker.com for more
information on this service.
M. 2007. “Analysing Google rankings through search engine optimization data.” Internet Research
17 (1): 21–37. Inlinks, PageRank, and domain age (to some degree after the second SERP) help rankings. The
number of pages did not correlate with higher rankings.
Ten Steps to Higher Search Engine Rankings |
Figure 1-4. Wordtracker’s free keyword suggestion tool
A fee-based web service, Wordtracker taps a large database of more than 330 million
search terms from meta search engines. You can use it to brainstorm on keyphrases,
determine search demand, and calculate the competitiveness of your keyphrases (for
more information, see the upcoming “Wordtracker Keyword Research Tool” sidebar).
Figure 1-5 shows an example of using Wordtracker to research keywords and optimize a site for a hypothetical personal injury lawyer in Florida. First, we enter the
phrase “Florida personal injury” to find any related phrases culled from a thesaurus
and meta tags of similar sites.
Clicking on any phrase in the left pane brings up the right pane with keyphrases
sorted by search demand. You can add keywords to your master list by clicking on
them in the right pane. Note how “Florida personal injury lawyer” is searched on
more than “Florida personal injury attorney.”
Chapter 1: Natural Search Engine Optimization
Figure 1-5. Building a keyword list with Wordtracker
Wordtracker Keyword Research Tool
You can use free online tools from Google and Yahoo! to determine search demand,
but they are limited compared to Wordtracker. Used by SEO professionals and ambitious site owners, Wordtracker is a web service designed to streamline the process of
keyphrase discovery. Wordtracker uses data from meta crawlers with more than 120
million searches per month, storing 100 days of searches to compile more than 330
million search terms, updated on a weekly basis. You can discover new keywords,
search demand, and common misspellings. You can survey keywords and meta tags
from other sites and perform competitive analyses. The keyword effectiveness index,
or KEI, is a comparison of the number of searches and the number of web page results.
Targeting high KEI phrases with adequate search volume gives you the best chance to
rank quickly on particular terms by going where others aren’t competing. Very Sun Tzu.
Find your primary keyphrase
Ultimately, you want to discover the primary keyphrase that accurately describes
your overall business, product, or service but which still has adequate search demand.
You’ll use your primary keyphrase in your promotions to help boost your rankings.
Ten Steps to Higher Search Engine Rankings |
Top Search Engine Ranking Factors
PageRank is not the only factor that Google uses to rank search results. Google uses
more than 200 “signals” to calculate the rank of a page.a According to a survey of SEO
experts, the top 10 most important factors include the following:b
Keyword use in title tag
Anchor text of inbound link
Global link popularity of site
Age of site
Link popularity within the site’s internal link structure
Topical relevance of inbound links to site
Link popularity of site in topical community
Keyword use in body text
Global link popularity of linking site
Topical relationship of linking page
The top factors that negatively affect a search engine spider’s ability to crawl a page or
harm its rankings are as follows:
Server often inaccessible to bots
Content very similar to or duplicate of existing content in the index
External links to low-quality/spam sites
Duplicate title/meta tags on many pages
Overuse of targeted keywords (indicative of stuffing/spamming)
Participation in link schemes or actively selling links
Very slow server response times
Inbound links from spam sites
Low levels of visitors to the site
Sullivan, D. May 10, 2006. “Watching Google Press Day, Slides & Live Commentary.” Search Engine
Watch, http://blog.searchenginewatch.com/blog/060510-123802 (accessed February 19, 2008).
Fishkin, R., and J. Pollard. April 2, 2007. “Search Engine Ranking Factors Version 2.” SEOMoz.org, http://
www.seomoz.org/article/search-ranking-factors (accessed February 8, 2008).
Step 2: Sort by Popularity
Now that you’ve got an exhaustive list of keywords, sort them by popularity.
Wordtracker does this automatically for you as you build your list (see Figure 1-6).
Chapter 1: Natural Search Engine Optimization
Figure 1-6. Sorting and pruning keywords in Wordtracker
If you click on Competition Search, Wordtracker performs a competitive analysis of
the keywords in your master list. You can choose two major search engines to check
at one time (see Figure 1-7).
Wordtracker calculates the keyword effectiveness index (KEI) for each phrase in your
list. It also performs a search count and computes the number of result pages (see
Figure 1-8).
In Figure 1-8, you can see that “homicide lawyer Orlando” has the highest KEI. Perhaps
our hypothetical lawyer will steer clear of this type of case. The phrase “personal
injury lawyers central florida” has a KEI of 84,100, and we could combine it with his
hometown of Orlando.
You can also drill down with the keyword evaluator tool to quickly discover the KEI
and search demand for your keywords (see Figure 1-9).
Ten Steps to Higher Search Engine Rankings |
Figure 1-7. Choosing search engines to target for competitive analysis of keywords in Wordtracker
Step 3: Refine Keyword Phrases and Re-Sort
Next, refine your keyphrases by pruning out keywords that aren’t related to your
subject area, that are not specific enough, or that are ambiguous.
Right-size your keyphrases
The more specific you can get with your keyphrases, the faster you’ll achieve high
rankings and the better your conversion rates will be.
However, the longer the phrases you target, the lower the search demand will be. So,
choosing the optimum number of words for each keyphrase is a trade-off between
higher conversion rates and lower search demand. Conversion rates peak at about
four terms,14 whereas search demand peaks at two terms for all queries and three
2005. “How Keyword Length Affects Conversion Rates.” http://www.oneupweb.com (accessed
April 14, 2008), 2.
Chapter 1: Natural Search Engine Optimization
Figure 1-8. Keyword effectiveness index for Google in Wordtracker
terms for unique queries, according to Google.15 Comparing conversion rates to
search referrals, the optimum length of a keyphrase is slightly more than three words
(see Figure 1-10).
For example, the term:
is far too broad to target for someone hanging up his shingle in Orlando. A better
approach would be to specify what type of lawyer:
"personal injury lawyer"
M. “Organizing and Searching the World Wide Web of Facts—Step Two: Harnessing the Wisdom of
the Crowds.” In WWW 2007 (Banff, Alberta, Canada: May 8–12, 2007), 101–110. Google search statistics.
Ten Steps to Higher Search Engine Rankings |
Figure 1-9. Wordtracker’s keyword evaluator tool
Figure 1-10. Optimum keyphrase length—query length versus conversion rates
However, although the second phrase is more specific topically, it is still too broad
for a lawyer based (and licensed) in a particular geographic area. An even better
approach would be to target the city or state:
"Orlando personal injury lawyer" or "Florida personal injury lawyer"
Chapter 1: Natural Search Engine Optimization
Now you’re talking. Unless you own LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell (the firm that
owns Lawyers.com and rates lawyers), targeting the type and the geographic location of
your products or services is the most effective way to get high rankings.
After you’ve eliminated unrelated keywords and combined phrases, re-sort your
list by popularity. The term “lawyer” was searched on a bit more than “attorney” in
this case, so let’s use the phrase “Orlando Florida personal injury lawyer” as our
primary keyphrase.
Target multiple keyphrases
In addition to higher conversions, longer phrases also allow you to target multiple
combinations of keywords and enable proximity hits. For example:
Orlando Florida personal injury lawyer
covers the following keyphrases:
personal injury lawyer
injury lawyer
personal injury lawyer ...
Step 4: Write a Title Using the Top Two or Three Phrases
The title tag is the most important component of your web page for search engine
rankings. Craft a natural, sentence-like title that describes the page content (or in the
case of the home page, the entire site) using up to 15 words. Here is an example:
<title>Orlando Florida personal injury lawyer John Smith
serves the central Florida area as an injury attorney</title>
Keywords trump company name (usually)
Many companies put their company name at the beginning of every page title. A
more search-friendly approach is to put your primary keyphrase up front and place
your company name at the end of the title. That is, unless your company name is
your primary keyphrase. So, this:
Smith & Jones – City Profession
becomes this:
City Profession – Smith & Jones
Usability-wise, Jakob Nielsen reports on an exception to this rule of de-emphasizing
company names in headlines.16 Front-load the company name when the link appears as
J. March 3, 2008. “Company Name First in Microcontent? Sometimes!” Useit Alertbox, http://
www.useit.com/alertbox/microcontent-brand-names.html (accessed March 24, 2008).
Ten Steps to Higher Search Engine Rankings |
a hit on SERPs that are full of junk links, and when your company name is well known
and respected.
You should craft a descriptive, keyphrased title with 10 to 15 words that flows well.
Short titles limit your options for keywords and proximity hits, but long title tags are
truncated by Google to display an average of 54 characters, according to a study by
Alireza Noruzi.17 Search engines continue to index well past this cutoff, however.
Noruzi recommends that title tags be no longer than 10 words (60 characters), with
the most important keywords listed first.
An experiment in stuffing
Attempting to stuff too many keywords into your title, or into other parts of your
page, for that matter, can get you into trouble and drop your rankings.
To illustrate how to write good title tags, we tested how far we could go with an article about PDF optimization using then-new Adobe Acrobat 8, available at http://
Our original title tag was as follows:
<title>Optimize PDF Files – pdf optimization convert pdfs – Speed
Tweak of the Week</title>
As an experiment, we tried to stuff many related keyphrases into the title, phases that
people search for the most. Google promptly dropped the article! Clearly, we went
too far.
<title>Optimize PDF Files – pdf optimization tips, acrobat pdf
optimizer review, convert pdfs file optimizer tools</title>
After we rewrote the title tag to be more like a sentence, Google reinstated the article
in its index (see Figure 1-11):
<title>Optimize PDF Files - tips on pdf optimization to compress
file size & optimizing pdf files - Acrobat 8 review</title>
Note that the article is about PDF optimization, but we also targeted Acrobat 8
review (for optimizing PDF files) in the title and description element. This example
illustrates that you can go too far in optimizing your title tags, and that there can be
an extremely fine line between overreaching with your titles and finding the perfect
balance of pointed description and verbal thrift.
A. 2007. “A Study of HTML Title Tag Creation Behavior of Academic Websites.” The Journal of
Academic Librarianship 33 (4): 501–506.
Chapter 1: Natural Search Engine Optimization
Figure 1-11. Google reinstating the PDF optimization article
Step 5: Write a Description Meta Tag
Although the importance of meta tags for search engine rankings has decreased, it is
still important to write a good description meta tag because search engines prefer the
description meta tag in their SERPs. If one doesn’t exist, search engines create their
description starting with the first content displayed on the page.
The description meta tag should be, at most, 250 characters long. For example:
<meta name="description" content="John Smith and Associates specialize
in representing personal injury victims of automobile accidents. Click
here for a free consultation with automobile lawyers in Orlando and
central Florida.">
Step 6: Write a Keywords Meta Tag
The keywords meta tag describes the content of the page at hand and should reflect
keywords in the body text of the page. Create your keywords tag using your master
keywords list and the visible words in your page. Although you can separate keywords with a comma or a space, omitting commas will give you more proximity hits
between adjacent terms. Use lowercase text to better match search queries and for
better compressibility. For example:
<meta name="keywords" content="orlando florida personal injury lawyer,
central florida personal injury attorneys, florida medical malpractice
lawyers, orlando injury attorneys, orange county automobile accident
attorney, personal injuries central florida, orlando law firm">
Ten Steps to Higher Search Engine Rankings |
Avoid repeating your keywords in the same form more than three times. It is best to
vary your terms using stems, plurals, splits, and misspellings.
Avoid using the trademarks and brand names of other companies in
your keywords. Legal precedent is on the side of the trademark owner.
Instead, use terms that describe the overall topic of the target page.
Step 7: Make Search-Friendly Headlines
After title tags, headlines are the most important component of web pages for search
engine rankings. Because search engines and screen readers key off structural headers for headlines (in HTML, h1 through h6), avoid fake structure where CSS or font
tags are used to artificially simulate structural HTML. You can still use CSS, but
instead of embedding style classes, simply define the look of your headers. For example, instead of this fake header:
<p class="fake-h1header">Orlando Florida Personal Injury Lawyer John Smith &amp;
do this:
<style type="text/css">
<!-h1{font:1.5em arial;}
<h1>Orlando Florida Personal Injury Lawyer John Smith &amp; Associates</h1>
Include the primary keyphrase of your web page in the first-level header. Omit articles to give your headlines more impact. Headlines should compel search engines as
well as users to read your content. You can use subheadlines to include additional
keywords, benefits, and calls to action. For example:
<h2>Our Central Florida personal injury attorney services can help you
get the right settlement in the quickest amount of time. Here's how...</h2>
Write headlines that pop
Headlines appear in web pages as h1 through h6 tags, as well as in title tags and RSS
entries matched with decks or short summaries; they are a form of microcontent that
is read out of context in search results.18 They should grab the attention of your
users even after they read the first few words, but they still should accurately
describe your page content with keywords used by searchers.
Here are some example headlines from CNN.com and MarketingSherpa.com:
Automotive fuel efficiency suddenly sexy
CNN's Allan Chernoff reports Americans are losing interest in gas guzzlers.
J. September 6, 1998. “Microcontent: How to Write Headlines, Page Titles, and Subject Lines.”
Useit Alertbox, http://www.useit.com/alertbox/980906.html (accessed February 19, 2008).
Chapter 1: Natural Search Engine Optimization
Landing Page Handbook: How to Lift Conversions Up to 55%
Newly updated and expanded for 20XX, MarketingSherpa's bestselling
Landing Page Handbook helps you raise conversions by up to 55% or
more for search, email, and ad campaigns for lead generation,
ecommerce, and even blogs.
The primary themes of the articles in question are placed right up front. HTML
headlines should accurately describe the theme of the page or section using a keyphrase or two without keyword-stuffing, articles (a, the, etc.), or hype. The main
header should describe the content of the page succinctly in 40 to 60 characters.
Keyphrase headlines early
To facilitate both scanning and the bias of search engines for prominence, place the
keyphrases with which you want content to be found early in your headlines. As this
headline is usually the link text for the page, you should include the primary keyphrase for the theme of your page in the text.
So, this expanded headline:
<a href="http://www.cnn.com/...">The Efficiency of Fuel Intake for the Internal
Combustion Engine in Automobiles has Abruptly Become Appealing</a>
becomes this:
<a href="http://www.cnn.com/...">Automotive fuel efficiency suddenly sexy</a>
Note how the primary keyphrase is placed first. Users quickly scan web pages as they
forage for tasty morsels of information. They don’t generally read everything. Also,
RSS news aggregators sometimes truncate your headlines. Placing keywords earlier in
headlines and titles thus gives them more weight.
Keywords in h2–h6 headers correlated with higher rankings more than
those in first-level headers (<h1>), according to one study.19 Using keywords in first-level headings is still a best practice for drawing keywords in inbound links and user attention.
Step 8: Add Keywords Tactically
Include keywords in:
• The first couple of sentences of your visible text
• Headlines and subheadlines
• Links and anchor text
19Sistrix. May 2007. “Google Ranking Factors.” http://www.sistrix.com/ranking-faktoren/ (accessed March 26,
2008). Sistrix found that keywords in h1 headers did not correlate with higher rankings, but having keywords
in h2–h6 headers did correlate. In German.
Ten Steps to Higher Search Engine Rankings |
• Page URIs
• Filenames
• Alt text
• Indexable (text) navigation elements (not Flash, graphics, or JavaScript)
Here is an example of an opening paragraph for our Orlando lawyer scenario:
Introducing the Orlando personal injury attorney services by John
Smith & Associates, designed to help you get your life back together
and get you the maximum settlement possible.
Keyphrase anchor text
In an effort to glean the theme of your web pages, search engines look at the context
of links pointing to and from your pages. One way to bake in your SEO is to strategically cross-link within your own site, using meaningful anchor text. Avoid using
“Click Here” for your anchor text, unless, of course, you are talking about the perils
of “click here.” So, this:
For more information about our personal injury services <a href="/services.html">click
becomes this:
More information about our <a href="/services/personal-injury/">personal injury
Another example is to bake in the company or site name within the Home tab. So,
<a href="/">Home</a>
becomes this:
<a href="/">Orlando personal injury lawyer home</a>
Buy keyphrased domain names
But why stop at navigation and page URIs? If possible, bake your keywords directly
into your domain name. By incorporating your primary keyphrase into your domain
name, you can guarantee that inbound links will contain your primary keyphrase,
and make it more likely that the link text will contain your primary keyphrase. For
<a href="http://www.keyword1keyword2.com">Keyword1 Keyword2</a>
Sites that incorporate keywords into their domain name have been shown to have a
higher position in SERPs, according to a 2007 study by Sistrix (see Figure 1-12).20
20Sistrix. “Google Ranking Factors.” Sistrix found that keywords in hostnames correlated with higher rankings
in SERPs, especially for positions 1 to 5.
Chapter 1: Natural Search Engine Optimization
Figure 1-12. Hostname keywords versus search rankings
This effect may be due in part to inbound links and link text containing the target
keywords. Avoid very long domain names containing keywords, however, because
these make your listing look bad, and make it difficult to type. Ideally, acquire “your
primary keyphrase dot com” (e.g., primarykeyphrase.com).
Step 9: Create Valuable Keyword-Focused Content
Content is still king on the Web. When they are ranking sites, search engines look for a
lot of themed content about particular topics. Publishing a large amount of informative
and valuable content that is keyword-optimized will give your site more chances to rank
for different keywords, and will help your overall rankings (see Figure 1-13).21
If you happen to be a personal injury lawyer, mention the various injuries afflicting
clients whom you have represented. If you are a realtor, mention the different cities
and areas that you cover. Ideally, devote a page or section to each topic. Have an
expert in the subject write compelling copy, or hire a copywriter to work with your
marketing department.
Use a content management system (CMS) or blog to create high-quality content consistently. Reflect back what your visitors are searching on and what terms you want to target. It is ideal to target one main keyphrase per article or page. You want to create a
large corpus of content about your subject area that will act as a kind of digital flypaper.
P. June 21, 2004. “User Experience Design.” Semantic Studios, http://www.semanticstudios.com/
publications/semantics/000029.php (accessed February 9, 2008). Figure 1-13 used by permission.
Ten Steps to Higher Search Engine Rankings |
Figure 1-13. The user experience honeycomb
Sharpen your keyword-focused content
For on-site SEO, the most important website component is keyword-focused content. Your pages should be about something specific. The more specific you can get
topically or geographically, the higher your conversion rates will be, and the faster
you’ll get results. Keyword-focused content is targeted at one theme or one keyphrase
per page.
Avoid grouping all of your products or services into one page. Break up your content
into key topics. For example, a lawyer who listed all of his services on one page:
would have one page for each of the following services:
Automobile accidents
Slip and fall
Traumatic brain injury
Creating a page for each major service—that is, an automobile accidents page, a slip
and fall page, and so on—is a more search-friendly approach. Create separate pages
that match your most popular queries as well as the services that you want to target:
Create search-friendly URIs
One characteristic of a well-optimized site is the presence of search-friendly URIs.
Search-friendly URIs include keywords related to the main subject of the page
directly within the address of the page. Search-friendly URIs avoid numerical query
strings that are semantically meaningless for search engines (and humans), but are
typically found in database-driven CMS websites.
Chapter 1: Natural Search Engine Optimization
Search engines may follow one search parameter (e.g., http://www.example.com/
query?id=53), but may balk at two or three.22 Avoid using dynamic session identifiers in your URIs. A session ID is a unique string to link HTTP transactions within a
particular domain. Without cookies, session IDs are passed in URIs. Search engines
prefer permanent URIs that won’t clog up their databases with duplicate content,
create spider traps, or create 401 errors.
Here is an example URI with a session ID:
A better approach is to carefully design your information hierarchy, and “bake” your
SEO keyphrases into the URIs of your site. By mapping keyword queries to database
queries, you can include keywords in the URI of the page. So, instead of this:
do this:
Even better, remove all the variable query characters (?, $, and #):
By eliminating the suffix to URIs, you avoid broken links and messy mapping when
changing technologies in the future. See Chapter 9 for details on URI rewriting. See
also “Cool URIs for the Semantic Web,” at http://www.w3.org/TR/cooluris/.
Write compelling summaries
In newspaper parlance, the description that goes with a headline is called a deck or a
blurb. Great decks summarize the story in a couple of sentences, enticing the user to
read the article. Include keywords describing the major theme of the article for
search engines. Don’t get too bogged down in the details of your story. Think “big
Following are three examples, one each from CNN.com, Wired.com, and the New
York Times website.
Man declared dead, says he feels "pretty good"
Zach Dunlap says he feels "pretty good" four months after he was
declared brain dead and doctors were about to remove his organs
for transplant.
How Apple Got Everything Right By Doing Everything Wrong
S. July 23, 2007. “Underscores are now word separators, proclaims Google.” CNET, http://www.
cnet.com/8301-13530_1-9748779-28.html (accessed March 21, 2008). This summary of a talk given by Matt
Cutts of Google includes query string information.
Ten Steps to Higher Search Engine Rankings |
Apple succeeds by going against Silicon Valley wisdom, ignoring
business best practices, bucking the "don't be evil" ideals Google
has tried to uphold. Wired.com's Leander Kahney, author of the new
book "Inside Steve's Brain" (due out this spring) and the Cult of
Mac blog, explores why for Steve Jobs, the regular rules do not apply.
A New Tool From Google Alarms Sites
Google's new search-within-search feature has sparked fears from
publishers and retailers that users will be siphoned away through
ad sales to competitors.
Well-written headlines and decks can increase your readership, shore up brand loyalty, and boost your rankings. Because your headlines and decks will be used and
summarized by other sites from your RSS news feeds, the link text and deck keyphrases will increase the relevancy of these inbound links, thus raising your rankings
Automatically categorize with blogs
Weblogs are an excellent tool that you can use in your SEO arsenal. To quickly build up
themed content you can use automated categorization. By tagging and organizing your
content, each time you post a new article the category pages will grow. Figure 1-14
shows an automated example using the Movable Type publishing platform.
Figure 1-14. Example blog with categories
In Movable Type, each time you post a new article, select one or more categories to
classify the article (see Figure 1-15).
To display the categories that you see in Figure 1-14, you can use the following
minimalist code (include_blogs="3" signifies the third blog in the Movable Type
<MTCategories include_blogs="3">
<dt><a href="<$MTCategoryArchiveLink$>" title="<$MTCategoryDescription$>">
<$MTCategoryLabel$></a> (<CategoryCount>)
Chapter 1: Natural Search Engine Optimization
Figure 1-15. Creating an entry with categories in Movable Type
This code does not account for subcategories or categories with no entries, however.
A more robust version of the category output code follows:
<div class="module-categories module">
<h2 class="module-header">By Category</h2>
<div class="module-content">
<MTSubCatIsFirst><ul class="module-list"></MTSubCatIsFirst>
<MTIfNonZero tag="CategoryCount">
<li class="module-list-item"><a href="<$MTBlogURI$>
<MTParentCategories glue="/"><$MTCategoryLabel dirify="-"$></MTParentCategories>"
title="<$MTCategoryDescription$>"><$MTCategoryLabel$></a> (<CategoryCount>)
<li class="module-list-item"><$MTCategoryLabel$>
Note that dirify="-" in the preceding code encodes the category value to a lowercase
string with words separated by dashes. To add a subcategory to your blog, select your
desired top-level category and then click on the plus sign on the right (see Figure 1-16).
Search engines favor category pages such as the ones listed earlier in Figure 1-14
because they are about a specific topic and are updated frequently. With blog software you don’t have to create these pages; they appear automatically!
Ten Steps to Higher Search Engine Rankings |
Figure 1-16. Adding a subcategory in Movable Type
Create tag clouds
Tag clouds are a list of keyphrases sized by popularity (see Figure 1-17). They expose
your popular topics to search engines and users in an orderly way. Like a semantic
site map, tag clouds make it easier to understand at a glance what your site is about.
Figure 1-17. Sample tag cloud from Technorati.com
In Movable Type, you can create a tag cloud by using the tags feature. First, turn tags
on in the Display Options dialog (see Figure 1-18).
Chapter 1: Natural Search Engine Optimization
Figure 1-18. Turning on tags in Movable Type
Each time you create a new entry, tag it with the optional Tags field. Next, include
the following code in a sidebar template to create a tag cloud from these tags:
<style type="css/text">
<MTIf name="main_index">
<div class="widget-cloud widget">
<h3 class="widget-header">Tag Cloud</h3>
<div class="widget-content">
<ul class="widget-list">
<MTTags limit="20" sort_by="rank">
<li class="rank-<$MTTagRank max="10"$> widget-list-item"><a
Ten Steps to Higher Search Engine Rankings |
For more details on using Movable Type, see the documentation at http://www.
Deploy strange attractors
A general rule of thumb is that the home page of a website gets the most traffic.
There are exceptions, however. You can buck the trend by creating “strange attractors” to generate buzz and, thus, get links. Free online tools can garner a large number
of links quickly. Babel Fish, a translator from AltaVista that is available at http://
babelfish.altavista.com/, is a good example of a useful free online tool (see Figure 1-19).
Figure 1-19. Babel Fish, a free language-translator tool
Free web-based tools, Flash configurators (such as a clothes colorizer, or a hotel
reservation system/calendar), and Ajax mashups all are elements that wow your
audience and provide compelling and useful services that are bound to help.
Chapter 1: Natural Search Engine Optimization
Step 10: Build Inbound Links with Online Promotion
Now that your website is keyword-optimized, it is time to build up your inbound
links. Promoting your site to build more inbound links than your competitors, especially from high PageRank sites, is the most important way to increase your search
engine rankings. Here are some techniques you can use to boost your inbound links
to build up the buzz and rise above the noise:
• Use XML news feeds such as RSS and Atom to automatically syndicate your content to other sites.
• Register your feeds at news aggregators.
• Interview luminaries.
• Write articles on your most important topics for other sites, and have your bio
link back to your website.
• Create useful tools.
• Publicize new content with press releases.
• Get listed in the major directories in the appropriate category:
— http://dir.yahoo.com
— http://www.business.com
— http://www.dmoz.org
— http://botw.org
• Get listed in industry directories and resource pages (e.g., the WorkForce.com
Vendor Directory for HR software providers at http://www.workforce.com/global/
• Get links from industry websites and discussion forums (write articles, send
press releases, post to forums, and use your link in signature files).
• Use “high-end” link exchanges, and partner with others in your industry and
exchange links.
Press releases are an especially effective way to get guaranteed inbound links that say
exactly what you want in the link text. Keep the newsworthy resources flowing, and
follow up with search-optimized press releases to the online newswire sites such as
PRweb.com, PRNewswire.com, and Businesswire.com. Spend the extra money to
include link text for your URIs rather than using “naked” URIs for maximum Google
Ten Steps to Higher Search Engine Rankings |
Here is a sample press release:
Example.com Announces New E-Riser for HD Video Cameras
Example, a leading provider of [url=http://www.example.com/]HD video cameras and
accessories[/url], is announcing the release of its essential new E-Riser product. The
[url=http://www.example.com/E-Riser.htm]E-Riser[/url] is used in conjunction with
other Example camera mounting components for adjusting a second set of rods to
align matte boxes and follow focus units to cameras with high or low lens mounting.
Specifically, the E-Riser is an essential part of Example’s kits for the RED ONE camera and the Letus35 Extreme Adapter. It also supports other camera gear such as the
Follow-Focus and matte boxes.
The Example E-Riser attaches to a pair of standard 15mm rods...
Note the [url="..."/url] syntax, which specifies the keywords that are used in the
press release link text. This level of control is not available from webmasters linking
back to your site.
With regular promotion, most new sites take from 6 to 12 months to rank well on
Google. They take slightly less time on Yahoo! and even less on MSN.
How to Get High-Ranking Inbound Links
To accelerate the process of getting high PageRank backlinks, invest in a professional
design and newsworthy content. Create web-based tools to attract quality backlinks.
Submit articles to prominent sites (or offline publications with websites) in exchange
for a short bio linking back to your site. Register your RSS feeds and post quality content
frequently. Get your press releases on the likes of PRWeb.com and PRNewsWire.com.
Get yourself interviewed and interview luminaries. Pay for faster reviews to be included
in popular directories such as Yahoo! and Business.com, and if necessary, buy text
links (e.g., on Textlinkbrokers.com).
Leverage higher-ranking pages
Links from high PageRank sites carry more weight than links from low PageRank
sites. In fact, Kenkai.com estimates that a PageRank 6 link is worth 125 PageRank 3
links, and a link from a PageRank 7 page is worth 625 PageRank 3 links, assuming
relevant content (see Table 1-1).23 So, links from sites with lots of quality inlinks are
worth more to your rankings. Think quality, not quantity, when promoting your site.
Strive to gather links from higher PageRank sites to boost your PageRank.
“Google PageRank Table—Compare Pagerank Values.” http://www.kenkai.com/googlepagerank-table.htm (accessed February 9, 2008).
Chapter 1: Natural Search Engine Optimization
Table 1-1. Kenkai.com equivalent PageRank inlink estimates
Inlink PageRank
Equivalent PageRank 3 inlinks
25 ×
125 ×
625 ×
Don’t dilute your PageRank
You can think of your own PageRank as a steeping pot of tea. The more links you get
pointing to your site, the stronger the tea. The more links you place on your page, the
weaker the tea (read PageRank) that will flow through each link. Placing lots of links in
your pages actually dilutes the PageRank that is transferred to target pages. By being
selective about whom you link to, you can transfer more “Google juice” to others and
preserve your own supply. Danny Sullivan said this about outlinks and PageRank:
Some people feel links off a page drain PageRank. Others more accurately say it means
that the more links you have, the less powerful each of those links are, i.e., if you
wanted to boost another page, linking to it from a page with fewer links on it means
each of those links should carry more weight. But it’s even more complicated than this,
and the best advice for a site owner is to simply link out to any pages they feel a user
will find appropriate.
There is one exception, however: the nofollow attribute, discussed later in this chapter.
Employ social networking and user-generated content
Talk to people in similar fields. Go to meetings and conferences. Send email to
reporters, bloggers, and colleagues. Post media to Flickr and YouTube, add a page to
Facebook, submit stories to Slashdot, and tag those stories on del.icio.us. Respond
to Usenet and blog posts. In other words, use social networking to get your site out
there. A link from one of these high PageRank sites drives a lot of traffic and is worth
hundreds of links from lesser sites (refer back to Table 1-1).
A little preparation can increase your odds when submitting to news sites such as
Slashdot, Digg.com, and Yahoo! Buzz because such sites have an extremely large user
base that is equally critical to the site’s effect. First, make sure you submit to the proper
category. Submit only your most newsworthy content, because sites such as Slashdot
are inundated with submissions. Be sure to follow the headline and deck writing guidelines in this chapter, as well as in Chapter 5. Finally, it helps if you have a story angle or
address a current trend, and are relevant to the theme of the target site.
Additionally, enabling user-generated content can scale your business without requiring
more staff members. Sites that illustrate this trend include Photo.net (the largest photography bulletin board), del.icio.us (rated bookmarks), and YouTube.com (videos).
Ten Steps to Higher Search Engine Rankings |
Be leery of link exchange voodoo
Link exchanges must be done carefully to perform well. Recommending another doctor you know who does good work is fine, but recommending the entire medical
community of the East Side is not.
Be very selective when choosing whom you link to. Link farms and doorway pages are
never a good idea. You don’t want to depend on another company for your traffic. You
want your own pages to draw traffic directly to your site.
Pay for links
For some highly competitive keywords, it has become necessary to go beyond standard promotional techniques. Paid links are a form of advertising pioneered by the
likes of Textlinkbrokers.com and Text-Link-Ads.com. These advertisers place text
links on high PageRank sites for a fee. Unlike banner ads, which have no semantic
value and often use redirects, paid links say exactly what you want them to say and
link directly back to your site. Use the primary keyphrase of the page that you are
promoting in your link text to build up the PageRank and the relevancy of your site.
Hurl harmful outlinks
Linking to some sites can actually have a negative effect on your rankings.
As part of its crawling process, Google follows links from your site to others, and penalizes the owner who links to sites that, according to Google’s criteria, have misbehaved
(see the upcoming sidebar, “The Google Sandbox and Penalty Box”). We discovered
this when optimizing a site for a client in California. We thought we were doing everything right for him, but his rankings were still low after six months of intensive promotion. When we checked all the sites he was linking to (by looking for the dreaded gray
PageRank bar in Google’s toolbar), we found one site that Google didn’t approve of.
After removing this link, his rankings improved. So, be careful whom you recommend on your website; it could come back to haunt you.
The Google Sandbox and Penalty Box
For a new site on a new domain, Google can delay ranking the site for months. Traditionally, this has meant that a new site couldn’t seem to rank well for much beyond its
own domain name. After a few months, Google decides that it can “trust” a new site
and can let it rank for other things. This delay for new sites to be indexed is called the
Google Sandbox. Google can also penalize sites that try to game the system. Although
this has a similar effect, it is not the same thing because an older and even trusted site
might get penalized (we call this the Penalty Box, which can cause a gray PageRank bar
in Google’s toolbar). To get out of Google’s dog house, you need to remove the worst
practices discussed in this section. After you’ve cleared your site with Google Webmaster
Central (http://www.google.com/webmasters/), you can apply for inclusion again.
Chapter 1: Natural Search Engine Optimization
Use the nofollow trick. You can concentrate PageRank where you need it most with the
nofollow attribute. Created to prevent blog comment spam, the nofollow attribute
can be added to links that point to pages to which you don’t want to refer PageRank, such as your privacy policy or help page. Google can’t differentiate between
blog and nonblog links and says that this practice is OK. Hammocks.com uses
nofollow extensively on its site to concentrate its referred PageRank to flow to only
those pages it wants to promote, as shown here:
<div class="cartText">
<li class="pipe"><a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.hammocks.com/info/help.cfm">
Customer Service</a></li>
<li class="pipe"><a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.hammocks.com/info/ordertracking.cfm">Order Status</a></li>
<li><a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.hammocks.com/cart/shopper.cfm"
id="cartImage">View Cart</a></li>
For more information on the nofollow attribute, see the HTML 5 draft at http://www.
Reduce risky redirects
Use page redirects with caution. Client-side redirects utilizing JavaScript and meta
refresh redirects have been used for cloaking in the past, and search engines look for
them. In general, avoid serving different content for users and search engine crawlers.
If used improperly, temporary 302 redirects are potentially harmful to the rankings
of your site.
Servers use HTTP status codes to tell the requesting agent that a resource has been
moved (301, 302, and 307) or can’t be found (404). The 301 HTTP status code tells
the user agent that the resource has permanently moved to a new location. The 302
HTTP status code tells the agent that the move is temporary. For on-site redirects,
there are cases in which a 302 temporary redirect makes sense. For example, /todaysmenu.html temporarily redirects to monday.html, tuesday.html, wednesday.html, and
so on as the menu changes.
For off-site redirects, a permanent 301 redirect is the preferred method to avoid the
possibility of link hijacking. However, some webmasters have reported that a hybrid
approach works best for moving to a new, nonlinked domain. They temporarily use a
302 redirect to the new site, build up some links, and then change to a 301 redirect.
Abrupt transitions from an old to a new site, coupled with a raft of new links to the
new site, can cause your site to be penalized by search engines.
Ten Steps to Higher Search Engine Rankings |
Google says that PageRank is handled properly for 301 redirects.24 More recent data
shows that Google is handing 302s more favorably.25
Permanent redirects. To redirect an old URI to a new URI, add the following lines to
your .htaccess or httpd.conf file:
Options +FollowSymLinks
RewriteEngine on
RewriteRule ^oldpage.htm$ http://www.example.com/newpage.htm
Where possible, Windows users should use Internet Information Server (IIS) redirects,
which are transparent to search engines. To redirect URIs on IIS, do the following:
1. Go to the Internet Services Manager and browse the website for which you want
to do the redirect.
2. In the right pane, right-click on the file or folder you wish to redirect, and then
click Properties.
3. Under the File tab, click the radio button labeled “A redirection to a URI”.
4. Enter the target in the “Redirect to” text area.
5. Be sure to check the boxes labeled “The exact URI entered above” and “A permanent redirection for this resource”.
6. Click on Apply.
Canonical URIs. Here is an example showing a permanent redirect to www.example.com
of all URIs that do not start with “www”. To create uniform URIs, add the following
lines to your httpd.conf or .htacess file in your root folder:
Options +FollowSymLinks
RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^example.com$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.example.com/$1 [R=301,L]
where L indicates that this is the last rule and R signifies the return code it sends,
which requires an argument.
This technique defaults to one canonical domain, to ensure uniform URIs and
inlinks. It also permits flexibility for subdomains.
Note that redirecting an entire domain and then changing all the old links to new
links can harm your rankings because of the large amount of new links to a new
domain that must be re-indexed. A better approach is to use relative URIs and to not
change URIs after the domain name is redirected.
G. March 11, 2007. “Understanding the 301 redirect.” SEO Buzz Box, http://www.seobuzzbox.com/
understanding-the-301-redirect/ (accessed March 29, 2008).
25Cutts, M. January 4, 2006. “SEO advice: discussing 302 redirects.” Mattcutts.com, http://www.mattcutts.com/
blog/seo-advice-discussing-302-redirects/ (accessed March 29, 2008).
Chapter 1: Natural Search Engine Optimization
Measuring inbound links
The Marketleap.com link popularity tool is a good way to compare your site against
others for inbound links (see Figure 1-20).
Figure 1-20. Marketleap’s link popularity checker
You can also gauge the number of inbound links you have at Yahoo! or Google by
typing link:http://www.example.com. To see how well your site is indexed, type site:
example.com into Yahoo! or Google. If there are 1,000 pages on your site and only 50
are indexed, you’ve got a problem.
The Yahoo! Site Explorer tool at http://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/ lets you access the
information in Yahoo!’s database about your site’s presence, including inbound links.
Natural SEO is the process of keyword-optimizing your site, creating targeted content, and promoting your website to boost inbound links and search engine rankings. If possible, bake keywords directly into your site with your domain name,
URIs, navigation, and site hierarchy. First, use keyword research tools to discover the
search demand and competition for phrases related to your business. Next, select a
primary keyphrase based on these findings that is specific enough to convert, yet
broad enough to draw enough traffic. Then customize your content and meta tags to
the topic of each web page. Once your site is optimized with irresistible content and
tools, tirelessly promote it to boost inbound links.
The Future of SEO: Metadata
In early 2008, Yahoo! announced that its web crawler would begin to process microformats and other forms of structured metadata, making it available to developers as a
way to present richer search results.a For example, instead of a blue link and a plain
text abstract, a search result for an electronic gizmo could contain a thumbnail of the
device, its price, its availability, reviews, and perhaps a link to buy it immediately. The
greater the percentage of search results that take advantage of metadata (from any search
engine), the greater interest site owners have in structuring their sites accordingly.
Metadata generally means machine-readable “data about data,” which can take many
forms. Perhaps the simplest form falls under the classification of microformats,b which
can be as simple as a single attribute value such as nofollow, described in more detail
in “Step 10: Build Inbound Links with Online Promotion,” earlier in this chapter.
Another popular single-attribute microformat is XFN,c which allows individual links to
be labeled as connections on a social graph, with values such as acquaintance, coworker, spouse, or even sweetheart. A special value of me indicates that a link points to
another resource from the same author, as in the following example:
<a href="myothersite.example.com" rel="me">Homepage</a>
Some microformats expose more structure, particularly to represent people and events
and to review information, all of which can help make sites more presentable in semantic search engines. For example, a social network might expose a personal profile using
hCard,d the microformat equivalent of the vCard address book standard:e
<div class="vcard">
<h2 class="fn">John Q. Public</h2>
<img class="photo" src="/images/jqp.jpg"/>
<a class="URI" href="http://jqp.example.net">
Personal Page
<div class="tel">+1-650-289-4040</div>
<span class="email">[email protected]</span>
Microformats are great for this sort of thing, but it is fairly easy for the structured data
needs of a site to run beyond what’s covered by a microformat specification.
RDF, the Resource Description Framework,f is (as the name suggests) a general framework for metadata not tied to any particular syntax or representation. The main concept
mirrors that of a statement, often called a triple because it encompasses a subject (what
you talk about), a predicate (some property of the subject), and an object (the value of the
property). For example, in plain language one might say that “this book is written by Andy
King,” which demonstrates a subject, predicate, and object, respectively. By breaking
down knowledge into small, statement-size chunks and using URIs to stand for resources
and relationships between them, you can express nearly any fact or opinion imaginable.
Chapter 1: Natural Search Engine Optimization
Quite a few different ways to embed RDF in web pages have been proposed, but the
most popular one is called RDFa, which defines a few additional attributes to be used
in pages. The about attribute defines a subject, the property attribute defines a predicate, and the resource attribute defines an object, though to avoid having to repeat
information already present, many existing XHTML elements also come into play.
RDFa also makes broad use of CURIEs,h or Compact URIs, to make life easier for
authors. The following short example shows how the statement mentioned previously
could be encoded in a web page:
<div xmlns:dc="http://pURI.org/dc/elements/1.1/"
<span property="dc:creator">Andy King</span>
Soon, a significant amount of traffic from search engines will depend on the extent to
which the underlying site makes useful structured data available. Things such as
microformats and RDFa have been around in various forms for years, but now that
search engines are noticing them, SEO practitioners are starting to take note, too.
2 2
SEO Case Study: PhillyDentistry.com
In this chapter, we’ll show you how to put into action the optimization techniques
that you learned in Chapter 1 and the conversion techniques you’ll learn in
Chapter 5. To do so, we feature a case study that shows the benefits of natural search
engine optimization (SEO).
Original Site
Dr. Ken Cirka, DMD, contacted us in mid-2004 seeking to boost the number of
patient leads he was getting from his website. The original website had a simple,
graphically rich design using stock images (see Figure 2-1).
Although it was visually appealing to humans, it was not appealing to search
Through the lens of a Lynx viewer, the site looked like this:
Title=Dr. Ken Cirka, DMD
<alt text>
Dr. Ken Cirka Center City Philadelphia dentist 1601 Walnut Street,
Suite 1302 Philadelphia, PA 19102 215.568.6222
</alt text>
[1][email protected] Center City Philadelphia dentist
<alt text>
Center City Philadelphia dentist Center City Philadelphia dentist
Center City Philadelphia dentist Center City Philadelphia dentist
Dental Care for your lifestyle
</alt text>
[3]Meet the Doctor
[4]Hours & Location
[6][email protected]
[3] http://www.phillydentistry.com/doctor.html (meet the doctor)
[4] http://www.phillydentistry.com/hours.html (hours & location)
[5] http://www.phillydentistry.com/services.html (services)
Meta description=Five star service in dental care is abundant in Dr.
Cirka's cosmetic and general dentistry office in Center City Philadelphia.
Meta keywords=Dr. Ken Cirka, Ken Cirka Dentist, Philadelphia Dentist,
Philadelphia area dentist, Center City Philadelphia dentist,
cosmetic dentistry, gentle dentistry, Philadelphia dentistry, philly,
bleaching, dentist, dentistry, Philadelphia, dental,
Walnut Street, cosmetic, best, DDS, DMD, Dr., doctor, general, center
city, pennsylvania, veneers, porcelain, PA, good, Penn, spa,
evening, weekend
Figure 2-1. PhillyDentistry.com, circa June 2004
The site used keyword-rich image alt tags, but search engines give more weight to visible text such as headlines and body copy than they do to invisible text. In Dr. Cirka’s
original site, search engines could detect no body copy or headlines. They saw only alt
and link text. The site was also opening up the business to spam; note that publishing a
plain-text email address in your page will increase the amount of spam emails that you
receive. It is best to use a contact form instead to avoid spam from spambots.
Original Site |
Simulating Search Engines with Lynx
The Lynx browser is a free, open source, text-mode browser that sees web pages like
search engine crawlers do; that is, it sees only the textual portion of the page. A Lynx
viewer is a web-based service designed to view web pages using the Lynx browser. Lynx
notation is largely self-explanatory, but note that Lynx indicates a link by using a
bracket around the number of the link on the page; for example, [2] signifies the second link on a page. For more information on Lynx see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Lynx_(web_browser) and http://www.yellowpipe.com/yis/tools/ (includes a Lynx viewer).
As a comparison to the earlier view, the HTML for the old home page began like
<TITLE>Dr. Ken Cirka, DMD</TITLE>
<LINK REL="StyleSheet" HREF="/style.css" TYPE="text/css">
<meta name="Description" content="Five star service in dental care is abundant in Dr.
Cirka's cosmetic and general dentistry office in Center City Philadelphia.">
<meta name="Keywords" content="Dr. Ken Cirka, Ken Cirka Dentist, Philadelphia
Philadelphia area dentist, Center City Philadelphia dentist,
cosmetic dentistry, gentle dentistry, Philadelphia dentistry, philly, bleaching,
dentist, dentistry, Philadelphia, dental, Walnut Street, cosmetic, best, DDS, DMD,
Dr., doctor, general, center city, pennsylvania, veneers, porcelain, PA, good,
Penn, spa, evening, weekend">
<table border=0 cellspacing=0 cellpadding=2 bgcolor=FFFFFF width=610>
<table border=0 cellspacing=0 cellpadding=2 bgcolor=#006699 width=610>
<table bgcolor="#ffffff" border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width=610>
<td align="center" colspan=2>
<table border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width=610>
<td><img src="images/small_ken_logo.gif" hspace=30 alt="Dr. Ken Cirka Center City
Philadelphia dentist"></td>
<td><img src="images/address.gif" width="194" height="61" border=0 alt="1601 Walnut
Street, Suite 1302 Philadelphia, PA 19102 215.568.6222" vspace=6><br>
Chapter 2: SEO Case Study: PhillyDentistry.com
<span class=arial><a href="mailto:[email protected]">
[email protected]</a></span></td>
<td align=right><img src="images/fower-3.jpg" width="114" height="150" border=0
alt="Center City Philadelphia dentist"></td>...
Few Indexable Keywords
The title tag, body copy, and headers are the most important factors in search engine
rankings for on-site optimization. The description meta tag is of secondary importance for SEO rankings. The keywords meta tag and alternative text have little effect
on rankings, but alt attributes do affect image searches.
You can see from Figure 2-1 and from the results of the search engine simulator that
the original home page, which was made up almost entirely of graphics, offered little
visible text to index. The title tag, “Dr. Ken Cirka, DMD,” had no targeted keywords. There was no visible keyword text to index in the main body of the page. The
only applicable keywords were in the description meta tag, the keywords meta tag,
and the alt text for graphics.
First Redesign: Mid-2004
Dr. Cirka’s primary goals were to increase appointment requests and to target more
lucrative cosmetic dentistry services. Based on these goals, we developed a search
engine strategy to optimize Dr. Cirka’s site for higher visibility. An analysis of keyword
queries in search engines revealed that most of Dr. Cirka’s target audience searched for
dentist philadelphia and cosmetic dentist philadelphia (see Table 2-1).
Table 2-1. Top keyword search demand for Philadelphia dentist
Keyword query
dentist philadelphia
cosmetic dentist philadelphia
dentist implant philadelphia
dentist in philadelphia
dentist pa philadelphia
We also found that the site had few inbound links. As you learned in Chapter 1, offsite SEO such as inlinks is weighed more heavily than on-site SEO for high rankings.
Based on our research, we advised the doctor to incorporate search-friendly best
practices into his site. Dr. Cirka agreed. We launched the redesign of the site in June
2004 (see Figure 2-2).
First Redesign: Mid-2004 |
Figure 2-2. PhillyDentistry.com first redesign, circa July 2004
Search Engine Optimization
Upon indexing Dr. Cirka’s new home page, search engines saw the following:
Title=Cosmetic Dentist & Tooth Whitening in Philadelphia Pennsylvania PA
[1]Philadelphia Dentistry Dr Ken Cirka Logo
1601 Walnut Street, Philadelphia PA [2]request appointment | [3]easy
financing | [4]guarantee | [5]location
Dr. Ken Cirka DMD, Philadelphia Dentistry
Where dental care goes beyond your expectations
Are you looking for a Philadelphia Dentist? Dr. Ken Cirka, DMD, can
make you look younger... boost your confidence... and help you enjoy
pain-free chewing again!
Chapter 2: SEO Case Study: PhillyDentistry.com
Nothing conveys good health and enhances your smile more than clean,
white teeth. So, take advantage of HUGE SAVINGS with our [11]Get
Acquainted Specials including our [12]Free New Client Exam. [13]Click
here »
The redesigned site was much more search-friendly. It used text-based menus with
keywords in the anchor text and in the URIs. The new site included service-specific
pages optimized for one or two keywords, and prominently used his primary keyphrases (cosmetic dentist Philadelphia and Philadelphia dentist[ry]). The new
title element targeted the phrase cosmetic dentist Philadelphia and tooth whitening
<title>Cosmetic Dentist &amp; Tooth Whitening in Philadelphia Pennsylvania PA</title>
Conversion Rate Optimization
In addition to SEO, the redesigned website also makes use of conversion rate optimization (CRO). For instance, you can also see the “baked-in” persuasive copywriting
and SEO in action. Instead of “Home,” the main navigation bar says “Philadelphia
Dentistry Home” to squeeze in his primary keyphrase. The main header contains his
primary keyphrase as well as his name, which people now search on:
<h1>Dr. Ken Cirka DMD, Philadelphia Dentistry</h1>
The tagline entices visitors to continue reading for more information:
Where dental care goes beyond your expectations
To grab your attention, the opening paragraph starts with a question and then moves
right to the benefits of healthy, straight, and gleaming white teeth:
Are you looking for a Philadelphia Dentist? Dr. Ken Cirka, DMD, can
make you look younger... boost your confidence... and help you enjoy
pain-free chewing again!
The second paragraph and the rest of the page contain more services, benefits, and
calls to action:
Nothing conveys good health and enhances your smile more than clean,
white teeth. So, take advantage of HUGE SAVINGS with our [11]Get
Acquainted Specials including our [12]Free New Client Exam. [13]Click
here »
Free exams, discounts, specials, referral incentives, and even the directive “Click
here” all work together to entice visitors to explore more of the site and to contact
the office. The URIs are also keyword-optimized, with addresses such as http://
First Redesign: Mid-2004 |
After eight months of promotion, Dr. Cirka’s site rankings increased from nonexistent
to number one on Google for both natural and pay-per-click (PPC) rankings for his
primary keyphrase, philadelphia dentist (see Figure 2-3). Note that he was also second in Google local results for the same term.
Figure 2-3. Google rankings for PhillyDentistry.com after website optimization
In eight months, Dr. Cirka went from gaining one new client per week from his website to gaining an average of nine new clients per week from his website. This nearly
tenfold improvement was caused by three factors:
• Keyword optimization of his site
• A monthly promotion campaign to build inbound links
• Minimal PPC advertising
In the nine months after we first worked on his site, Dr. Cirka hired another dentist,
added new staff members, and moved to a larger office to accommodate the influx of
new patients.
Second Redesign: Late 2007
Dr. Cirka contacted us three years later to give his site a new look and to focus it on
different services. Our new design for him incorporated best practices from Chapters 1, 5, and 6 (see Figure 2-4).
Chapter 2: SEO Case Study: PhillyDentistry.com
Figure 2-4. Second redesign of PhillyDentistry.com
Search engines saw the new home page like this:
Title=Philadelphia Dentistry by Dr. Ken Cirka - Cosmetic Dentist
* [1]philadelphia dentistry home
* [2]dental services
+ [3]Tooth Whitening
+ [4]Zoom Whitening
+ [5]Porcelain Veneers
+ [6]Dental Crowns/Bridges
+ [7]InvisAlign
+ [8]Cerinate Lumineers
+ [9]NTI Tension Suppression
+ [10]Aesthetic Dentisty
+ [11]Cosmetic Dentistry
+ [12]Preventive Care
+ [13]Free Visit
* [14]smile gallery
* [15]success stories
* [16]meet our staff
* [17]contact
* [18]request appointment
* [19]easy financing
* [20]guarantee
* [21]location
Second Redesign: Late 2007
[22]Dr Ken Cirka, Philadelphia Dentistry
Dr. Ken Cirka
1601 Walnut Street
Suite #1302
Philadelphia, PA
Call Now!
(215) 568-6222
Philadelphia Dentist Awards
Best Dentist...
2007: Dr. Cirka was awarded "Top Dentist" by the Consumers Research
Council ...
Dr Ken Cirka Logo
Dr. Ken Cirka, DMD - Philadelphia Dentistry
Healthy teeth and gums for life
Are you looking for a Philadelphia Dentist? Dr. Ken Cirka, DMD, can
make you look younger... boost your confidence... and help you enjoy
pain-free chewing again!
Nothing conveys good health and enhances your smile more than clean,
white teeth. So, take advantage of BIG SAVINGS with our [23]Get
Acquainted Specials including our [24]Free New Client Exam. [25]Click
here »
[26]Philadelphia Dentist Cosmetic Dentistry Cosmetic Dentistry Services
Do you have crooked, chipped or discolored teeth? Would you like a
"perfect" smile that makes you look great and feel confident? Dr.
Cirka is able to dramatically improve your smile in just 2 visits with
Cerinate Lumineers.
[27]Cosmetic Dentistry o [28]Learn more about Cerinate Lumineers o
[29]Tooth Whitening ...
To increase the number of phone calls we added two conversion builders: just below
the menu in the left column is an image of Dr. Cirka, above his address and phone
number. Studies have shown that people tend to click more on human faces.
We also placed Dr. Cirka’s phone number along with a call to action in the upperright corner of the screen and integrated into the new logo.
It is important to avoid requiring your customers to make too many clicks. At
WebReference.com, we found that with each click a user is forced to make, about
50% of your traffic is lost. To help avoid this, we added a quick contact form on the
upper right to encourage more appointment requests.
Chapter 2: SEO Case Study: PhillyDentistry.com
Let Keywords Do the Work
For higher keyword prominence, the newest home page is ordered to place dental
service links high up in the visible body code. The vertical menu on the left appears
at the point where most users first begin to scan web pages. To boost credibility we
placed Dr. Cirka’s awards in the left column, and we included “Success Stories” in
the left navigation menu to highlight testimonials from satisfied clients.
Also, note the new title tag optimized for Dr. Cirka’s primary keyphrase:
<title>Philadelphia Dentistry by Dr. Ken Cirka - Cosmetic Dentist</title>
Naming your business with your primary keyphrase is a best practice that allows you
to put your business name up front. This automatically front-loads your primary
keyphrase to maximize the prominence of keywords.
The description meta tag does three things. It begins with Dr. Cirka’s current primary keyphrase, philadelphia dentist; highlights his target services; and ends with a
call to action:
<meta name="description" content="Philadelphia dentist Dr. Ken Cirka,
D.M.D. is an exceptional general and cosmetic dentist specializing in
cosmetic dentistry, porcelain veneers, dental crowns and implants,
tooth whitening, restorative dentistry and preventive care for healthy
teeth and gums. We are currently accepting new patients and referrals.
Call for a free consultation.">
The top-level heading tag is similar to the previous iteration:
<h1>Dr. Ken Cirka, DMD - Philadelphia Dentistry</h1>
The second-level header now targets Dr. Cirka’s second target phrase, cosmetic
<h2><a href="cosmetic-dentistry.html"><img src="art/teeth.jpg" alt="Philadelphia
Dentist Cosmetic Dentistry" width="65" height="71" border="0" align="left">Cosmetic
Dentistry Services </a></h2>
Links are underlined and colored blue to improve usability and conversion rates. The
text includes new persuasive copy for key pages to emphasize the services that Dr.
Cirka wanted to target (cerinate lumineers and porcelain veneers).
After the November 2007 redesign, PhillyDentistry.com referred an average of 47
new clients per week to the doctor’s office, using a combination of natural SEO promotion and increased PPC advertising. This is an increase of more than 5.2 times
over the previous design and an improvement of 47 times over the original site.
Second Redesign: Late 2007
The traffic on PhillyDentistry.com went from tens to hundreds of visitors per day
after the first redesign. Dr. Cirka was pleased with the results:
The patient response from the website has been absolutely incredible! We are looking
to expand our practice, including hiring more staff. Much gratitude and appreciation
go to you and everyone from WSO who has helped us.
This case study shows how search-friendly design, CRO, and steady promotion to
build inbound links can boost your visibility and significantly increase the number of
new customers to your business. When we started this campaign, Dr. Cirka attracted
most of his new clients from traditional offline advertising. After two website redesigns
and monthly promotion, Dr. Cirka’s practice is thriving due in large part to his website.
This case study also shows the value of redesigning your site every few years. As your
business changes with new products and services, upgrading your site will keep it
current for your users’ increasing demands.
Chapter 2: SEO Case Study: PhillyDentistry.com
Chapter 3
Pay-per-Click Optimization
Pay-per-click (PPC) optimization is the process of improving keyword choice, ad
copy, landing pages, and ad groups to boost the return on investment (ROI) of your
search engine-based ad campaigns.
The advice in this chapter will help you rewrite your ad copy to boost click-through
rates (CTRs), optimize landing pages to improve conversion rates, and organize ad
groups to increase the overall effectiveness of your PPC advertising. These methods
will generate more leads and sales, garner valuable market intelligence, and build
brand awareness.
This chapter begins with a quick overview of terms and the basics, but it assumes a
general understanding of PPC advertising. Then it reviews the differences among the
advertising programs offered by the top three search engines. The rest of the chapter
explores the details of PPC optimization with a strong focus on Google AdWords.
We recommend the following tips for effective PPC advertising:
• Choose appropriate, profit-driven goals.
• Target campaigns and keywords to the right audience.
• Set up ad groups with closely related, tightly themed keywords.
• Write ads that feature your keywords and the interests of potential visitors.
• Create goal-driven landing pages with clear calls to action that target your keywords directly and focus on the interests of potential visitors.
• Set bids to meet realistic, profit-driven goals.
That’s PPC in a nutshell.
PPC advertising can be overwhelming at first. It has numerous options, complex targeting, and a variety of measurements. However, the main points are simple. If you
target the right audience and do not spend more than you can afford, you will have a
successful PPC campaign.
Pay-per-Click Basics and Definitions
The cycle of PPC optimization and management starts with goal setting. It then proceeds to a number of tasks: choosing keywords, creating ad groups, writing ad copy,
creating landing pages, and making bids. The last step consists of continuously
tracking and optimizing all of these elements to hone the targeting, message, and
performance of your advertising (see Figure 3-1).
Bids 5
2 Ad groups
Landing pages
Ad copy
Figure 3-1. The cycle of PPC optimization
When setting up an ad campaign, you’ll choose keywords, on-page ad location, language, and network settings to aim your campaign at your “target” searchers. Thus,
when someone searches in the right location, using the language and keywords that
you specify, the search engine will show your ad. The location of your on-page ad is
determined by several factors: your bid, the relevance of the query to your ad, the past
performance of the matched keyword, and the past performance of your account.
Ads are sometimes called creatives. Although PPC advertising spans several formats,
including text, images, video, local businesses, and mobile text, this chapter will
focus on the most common type, text ads.
Ad groups are the sets of keywords and keyword phrases that you can manage as a unit.
Landing pages are the destinations for the ads. This is where the user lands after
clicking on the ad. In practice, landing pages can be expanded to include a larger
group of pages that work together to convert visitors to buyers. Such larger page
groups are sometimes called conversion funnels. These pages need to have information relevant to the incoming keywords and clear calls to action to motivate the visitor to act to fulfill the goal of the campaign.
Bids are often called maximum costs per click (or maximum CPCs). The bid you submit for a keyword is the most you will pay to get traffic. PPC programs use a type
of auction that is like a second-price sealed bidding system with private values.
These types of auctions are difficult to bid successfully because you usually have
incomplete information.
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
The Pay-per-Click Work Cycle
The rhythm of work on PPC is cyclical, but the amount of effort spent on each part
of the cycle changes over the duration of the work. For new PPC campaigns, what
takes the most time are keyword generation, grouping, and bidding. In later stages,
landing page refinement becomes the primary focus (see Figure 3-2).
Keyword management
(keywords, adgroups, bids)
Ad copy management
Loading page management
Figure 3-2. The pattern of effort over time for PPC management
Bids and targets are critical elements. Big changes to a campaign will require changes
to bidding and targeting. Unless there are huge mistakes in meeting the needs and
expectations of visitors, ads and landing pages will typically have a smaller effect on
a campaign. Improving the performance of PPC requires accurate tracking of campaigns and comparison of CTRs, CPCs, conversion rates, and costs per conversion.
Common Problems with Pay-per-Click Optimization
The most common mistakes made when optimizing a campaign are:
• Not taking large enough samples
• Not providing a controlled environment
• Not using the most appropriate metrics to gauge success
It can sometimes take months before you can accumulate enough data to decide
what is working best. Some short campaigns do not receive enough conversions to
get adequate optimization data. When you are experimenting with ads and landing
pages, remember to allow sufficient campaign time to acquire the data you are trying
to measure.
Pay-per-Click Basics and Definitions |
Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Everybody Else
There are many vendors of PPC advertising. Of vendors offering the greatest reach
(and likely the greatest click-through), Google AdWords delivers the most, Yahoo!
Search Marketing (YSM) is second, and Microsoft adCenter is third. Smaller programs exist, some boasting a higher ROI than that of the large vendors. Of these,
Ask.com, Kanoodle, and MIVA are quite reputable.
Although advertisers may choose smaller vendors to save money, there can be
• They don’t drive as much traffic.
• Possible savings can be reduced by the increased cost of campaign management
• Some don’t have adequate safeguards against click fraud.
According to eMarketer, Google received 75% of U.S. paid search advertising and
Yahoo! received 9% (http://www.emarketer.com/Reports/All/Emarketer_2000473.aspx).
This chapter will focus on the clear leader in reach, Google AdWords, and will compare and contrast it with the two runners-up: YSM and Microsoft adCenter. The
most important differences among these three programs are in bulk editing, geotargeting, and minimum bidding.
Differences in Bulk Editing: Uploading Spreadsheets Versus the
AdWords Editor
For large accounts, launching and managing PPC campaigns can require timeconsuming and tedious work in spreadsheets, choosing hold terms, writing ad copy,
and managing URIs and bids. Traditionally, advertisers made bulk edits to large
accounts by uploading revised spreadsheets that contained campaign changes. Currently, Google AdWords offers a larger suite of PPC management tools than the
other programs. One very valuable tool is the AdWords Editor, which is used to
make bulk changes to a campaign. Bulk changes are typically made for several purposes: to tag tracking URIs, to change ad text, and to modify bids. The ability to
bulk-edit a campaign provides useful shortcuts that can save you valuable time.
The AdWords Editor is a desktop tool that can replace spreadsheet uploads. You can
download the AdWords Editor from the Tools section within AdWords. The Editor
tool allows you to make offline changes to your campaign and then post those
changes online to your AdWords account. Use it to change multiple keywords, ads,
and bids at once or to create new campaigns, ad groups, or keywords.
The AdWords Editor allows you to make changes to accounts by cutting and pasting from a comma-separated value (CSV) file. You can export the whole account, select
campaigns, select ad groups, or select smaller sections that you are currently viewing.
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
One drawback to the AdWords Editor is that it imports ad groups, keywords, and
ads separately, but it groups them together when it exports the campaign file. You
have to take the time to paste each element into the Editor rather than uploading an
entire spreadsheet at once.
Another limitation of the AdWords Editor is that it does not allow bulk campaign
Advertisers seeking to add campaigns in bulk might look into the
AdWords API. Google charges by the transaction for use of its API,
however. Microsoft adCenter and YSM also offer APIs for custom
applications and both are free of charge. However, as of this writing,
Microsoft hasn’t released its API to all advertisers.
A big benefit of the AdWords Editor is the advanced search features that it offers.
Advanced searches allow advertisers to make bulk edits without dealing with a
spreadsheet download. You can not only search through elements of your account,
but also import past performance data and use it to search through your campaign.
The AdWords Editor is a powerful tool that makes large accounts far more manageable.
In more traditional fashion, YSM offers spreadsheet uploads for bulk editing. However, YSM limits the upload capability for spreadsheets only to select campaigns that
meet certain criteria of age and ad spend.
Ad spend is short for advertising spend. It might also be called click
spend. In PPC, it is the amount of money spent to generate clicks. Do
not confuse it with the amount budgeted for clicks. Sometimes in PPC,
ROI is replaced by return on advertising spend (ROAS). This term
shows that the calculated return does not include other expenditures,
such as operational costs.
For example, you cannot create a new YSM account and import a campaign. As a
result, advertisers can’t export a spreadsheet from an AdWords account and upload
it to a YSM account to quickly start a new campaign. On the other hand, Microsoft
adCenter offers a campaign import for new accounts. After campaigns are in place,
however, you can make bulk edits only at the ad group level.
Some advertisers prefer the simplicity of spreadsheet uploads for making bulk
changes. They favor Yahoo!’s method over the AdWords Editor. Opinions may
change as Google expands the functionality of the AdWords Editor.
Differences in Geotargeting
In YSM, advertisers can target users nationally, by states and territories, or by predefined designated marketing areas (DMAs). Rather than following borders, these
regions segment populations in a way that makes more sense for businesses.
Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Everybody Else
In Microsoft adCenter, advertisers can target by country, region, or “city.” This city
targeting is available for a select list of locations, but includes entire metropolitan
areas. It is similar to targeting a DMA in YSM or AdWords. Google AdWords offers
targeting by DMA, by radius around a point, or by defining a closed area on a map.
AdWords offers the most flexible targeting options. Advertisers who want to target
very specific areas will find themselves overdistributed in YSM. That is, they show
ads to visitors located outside the range of their business. In adCenter, a locally targeted campaign would not bring much traffic anyway, unless it was covering a very
large area.
AdWords is much more flexible in its geotargeting options because it gets enough
traffic to make narrowly targeted campaigns viable. You should not think that narrow targeting is a silver bullet for reducing competition, however. Local ads compete
equally with national ads on Google AdWords, and perhaps in some cases get a
small boost in Quality Score.
AdWords Quality Scores
AdWords uses “Quality Scores” to determine where an ad will rank. The higher your
Quality Score is, the higher your ads will rank. AdWords also has Quality Scores to
determine distribution on the content network and to calculate the minimum bid
required to compete in an auction on the search network. The search network and the
content network comprise the Google network. In some cases, data used in Quality
Scores is pulled only from Google and not the Google network. According to Google,
this is how Quality Scores are used (https://adwords.google.com/support/bin/answer.
Google calculates a keyword’s minimum bid using:
The keyword’s CTR on Google; the CTR on the Google Network isn’t considered
The relevance of the keyword to its ad group
The quality of your landing page
Other relevance factors
To calculate a keyword-targeted ad’s position on a search result page Google uses:
• The matched keyword’s CTR on Google; the CTR on the Google Network is not
• The relevance of the keyword and ad to the search query
• Other relevance factors
To calculate a keyword-targeted ad’s eligibility to appear on a particular content site,
as well as the ad’s position on that site, Google uses:
• The ad’s past performance on this and similar sites
• The quality of your landing page
• Other relevance factors
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
Therefore, targeting your ad locally will not avoid your national competitors, but it
will remove your ads from locations that you do not serve. The value in local targeting comes from filtering out unqualified clicks.
Differences in Minimum Bids and Quality Scoring
In Microsoft adCenter, the minimum bid is $0.05, as of this writing. In YSM, the minimum bid is $0.10. In Google AdWords, the minimum bid is variable and can rise to a
very high level. These high minimum bids in Google come from the manner in which
Google determines click cost. The bid is a function of competitive bids, of the ad copy,
and of the site’s relevance and quality to the search terms. Thus, low-quality or lowrelevance sites may have to pay very high costs per click even when there is little competition. The high minimum bids for some terms in Google have had a negative impact on
affiliate advertisers, made-for-AdSense sites, single-page sites, bridge sites, and others.
A bridge or doorway site is usually a single-page site. It offers little
content of its own, and the sole reason for its existence is to be a gateway to the real site being marketed. Bridge sites began to spring up
because they provided a way for a company to have multiple PPC listings for a set of terms.
Because minimum bids can vary widely, counting the number of advertisers bidding
on a keyword will not necessarily provide a gauge of the level of competition. The
existence of fewer advertisers might mean that a keyword tends to require high minimum bids and is therefore still competitive.
For the content network, Quality Scores determine the minimum CPC required to
compete in an auction for specific sites. It is important to have highly themed keywords and ad text. For the search network, Google bases minimum bids on keywordad text relevance and landing page quality. For an outline of a high-quality landing
page, visit Google’s help center at https://adwords.google.com/select/siteguidelines.html.
We discuss landing pages in more detail later in this chapter.
After making changes to ad text and landing pages, advertisers might still find that
their minimum bids are too high. Some keywords do not perform well across campaigns for PPC. Google uses this information to estimate minimum bids. Noncommercial general queries might not get low enough minimum bids to make them
perform well in an AdWords campaign.
Differences in minimum bids affect the profitability of Google AdWords compared
to Microsoft adCenter and YSM. Keywords that might be too general to bid on in
Google AdWords might still be feasible for YSM and adCenter because of lower minimum bids. AdWords’ minimum bids can also raise the costs of highly specific terms
that have little competition. In adCenter and YSM, you might not bid on very specific keyword phrases because they won’t receive enough traffic to make it worth
your time. In AdWords, you might not bid on the terms because they cost too much.
Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Everybody Else
Summary of the Differences Among AdWords, adCenter, and YSM
As a more evolved system, Google AdWords sets the standard for other PPC programs. AdWords offers a larger set of management tools and has targeting options
that are more refined. Anyone who is able to optimize an AdWords campaign effectively ought to be able to manage a Microsoft adCenter or Yahoo! campaign as well.
The rest of this chapter will focus on PPC optimization geared largely toward Google
Goal Setting, Measurement, Analytics Support, and
Closing the Loop
Creating an optimized campaign starts by setting appropriate goals. Before setting up
ad groups and bidding on keywords, an advertiser needs to understand ROI, come
up with a plan for converting visitors, and set a budget. Setting boundaries for
spending and creating a plan for making the greatest use of your budget will save you
headaches later.
Calculating Return on Investment
Advertisers who use PPC need to understand the concept of ROAS or ROI. In contrast to more traditional forms of marketing, PPC provides metrics for tracking campaign performance to a high level of detail. Setting goals and assigning a value to
those goals allows you to track costs and values. The equation for ROI is as follows:
ROI = [(value – cost) / cost] * 100%
To achieve a positive ROI, you must pick reasonable goals, assign values to those
goals, and create a system for achieving those goals.
Goals and Values
It is very easy to generate a large number of impressions and clicks without seeing
any results. To avoid this, first define the actions that you want your visitors to take
on your site. Typical business goals include:
• Branding or driving awareness of the site or product
• Driving online transactions
• Building relationships
Tasks associated with those goals might be subscribing to a newsletter or RSS feed,
placing an order or requesting a quote, or completing a contact form. Then you need
to quantify the value of each of these “conversion” types. AdWords offers separate
conversion-tracking scripts for several types of goals, such as a purchase/sale, lead,
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
signup, page view, and other goals. These roughly correspond to visitors at different
stages of the buying cycle, and they deserve different values.
AdWords allows advertisers to set static or dynamic conversion values
in conversion tracking scripts. You can then retrieve revenue information about your conversions by running a report in the AdWords interface that opts to include value information for conversion columns.
Tracking and Metrics
You should track the success of all PPC elements through website analytics and conversion tracking. Google offers a free analytics program called Google Analytics.
With it you can track multiple campaigns and get separate data for organic and paid
listings. Whatever tracking program you use, you have to be careful to keep track of
performance metrics correctly.
The first step in optimizing a PPC campaign is to use appropriate metrics. Profitable
campaigns with equally valued conversions might be optimized to:
• Reduce the CPC given the same (or greater) click volume and conversion rates.
• Increase the CTR given the same (or a greater) number of impressions and the
same (or better) conversion rates.
• Increase conversion rates given the same (or a greater) number of clicks.
• Reduce the cost per conversion given the same (or a greater) number of
• Increase profits in general by varying multiple metrics. Increasing profits might
mean improving one metric at the expense of another controlling metric. For
example, you might reduce the CPC and it might also reduce the click volume,
but overall the result should be increased profits.
Notice that conversion metrics are included in all of the methods for optimizing a
campaign. Tracking conversions is challenging. Uncertainty in conversion tracking
and values makes it difficult to optimize a campaign, apart from diagnosing obvious
problems with the setup of the campaign. If you do not track the sources of conversions in your site, your optimization methods will be approximate, less competitive,
and less remunerative.
Closing the Loop
Closing the loop refers to making use of different stages of the sales cycle to produce a
lead or sale, or to develop a relationship with a visitor that might lead to sales in the
future. The buying cycle has three stages: (1) forming a perception, (2) researching, and
(3) buying. With a good sales team and customer relationship management, much of
the process of closing the loop occurs offline. The effort, however, begins online with
effective targeting. Campaigns with a high ROI are effective in closing the loop.
Goal Setting, Measurement, Analytics Support, and Closing the Loop |
The first steps in closing the loop are as follows:
1. Properly target the campaigns.
2. Create ad text that qualifies visitors.
3. Send visitors to the most relevant landing page or to a custom landing page.
Targeting and qualifying visitors
Visitors from PPC ads signal their interest through the queries they use, the sites they
visit, the language they employ (e.g., French, German, or Chinese), and the location
from which they search. PPC gives advertisers unique opportunities to target a range
of visitors with specialized ads and landing pages to close the loop more effectively.
Major PPC ad programs allow advertisers to reduce wasted clicks by “targeting” specific user interests and “excluding” disinterested individuals. This refined targeting
further increases the potential efficiency of a campaign.
Qualifying visitors who are late in the sales cycle
PPC also provides a unique opportunity to help target visitors who are already at the
buying stage. Specific search terms such as model numbers or keywords that have
the word buy or sale, for example, indicate that a visitor is ready to make a purchase.
Relevant landing pages
Using appropriate conversion goals for different visitors helps advertisers close the
loop, improving customer acquisition rates. A single landing page may offer multiple
conversion opportunities. Alternatively, you can create separate landing pages that
are specialized to each type of conversion. The keywords themselves and your initial performance should determine your strategy, although it might take some
Your success depends on matching visitor expectations. If they are ready to buy,
don’t show them a landing page with a free white paper. If visitors are still forming
an opinion of your products or services, don’t show them a “Buy now” button. PPC
is great for direct marketing because visitors reveal information about their interests.
Take advantage of the information provided in their keywords.
Closing the loop offline
After making a sale, try to develop a continuing relationship. Offer surveys to your
customers, ask permission to inform them of future deals and specials, and notify
them about updates and related products. By keeping customers engaged longer,
making repeat sales, and creating positive buzz for your company, you increase the
value of online conversions. You can then afford to be more competitive with your
PPC bidding.
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
Using Metrics to Set a Budget
To confidently set a budget and start a campaign, you will need to estimate some initial costs and determine a baseline for gauging the success of your start-up campaign. You will also need to define a conversion, determine an average value for a
conversion, and establish an average conversion rate.
Estimating Conversion Rates
It takes experience to estimate conversion rates. A site that generates high-value leads
might have a conversion rate of around 2%. An e-commerce site will have a higher conversion rate, maybe 6% to 8% depending on the bid terms. A site that makes a free offer
will probably have double-digit conversion rates, perhaps around 15%.
For example, let’s say your site sells widgets, a classic example of a fake product. On
average, the sale of a widget is worth $20 to you. After researching your competition, coming up with a healthy keyword list, and designing a few custom landing
pages, you figure a conversion rate of about 6% (see the previous sidebar, “Estimating Conversion Rates”). To break even, you will need to target a cost per conversion
of $20, but in your plan you would like it to be less than this so that you will have a
positive ROI. You know that you want to generate at least 100 sales per month. So,
you will need to generate at least 1,667 clicks per month:
100 conversions * (100 clicks / 6% conversions) = 1,667 clicks
And you will want to keep your budget under $2,000 to gain a positive ROI:
$20 / conversion * 100 conversions = $2,000
To keep the budget under $2,000 you will need an average CPC lower than $1.20:
$2,000 / 1,667 clicks = $1.20
So, you will adjust your campaign to receive 1,667 clicks at a CPC of less than $1.20.
When you get started, you may find that this is not possible, so you will redo your
calculations. You can use Google’s Traffic Estimator (https://adwords.google.com/
select/TrafficEstimatorSandbox) to see whether these numbers are in the ballpark.
Do not be discouraged if estimates from Google do not align with your expectations.
The Traffic Estimator is not precise. It does not include the content network, and it
is not good with medium- to low-traffic keywords.
You don’t have to do a calculation such as this to get your campaign going. Just
knowing the average cost per conversion that you want to aim for to generate a positive ROI puts you ahead of the game.
Goal Setting, Measurement, Analytics Support, and Closing the Loop |
Return on Investment and Profit
Optimizing a campaign to increase your ROI is a good move, but do not forget the
bottom line, which is profit. Some small PPC programs boast a high ROI, but your
program will not be an unqualified success if it generates only a few sales per month.
Although volume is important, the real bottom-line measurement is profit. You might
set bids low to achieve a lower cost per conversion and watch your ROI skyrocket, but
this could cause profits to drop. Google allows advertisers to specify the value of conversions in their tracking code. For some keywords, it is worth the time to determine how
profits change with ad position and to determine the optimal position for your ad given
a specific bid landscape. This is better than targeting a specific cost per conversion that
generates a positive ROI. The approximation of ROI is more convenient because markets, ad positions, and query variations under which ads appear are volatile.
Pay-per-Click Return on Investment and Goals Summary
As we mentioned before, the first step in PPC optimization is to choose your goals
and come up with a plan for getting visitors to respond accordingly. To maximize
ROI, translate each unique goal into a measurable action that a visitor to your site
can accomplish. Those actions should be assigned values. The budget of your campaign should be based on the projected value and cost of the goals you define.
Continuing to improve your ability to “close the loop” helps increase the value of
online actions and makes your campaign more competitive. This relationship building occurs mainly offline, but properly developing your site and planning a PPC campaign can simplify those efforts.
All of this planning happens before logging on to Google AdWords and looking at
your campaigns. The next few sections of this chapter focus on how to optimize the
elements of a PPC campaign.
Keyword Discovery, Selection, and Analysis
We’ll start with an overview of the types of keywords you will need to consider. See
Table 3-1 for a summary of AdWords’ keyword matching options.
Table 3-1. AdWords’ keyword matching options
Match type
Possible matched queries
Matches queries with the same words, in any order,
and possibly with other words. Also might show for
singular/plural variations, synonyms, and related
brown shirts
brown shirts, shirts
brown, cool brown
shirts, brown polo
shirts, brown shirts
cheap, brown shirt
Matches queries with the same words in the exact
order and possibly other terms before or after (but
not in between).
"brown shirts"
brown shirts, cool
brown shirts, brown
shirts cheap
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
Table 3-1. AdWords’ keyword matching options (continued)
Match type
Possible matched queries
Matches queries that contain the same words in the
exact order without any other words.
[brown shirts]
brown shirts
Excludes queries that contain the matched term. Can
be used with broad, exact, and phrase match.
Doesn’t match any query
that contains the word
Keyword Research
Keyword research is a lengthy topic in itself. What follows is a brief overview of keyword research and four steps by which an advertiser should proceed.
Step 1: Look through your site and identify major themes
Generate a long list of different root terms. A common mistake is to leave out large
portions of your site and to focus only on the main product or service that you offer.
Typically, this will lead you to the most competitive terms that you could bid on,
and it will not always be profitable for you to bid for top positions for these terms.
Many companies are willing to lose money to rank at the top of Google for their primary product or service. If your goal is to make profits, you will need to be more
strategic, more thorough, and more creative with your keyword list.
Step 2: Research the competition for your root terms
Evaluating your competition will give you an idea of how much effort it will take to
compete. Look at the ad text and landing pages of your competitors. If they are
highly specialized to the bid term, you have found a competitive term and should
expect to have to match the efforts of your competitors. Some advertisers have
employed competitive measures such as the keyword effectiveness index (KEI) to
gauge competition. The KEI is the ratio of search traffic to the number of competing
websites that appear for a specific term. This is not useful for Google AdWords due
to minimum bids. If a keyword does not display many ads (or, more accurately to
KEI, if it doesn’t have a lot of organic listings), it does not necessarily mean that there
is low competition, because the term might require a high minimum bid.
Step 3: Use a keyword research tool to generate variations from your list of
root terms
KeywordDiscovery and Wordtracker are two popular research tools that offer free
trials. You might also use a thesaurus. KeywordDiscovery and Wordtracker give relative traffic estimates for keywords. These tools don’t get enough data to predict traffic
on Google. Matching is too complex to calculate how much traffic a broad-matched
keyword might see. Traffic estimates from keyword tools are used to calculate how
much more traffic you might expect from one keyword relative to another keyword.
Keyword Discovery, Selection, and Analysis |
If you come up with a keyword variation that shows zero occurrences in the database of a keyword tool, you should still bid on it. Google gets far more traffic than
these tools can account for, and if you sense that a term seems like it will get traffic,
it actually may.
To generate negative keywords, you should use variations that pop up in a keyword
brainstorming tool. Google’s Keyword Tool is more useful for this. It is located at
Using Google’s Keyword Tool to generate keyword lists from a URI or a list of keywords will show you some of the terms that Google considers to be related to your
site. If you see keywords that are not related, add them as negative keywords even if
you do not see how the terms you are bidding on might expand to match them.
Google’s broad match can branch out quite a bit. Generate a healthy list of negative keywords and continue to add to it as your campaign continues.
If you use Google Analytics, manually tag your URIs and leave off the utm_term parameter, instead of using Google’s auto-tagging feature. If you do this, reports in Analytics will show the search queries that generated clicks rather than the matched terms
that generated clicks. Alternatively, Google offers Search Query Performance reports.
These will give an incomplete list of queries that generated clicks for your ads.
Step 4: Choose the right keyword set
Use keyword research tools, a thesaurus, and search queries to generate more root
terms that are unique. Search terms that are harder to find will have less competition. AdWords’ tool and Wordtracker’s Keyword Universe can help you find new
terms to target. Refer to Chapter 1 for more details on Wordtracker. Perform
searches to find other keywords that competing sites target in their HTML titles and
body text. This technique may uncover new terms. Staying on top of industry news
and events can help you find new keywords to target. You should continually try to
think of new root terms to add to your campaigns.
In the course of your keyword research, you will probably find terms that you are not
sure you want to bid on or that you want to block with negative keywords. Instead of
doing nothing with these keywords, you should bid on them using a lower maximum CPC than you used for more successful terms. If you do not bid on such a keyword directly and if you do not block it, another broad-matched keyword will
probably display ads for it. The performance of the broad-matched keyword might
be made worse by the borderline keyword. You can always decide to block borderline keywords later.
Keyword research is one of the more creative aspects of PPC. Typically, you will find
that only a small group of terms generates most of the traffic on a site as well as most
of the conversions. But discovering those lesser-known terms can benefit your site by
providing less expensive clicks.
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
The Right Keywords and the Myth of the Long Tail
The keywords that perform best in PPC advertising are unique commercial keywords with high search demand. A unique keyword is one that does not contain a
popular root term. These unique keywords have less competition than more general
terms. They have a high value. Competition for these keywords will be lower because
broad-matched terms will not usually show ads for them.
Sometimes when reading about PPC you will encounter the term long tail. Although
a few keywords may get a large number of searches, many other keywords get only a
few searches each, yet may add up to a significant number of searches. These are
called long tail keywords and some have high conversion rates. However, long tail
keyword phrases are less useful for PPC and more useful for search engine optimization (SEO) because of broad matching in PPC. You don’t need to bid on every keyword variation that you can think of in your PPC campaign. AdWords will
automatically show your ads for popular variations of your terms that fit your ads
and targeting. Terms without a search history will not show ads because they have
“low search volume.” Bidding on them makes your campaign bulkier and more difficult to manage.
Target part and model numbers
You will, however, want to bid on long tail terms such as locations, part numbers,
and model numbers. Typically, model numbers are unique keywords that will not be
covered by a broad match. Terms with locations properly narrow the targeting of
your keywords (e.g., “small business new york”). You will also want to expand from
one- or two-keyword phrases. However, adding filler words to three- or four-keyword
phrases to generate a new, low-traffic term is unnecessary.
Broad matches versus direct bidding
You should not rely too heavily on broad matching. Broad matching will usually
build from a root term, but it can also use synonyms and terms that are more general than your current keyword phrases. Bidding directly on a keyword phrase
improves the chances that your ads will show for that term. For example, if you were
bidding on the term small business idea, it will probably expand to show for a term
such as best small business idea (these keyword terms are in italics instead of in
quotes because quoted terms are phrase-matched in AdWords; this section discusses
only broad match). If you are bidding on small business, it too might show ads for
small business idea or for best small business idea. You probably would not want to
take the chance that your ad would not show, and you would at least bid on small
business and small business idea.
You want to bid on different keyword variations if you think broad matching will not
cover them or if you think they will have different conversion rates or CTRs. If the
terms have different conversion rates or CTRs, you will want to set different bids.
Keyword Discovery, Selection, and Analysis |
This can mean using overlapping matching for the same term. For example, if you
were bidding on the term small business, you could reasonably expect that small business and variations of that term would perform differently. You might bid on [small
business] and “small business,” as well as on the broad-matched variation. The more
restrictive match type for a specific query will always show the ad. Bidding on both
the exact match and phrase match variations will allow you to track the performance of each variation separately and to set bids separately.
Avoid adding duplicate keywords to your AdWords campaign because they will
compete against each other, and the term with the higher CPC will show ads. In
addition, duplicate keywords make tracking the success of keywords more difficult.
The Find Duplicate Keywords link under the Tools menu in AdWords Editor helps
you find duplicate keywords in your campaign (see Figure 3-3).
Figure 3-3. AdWords Editor’s Find Duplicate Keywords tool
When searching for duplicates, you will want to find keywords, in any word order,
that have the same match type. Whether or not you want to look in the same campaign or across all campaigns will depend on your account setup. Duplicate keywords that are targeted to different geographical regions are not a problem. Once
you complete your search, you can select duplicate terms, delete them, and post the
changes to your account (see Figure 3-4).
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
Figure 3-4. Selecting and deleting duplicate keywords
Keyword phrases that are more general in nature typically determine the success level
of a PPC campaign. “Tricks” such as bidding on model numbers or very specific
product terms are no longer secrets. Unique terms with high search demand and low
minimum bids are so difficult to find that you will probably get more benefit by just
using a large keyword list, setting smart goals, and making smart bids.
Organizing and Optimizing Ad Groups
Once you have generated your list of keywords, the next step is to organize them into
groups. An ad group is a set of related keywords and keyword phrases. Grouping ads
together helps organize what can be a lengthy list of keywords and phrases into
groups or sets of related ads for easier management.
A focused, themed ad group has many advantages. Perhaps most important is that it
enables you to write very specific ads for well-focused ad groups. All of the keywords in an ad group can have the same ad copy. The performance of each keyphrase affects the quality and determines the CPC for others in the group. Therefore,
the ability to judge the right level of grouping is a useful skill. Many writers on PPC
strategy emphasize grouping and regrouping keywords and keyphrases as the main
optimization strategy. We think that grouping should be one component of optimization, not the entire focus.
Organizing and Optimizing Ad Groups |
Guidelines for Grouping
You will want to group your terms according to theme, bids, and common words.
During the keyword discovery phase, some groupings may become apparent but others might be difficult to determine. One easy way to develop ad groups is to ask
yourself what types of ads you can write that will best describe the keywords in question. A general guideline for ad groups is smaller groups are better. A unique keyword should be placed in its own separate ad group so that you can write a welltargeted ad.
Ad groups can be themed according to root keywords, by meaning, or by the phrases
that they all have in common. They can be further organized according to bidding
and landing page themes. Grouping terms that perform similarly will make setting
bids easier because bids can be set at the ad group level rather than at the level of
individual terms. Grouping terms that are related to a specific landing page makes
performance easier to track. This allows for aggregated tracking at the ad group level.
For bidding purposes, you might separate general terms with low bids, or keywords
for which you have a special interest, into their own ad groups. This makes it easy to
see report data in the AdWords interface and to adjust bids at the ad group level.
Example Themed Ad Groups
A themed ad group is a set of ads that target a specific group of keywords. The campaign can be broken down or “themed” into discrete keyphrase groups. AdWords
Editor offers a Keyword Grouper in the Tools section on the main menu bar (see
Figure 3-5). It shows how you might divide ad groups according to common keywords and makes the divisions for you automatically.
The following is a sample keyword list for a site for Dog Day Care:
dog day care
doggy day care
puppy daycare
canine boarding
dog boarding
dog kennel
puppy kenneling
dog grooming
dog training
puppy training
dog obedience training
canine behavioral work
puppy grooming
If you were to put these keywords into AdWords in one ad group and set the maximum CPC at $1.00, you could have poor results, for a couple of reasons. First, you
would be forced to write an ad that encompasses all of these keywords. If the ad did
not directly relate to each keyword, your Quality Score would be lowered. This
would give your ads a lower rank.
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
Figure 3-5. AdWords Editor’s Keyword Grouper
Second, setting an ad group bid is not a good strategy when you have many different
unrelated keywords. In this case, the only bid strategy that is cost-effective is to set
individual bids on the keyword level. Setting bids on the keyword level can be easy
when you have only a few keywords, as in the preceding example. If you have a
much larger list of keywords, however, setting and maintaining individual bids could
be very time-consuming. A better strategy is to put keywords into smaller themed
groups, such as these:
Day care
Dog day care, doggy day care, puppy daycare
Canine boarding, dog boarding
Dog kennel, puppy kenneling
Dog training, puppy training, dog obedience training, canine behavioral work
Dog grooming, puppy grooming
Organizing and Optimizing Ad Groups |
Optimizing Ad Groups After Launch
After you have launched your campaign and have some statistical information about
your keywords and ads, you can start to optimize your ad groups. Because Google
uses Quality Scores to determine ad placements, grouping is important. Keywords
that have a low Quality Score within Google can cause all of the ads in that group to
be shown at lower rankings regardless of your bids. So, it can be important to review
the components within an ad group and segregate poor performers into their own ad
Optimizing Pay-per-Click Ads
A PPC ad is made up of five parts: the title, two description lines, a display URI, and
a destination URI. The title introduces the ad and captures the attention of a search
engine user. It repeats keywords and is as specific as possible to the user’s query. Use
the description lines to communicate the benefit and tell the visitor what to do and
what to expect once the site has been reached (i.e., a call to action). Typically, ads do
not waste characters on company names, unless branding is an important goal for the
company or unless the key terms are trademark terms. Instead, the display URI can be
used to communicate the company’s name. For example, a company called Sample
Company on the domain www.samplecompany.com could use this display URI:
It could also put in other relevant parts of the URI that fit. For example, if Sample
Company was bidding on “sample product” and its destination URI was http://
www.samplecompany.com/sampleproduct/, its display URI could look like this:
Capitalize the first letters of the company name in the display URI. Keywords in
landing page destination URIs add even more emphasis. Just make sure they will fit
in the space allotted.
Ads shouldn’t be repetitive and make unverified superlative claims. The description
lines should state a benefit that is informational, unique, and easy to read. A good ad
will incorporate many of the keywords from its ad group. Recognizing keywords in
the ad increases the likelihood that a user will click on the ad. Search engine users
typically skim ads, so you should try to be concise, and use short, suitable, actionoriented words. For example, if Sample Company was selling a product that takes a
long time to manufacture and get out the door, and it focuses on a fast turnaround, it
might be tempted to write a description line that reads as follows:
Fast Turnaround Sample Products.
But a better description line would be:
Get Sample Products in Two Days.
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
This description states a benefit (“two-day delivery”), is less generic, and has a call to
action, while not being too pushy (“Get”). The description could have a more specific call to action. If a company is trying to generate leads, the landing page should
have a contact form and a phone number. The phone number can be put directly
into the ad. Note, however, that Microsoft adCenter doesn’t allow this. In that case,
Sample Company might use this call to action:
Call 800-555-5555 for a Free Quote.
The description should use action phrases such as “buy now,” “learn more,” “get
info,” “compare prices,” and so on. It should also try to give visitors a reason to perform the action immediately. Our final ad for Sample Company might look like this:
Custom Sample Products
Get Sample Products in Two Days.
Call 800-555-5555 for a Free Quote.
Poorly written ads often suffer from overly generic text. They lack stated benefits,
have no call to action, and use language that does not click with search engine users.
Ads that are not well coordinated don’t send visitors to the most relevant landing
page. Our Custom Sample Products ad might sound generic because of the nature of
the example, but it exhibits the following useful features:
States a benefit
Get your products in only two days.
Has a call to action
Call the 800 number to get a quote.
Gives a reason to request a quote
It’s free!
Uses a relevant landing page
It uses a page about “sample products.”
Tempts search engine users
It promises to be fast and inexpensive, which everybody likes.
The Custom Sample Products ad managed to repeat the user’s query a few times.
This might be overdoing it. An advertiser using this ad might test other titles that use
variations on the keyword sample products. Testing and measuring ad performance
helps to further optimize PPC campaigns.
Measuring Ad Performance
The convention for measuring an ad’s success is to use CTR. Although CTR may not
be the best metric for maximizing profits, it is the easiest one to use. Ad text can
influence conversion rates. Sometimes advertisers purposely reduce their CTR by
using ad text that filters out unqualified clicks and improves conversion rates. For
example, an ad might list starting prices if a lot of potential PPC visitors are looking
Optimizing Pay-per-Click Ads |
for low-priced products and if the advertiser’s products are expensive. To take into
account varying conversion rates, advertisers might use the following profit-perimpression equation to help decide which ads are performing best:
Profit per impression = [(value / conversion) * conversion rate * CTR] –
This works only if the value per conversion is constant or can be averaged for all
types of conversions. However, because most advertisers use CTR to optimize ads
and because it is a good approximate measure for ad performance, that’s what we
will discuss here.
Optimizing Ad Copy
Tests to get the best ad copy can be broken down into two phases: first, identifying
the variation in the ad copy that you want to measure, and second, identifying the
tools you’ll use to measure which variation works better.
Advertisers should then test these multiple ads to fine-tune campaigns and find out
what works.
Creating ad copy variation
Ad copy is better or worse relative to other ads. Basically, any measurement is made
relative to another ad that is used with the same keyphrases and, if possible, the
same landing page.
To measure these differences you have to vary the ad copy systematically. The different strategies could fill a chapter on their own, but optimizing ad copy uses subtle
changes in the fundamentals of PPC ad copy writing described earlier in this chapter,
in “Optimizing Pay-per-Click Ads.” These changes include:
Incorporating a different call to action
For example, instead of “Request a Quote,” you might try “Request More Info”
or “Download Our White Paper.” One action might result in greater acquisition
rates than another.
Listing various benefits
You might try out different deals—“free shipping” or “10% off orders over
$100”—and see which works best for your ads. It’s easy to make generic ads that
don’t list benefits. These ads don’t perform as well. If the ad describes a service,
at least highlight a particular aspect of the service that might appeal to or qualify
a visitor—“Made in the USA” or “Serving Southeast Michigan” are examples.
Changing emphasis
By rearranging the title and description lines, the copy of your ad can appeal to
different aspects of the sale. For example, if your site offers free shipping, you
might want to highlight that in the title line rather than in the second description line. This will attract greater attention and increase CTRs.
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
Wording, punctuation, and capitalization
AdWords allows you to use one exclamation mark in your ad. You can also capitalize the first letter of each word in your ad description. For example, instead of
“Free trial for first-time buyers.”
you might try:
“Free Trial for First-Time Buyers!”
“First-time buyers get a Free trial.”
Testing ads the easy way: AdWords optimized ad serving
Advertisers should test multiple ads to fine-tune campaigns and find out what is
effective. For this purpose, AdWords offers optimized ad serving. This means advertisers can circulate multiple ads at once and Google will automatically start to circulate “better-performing” ads more frequently. In this approach, AdWords optimizes
performance automatically, based on a performance algorithm developed by Google.
The problem with optimized ad serving is that it is not sufficiently sensitive to random variation. In other words, one ad can often get ahead completely by chance.
Such an ad will appear more frequently than the others and this can skew performance data. It is possible to have ads with identical ad copy circulating at different
rates because one was “outperforming” the other!
In general, avoid circulating better-performing ads more frequently, especially in the
middle of an experiment. To optimize your ad group, you want to decide which ad
has the better CTR as soon as possible and circulate that ad 100% of the time.
Testing ads the hard way: Confidence interval testing
When testing ads, it is important to:
1. Have a controlled experiment where ads circulate “at the same time.” By “at the
same time,” we mean they are rotated evenly throughout the day. Choose the
Rotate ad-serving feature rather than the Optimize feature in AdWords.
2. Make sure ads circulate at a similar average position. Average positions can vary
because competition and bidding vary. Broad-matched terms in particular might
show ads for queries that have different levels of competition.
3. Have enough data to make a judgment with high statistical certainty. This is
Point 3 requires a bit of math. This can look a little daunting, but once you understand the goal, it becomes a matter of plugging in the right numbers. You are trying to
figure out whether one ad is performing better than another, or whether it’s just too
close to call. It is impossible to be 100% certain that one ad is better than another.
Optimizing Pay-per-Click Ads |
The best you can do is say that you are 99% or 95% confident that one ad is actually
performing better than the other one.
Clicks on PPC ads can be treated as a binomial distribution (even though in the
strictest sense they are not because a single impression in AdWords can generate
multiple clicks). Each ad has a separate distribution, and you can specify a confidence interval for the difference in each distribution. For the confidence interval that
you specify, you can calculate a margin of error for the mean proportion of each distribution (the mean proportion is the ad’s CTR). If the margin of error shows that
the difference between the proportions is either less than or greater than zero, you
can be confident, up to the interval you specified, that there is a difference in the
average CTRs of each ad. Given two ads being tested, here is the math.
For a (1 – α)100% confidence interval for (p1 – p2):
( p1 – p2 ) ± Zα ⁄ 2 p1 q1 ⁄ n1 + p2 q2 ⁄ n2
For the purposes of ad testing:
I = impressions
CTR = click-through rate
C = clicks
p1 = CTR1
p2 = CTR2
q1 = 1 – CTR1
q2 = 1 – CTR2
n1 = I1 = C1 / CTR1
n2 = I2 = C2 / CTR2
Zα/2 = the z-value corresponding to an area α/2 in the tail of a standard normal
For 99% confidence:
Zα/2 = 2.58
For 95% confidence:
Zα/2 = 1.96
The final equation for ad testing is:
( CTR 1 – CTR 2 ) ± Z α ⁄ 2 CTR 1 ( 1 – CTR 1 ) ⁄ C 1 + CTR 2 ( 1 – CTR 2 ) ⁄ C 2
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
This formula applies for a large sample where the number of clicks on each ad is
greater than 5. If the interval contains 0, you cannot be confident that the CTRs of
the ads are not equal.
As an example, say you had two ads that have been circulating for a while with different titles and you want to know whether you can be 99% confident that the ads
are performing differently. Both ads are showing in about the same average position,
optimized ad serving is turned off, and they have been circulating at the same time.
You get the following data.
For the first ad:
C1 = 60 (the ad received 60 clicks)
CTR1 = .030 (the CTR was 3%)
For the second ad:
C2 = 40 (the ad received 40 clicks)
CTR2 = .020 (the CTR was 2%)
You calculate the confidence interval using these numbers:
( 0.03 – 0.02 ) ± 2.58 0.03 ( 1 – 0.03 ) ⁄ 60 + 0.02 ( 1 – 0.02 ) ⁄ 40
= 0.010 ± 0.013 = (0.023,– 0.003)
Because the confidence interval goes from positive to negative, it contains zero.
Therefore, you cannot be 99% certain that these ads do not have the same CTR.
You want to know whether you can be 95% certain, so you put in 1.96 for the z-factor:
( 0.03 – 0.02 ) ± 1.96 0.03 ( 1 – 0.03 ) ⁄ 60 + 0.02 ( 1 – 0.02 ) ⁄ 40
= 0.010 ± 0.0097 = (0.0197,0.0003)
Because the confidence interval is always positive, you can be 95% certain that these
ads have different CTRs. You should delete the second ad and go with the first.
If you are testing ads with identical ad text and want to optimize for conversion
rates, you can use this same equation. You would substitute conversion rates for
CTRs and conversions for clicks.
Both 95% and 99% certainty are good rules of thumb. When circulating identical
ads in AdWords, it would be unusual to get CTRs between these intervals after 30 or
40 clicks on each ad, but you might see 80% to 85%.
Beware of unreliable testing results on the Web. They are everywhere! Another myth
about PPC is that you should never stop testing your ads. If you find ad text that
works, and you find that the changes you make keep having a negative effect on performance, you should stop testing. Run the ad that works by itself.
Optimizing Pay-per-Click Ads |
Dynamic Keyword Insertion in Ads
Dynamic keyword insertion (DKI) gets a section of its own because all the major PPC
programs offer some variation of it, and because it is popular to use in large campaigns.
Besides loading ad text with keywords, you can use DKI for tracking URIs and for
generating dynamic landing pages. DKI automatically inserts a matched term into
the text of an ad or into a destination URI. If the matched term does not fit in the
space allotted, AdWords will substitute a default term that you specify. For example, if you are bidding on “buying blue widgets” and a bunch of terms related to
“blue widgets” in the same ad group, you might put this in the title of your ad:
{keyword:blue widget sale}
If someone searches “buying blue widgets” or a matched variation of “buying blue
widgets,” your title will appear as follows:
buying blue widgets
If you wrote your title as:
buy {keyword:blue widgets} now
and someone searched “buying blue widgets,” your title would appear as:
buy blue widgets now
because “buying blue widgets” does not fit in the space allowed for the title, and it’s
a good thing because that title doesn’t make sense. Other variations of the DKI syntax that vary in capitalization include:
Capitalizes the first word and leaves all other terms in lowercase (e.g., Sample
Capitalizes the first letter of each word (e.g., Sample Term)
Puts the first word in uppercase and capitalizes the first letter of all other words
(e.g., SAMPLE Term)
Puts the whole phrase in uppercase (e.g., SAMPLE TERM)
If you do not use these properly, editors will reject your ad (especially the last variation). You can also put the keyword into the destination URI. For example:
AdWords automatically escapes spaces in the matched term with “%20.” You might
use keywords in the destination URL for tracking or to insert the matched term into
a title on your landing page. A large site might use it to initiate a site search to find
the most relevant products or content.
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
For tracking purposes, you can also use this syntax in your destination URI:
This tracks whether a click came from the search network or from a
content network. You might use a third-party tracking program and
change the settings to recognize the source of clicks.
Pay-per-Click Ad Optimization Summary
To optimize PPC campaigns with major ad groups, you should test multiple ads to
find the text and landing pages that work best for a group of keywords. Write ads
specific to your keywords. Write unique ads that initiate action by highlighting benefits. Consider DKI to repeat keywords in the ad text for ads that circulate for a large
number of related phrases that contain variable keywords. You can also use DKI for
tracking or creating dynamic landing pages. Ads should work together with keywords and landing pages. They should all reinforce one another.
Optimizing Landing Pages
Landing pages are custom-designed to convert visitors. AdWords evaluates them to
determine minimum bids. Low-quality landing pages can indicate a low-quality site.
Some advertisers have claimed that they saw their minimum bids decrease after moving their landing pages into a well-established site. Landing pages do not determine
ad rank.
Overall, Google’s move to set minimum bids using landing page quality had wideranging effects, including affiliate advertisers, made-for-AdSense sites, single-page
sites, and bridge sites. They’ve had an impact on other advertisers as well, particularly on those bidding on very specific or very general keywords. Minimum bids also
affected those sites with designs that are not visible to search engine spiders—for
example, Flash designs. The landing page quality score from Google made it impossible for these types of advertisers to be profitable because the level of the minimum
bids required is now higher.
Landing Pages for AdWords
AdWords provides general guidelines for creating a high-quality landing page, at
You should provide substantial and unique content directly related to a visitor’s original query. In other words:
Optimizing Landing Pages |
• Use a content-rich landing page. Do more than simply display other ads or lead
visitors directly to a contact or sign-up form.
• Be original. Do not simply mirror the content and appearance of another site.
• When asking for personal information, provide a privacy policy.
• Link to other pages in your site that explain more about your business and its
products and services.
• Use some basic SEO principles to make your site visible to search engine spiders
and to help spiders see that your pages are relevant to the keywords. In particular,
put keywords and related variations into HTML titles and the landing page copy.
Also consider building links to the page with keywords in the text of the links.
AdWords provides a keyword tool that will generate a list of terms from a URI that
you supply. You can use this tool to see whether the AdWords spider will deem your
landing page relevant to your keywords. AdWords will also show a Quality Score
column for your keywords. To find it, go to the ad group view, click “Customize columns,” and select Show Quality Score (see Figure 3-6). Consider placing keywords
with low Quality Scores into separate ad groups along with more specific ad text and
a specialized landing page. If a new keyword has a poor Quality Score but is otherwise closely related to keywords in your ad group that have great Quality Scores, you
might wait to see whether CTRs on the new keyword raise its score.
Figure 3-6. The Quality Score column in AdWords
Landing Pages for Visitors
Landing pages are supposed to be goal-oriented and focused on the visitor’s original
query. It often makes sense to pick out pages that are already in a website (e.g., in a
large shopping site). You will usually want to make custom pages specifically for PPC
and test out variations of those pages. See Figure 3-7 for a sample landing page.
A good landing page has titles with keywords that focus the page on a particular theme.
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
Figure 3-7. A sample PPC landing page
Break out sections of the landing page with different titles. Use a similar strategy for
ad titles. Keep the language simple and easy to scan, and highlight benefits of your
product or service.
Complete conversions with clear calls to action
Examples of good calls to action include a well-labeled button, a link that addresses
the user’s needs, or a contact form right on the landing page. You don’t have to
shout at the visitor. In fact, putting in flashing links, obtrusive pop ups, or other distracting images or text that does not fit the site’s design may cause a visitor to reject
the offer. People tend to filter out and ignore such annoying advertising.
Always include a company phone number on your landing pages. Consider adding
help links if the conversion process is complicated. If your site is trying to generate
form leads, request only the most necessary information in your form fields.
Optimizing Landing Pages |
Use persuasive copy
Don’t be afraid to use long copy. Longer copy can result in better-qualified leads.
Simply putting a contact form on a page with a paragraph of copy might lead to a lot
of time-consuming contacts from visitors who are looking for information which
could have been included in your site or from visitors who are not really interested in
your products or services. If a visitor is interested, she will want her questions
answered. She will take the time to find the information. If your copy is lengthy,
include in it multiple points where a visitor can decide whether to execute a conversion without having to skim the rest of the page.
Keep your content easy to scan. Break it up into clearly labeled sections. Include bullet
points, use bold type, and make sure the fonts you use are large enough to be easily
Highlight the points that differentiate you from your competitors. If appropriate,
include positive testimonials, reviews, and case studies that show the superiority of
your product or service. Address visitor concerns and try to get feedback from the visitors who do contact you. If certain issues come up often, you might address them in
the landing page on your site. See Chapter 5 for more tips on writing persuasive copy.
Support the ad claims that triggered the visitor’s click
Landing pages should be directly relevant to the text of an ad. They work together
with ads to generate conversions. The landing page might also have a URI that is
short and that includes keywords so that it fits in an ad’s “display URL” field.
Include multiple conversion points for different stages of the buying cycle
In addition to a buy button or a quote request, landing pages can have a newsletter
sign-up, a free white paper, a catalog request, a sign-up to become a member of a
company’s forum, or some other device designed to keep the conversation going
with visitors. Some visitors are not ready to make a purchase or aren’t quite sure
your company is right for them, but they are willing to give you their email address.
Including a secondary call to action keeps the dialog going.
Display large images of products or services
Exhibiting a large, detailed image of your product is the easiest way to communicate
what you are selling. Images that follow a certain theme can also quickly establish
Forgo navigation menus
You want to keep visitors on your landing page as long as possible. That is where
the most relevant content is for their query. If they click on your ad and see other
navigation links, they might click away, get lost in other parts of your site, and leave.
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
Yet, you should still include footer links to your home page, your privacy policy, and
other relevant pages in your site. These are for visitors who read through your landing page content and haven’t found what they were looking for.
Check out the landing pages of your competitors. If a competitor has been advertising on Google for a long time, their landing pages are probably working well for
them. You do not need to duplicate their efforts, but you should note what strategies they employ and attempt to provide something better for your landing pages.
Testing Landing Pages
Test landing pages to improve conversion rates. This brings up another testing issue:
conversion rates are not the same as acquisition rates.
One kind of landing page might have a lower conversion rate, but its customer acquisition rate might be equal to or greater than a landing page with a higher conversion
rate because it generates leads that are of a higher quality. The assumption behind
conversion rate optimization (CRO) is that conversion rates and acquisition rates are
proportional at a constant value across landing pages. If you get lost in conversion
statistics, you might forget this fact and design a page that is not specific enough
about your business to result in sales.
Titles, images, and copy might all be tested with different versions of landing pages.
An easy way to perform A/B split testing (i.e., testing one variation against another)
using one landing page is to use a tool such as Google’s Website Optimizer (http://
www.google.com/websiteoptimizer). The Website Optimizer randomizes titles,
images, and copy within the template of the landing page. This tool provides a quick
overview of the combinations that have the highest conversion rates. In addition to
landing page A/B testing, you can circulate a couple of ads with the same ad text but
with different destination URIs. Then you can compare conversion rates directly. If
your site does not receive a large number of conversions, you do not want to test a
lot of landing page variations all at once. It will take too long to get enough data to
see what works. Unless the pages perform very differently, you should expect somewhere around 40 conversions on each landing page before you can make a good statistical judgment.
You also can test different conversion strategies. For example, you could test a landing page that focuses on acquiring more information through a white paper rather
than a page that focuses on requesting a quote. This test may require different ad
text which will increase the complexity of your testing because it affects both CTRs
and conversion rates. In addition, both types of conversions will have different values, one of which might not be well defined. A white paper request would most
likely require a longer sales cycle. To properly track the success of these types of ads,
you will need to track leads over a long period, and then compare the costs of the
two types of ads with the sales that resulted.
Optimizing Landing Pages |
Testing ads is not easy; testing landing pages is even more challenging. Keep in mind
that landing page experiments usually take more time. Sometimes, though, if you get
lucky, you will find a little change that makes a significant impact on conversion rates.
Optimizing Bids
PPC programs use an auction that is like a second-price sealed bidding system with
private values. This means you do not know how much your competitors are bidding.
Everyone has different bids for each keyword. Typically, people overbid in secondprice auctions with private values. The larger the number of competing bidders and
the more uncertain the value of what is being bid on, the more extreme the overbidding gets. A PPC auction is a little more complicated than a second-price auction
because multiple positions are being bid on simultaneously and Quality Score factors affect rankings. The lesson from this is if you don’t want to lose money, you need
to figure out the value that keywords have for you. You do this, of course, by tracking
conversions and determining a value per conversion.
AdWords offers a variety of bidding options as well as “dayparting” options; that is,
adjusting bids according to the time of day. Because the special bidding options of
AdWords, preferred bids, and budget-optimized bids do not maximize profits or target a specific cost per conversion, they typically are less effective than setting maximum bidding limits.
We will not consider preferred and budget optimized bids further.
Penalties for New Accounts
New accounts do not have a history. Account history is important because Google
uses historical CTRs to calculate Quality Scores. For new accounts, Google uses
aggregated Quality Scores from historical data, and these scores tend to be low. For
competitive keywords, very high initial bids are required to get a high position. Many
advertisers will overbid at the start to quickly establish a better Quality Score.
Because AdWords normalizes CTRs by position to calculate Quality Scores, overbidding should not be necessary. In theory, your ad should get the same Quality Score if
it is located at the top of the search engine results and gets a high CTR, as it will if it
is located at the bottom of the search engine results and therefore gets a high CTR
for that position.
Overbidding works, however. Keywords with a high minimum CPC may require an
overbid at the start. Minimum required bids will usually decrease as keywords establish good CTRs, and you may be able to make up for the high bids later with a lowertarget cost per conversion.
Another way to start a new account without having to immediately face high prices is
by building up slowly. To establish a high average CTR for your account, start a few
ad groups with well-targeted keywords that have lower competition. Establishing a
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
great history from the start should enable you to pay less when you bid on new keywords with high competition. Newly added keywords will then benefit from the
established Quality Scores that your account has already gained. For keywords with
lower competition you will probably be able to afford higher positions. Keep track of
what you have to pay to get a certain average position. After so many impressions
(maybe about a thousand for a keyword or a group of related keywords), you might
see a jump in position for the same bid. This jump can be rather dramatic for keywords based on your own trademark because CTRs will be very high for these terms.
If you see the jump, you will know that AdWords has updated the Quality Score for
some of your keywords.
Initial Bid Strategies
If you want to be very cautious, “shade” your initial bids. That is, purposely bid
lower than your estimated target. On the other hand, if you want to be aggressive,
you should overbid for a short period to quickly establish a high CTR. This will work
even though these values are supposed to be normalized when calculating Quality
Scores and this shouldn’t provide any benefit to your account. If you’d rather be
middle of the road, you should build up your account from a set of strong keywords
and work from an initial budget calculation such as the one in “Differences in Minimum Bids and Quality Scoring,” described earlier in this chapter. Using the numbers from “Closing the Loop,” also earlier in this chapter, with a conversion rate of
6% and a value per conversion of $20, you will break even with a CPC of $1.20:
($20 / conversion * 6 conversions) / 100 clicks = $1.20 / click
The dominant strategy in a second-price sealed auction is to set your maximum CPC
to $1.20. However, in PPC, you are not bidding for one item. Your ad may show in a
range of positions. Assuming that your conversion rates do not depend on position
(a reasonable assumption), you will want to show your ad in lower positions if it
brings roughly the same amount of traffic, because it will be cheaper. So, your decision about where to rank is more complicated and depends on the bids of your competitors. However, if you set your maximum CPC at $1.20 and your conversion rate
turns out to be 6% or higher, you will make a profit.
Bid Gaps
Bid gaps refer to large differences in bids between the keywords showing ads at two
positions. The concept came from Overture’s (now YSM’s) straight bidding system
where bid gaps were plainly visible to advertisers. In a straight bidding system you
can see your competitor’s bids. For example, in the old Overture system you could
have seen a bid for the number one position at $2 while the bid for the number two
position was at $0.10. The advertiser in the number one position would pay $0.11 per
click even though their bid was at $2. An advertiser entering this auction would most
likely figure that ranking number one was not as profitable as ranking number two.
Optimizing Bids
They might “bid-jam” the number one position by posting a bid of $1.99 and pay
only $0.11 per click. The number one slot would then have to pay $2 per click and
the number two slot would pay $0.11 per click (see Figure 3-8).
Bid/Pay $2.00
Bid $1.99
Bid gap
Pay $0.11
Bid/Pay $0.10
Position 2
Position 3
Position 1
Figure 3-8. Bid gaps in an old-style Overture auction
You would have to watch out because new advertisers entering the auction would do
the same thing and eventually the bids would even out. Automated bidding tools
became a useful way to monitor positions and bids and to force competitors to bid
the most money possible for their clicks. The bid-gap concept shows how pricing can
vary a lot between positions, how setting your bids higher than what you actually
value a keyword at can cause competitors to pay more, and how newly entering
advertisers can raise costs.
No major PPC program employs a straight bidding system anymore. The concept of
bid gaps still exists but it is not as visible. Instead of a gap in bids, there might be a
gap in ad rank. This gap is a combination of Quality Scores and bids. In theory, an
advertiser could still bluff about the value of a click to bid-jam a competitor. In practice, you do not know competitors’ bids or their Quality Scores.
You should be suspicious of alternative bidding methods produced by
PPC programs such as AdWords. These systems know where Quality
Scores and bids are set, so they could come out with tools that automatically bid-jam competitors. Although this would benefit you and
raise greater revenue for the PPC program, it is unfair to advertisers
who use traditional bidding methods.
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
One way to try to identify gaps is by comparing your average CPC to your bid. If
your average position is three at a bid of $5 per click and you are paying only $2 per
click, you are located in a gap. Bidding higher than $5 might raise your average CPC
by a large amount for a proportionally lower increase in conversions.
Bidding is extremely difficult in an AdWords-style auction. At any moment you do
not know what the bid landscape looks like. You can run reports on historical data
to try to guess the bid landscape, but obviously these results will be imprecise and
not entirely predictive of future performance. The best you can do is to monitor how
costs and conversions vary by average position. For example, you calculate that your
average value is $20 per conversion for a particular keyword. You run reports and
find that when ads show in position two for that keyword you pay on average $1 per
click. When it shows in position three for that keyword, you pay on average $0.20
per click. Your CTR is 2% at position two and 1.8% at position three, and your conversion rates are identical at 5%. You calculate which position is more profitable:
Profit / impression = [(value / conversion) * conversion rate * CTR] – [CPC * CTR]
For position two:
($20 / conversion) * (5 conversions / 100 clicks) * (2 clicks / 100 impressions) –
($1 / click) * (2 clicks / 100 impressions) = $0 / impression
For position three:
($20 / conversion) * (5 conversions / 100 clicks) * (1.8 clicks / 100 impressions) –
($0.20 / click) * (1.8 clicks / 100 impressions) = $0.0144 / impression
It is more profitable to be at position three.
Results such as these do not occur very often:
• You must vary your bids a lot to get precise average positions such as these.
• You must gather a great deal of data with ads in these positions to make accurate calculations.
• You must compare performance at different times.
• You must know the average value of a conversion.
In addition, after you make your calculations, the bid landscape may change entirely,
or your broad-matched keywords might start to show for a wider range of queries!
The concept of bid gaps has limited use in modern PPC bidding systems, but it illustrates how your bids affect competitors’ prices and how the prices for ad positions
can vary widely. For adjusting bids in the current bidding systems, the next best
thing is to target an average cost per conversion and try to identify positions that
bring in a lot of conversions at a low cost per conversion.
Optimizing Bids
Adjusting Bids
To ensure that your account is profitable, track conversions to a profitable cost per
conversion. If you cannot track all conversions (e.g., phone calls), you should still
track other types, such as form leads. Then estimate the average number of phone
calls you get for each form lead. It can be as high as 50/50. By tracking form leads,
you will be able to see which keywords probably do not generate any conversions.
Tracking Phone Call Conversions
Several technologies are available for tracking phone call conversions. At the simplest
level, you can assign unique phone numbers for your marketing campaigns and your
website so that all calls to the unique numbers can be traced back to the campaigns.
More sophisticated tools not only track calls from different campaigns, but also can track
by keywords and search engines (e.g., http://www.clickpath.com). In addition, these tools
provide the capability to record phone calls and measure actual conversions. These tools
are very powerful, and they remain surprisingly expensive. We hope that less costly
“offline conversion tracking” systems will become available in the future.
Identify keywords with underperforming conversions and do something to improve
their performance. For example, you might (1) delete the keyword, (2) lower the
price of the bids, (3) bid on something more specific, (4) write better ad text, or use
another method. But you must identify poor performers and do something about
them. If you do so, you are ahead of the game.
Make sure you are not classifying a keyword as a poor performer too soon. If you are
meticulous, you might go back to the confidence interval equation from “Optimizing Ad Copy,” earlier in this chapter. For the keyword in question, take its average
CPC and determine what conversion rate you would need for it to meet your target
cost per conversion. Then use the confidence interval equation to see whether you
can be 95% certain that this keyword has a different conversion rate from your target conversion rate. The upcoming sidebar, “Determining Whether a Keyword Meets
a Target Cost per Conversion,” shows a sample calculation.
The less time-consuming method is to glance at the keyword, see that its cost per conversion is a little high, and try some optimization methods to remedy this. If you spend
too much time analyzing keywords, you will lose money because your time is valuable.
You should identify strong performers and monitor for poorly performing campaigns, ad groups, or keywords. If a keyword has an exceptionally low cost per conversion, try raising your bid to see whether you can increase profitability. When
browsing through your account, take advantage of its hierarchy. First, check for campaigns that are performing poorly. Then, look for the poorly performing ad groups.
Finally, search further into the ad groups to see whether any keywords are doing badly.
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
Determining Whether a Keyword Meets a Target Cost per
Assume a target cost per conversion of $20.
The keyword in question has an average CPC of $0.40:
($0.40 / click) * (1 conversion / $20) = .02 conversions / click
The keyword would need a 2% conversion rate to meet the target, which we will call
The keyword has already generated 30 conversions at a conversion rate of 1.5%.
The equation is:
( CR 1 – CR 2 ) ± Z α ⁄ 2 CR 1 ( 1 – CR 1 ) ⁄ C 1 + CR 2 ( 1 – CR 2 ) ⁄ C 2
where C = conversions and CR = conversion rate.
Because you are highly confident of the 2% conversion rate, you can plug in a very high
number for C2. You can approximate:
CR 2 ( 1 – CR 2 ) ⁄ C 2 = 0
The new equation is:
( CR 1 – CR 2 ) ± Z α ⁄ 2 CR 1 ( 1 – CR 1 ) ⁄ C 1
For this example:
( 0.015 – 0.02 ) ± 1.96 0.015 ( 1 – 0.015 ) ⁄ 30 = (0,0.01)
It is close because the interval contains zero. You would probably figure that the keyword is not within the 95% confidence interval so that it does indeed have a conversion
rate that is lower than the necessary target. You would do something to lower the cost
per conversion of this keyword, such as lowering its bid.
Keywords in an ad group can have separate, keyword-level bids. If a separate bid
isn’t set, the keyword uses the ad group bid in auction. If you set only ad-group-level
bids all the time, you might be reducing the ranking of more specific, high-converting
terms because a very general term is performing below par. It is usually necessary to
set keyword-level bids to improve campaign performance.
Some keywords do not get a lot of traffic, so it is difficult to tell whether they are performing well. If you are bidding on a low-traffic keyword, group it with similar
higher-traffic keywords for bidding and monitoring. Such judgment calls are best
made by humans rather than by automated tools because we are easily able to group
similar keywords and set reasonable bids.
Optimizing Bids
Automated Bidding
Manual bidding can get cumbersome, especially for professional PPC managers who
handle multiple accounts. Automated bid tools may save time in setting bids and
may improve account performance. BidRank and Atlas Search are bid management
tools that are popular but pricey. They typically can manage bids in multiple programs all at once and can target a specific ROI or cost per conversion.
The Big Picture
Advertisers who fail at PPC are often misbidding. They might be:
• Blindly bidding for position, holding on to number one no matter what
• Targeting keywords that reach beyond the subject matter of their site
• Wasting their budget to show at high positions and then dropping out of auctions early in the day when they could receive more clicks and conversions by
lowering their bids and spreading out their budget
• Focusing only on less relevant terms that appeal to them despite poor performance, such as competitors’ trademarks
• Pushing to increase traffic without paying attention to costs
• Setting poor goals
Notice that in this section we did not talk about advertisers whose goal is branding.
Branding is a tricky PPC goal that can easily lead to overspending. People ask: “Why
isn’t my site ranked at the top for [insert popular industry term here]?” The short
answer is that all competitors using PPC really, really want to rank at the top for
their popular industry term. This desire for position inflates bids and makes it more
difficult to reap a profit. A little bit of restraint can save you money.
Bid Optimization in Action: The E-Grooming Book Example
Judy runs a site selling an e-book about dog care based on her experience raising
show dogs. The e-book costs $30 and there are no costs associated with distributing
it—basically, anyone who wants to read the book buys it with a credit card and
downloads it from her website. To simplify the example, assume that Judy has no
overhead costs and the only costs come from advertising, so in this case, ROAS and
ROI are equal.1 So, if it costs Judy $30 per conversion, she breaks even. Each penny
less than $30 per conversion is profit.
In this example, Judy has two rich uncles, one of whom gives her credit card service free of overhead and
another who provides her with free web hosting. Judy’s uncles make this example simpler, so we’re delighted
that she has them.
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
Judy sets up an AdWords account with bids running at the ad group level. She runs
one national campaign with two ad groups. After about a month the campaign is
profitable, running at $18.33/conversion with a conversion rate of 3% and an average CPC of $0.55, but Judy has read this chapter and knows that conversion rates
could be as high as 6%, so she believes that she has room to adjust bids to increase
Judy’s campaign has two ad groups: “grooming” and “care.” The grooming ad group
has 20 conversions, a 2% conversion rate, and an average cost per conversion of $35.
The care ad group has 30 conversions, a 6% conversion rate, and an average cost per
conversion of $10. The grooming ad group is not profitable so far. Even though the
account as a whole is profitable, it could be more profitable by lowering bids on the
grooming ad group. Judy sees that the ad group bid is at $0.86 and the average CPC
is at $0.70. She assumes that the actual conversion rate of the ad group was 2% and
uses that to figure an average CPC required to get below her breakeven point.
Because Judy wants at least a $5 profit per book sale, she targets $25/conversion for
her ad group to make sure that it is profitable.
Judy uses the conversion calculation and determines that she’ll need an average CPC
of $0.50 to reach this target:
($25 / conversion * 2 conversions) / 100 clicks = $0.50 / click
Judy can be absolutely sure that she’ll reach this average CPC by bidding $0.50 at the
ad group level, so she changes the ad group to that level and then waits another
month to see how the group performs at the new level.
After a month, Judy returns to the ad group and sees that it’s now at least profitable,
but she wants more traffic from the group, so she decides that she’s ready to control
the ad group’s performance at the keyword level. Judy has not gotten much data for
this ad group, so she decides to group keywords according to how similar she thinks
they are to develop a bidding strategy. Her list looks like this:
e book
e books
Optimizing Bids
Judy knows that her strategy should assume that more relevant keywords are going
to have higher conversion rates and she wants them to be seen more often. Based on
that strategy, keywords for books would have the highest conversion rates and
would get the highest bids. Keywords for supplies, on the other hand, are less important. Someone interested in supplies might be interested in a book about grooming,
but he is less likely to buy a book on dog care than on subjects such as clippers and
combs. Judy decides dog grooming is specific enough to deserve its own category,
with a lower bid than book terms but perhaps a bid which is still of value. Keyword
phrases for “tips” are unique and probably low in traffic, but Judy thinks they are
associated with people searching for information, so she associates them with books.
So, for bidding purposes, Judy considers the words related in this way:
dog grooming
e book
e books
Judy now decides to optimize her care ad group, which has an average cost per conversion of $10. Looking at the care ad group, Judy sees that the average CPC is $0.60.
She generated 30 conversions from 500 clicks, a conversion rate of 6%. From these
numbers, Judy calculates that she made $600 in profit.
(30 conversions * $30 / conversion) – (500 clicks * $0.60 / click) = $600
At a CPC of $0.60, her ad’s average position is 3.2. She’s making a profit, but raising
bids might increase her profit.
Raising bids will get her a higher position and a greater number of clicks. If, for
example, she raises her bids and her average cost-per-click figure is $0.80, she’ll only
need 100 more clicks—a total of 600 clicks—to get the same profit.
$600 / [($30 / conversion) * (6 conversions / 100 clicks) – $0.80 / click)] =
600 clicks
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
If the account gets her more than 600 clicks at an average CPC of $0.80, she’ll get a
greater profit than when her average cost per click was $0.60. This assumes that the
conversion rate isn’t affected by the increase in position, a reasonable assumption.
To optimize the care ad group, Judy raises bids and waits a month, seeing what the
increase in position does for her sales.
Other Pay-per-Click Issues
There are a number of other things you’ll definitely want to get right.
The Content Network
The content network refers to ads placed next to relevant content in regular websites
that opt to show ads. Google determines when to show an ad by the bidded keywords and the ad text. Landing pages, performance history on similar sites, and keyword and ad text relevance influence the ranking of your ads on the content
network. Early on in Google’s history, advertisers discovered that the best way to
lose large amounts of money without any results was to run a campaign that was
opted into the content network. Google and its search network have much higher
conversion rates on average, so the quality of a click is higher on these networks.
Campaigns are opted into the content network by default. It is worth considering
whether to leave.
“Domain ads” are included in the content network, which may convert poorly. Domain
ads show on parked domains that sometimes show up in Google’s search results.
Because the content network developed a poor reputation, Google has made efforts
to clean it up by:
• Allowing advertisers to set separate content bids
• Allowing advertisers to specify negative sites
• Offering placement performance reports
• Employing smart pricing
• Using filters and offline analysis to detect invalid clicks
Smart pricing automatically reduces the amount that an advertiser pays for a click if
Google determines that the click has a low value. Advertisers that venture into the
content network should either set separate content bids or create a separate campaign targeted only to the content network. Creating a separate campaign can
increase management time quite a bit. However, it allows you to see cost and conversion information easily in the AdWords interface without having to run a lot of reports.
It also allows you to test different themes in your ad groups and to set negative keywords without having to worry about their effect on Google and the search network.
Other Pay-per-Click Issues
It is possible that some ad groups that do well in the content network won’t do well
on Google and the search network. Always treat data from each separately when running ads in the content network and search network. This is especially important
when testing ads and landing pages. If you lump data together, ads that are performing better than others on the search network may look like they are performing
worse. CTRs and conversion rates in the content network depend heavily on what
sites an ad shows on and where it shows. This can be variable across ads.
Rearranging ad groups, adding negative keywords, and adding negative sites can
improve performance on the content network. You can find sites that do not convert
well by running a placement performance report. To exclude these sites go to the
Tools section and click on Site Exclusion in the AdWords interface (see Figure 3-9).
Figure 3-9. The AdWords Site Exclusion tool
In the Tools section, you can also find a link to add negative keywords to your campaign (see Figure 3-10). Negative keywords should identify themes that are not relevant to your ad groups. For example, if you sell parts for cars, but not for trucks, you
would add truck and trucks to the list of negative keywords. Distribution on the content network is affected by how well your ad groups are themed. Overdistribution is,
however, an issue for ad groups that are very tightly themed. You can tell when ads
are being overdistributed by the number of impressions they receive. If your ad
group for “Product X Model 555” gets a thousand times more impressions than your
ad group for “General Product X Terms,” it is likely that your ads for model 555 are
being overdistributed. How changes to your account will affect results on the content network is a little more of a guessing game. Advertisers should be more cautious when using the content network. It is a good idea to ensure that Google and
the search network are performing well before taking on the content network.
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
Figure 3-10. Link to edit negative keywords in AdWords
Click Fraud
Click fraud occurs when an ad is clicked on by a person or automated program for
the purpose of generating ad revenue or inflating costs for advertisers. Site owners
who sign up for AdSense show AdWords ads on their sites and get revenue when an
ad is clicked on. Site owners might click on their own ads or use automated bots to
get their ads clicked on. This type of fraud shows up in the content network. You can
combat it by tracking performance and excluding sites that perform poorly.
Other Pay-per-Click Issues
For very expensive keywords, advertisers might also click on their competitors’ ads to
deplete their competitors’ budgets faster. Advertisers with a high maximum CPC compared to their overall budget might track clicks by IP addresses. Google Analytics does
not provide this information about site visitors, so advertisers who want to track IPs
should use a different statistics program or should check the logfiles of their site.
AdWords offers IP address exclusion so that search engine users with an excluded
address will not see your ads.
Click fraud is a major problem when it does not affect competing advertisers equally.
It reduces the value of a click and forces advertisers to bid lower on keywords to stay
profitable. Sophisticated attempts at fraud will spread costs over a large number of
advertisers so that it is not easily detected. Major PPC programs have systems to filter out fraudulent clicks, but a certain degree of click fraud is inherent in the PPC
method of advertising.
To help combat click fraud, AdWords provides invalid clicks reporting. Invalid clicks
include accidental clicks as well as fraudulent clicks. Most of these clicks are filtered
out before they get into the AdWords system. You can also contact Google about a
suspected case of click fraud at https://adwords.google.com/support/bin/request.
Repeat clicks are not necessarily considered click fraud. Advertisers are charged for
repeat clicks unless they are excessive. Clicks from visitors who are shopping around
will get separately billed to the advertiser. In AdWords, a single impression might
legitimately generate multiple clicks for a CTR over 100%. A cached page in a visitor’s browser registers only one impression, so a search engine user going back and
forth between ads might click multiple times with only one impression.
Advertisers should also track performance on the content network. AdWords offers
placement performance reports for this purpose. At a minimum, you should establish a target cost per conversion and restrain bids and budgets to constrain your ad
spending. Spending time and money tracking IP addresses is a waste for most advertisers, but it might be worthwhile for those who have very high bids on competitive
Trademark Issues
Three major questions arise regarding trademarks.
How do I stop advertisers from bidding on my trademark?
Microsoft adCenter and YSM don’t allow advertisers to bid on competitor trademarks. An advertiser can bid on trademarks if she is a reseller, if she is providing
noncompetitive information, or if she is otherwise using the term generically. If you
find advertisers bidding on your trademark, you can contact the program in question.
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
For Yahoo!, you email [email protected] with the following
• The search term which, when entered, caused the advertiser’s listing to appear
• The trademark on which your claim is based
• The registration number, if you own a current registration for the trademark on
the Principal Register in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
• A description of this evidence, if you have evidence of any consumer confusion
resulting from the advertiser’s bid on the search term
• The status of your communications with the advertiser if you have contacted the
advertiser about your concerns
You can find information about filing a trademark concern with Microsoft by going
to http://support.msn.com and clicking the Trademark link under Standard Services.
AdWords allows advertisers to bid on competitor trademarks, but you can stop
advertisers from using your trademark in ad text. To do this, you fill out the
AdWords complaint form at https://services.google.com/inquiry/aw_tmcomplaint.
Can I bid on competitor trademarks?
You cannot bid on competitor trademarks in YSM or Microsoft adCenter. You can
always bid on trademarks in AdWords, but you are not allowed to use a trademark
in ad text if the trademark owner has filed an approved complaint, unless you are
using the term generically.
Should I bid on my own trademark or company name?
Unless you picked a poor company name, you will want to bid on it if you do not
have high, natural, non-PPC rankings for the term. If someone is searching for your
company directly, you want to help her find you. Besides hearing about you offline, a
search engine user might query your company’s name on a return visit after shopping around and then decide to do business with you. You do not want to miss these
visitors. If you have a very general name it might not be practical to bid on it.
If you are already ranked well organically for your company name, you might still bid
on your trademark if one of the following is true:
• Other competing companies are bidding on it in AdWords.
• Affiliates get a share of sales by bidding on it in AdWords.
• You can use landing pages that convert better than the highest organic search
• Your organic listing is not a strong one and competing companies are listed just
below your site.
Other Pay-per-Click Issues
If it looks like other companies might be stealing clicks from your company or if others might potentially be cutting into your profits, you will probably want to bid on
your trademark. CTRs are usually high for these terms, and you will have a low CPC.
If you are not sure it is worth it, you can always try it for a month and compare the
number of conversions that your site has generated for trademarked terms compared
to previous months.
A common situation in which you would want to bid on your trademark is when visitors query your company name along with the services you offer. For instance, say
your query is “Some Company widget-making services.” The “widget-making services” portion of the query will trigger broad-matched ads from competitors. Someone
who originally was going to use “Some Company” might suddenly discover that
there are cheaper widget makers because she explored competing ads.
If your company name was “Some Company” and somecompany.com was your website, here are some of the terms you would want to bid on if you decided to bid on
your trademark:
• some company
• somecompany
• somecompany.com
• some company.com
• www.somecompany.com
• some company {location of a branch or office}
• some company {services/products you provide}
• somecompany {location of a branch or office}
• somecompany {services/products you provide}
• {any misspellings}
PPC programs are constantly changing. The auction method of buying advertisement spots is here to stay. Over time, tracking and reporting have become more
sophisticated, and as a result, so have optimization methods. Advertisers should
expect optimization tools and data to continue to develop, making it easier to
achieve PPC success.
Optimizing a PPC campaign is a matter of improving visitor targeting, keeping all of
the elements—keywords, ads, and landing pages—closely related, and adjusting bids
to meet profit goals. This small list has big implications. To conclude this chapter,
here is a bulleted summary of popular optimization techniques:
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
• Choose appropriate profit-driven goals.
• Target campaigns and keywords to the right audience:
— Use location targeting to separate regions that convert better than others or
to exclude regions that do not generate conversions.
— Use language targeting to find the correct audience and to generate
— Add negative keywords to prevent irrelevant queries from triggering ads.
— Exclude visitor IP addresses that are a source of click fraud. Set separate
content bids or create separate campaigns for the content network so that
performance can be monitored separately.
— Exclude poorly performing sites on the content network.
— Set bids so that ads are running all day according to your budget. Raise the
budget if your account is profitable and shuts off before the day is over.
— Identify times and days when your conversion rates are higher. Use this dayparting to set bids lower at times when conversion rates are lower.
• Set up ad groups with closely related, tightly themed keywords:
— Rearrange ad groups so that they are more tightly themed.
— Put keywords with low CTRs into separate ad groups with more specific ads.
— Delete duplicate keywords.
— Restrict matching on poorly performing keywords (i.e., from “broad” to
“phrase” to “exact”).
— Delete poorly performing keywords and add more specific keywords.
• Write ads that feature your keywords and the interests of potential visitors:
— Repeat user queries in ad text.
— Highlight benefits and use a call to action in ad text.
— Circulate multiple ads, find the best-performing ad, delete the others, and
build on what worked.
— Write ad text that qualifies visitors to reduce wasted clicks.
— Use the diagnostic and preview tools of the ad delivery system to make sure
key queries are triggering the right ads.
• Create goal-driven landing pages with clear calls to action that directly target
your keywords and the interests of potential visitors:
— Create specialized landing pages.
— Send visitors to the most relevant landing page.
— Use the AdWords keyword tool to make sure Google generates a relevant
keyword list from your landing page URIs.
Summary |
— Lower minimum bids by improving the quality of landing pages.
— Repeat visitor queries on landing page headlines.
— Write persuasive landing page copy.
— Make executing a conversion easy for interested visitors.
• Set bids to meet realistic profit-driven goals:
— Track conversions!
— Lower bids on poorly performing keywords.
— Raise bids on keywords that perform well.
• Continue to monitor and optimize your site and your ad campaigns based on
— Improve the design of your site so that it is user-friendly and visible to search
engine spiders.
— Continue searching for new keywords.
— Continue tracking queries that generate clicks.
— Refine your advertising goals according to the feedback you get from PPC
data as your account acquires a history.
Chapter 3: Pay-per-Click Optimization
Chapter 4
PPC Case Study: BodyGlove.com
In this chapter, we’ll show you how to put into action the pay-per-click (PPC) optimization techniques that you learned in Chapter 3 and the conversion boosting techniques you’ll learn in Chapter 5, as well as how to use metrics to guide optimization
efforts, which we’ll cover in Chapter 10. This chapter features a case study that
shows how to maximize your PPC advertising budget.
Body Glove PPC Optimization
Body Glove International provides high-quality protective products for people and
objects alike. In 2001, the Body Glove Mobile Accessories Group at Fellowes, Inc.,
developed protective cases for cell phones, laptops, and other handheld electronic
devices. In 2007, Body Glove’s goal was to develop brand recognition and presence
in this very competitive market through a combination of different types of advertising, including a PPC campaign. The primary goal of the campaign was to generate
high visibility while minimizing cost per conversion.
We were responsible for creating the campaign and then improving it as a way to
conduct an initial market assessment and identify the key ways in which it could be
improved for the final quarter of 2007.
Market Analysis
The market for cell phone cases is extremely competitive. As accessories, the products are fairly inexpensive to make and are used as promotional vehicles or branding
tools. Competitors include cell phone case companies as well as cell phone manufacturers, such as Motorola and Nokia, and even cell phone service providers such as
Verizon and AT&T (see Figure 4-1, which shows a typical search engine result from
2007 for cell phone covers).
Figure 4-1. A typical search result for the phrase “cell phone covers”
Our first goal was to identify the projected traffic and costs for cell phone cases. We
created a list of candidate keyphrases and then broke them into three categories
based on their relative price:
• Low cost per click (CPC): $0.25–$0.75
• Medium CPC: $0.76–$1.50
• High CPC: $1.51–$2.50
We used the list of candidate keyphrases to create two scenarios (see Figure 4-2). The
first assumed a 3% conversion rate for any given click and the second assumed 5%,
both typical for e-commerce sites. We then used a combination of tools, including
Wordtracker, KeywordDiscovery, and Google’s Traffic Estimator tool, to identify the
expected traffic and costs per conversion in the current market for each scenario.
Figure 4-2. Keyphrase scenarios
Chapter 4: PPC Case Study: BodyGlove.com
Research confirmed our suspicions that this market was enormously competitive. In
fact, the average price across all the keyphrases that we examined showed that the
competition was willing to spend as much as $2.25 per click! At the conversion rates
in scenarios 1 and 2, the average cost per conversion or sale is $64.69 or $38.81,
more than the value of the product, which averages around $30. Typically, we’d like
to see the cost per conversion at about 10% of the gross value. In this case, the cost
per click is around 10%. At our estimated conversion rates, it appears that the cost
per conversion exceeds the cost of the product! Advertising for cell phone cases is either
a loss leader or a marketing exercise. If this campaign were run in isolation, it would
not pay for itself through the sale of the item because the costs are simply too high.
Service providers and phone resellers can afford to have a loss leader to promote
phone covers, however, if they are making lots of money off service plans, warranties, and high-end phones.
Based on these findings, we developed two key goals for Body Glove Mobile
Phase one goal
To increase the conversion rate of paid search visitors by improving the usability
and effectiveness of their website
Phase two goal
To make cost per conversion less than or equal to the total value of the product
Armed with these specific goals we created the campaign.
Campaign Creation and Kickoff
We performed traditional keyphrase research, relying on the use of Body Glove’s
brand name and the names of key cell phone brands for our root keyphrases. We
focused on keyphrases and bids that were in the $0.75 to $1.25 range to keep costs
Initial ad copy was diverse and included a number of different experiments. Because
few people considered surfing in the context of cell phones, we wanted to try to differentiate “cell phone cases” through that term as well as some others that were specific to the brand name, such as use of the word glove. Figure 4-3 shows four
examples of starting ads that we used as a baseline for the project.
Our primary concern at the beginning of the project was the ability of the Body
Glove site to convert. Although the design of the site was arresting, with handsome
shots of Body Glove products (see Figure 4-4), the actual purchase pages lacked
prominent calls to action that were going to help conversions (see Figure 4-5).
Body Glove PPC Optimization |
Figure 4-3. Four baseline ads for variations on “cell phone cases”
Body Glove agreed with our assessment but wanted to begin immediately to learn
about the market interest and potential traffic. We agreed that the pages would be
incrementally improved in conjunction with the ad copy and keyphrases as the campaign progressed.
With our long-term plans for incremental improvement in place, we initiated the
Figure 4-5 shows the original product page. Note the call to action, which is simply
an invitation to enter a zip or postal code. After the code is entered, the retailer
results would show up and the “buy now” call to action would appear as a text
hyperlink. Not only was this call to action fairly small, but it was also below the fold
on most computer screens.
Initial Outcome and Improvements
As expected, initial conversion rates were fairly low and costs per conversion were
fairly high because of the extremely competitive market and the first iteration of the
product pages. From August until mid-October, we incrementally tweaked bids and
some ad copy to improve click-through rates (CTRs) and CPC. The average CPC
steadily improved, while the average ad position slowly improved from about 2 to 1.8
as our quality scores improved. Figure 4-6 shows the improvement in average CPC
from September 2007 through January 2008, as the holiday season progressed.
Chapter 4: PPC Case Study: BodyGlove.com
Figure 4-4. Body Glove category page
We were particularly pleased with the steadily decreasing CPC during the very competitive and busy Christmas season in December, when traffic and spending from
competitors increased dramatically.
Dramatic Results
On November 1, 2007, the Body Glove Mobile Accessories Group implemented our
design recommendations on their product pages, as shown in Figure 4-7.
Now the call to action is above the fold; it is also clearly marked by a blue gradient button with BUY NOW in a large font. The name of the brick-and-mortar dealer is still
visible as well. This was a critical requirement of the marketing goals for Body Glove.
Body Glove PPC Optimization |
Figure 4-5. The original product page
Sep 7, 2007
Oct 5, 2007
Nov 9, 2007
Figure 4-6. Average CPC, by month
Chapter 4: PPC Case Study: BodyGlove.com
Dec 21, 2007
Figure 4-7. The improved product page
The results were immediate and dramatic. The following week’s conversion rates
increased by 100%, and between November 2 and December 20, 2007, the conversion increased 600% from 0.34% to nearly 2.4%. The majority of these changes
came from improvements in the landing pages and the boost from the Christmas
shopping season. The only major change made to the PPC campaign at this time was
a general decrease in the use of underperforming keyphrases around November 9.
Figure 4-8 shows the dramatic increase in conversion rate.
Note that the increased conversion rate stayed relatively steady after the holiday season, indicating that the landing and product pages continued to be effective in slower
market periods.
Between December 1 and December 20, we also dramatically reduced the number of
keyphrases on which we were bidding. We focused on the most visible and highestquality terms, which created high CTRs from qualified visitors to take advantage of the
new landing and product pages. In particular, we found unique keyphrases that were
relatively low cost and not very competitive, based on their bids and number of clicks.
This allowed us to enjoy high CTRs and conversion rates even after the holiday season.
Body Glove PPC Optimization |
Sep 7, 2007
Oct 5, 2007
Nov 9, 2007
Dec 21, 2007
Figure 4-8. Conversion rates for Body Glove cell phone cases, by month
Overall, during the months of November and December the Body Glove cell phone
case campaign enjoyed a conversion rate of 1.67% at a cost per conversion of about
$39.63. This was slightly higher than the average price of a cell phone case, but with
improved landing pages, the conversion rate and the cost per conversion should continue to improve dramatically.
Accessory product markets are incredibly competitive. Body Glove’s combination of
brand recognition and quality gave the company advantages that many companies
don’t enjoy. Body Glove was, however, still competing against companies that see
cell phone accessories as promotional tools first and actual products second.
Through a careful PPC campaign and incremental improvements to Body Glove’s
website product pages, Body Glove’s accessory conversions showed excellent
progress. This effort demonstrated the importance of steady, incremental improvement and the use of metrics to improve on previous findings. We expect some exciting years ahead for Body Glove in the online marketing space.
Chapter 4: PPC Case Study: BodyGlove.com
Chapter 5
Conversion Rate Optimization
Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is the art and science of persuading your site
visitors to take actions that benefit you, by making a purchase, offering a donation,
or committing to some positive future action.
CRO uses a wide variety of techniques, including persuasive copywriting and
credibility-based web design, to convert prospects into buyers. By planning, designing, and optimizing your website to persuade, you can ensure that it will act as a
more efficient sales tool. You can compare a conversion-optimized website to a successful (but commission- and salary-free) digital salesperson who works for you 24/7,
365 days a year, qualifying leads, building rapport, and even closing sales.
The Benefits of CRO
The importance of CRO becomes clear in light of the poor performance of unoptimized
e-commerce websites with average conversion rates of between 2.5% and 3.1%.1,2
Although “your mileage may vary,” you can expect that high-quality optimization
will increase conversion rates by 50% to 200% or even more. For example, in
Chapter 4 we discuss a case in which the increase was more than 600%.
With margins falling and advertising costs rising, a high-performing website has
become essential for online success. CRO helps you to meet the following business
• An increase in sales, revenues, and profits
• The generation of more leads for your sales team
Fireclick. January 19, 2008. “Conversion Rate: Global.” Fireclick Index, http://index.fireclick.com (accessed
January 19, 2008).
Shop.org. September 18, 2007. “The State of Retailing Online 2007.” National Retail Federation, http://
www.nrf.com/modules.php?name=News&op=viewlive&sp_id=365 (accessed February 15, 2008). The shopping cart abandonment rate peaked at 53% in 2003. The conversion rate for e-commerce sites peaked in
2002 at 3.2%. In the 2007 report, e-commerce conversion was 3.1%.
• Boosting “opt-ins” to build your email list
• Reduction of customer acquisition costs
• More page views for advertising
• Engagement of more users
• A permanent improvement to conversion rates
CRO uses proven persuasive techniques to encourage site visitors to act because they
have experienced your polished site design, compelling copy, unique selling proposition (USP), and irresistible calls to action. With increased sales, more leads, and
higher engagement, what’s not to like about CRO? Yet despite these advantages,
we’ve found that CRO is usually the last step taken in optimizing websites.
Most website owners focus on getting more traffic to boost online sales. But paying
to advertise an underperforming website is throwing good money after bad. CRO, on
the other hand, makes your website work harder for you by producing more sales
now from your existing website traffic. Its goal is to make every site visit count. However, to maximize your success you need to focus on conversion quality for the life of
your site. The savviest optimizers don’t stop after their initial success. They continuously tweak their sites to maximize their return on investment (ROI).
Best Practices for CRO
What follows are the best-practice principles behind CRO. It might seem at first like
an extremely broad, almost intangible idea. However, you can achieve conversion by
following very specific steps using tools you already have at your disposal. CRO uses
what you already know about your customers and their psychology to your advantage by using language, imagery, and a level of engagement that will make your site
stand out among those of your competitors.
First, we’ll explore how the principle of source credibility can make your site appear
more trustworthy. Next, we’ll discuss the psychology of persuasion, including:
• The six primary psychological persuaders
• Maximizing conversions with personas
Then we’ll highlight the top 10 factors that you can use to maximize your site’s conversion rate, including:
• Credibility-based design
• Easy navigation
• Logo credibility
• Memorable slogans
• Benefit-oriented headlines
• Best content placement
Chapter 5: Conversion Rate Optimization
• Calls to action
• Benefit-oriented content
• Using “hero shots”
• Interactivity and engagement
You’ll learn how to stage your CRO campaign through the discovery, planning, and
optimization phases. Finally, we’ll show these techniques in action by analyzing two
examples of best conversion practices.
Source Credibility: Designing Gut Reactions
Source credibility theory helps to explain the visceral reaction that users have to your
site. People tend to believe messages from sources that appear to be credible. So, if
users perceive your website to be credible and authoritative, your messages will be
more persuasive. A credibility-based visual design and logo help to convey your company’s credibility traits, such as “expert” and “trustworthy.”
But what makes a site credible? Research shows that credible sites have a number of
specific characteristics. For example, they have a professional look and feel that
instills confidence in their visitors.3 They have well-structured content with intuitive
navigation that enables visitors to find what they are looking for quickly and easily.
They use layouts optimized for how visitors view and absorb information on the
Web. These websites start with a USP that codifies and clarifies exactly what makes
them a better choice than the competition.
Believable websites that download quickly and are responsive to queries have higher
conversion rates.4 They communicate with visitors in customer-focused language.
They use trigger words designed to click with users. They provide engaging benefitoriented content that focuses on visitor needs and goals. Credible sites are successful
because they solve problems and answer questions with content tailored to their target market and even adapted to the different personalities or personas of their target
customers. In short, they are persuasive.
The Psychology of Persuasion
Nobody likes to be coerced or manipulated. To be persuaded, however, is OK. The persuasive techniques that you’ll learn in this section will make a favorable response to
your requests more likely. In fact, many of the conversion best practices found on the
Robins, D., and J. Holmes. 2008. “Aesthetics and credibility in web site design.” Information Processing and
Management 44 (1): 386–399. Preconscious judgments of aesthetics influence perceived credibility of websites. Voilà! Instant credibility.
Akamai. 2007. “Boosting Online Commerce Profitability with Akamai.” http://www.akamai.com (accessed February 15, 2008). Akamai estimated a 9% to 15% improvement in conversion rate after a website is “Akamaized.”
Best Practices for CRO |
Web are based on these psychological principles. For example, testimonials and awards
use social proof to invoke the wisdom of the crowd, free white papers exchanged for
contact information use reciprocity, and uniformed people showing wares and services
are presumed to be authoritative. Airlines and hotels use scarcity when they say that
only x number of tickets or rooms are left at a given price. All of these techniques are
used on the Web to increase desire and to influence people to buy now.
The six persuaders
Persuasive techniques influence people to comply with requests. Although there are
thousands of techniques that you can use to get people to convert, most of them fall
into six basic categories, according to Robert Cialdini’s Influence: Science and Practice
(Allyn & Bacon). These six persuaders are reciprocation, consistency, social proof, liking,
authority, and scarcity. Skilled salespeople use these techniques in conjunction with
social norms to induce a sense of urgency in customers, and to avoid a loss of face or
loss of opportunity.
Reciprocation: Repaying an obligation. Humans feel obligated to repay a gift from others.
Reciprocation is a social norm that obligates the recipient to repay a favor in the future.
This ensures continuing relationships which sociologists say is beneficial to society.
On the Web, you can use reciprocity and rewards to increase the likelihood that customers will provide you with their contact information. You can use free online tools
and multimedia downloads to induce the recipient to give her contact information.
You can also request contact information from your customers before the fact, in
exchange for content. Site owners often trade a free white paper for an email address,
for example. Reciprocation in the form of asking for contact information after the
fact has been shown to be more effective in getting detailed contact information than
reward (asking for contact information before the fact).5
Consistency and commitment: Little yeses. One key to getting people to convert is our
human need for consistency. Once we commit to something, we want our future
actions to appear consistent with that decision. That small initial commitment makes
us more likely to agree to larger requests that are similar.
On the Web and with your sales force, be sure to get prospects to commit with “little yeses” to move the buying process along toward the big “Yes!” For example, asking a prospect whether she agrees that saving money, time, or effort is a good idea
will yield an easy yes. If you follow up with a question about her problem and then
offer the same type of savings through your solution, you are more likely to get a positive response.
Gamberini, L. et al. 2007. “Embedded Persuasive Strategies to Obtain Visitors’ Data: Comparing Reward
and Reciprocity in an Amateur, Knowledge-Based Website,” in Persuasive 2007 (Stanford University, CA:
April 26–27), 194.
Chapter 5: Conversion Rate Optimization
Social proof: A bestseller! Humans often decide what is correct by observing what other
people think is correct. This “social evidence” can stimulate compliance with a
request. Telling a person that many other people have made the same choice encourages your prospect to comply. The principle of social proof works best under conditions of uncertainty and similarity.
You can use social proof to your advantage to raise perceived credibility on the Web.
Impressive client lists, third-party seals of authority, and Amazon’s “Customers Who
Bought This Item Also Bought...” are forms of social proof. Glowing testimonials
can have the same effect. In fact, customer endorsements from peers have a significant positive effect on trust, as well as on attitudes and willingness to buy.6 Remember to back up your claims so that there is no backlash.
Another behavior influenced by social proof is the fear factor about buying online.
After hearing stories of hackers and identity theft in the news media, many buyers
who are not tech-savvy are apprehensive about buying online. As a result, online
retailers must build confidence and trust with visitors by decreasing perceived risk
and uncertainty.
The more confident we are in our decisions, the more likely we are to buy. Trust,
information quality, familiarity, and reputation have strong effects that support our
intention to buy. Increase perceived credibility by deploying third-party e-seals of
approval such as those from the Better Business Bureau, eTrust, and HACKER SAFE.
You may get a higher conversion rate with a trust graphic,7 but we encourage you to
experiment and test different e-seals. Naturally, all third-party seals must be used strictly
in accordance with the rules and regulations of the awarding organizations.
Liking: Friends selling bonds. Most people tend to say yes to people they know or like.
We are more likely to convert when a product or service is associated with physically attractive people, positive circumstances or attributes, and/or people who are
similar to us. Additionally, a recommendation from a friend or someone we know
has much more weight than a cold call from a stranger.
The wording that you use on your website can significantly affect your conversion
rates. Sophisticated marketers create personas, or personality archetypes, that help to
customize different paths for different types of customers. Each path has copy that is
tailored for that persona’s level of education, different personality characteristics, and
needs. By populating your paths with friendly, tailored, benefit-oriented copy, you can
kick-start the liking process. You’ll learn more about personas later in this chapter.
Lim, K. et al. 2006. “Do I Trust You Online, and If So, Will I Buy? An Empirical Study of Two Trust-Building
Strategies.” Journal of Management Information Systems 23 (2): 233–266. Although rewards received more
replies, reciprocation got more detailed responses.
McAfee. 2008. “HACKER SAFE certified sites prevent over 99.9% of hacker crime.” http://www.scanalert.com/
site/en/certification/marketing/ (accessed February 18, 2008). McAfee claims an average increase in conversion
rate of 14% among 150 million unique visitors who see the HACKER SAFE mark. Your mileage may vary.
Best Practices for CRO |
Authority: Dutiful deference. Systemic societal pressures have instilled deference to
authority in most humans. We tend to obey people who appear authoritative, especially those with impressive titles and the trappings of what people in the culture
consider signs of success.
To enhance the authority effect on credibility, you can emphasize the titles and education of your staff on your website. Be sure to mention any books, studies, and articles that your staff has published. Including images of people in suits or uniforms
where appropriate will add gravitas to the authority of your website.
Scarcity: Exclusive limited numeric offer! When an opportunity appears to be less available, people assign it a higher value. We are more likely to desire a scarce opportunity when it has recently become scarce or when we have to compete for it. We also
hate to lose established freedoms. This is called psychological reactance.
You can use perceived scarcity to sell more products and services on the Web. By
limiting the number of products or services that you sell, you can evoke the scarcity
principle. For example, when travelers go to Orbitz.com to buy airline tickets, they
are often told that there are only X available seats left at that price (see Figure 5-1).
Figure 5-1. Orbitz.com using scarcity to sell airline tickets
Similarly, Amazon.com shows the number of books left before a new order must be
placed, citing attendant delays if you don’t act now. Amazon also calculates the time
you have left to make your purchase to receive it by a certain date.
Building trust to close the sale
Successful sites build trust and confidence in their visitors and make clear to the visitor how he can take action that will lead to a sale. At each decision point, successful
sites reassure visitors with information designed to keep buying momentum high and
uncertainty low.
Ease of use is most important in building trust in the information gathering stage. Structural assurance becomes more important in the evaluation and purchasing stages.
Chapter 5: Conversion Rate Optimization
Maximizing Conversion with Personas
The most successful websites are the ones built with input from marketers who understand who their customers are and what unique personality traits their customers have.
They understand which common needs and goals their customers possess and the psychology of why they buy. Personas, the composite personality archetypes of your customers, help you target different personality types to maximize conversion rates. You
can discover the personas of your customers by conducting user interviews, by observing focus groups, and by analyzing search behavior.
Personality types influence the ways in which people make decisions and the questions
they ask. Psychologists have identified four main personality types: Jung called them
Intuitor, Sensor, Thinker, and Feeler. The Eisenberg brothers, coauthors of Call to
Action: Secret Formulas to Improve Online Results (Thomas Nelson), call them Competitive, Spontaneous, Methodical, and Humanistic.
Each of your visitors perceives value in a different way. Here is a summary of each dominant personality type:a
• Competitive: Their questions focus on the what. They want control and they
value competence. They can put off immediate gratification for future gain. They
want rational options and challenges.
• Spontaneous: Their questions focus on why and sometimes when. They are
impulsive and fast-paced. They want to address their own immediate needs.
• Methodical: Their questions focus on how. They are detail-oriented and organized. They want facts and hard data to make decisions.
• Humanistic: Their questions focus on who. They tend to be altruistic and can
sublimate their own needs for others. They want testimonials, the big picture,
and incentives.
Websites that use personas (e.g., “business” or “consumer” at IBM.com) direct consumers to different paths based on their particular interests or goals. To maximize conversion rates, you can tailor your copy to the personality type of the person you are
targeting. You can adapt your website paths and sales techniques to a person’s particular level of education and desires by using “trigger words” and content styles that feel
familiar to your target audience.
Eisenberg, B. et al. 2006. Persuasive Online Copywriting—How to Take Your Words to the Bank. New York:
Future Now, 60–64. http://www.futurenowinc.com (accessed February 15, 2008). This is an updated PDF of
the original 2002 book from Wizard Academy Press.
Assurance includes credibility boosters such as a privacy policy link under an email
form, or a VeriSign or HACKER SAFE certification where a customer will enter a
credit card number.8
Chau, P. et al. 2007. “Examining customers’ trust in online vendors and their dropout decisions: An empirical study.” Electronic Commerce Research and Applications 6 (2): 171–182.
Best Practices for CRO |
Top 10 Factors to Maximize Conversion Rates
There are more than a thousand ways to optimize your website to maximize conversion rates.9 What follows are the 10 most important factors that you can use to boost
conversions with your website.
Factor #1: Use a Credibility-Based Professional Design
Your site has just a moment to be trusted, or busted.10 A professionally designed site
makes the type of first impression (fast, mistake-free, attractive, and credible) that prevents scaring away more business than you get. Amazingly, trust is built on the “thin
slice” of a first impression, as Malcolm Gladwell, author of the bestseller Blink (Little,
Brown and Company), has found. What goes into credibility-based design? Your site
needs to be:
Your site will be judged in the blink of an eye, so it must become visible very
quickly. Site owners often make the mistake of using heavy graphical elements that
slow their sites down. Many visitors leave before these elements have even loaded.
Page display times greater than four seconds put you at a credibility disadvantage.
This goes beyond spellchecking. Your site must be free of style errors, coding errors,
design errors, factual errors, grammatical errors, redundancies, and incomplete content. Such errors significantly reduce perceived quality, harm credibility, and derail
intent to purchase.11 In fact, the perception of flaws in a site affects perceived quality by more than twice as much as do actual flaws. Thus, small errors can become
magnified in your visitors’ eyes. This is one of the two most important factors cited
as making the best first impression. The other factor is attractiveness.
Studies have found that attractiveness is the single most important factor in
increasing credibility. Testing the same content with high and low aesthetic
treatments, one study found that a higher aesthetic treatment increased perceived credibility.12 When a company has invested in professional website and
logo design, consumers infer that the firm can be trusted.13
Eisenberg, B. February 21, 2003. “How to Decrease Sales by 90 Percent.” ClickZ, http://www.clickz.com/
showPage.html?page=1588161 (accessed June 5, 2008.) Found over 1,100 factors that affect conversion rates.
10Lindgaard, G. et al. 2006. “Attention web designers: You have 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression!” Behavior and Information Technology 25 (2):115–126. See also the introduction to Part II.
11Everard, A., and D. Galletta. Winter 2005–2006. “How Presentation Flaws Affect Perceived Site Quality, Trust,
and Intention to Purchase from an Online Store.” Journal of Management Information Systems 22 (3): 55–95.
12Robins and Holmes. “Aesthetics and credibility in web site design,” 397.
13Schlosser, A. et al. 2006. “Converting Web Site Visitors into Buyers: How Web Site Investment Increases
Consumer Trusting Beliefs and Online Purchase Intentions.” Journal of Marketing 70 (2): 133–148. Site
investment equals trust in a firm’s abilities.
Chapter 5: Conversion Rate Optimization
Sites that are credible convert visitors into buyers. This is the bottom line of commercial website design. Mistake-free, attractive pages and logos are the keys to increasing credibility. And you’ve seen that speed is important if you are going to deliver
that necessary experience to your visitors. All of this is available with professional
website design, because true professional website design is credibility-based design.
Factor #2: Make Website Navigation Easy
Users frequently criticize difficult navigation in website usability surveys. If visitors can’t
find what they’re looking for, they will bail out of your website and look elsewhere.
Your site design should allow your visitors to get where they want to go quickly and easily with a minimum number of clicks. Avoid using your internal company jargon, which
visitors may not understand. Feature a consistent integrated navigation design using
popular conventions. Write compelling, benefit-oriented link text to encourage visitors
to click to your products or services. Longer link text has been shown to convert better
than shorter link text. We’ll explore optimum link length later in this chapter.
To help orient visitors, use site maps and a logical hierarchy that is not too deep. Users
prefer tabbed navigation to other forms of web navigation.14 They also prefer that vertical navigation, if used, appear on the left because that is where most users look first.
Factor #3: Optimize the Credibility of Your Logo
Your logo is often the first impression that your visitors have of your company. Does
your logo present your company as expert and trustworthy? How do you know? It
helps to have an extensive background and training in commercial art and psychology.
But barring that, you may find the following introduction helpful.
Dr. William Haig, coauthor of The Power of Logos (John Wiley and Sons), provides a
framework for designers to create credibility-based logo designs.15 These “source credibility” logos have been shown to increase conversion rates by up to a factor of four.
A logo which contained the credibility traits of a website company induced 2x to 4x
more clickthroughs than logos which did not have the same credibility traits and were
thus considered non-credible.16
A., and A. Sodan. “Web Interface Navigation Design: Which Style of Navigation-Link Menus Do
Users Prefer?” in ICDEW 2006 (Atlanta: April 3–7, 2006), 10 pages.
15Haig, W., and L. Harper. 1997. The Power of Logos: How to Create Effective Company Logos. New York:
John Wiley. Haig coined the term “credibility-based logo design” in his master’s thesis at the University of
Hawaii, “Credibility Compared to Likeability: A Study of Company Logos,” in 1979. His Logos book
expanding on his thesis followed.
16Haig, W.L. 2006. “How and Why Credibility-Based Company Logos are Effective in Marketing Communication in Persuading Customers to Take Action: A Multiple Case Study Toward a Better Understanding of
Creativity in Branding.” Ph.D. dissertation, Southern Cross University, Lismore, Australia.
Top 10 Factors to Maximize Conversion Rates |
The psychology behind credibility-based logos is to encourage the acceptance of
messages that motivate consumers to take action. Logos lend credibility to the company’s main message. So, if the source of a message is perceived to be credible and
trustworthy (partly as a result of your logo design), the messages your company
transmits will be more influential. In persuasive communication theory this is called
source credibility.
The key to Haig’s theory is to translate nonverbal communication into design forms
that convey the specific credibility traits of the company in a logo. Haig found that a
successful logo must:
• Be credibility-based. It must incorporate attributes—such as competent, knowledgeable, trustworthy, cutting-edge, conservative, dynamic, exciting, traditional,
forward-thinking, and innovation—that are specific to the company.
• Symbolize the company’s core competency.
• Be designed to communicate that the company is trustworthy.
• Be planned in content and in design form.
• Use a symbol over, or next to, or to the left of the company name.
• Be prominent in application and be frequently and consistently used.
• Have a graphical symbol and name that work together.
Your logo is a graphical icon that symbolizes the credibility of your business. Effective logos are designed for immediate recognition. As described in Alina Wheeler’s
Designing Brand Identity: A Complete Guide to Creating, Building, and Maintaining
Strong Brands (John Wiley and Sons), they inspire trust, admiration, and loyalty, and
imply superiority. Make sure your logo is professionally designed to symbolize your
company’s unique credibility traits.
Haig said this about credibility and conversion:
Only 1–5 visitors out of 100 follow the links on a website to the “purchase” page. My
work shows that over 90 percent do not even get to the “follow the link” stage. Only
about 8 to 10 percent do at “first glance” within the first few seconds. My work shows
that a credibility-based logo design can increase the “first glance rate” by up to 4 times.
This means that a “credibility-based logo” and a “credibility-based home page” with
consistent credibility traits expressed through design will more than double the visitors to the “purchase” page. That is big bucks baby!
To view some examples of credibility-based logo designs, see Haig’s website at http://
Chapter 5: Conversion Rate Optimization
Factor #4: Write a Memorable Slogan
A tagline or a brief branding slogan should be placed near your logo. Slogan is
derived from the Gaelic word sluagh-ghairm which means battle cry. Your slogan
should be a memorable phrase, a battle cry that sums up your company’s benefits
and image.17 Your tagline should be an abbreviated version of your USP that links
the slogan to your brand.
Some memorable taglines include:
• “A diamond is forever.” (DeBeers, 1948)
• “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” (FedEx, 1982)
• “Got milk?” (California Milk Processing Board, 1993)
Your slogan, your logo, and your brand name are three key elements that identify
your brand. Together they create brand equity, which differentiates how consumers
respond to your marketing efforts. A higher differential increases what consumers
know about your brand, allowing you to charge a premium for your offerings.
Brand names are rarely changed, whereas logos and taglines often change over time
as your company evolves. Ideally, taglines should be designed for future expansion.
Good slogans:
• Communicate the biggest benefit that your product provides
• Are simple yet memorable
• Use active voice, with the adverb near the verb for more impact
• Differentiate your brand
• Link your slogan to your brand name
• Are designed for future expansion
• Embrace ambiguity (puns and other wordplay, for example, are inexact but
• Prime your desired attributes
• Jump-start recall with jingles
Larger companies often hire brand management firms to create their taglines, their
USPs, and their logos, spending millions in the process. You don’t need to spend millions to come up with an effective tagline; you’ve got this book. Later in this chapter
we’ll show you how to create a compelling USP.
C., L. Leuthesser, and R. Suri. 2007. “Got slogan? Guidelines for creating effective slogans.” Business
Horizons 50 (5): 415–422.
Top 10 Factors to Maximize Conversion Rates |
Factor #5: Use Benefit-Oriented Headlines
Your initial headline contains the first words that your visitors will read on your site.
So, to improve conversion rates, grab their attention. Use headlines that clearly state
the most important benefits that your product or service offers. For example, emphasize saving money, time, and energy. Think search engine optimization (SEO) when
writing your headlines by including the keywords that you want to target. Finally,
design your headlines for scanning by placing your most important keywords up
front.18 Note how this feature-laden headline:
Use half the watts with low-voltage fluorescent light bulbs!
can become the following benefit-oriented headline:
Energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs save you money!
The use of passive voice permits the placement of keywords early in headlines. Used
in body copy, however, passive voice creates impersonal and potentially confusing
language. Headlines that ask visitors to act can boost click-through rates (CTRs).
Combining these headlines with free offers increases conversion rates even more.
Optimum link length
Headlines are often used as link text. Longer link text, on the order of 7 to 12 words,
has been shown to have higher success rates than shorter link text (see Figure 5-2).19
Success here is defined as the likelihood of a link bringing the user closer to where she
wants to go. Longer link text is more likely to contain the right trigger words that the
user seeks. The more likely that a trigger word is present, the higher the scent of a link.
Factor #6: Give Important Content the Best Placement
The position of components on your web pages can make a significant difference in
your website conversions and site flow-through. Users look first at the top-left corner of
your web page and scan to the right and then to the left in an F-shaped pattern.20 They
end up in the center of your page where the most important content should reside.21
They focus less on the right side of web pages, or to areas that look like ads. Because
most people focus first on the left side of the screen, navigation works well on the left
side for left-to-right readers. The right side of the screen works well for testimonials,
calls to action, and sign-up forms. As with all best practices, be sure to experiment to
maximize conversion rates for your situation (see Chapter 10).
J. September 6, 1998. “Microcontent: How to Write Headlines, Page Titles, and Subject Lines.”
Alertbox, http://www.useit.com/alertbox/980906.html (accessed February 18, 2008).
19Spool, J. et al. 2004. “Designing for the Scent of Information.” User Interface Engineering, http://www.uie.com
(accessed March 30, 2008). Figure 5-2 reproduced by permission.
20Nielsen, J. April 17, 2006. “F-Shaped Pattern For Reading Web Content.” Alertbox, http://www.useit.com/
alertbox/reading_pattern.html (accessed February 17, 2008).
2004. Landing Page Handbook 1. Warren, RI: MarketingSherpa, 91.
Chapter 5: Conversion Rate Optimization
Figure 5-2. Link length versus success rate
To boost click-through and conversion rates, place your most important links,
forms, and calls to action in the first screen (i.e., above the fold). In an eye-tracking
study of web pages, 76.5% of the users clicked on links above the fold, whereas the
rest clicked on links below the fold.22
To maximize conversion rates on landing pages, repeat the search terms that brought
users to your page in the first screen. Think of your visitors as grazing informavores with
very short attention spans.23 They look for morsels of useful information to devour.
Break up your copy with compelling subheadlines to make your content easy to digest.
Factor #7: Include Appealing Offers and Calls to Action
Your offer is a call to action. You are asking your visitors to act: to purchase, sign up,
or opt in. Well-drafted calls to action motivate users to move further into the sales
process.24 For example, this:
becomes this:
Click here to download your free white paper
H. et al. 2006. “Off the Beaten Tracks: Exploring Three Aspects of Web Navigation.” In WWW
2006 (Edinburgh, Scotland: May 23–26, 2006), 133–142.
23Pirolli, P. 2007. Information Foraging Theory: Adaptive Interaction with Information. New York: Oxford University Press. A theoretical but fundamentally important book for web designers.
24Eisenberg, B. et al. 2006. Call to Action: Secret Formulas to Improve Online Results (Nashville, TN: Thomas
Nelson), 144.
Top 10 Factors to Maximize Conversion Rates |
Factor #8: Deploy Persuasive, Benefit-Oriented Content
Write persuasive, compelling copy with benefits that appeal to the needs of your customers. Whether you are showing the benefits of your service or offering product
descriptions on your e-commerce website, your content must convey benefits that
capture your visitors’ attention.
For example, avoid feature-oriented copy such as this:
5.7 liter hemi 4 valve engine. The Tundra engine incorporates a number of
innovative, high-tech features that boost horsepower and fuel efficiency. It
provides high compression ratios, hemispherical cylinder heads, and four valves
per cylinder to improve combustion.
Instead, use personas to create targeted, benefit-oriented copy (see the “Maximizing
Conversion with Personas” sidebar, earlier in this chapter). The following copy
assumes that a prospect is looking for power and status in a vehicle:
5.7 Liter Hemi V8 provides maximum horsepower for towing heavy loads. The
tough Tundra truck boasts a high-tech 5.7 liter V8 engine with plenty of power
to tow the heaviest of payloads. You’ll turn heads towing your boat to the beach,
while saving money with our innovative fuel-efficient design.
Do I want more power? Yes! Do I want to turn heads? Yes! Sign me up for one of
those bad boys.
Benefit Bullets and Value Hierarchies
The benefit bullet format presents the benefits of your product in the order of its value
hierarchy to your target market. In other words, list the strongest benefits of your product first, and its weakest benefit last. For example, with the new Tundra truck you can:
• Tow heavy loads (powerful 5.7 liter V8 engine)
• Arrive in style (new streamlined design)
• Save money (fuel-efficient engine with four valves per cylinder)
Avoid features. Think benefits. Features appeal to the intellect, benefits appeal to
emotions. Without an emotional buy-in, customers won’t click.
Factor #9: Use Illustrative Product and Service Images—The “Hero
The images that you display on your web pages can significantly improve your conversion rates. If you sell products, including images of those products is an obvious choice.
Chapter 5: Conversion Rate Optimization
If you sell a service, you can add an image that represents the benefit and value of
your service (see Figure 5-3).
Figure 5-3. Before and after shots for a cosmetic dentistry site
Use the source credibility effect by showing attractive people in uniforms who are
administering your offerings and services or answering the phone. Place a picture of
your staff on your “About Us” page to improve your credibility and trust by showing
that your staff is real.
Follow these best practices for product images:
• Use one high-quality image that represents your product or service. If you sell a
product, use a photo of the product.
• Don’t use clip art or stock photos that are not relevant to the product.
• Position your descriptive text to the right of your product images. It is uncomfortable for your visitors to read text that is to the left of the product image. Note that
most catalogs have the product on the left and the descriptive text on the right.25
• For multiple images displayed on one page, place your most important products
in the center or on the left of the page. Studies have shown that people look at the
thumbnails on the right last.26
• Make your product images clickable. People enjoy clicking on images to view
larger, more detailed versions of your “hero shot” (i.e., a picture of your product
or service). You can also consider using a pop-up window that offers a larger,
more detailed image with additional text describing the product.
2005. Landing Page Handbook 1. Warren, RI: MarketingSherpa, 51.
Top 10 Factors to Maximize Conversion Rates |
• Add a descriptive caption under the image. Studies show that your headline and
caption are the two content items on your web pages that are read the most.27
Captions and part numbers also make good SEO copy (see Figure 5-4).
Figure 5-4. Google lava lamp
Factor #10: Use Interactive Elements to Engage Users
Immediately interest and engage your site visitors with interactive website components. These elements invite your visitors to focus their attention on your message.
They include audio, video, and web-based devices such as Flash movies and interactive customer support tools such as LivePerson.
Interactivity in various forms, such as forums, a feedback form, and search tools,
have been shown to boost website usability28 and user satisfaction.29 You can use
these technologies to engage your website visitors in real time and get them to take
actions that lead to more conversions.
For example, adding a video or Flash movie to your website that illustrates the benefits of your product or service will improve conversions (see Figure 5-5).
H.H. et al. 2003. “An empirical study of the effects of interactivity on web user attitude.” International
Journal of Human-Computer Studies 58 (3): 281–305.
29Lowry, P. et al. 2006. “A Theoretical Model and Empirical Results Linking Website Interactivity and Usability Satisfaction.” In HICSS 2006 (January 4–7, 2006), 9 pages.
Chapter 5: Conversion Rate Optimization
Figure 5-5. Toyota Highlander Hybrid Flash movie
If you add the LivePerson customer support tool to your website and train your customer support staff to use it effectively, you can increase your conversions by up to
500% and reduce the length of your sales cycle by 48%, according to LivePerson (see
Figure 5-6).30
Figure 5-6. LivePerson symbol
Adding a video spokesperson increased the conversion rate of DiscoveryStore.com by
78% (see Figure 5-7 for an example).31
Remember, it’s not simply the presence of an interactive feature that is important,
but rather how well you use it. The speed and content quality of the chat message are
higher predictors of interactivity than the mere presence of a chat function.32
Staging Your CRO Campaign
The next discussion is divided into three sections: discovery, planning, and optimization.
While these include important techniques for CRO, they’re not the only techniques.
30LivePerson. 2007. “Hoover’s increases conversion rates and average order values with LivePerson’s proactive
chat.” LivePerson, http://www.liveperson.com/customers/hoovers/results.asp (accessed February 17, 2008).
July 19, 2005. “Video Spokesmodel Lifts Ecommerce Conversions 78%: A/B Test Results.”
MarketingSherpa, https://www.marketingsherpa.com/barrier.html?ident=24086 (accessed February 17, 2008).
32Song, J., and G. Zinkhan. 2008. “Exploring the Determinants of Perceived Web Site Interactivity.” Journal
of Marketing 72 (2).
Staging Your CRO Campaign |
Figure 5-7. Example from MyWeddingFavors.com of a video spokesperson
You will want to implement these along with the other methods described elsewhere in this book, including website testing, search-friendly site development, and
high-performance web design.
As you learned earlier in this chapter, in “The Benefits of CRO,” most websites convert at only a fraction of their true potential: 3.1%, according to a Shop.org study
(http://www.shop.org/soro). The reason for this startling statistic is that most websites have not been planned with the conversion needs of target visitors in mind.
This process involves discovering who your target visitors are so that you can understand their specific needs, goals, psychology, and hot buttons. By discovering their
unique needs, you can write content to address those needs and answer their questions so that they convert.
Discovering personas
Using discovery questions enables you to identify who your prospective customers
are. The following questions will help you discover how to use your website to persuade customers to buy from you or to become a lead for your sales team.
Demographics. What kinds of people buy from your website? Are they male or
female? What is their age? What is their occupation? What is their income and education, and how do these factors play an important role in their buying decision?
Psychographics. Different personality types respond differently to who, what, where,
why, and when. Knowing this information allows you to build personas to tailor
content to each personality type.
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Geographic region. Where is your target market located? Do you sell globally, nationally, or just to the locals in your hometown? If you cater to a local market, can you
provide your customers with a map and directions to your office or retail store?
Customer pain points and goals. What is the main problem that your typical prospect
wants to fix? What is the most important factor to the prospect who is considering
buying your offerings?
Value proposition. Why would a prospect favor your business over all other competitors? What makes your company unique? For example, if you are a pizza company
and you offer “Delivery in 30 minutes or it’s free,” tell the world! This information
allows you to position your business as the best choice with a strong value proposition and guarantee.
Benefit hierarchy. What benefits are important to your target prospect? Construct a
list of these benefits in order, beginning with the most important. Knowing this
information allows you to write content that speaks to the heart of your website visitors, and helps to move them past their emotional tipping point.
Key frustrations and objections. What are the biggest frustrations and objections that
your prospects have when conducting business with companies in your industry? Do
your customers hate to pay shipping and handling fees? Do they feel that your products cost too much? Do they have specific questions that you can answer on your
website? This information allows you to create content that reduces your prospects’
reluctance to buy. To address their objections, provide answers to their most pressing questions and rebuttals to their objections to buying. You can also reduce key
frustrations and objections by offering free shipping, low prices, satisfaction guarantees, toll-free phone numbers, FAQs, or easy financing. Plus, you can provide trustbuilders such as privacy policies and security seals.
Buying criteria. What specific factors do your prospects look for when making decisions to buy your products or services? Knowing this information allows you to write
content that positions you as the expert in the industry who helps customers make
good decisions.
Risk reversal. How can you lower or even eliminate the risk in buying your product or
service? How can you encourage your clients to trust you? Risk-reversal techniques create offers that many customers can’t refuse. Examples include 100% satisfaction guarantees, free return shipping, free trials, and unconditional money-back guarantees.
Keyword phrases. What keyword phrases does your target market use in search
engines such as Google, Yahoo!, and MSN Search to find your product or service?
Incorporate these search terms into your web pages to mirror their queries and optimize your site for search engines.
Staging Your CRO Campaign |
The Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
The competition on the Web is fierce. You need to differentiate yourself from your
competitors and position your company as the best choice in the market. What
makes your company unique?
Having a compelling USP will dramatically improve the positioning and marketability of your company and its products. It accomplishes three things for you:
• It clearly sets you apart from your competition, positioning you as the best
choice for your customers’ unique needs.
• It persuades others to exchange money for your product or service.
• It is a proposal or offer that you make for acceptance.
Your USP is the force that drives your business to succeed. You also can use it as a
branding tool and a selling tool. In addition, your widely deployed USP allows you to
build a lasting reputation while you’re making sales. The ultimate goal of your USP and
marketing is to have people say, “Oh yes, I’ve heard of you. You’re the company
that...”, and continue by requesting more information or by purchasing your product.
Your USP communicates the very essence of what you are offering. It needs to be so
compelling and so benefit-oriented that it can be used as a headline all by itself to sell
your product or service. Because you want to optimize your website and all of your
marketing materials, create your USP before you create content and advertisements.
The following seven-step process shows you how to construct a USP for your business.
Step 1: Use your biggest benefits. Clearly describe the three biggest benefits of owning
your product or service. You have to explain to your prospects exactly how your product will benefit them. What are the three biggest benefits that you offer? For example:
• Faster delivery
• Lower cost
• Higher quality
Step 2: Be unique. Essentially, your USP separates you from the competition, sets up
buying criteria that illustrates your company as the most logical choice, and makes
your product or service the “must have” item.
You can state your USP in your product description, in your offer, or in your guarantee, but it should always create desire and urgency:
Product: “The Fluke VR1710 Voltage Quality Recorder Is an Easy-to-Use
Instrument That Will Help You Instantly Detect Power Quality Problems.”
Offer: “Order the New Fluke VR1710 Voltage Quality Recorder to Quickly
Detect Power Quality Problems.”
Guarantee: “The New Fluke VR1710 Voltage Quality Recorder Will Help You
Quickly Detect Power Quality Problems, Guaranteed.”
Chapter 5: Conversion Rate Optimization
Winning USP Examples
Federal Express (FedEx) nearly equals the U.S. Post Office in the overnight package
shipping market with the following USP:
“Federal Express: When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”
This USP allowed FedEx to quickly gain market share in the express delivery market,
increasing its sales and profits.
In today’s competitive market, your business cannot thrive if you are using copycat marketing. Your small business absolutely, positively has to have a USP that cuts through the
clutter. Your USP must position you not as the best choice, but as the only choice.
Building your USP is worth the effort because of the added advantage you’ll have in the
market. Using a powerful USP will make your job of marketing and selling much easier.
The following are two powerful USPs that alleviate the “pain” experienced by consumers in their industries.
Example #1—The food industry:
• Pain: The kids are hungry, but Mom and Dad are too tired to cook!
• USP: “You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less—or
it’s free.” (Domino’s Pizza original USP)
Example #2—The cold medicine industry:
• Pain: You are sick, feel terrible, and can’t sleep.
• USP: “The nighttime, sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, fever, best-sleepyou-ever-got-with-a-cold medicine.” (NyQuil)
Step 3: Solve an industry “pain point” or “performance gap.” Identify which needs are going
unfulfilled in your industry or in your local market. The need or gap that exists
between the current situation and the desired objective is sometimes termed a performance gap. Many businesses succeed by basing their USP on industry performance
Learn about the most frustrating things your customer experiences when working
with you or your industry in general. Use your USP to alleviate that pain and make
sure that you deliver on your promises.
Step 4: Be specific and offer proof. Consumers are generally skeptical of advertising
claims. Alleviate their skepticism by being specific and, where possible, offering
proof. For example, “You’ll lose 10 pounds in 60 days or your money back!”
Staging Your CRO Campaign |
Step 5: Condense your USP into one clear and concise sentence. The most powerful USPs are
so well written that you would not change or even move a single word. After you have
composed your USP, your advertising and marketing copy will practically write itself.
Step 6: Integrate your USP into your website and all marketing materials. Besides your website, you should include variations of your USP in all of your marketing materials,
• Advertising and sales copy headlines
• Business cards, brochures, flyers, and signs
• Your “elevator pitch,” phone, and sales scripts
• Letterhead, letters, postcards, and calendars
Your slogan can be an abbreviated version of your USP, or the whole phrase.
Step 7: Deliver on your USP’s promise. Be bold when developing your USP, but be careful to
ensure that you can deliver. Your USP should have promises and guarantees that capture your audience’s attention and compel them to respond. In the beginning, it was a
challenge for FedEx to absolutely, positively deliver overnight, but the company subsequently developed the system that allowed it to consistently deliver on the promise.
Now that you know what the profiles of your visitors look like and what information they need to make a buying decision on your website, the next step is planning
your website. Planning includes the following steps:
1. Creating the redesign plan
2. Planning your website design and color scheme
Step 1: Create the redesign plan: planning your site architecture
Site planning includes specifying which web pages are needed and how they are organized. It also establishes the paths that your visitors will take through your website.
One way to start this is to jot down a site map containing a line-item list of web
pages that your website will contain.
For a website that sells expensive business solutions or enterprise software, your site
map might look like this:
• Home Page
• About Us
— Company history
— Management staff
— Employment opportunities
Chapter 5: Conversion Rate Optimization
• Contact Us
• Solutions for IT Professionals
— Network management solutions
— Enterprise information system (EIS)
— Electronic data interchange (EDI)
• Solutions for Financial Officers
— General ledger software
— Fixed assets software
• Solutions for Marketing and Sales Departments
— How marketing can boost leads
• Marketing Tool 1
• Marketing Tool 2
• Marketing Tool 3
• Marketing Tool 4
— How the sales force can increase sales
• Sales Tool 1
• Sales Tool 2
• Sales Tool 3
• Sales Tool 4
• Lead Generator: White Paper
• Lead Generator: Webinar
Map out every page of your web site with these things in mind:
• Which visitor profiles are likely to visit each web page?
• Which specific keywords might they use at the search engines to get there?
• What sorts of questions does the prospect who has landed on that page need to
have answered?
• What specific strategy will the web page take to answer these questions?
• What actions might each profile take next?
Step 2: Plan your website design and color scheme
The colors that you use for your website will influence your visitors. Your color
scheme will cause your visitors to react to your website either positively or negatively. Picking the wrong colors can sound a red-alert alarm in your visitors’ psyches
and send them scurrying for cover. This results in high bail-out rates and plummeting conversion rates.
Staging Your CRO Campaign |
Identifying your customers’ personalities and personas will allow you to pick the colors that they prefer. For example, IBM knows its customers are buyers of serious
computer hardware, software, and high-end consulting services. It chose the more
serious blue and black color scheme to communicate more credibility and trust, and
uses this color scheme and style in its website design to unify all of its marketing
materials (see Figure 5-8).
Figure 5-8. IBM.com home page
PartyCity.com knows its customers are party animals. Its customers want to ensure
that their parties are bright, cheery, and fun, so PartyCity chose to use bright and fun
colors such as red, green, bright blue, and even pink! (See Figure 5-9.)
Once you’ve tailored the colors to the psychological moods of your target audience,
the end result will transform your website into a powerful tool to appeal to and draw
your prospects in like a magnet.
After discovery and planning, the optimization phase is where you create a site plan
that is complete with information architecture and personas. In this phase, you’ll create web template mockups to finalize effective layouts. You’ll write targeted persuasive copy, headlines, and offers. You’ll put your USP into action with a winning
slogan and initial body copy. Finally, you’ll optimize your conversion paths and progressively improve conversion rates by testing different alternatives.
Chapter 5: Conversion Rate Optimization
Figure 5-9. PartyCity.com home page
Optimize with persuasive copywriting
Persuasive copywriting is the key to website success. Your words must inform, excite,
and persuade your visitors to take action. To persuade, your words must be relevant
to your visitors’ needs. To achieve relevance, you must orient your content to the
users’ point of view and give them what they want.
Be brief. Be bold and inject personality into your prose. Stand out from the crowd by
surprising them with unexpected words, ideas, and an ironclad guarantee. Be relevant.
Make your offer irresistible.
Your customers are busy, and your copy must grab their attention quickly, as people
spend only a fraction of a second evaluating your pages. Turbo-charge your words to
make them sparkle and persuade.
Effective copy has a number of unique characteristics:
• It appeals to the value hierarchies of your customers.
• It includes benefit-oriented headlines and content.
• It contains primary and secondary calls to action.
• It uses effective and accepted writing techniques.
• It incorporates the six persuaders.
Staging Your CRO Campaign |
Appeal to the value hierarchies of your customers. Psychologists use value hierarchies to
help them understand what is important to individuals.33 Value hierarchies frame the
most important value that your company’s product or service offers to customers. By
focusing on what matters most to your customers, you’ll keep your content relevant.
Create benefit-oriented content. Benefit-oriented content directly addresses the value
hierarchies of customers by showing how your products and services will fulfill your
prospects’ needs. Your copy should emphasize, amplify, and illuminate the benefits
of your products and services. Saturate your copy with benefits and avoid featureoriented copy.
There are some exceptions. The type of copy that you use in your site depends on
your target market. In the computer parts industry, for example, features and specifications are frequently more important than value-oriented copy. Most OEMs and
retailers offer their value-oriented content as the default view, with tabs or links to
detailed lists of features and specifications. Often, a particular new feature will dominate the marketing for a particular product. As a rule, follow the standards and
expectations of your industry and market.
Write engaging headlines and copy. Your headlines need to appear to be relevant to your
visitors to catch their attention. Enticing headlines will lure more people to your site
because they also appear off-site in RSS feeds and resultant news stories.
Make your headlines short, punchy summaries of the important topic that follows.
Omit articles and quantifiers (a, an, and, the) and use subject/noun/verb combinations in newspaper style.
Here are some tips for writing engaging headlines that convert:
• Include keyword phrases in the headline when optimizing for search engines or bidding in a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign. This can help you rank higher in the search
engines and shows visitors from your PPC campaign that the web page is relevant.
• Highlight the benefits with effective headlines that explicitly tell your visitors the
benefits of your website, product, or service. For example, FabricWorkroom.com’s
headline summarizes its products and benefits: “Shop FabricWorkroom.com for
Custom Home Decor and Designer Fabrics at Discount Prices.”
• Front-load keywords in headlines for better keyword prominence and scanning.
In general, active voice is strongest for ad copy. For SEO purposes, however,
passive voice can help to front-load headlines with keywords.34 Users often scan
only the first two words in headlines, subheads, summaries, captions, links, and
bulleted lists, so make the first two words count.
J. et al. 1997. “Application of the means-end value hierarchy model to understanding logistics service value.” International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management 27 (9/10): 630–643.
34Nielsen, J. October 22, 2007. “Passive Voice Is Redeemed for Web Headings.” Alertbox, http://www.useit.
com/alertbox/passive-voice.html (accessed February 17, 2008).
Chapter 5: Conversion Rate Optimization
• Use action-oriented copy to tell visitors what they should do on your web page.
For example, if you are offering a white paper for download on your landing
page, tell your visitors to download the white paper in your headline. Simple,
yes, but effective.
• Arouse curiosity so that your visitors are compelled to read further. Your headlines should leave your readers asking “How?” as their curiosity gets the better of
them. For example: “How to Increase Your Landing Page Conversion Rates by
50% to 200%.”
• State only the facts in your headline. Often, this is the best approach to take. For
example, here is a headline for a Fluke Instruments product: “The Fluke VR1710
Voltage Quality Recorder Offers an Easy-to-Use Solution for Detecting Power
Quality Problems.”
• Use an editorial style to write ads that don’t sound like ads. Writing headlines
(and content) in an editorial style (similar to a newspaper story) can be the best
way to capture the attention of your visitors and keep them reading. For example: “New VoIP Service Saves Homeowners Hundreds of Dollars in Phone
Charges per Year.”
• Use subheadlines directly underneath your headline to provide an additional
place to improve conversions by adding and amplifying benefits to your web
pages. Subheads are also a great place to include keywords for SEO. Jakob
Nielsen recommends that headline writers “reduce duplication of salient keywords” in subheadlines and decks to increase the number of keywords that users
scan.35 Because users often read only the first couple of words in each text element, the use of different keywords in subheads and decks improves relevance
and potential search engine rankings.
• Test and retest because headlines account for such a significant opportunity for
increasing your conversion rate. Use A/B split-testing or multivariate software to
test multiple headlines to find the one that improves your conversion rate the
Here are some tips for writing engaging copy:
Start (and end) each paragraph with a bang
The first and last sentences of your paragraphs should pop. Pack your paragraphs with benefits to arouse your readers’ interest and compel them to take
action on your web pages. Design your copy so that readers can scan it quickly.
Include calls to action when writing links, buttons, and offers
Your calls to action are the offers that you use to compel your visitors to take a
desired action on your website. These actions can be to purchase a product or
service, to sign up and become a lead for your sales team, or to “opt in” with an
email address to learn more about a product so that you can market to them.
Staging Your CRO Campaign |
Use action words and expressions in your hyperlinks
This causes visitors to click. Examples of action words and expressions are “Buy
now for a 15% discount,” “Discover...,” “Learn how to...,” “Click here to...,”
“Sign up for...,” and “Search.”
Use primary responses and secondary or back-up responses
The primary response to a website that you want is usually to purchase your
product or become a lead. But for every one person who responds this way, there
are usually 10 others who almost bought or almost clicked but never connected.
Develop ways to move these almost-buyers or almost-leads closer to a sale with backup
Perhaps your visitor is not ready to buy just now but would like to know about
your future monthly specials. All he has to do is sign up for your free newsletter,
or a similar backup response that you offer him.
Test descriptive text in your buttons
This will increase your conversions. Instead of using the standard “Submit”
wording on buttons, use more descriptive text such as “Download now” to
increase conversion rates. Button text is a good candidate for A/B split-testing.
Adopt a writing style. Your writing style affects your conversion rates. Be consistent
throughout your online writing to build customer confidence and reduce customers’
perceived risk of buying from your company. Use the personas you have developed
to target your writing toward your audience.
Pain versus gain
People are more likely to avoid loss than they are to accept gains.36 People don’t
like to lose their freedoms, and will fight to retain them.37 You can either
approach your copy from a positive, benefit-oriented perspective, or show your
visitors what they’ll lose if they don’t go with your company.
Past, present, or future tense
Present tense talks about what is happening now. Present tense is more immediate and engaging—for example, “I am optimizing.” Past tense (“I have optimized”) and future tense (“I will optimize”) are less engaging.
You, me, and them
Put yourself in your users’ shoes and talk directly to them about how your products and services can help them make their lives better. First person is from the
perspective of the writer: “I am optimizing.” Second person takes the perspective of the reader: “You are optimizing.” A second person pronoun directly
addresses your readers and is the most engaging.
S. 1980. “Attention and weight in person perception: The impact of negative and extreme behavior.”
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 38 (6): 889–906.
Influence: Science and Practice, 215.
Chapter 5: Conversion Rate Optimization
Be consistent
Build trust by being consistent and reliable in your communications with prospects. Avoid changing voice, tense, or pronouns in the middle of your pages.
It confuses the reader.
Effective writing techniques. You can use a number of proven copywriting techniques
to spice up your site. Use poetic meter, vary word choice and sentence length, appeal
to emotions, and surprise your readers with sparkling verse and unexpected words.
Of course, the effectiveness of these techniques will depend on your audience; again,
use your personas to tailor copy.
Use verbs and active voice
Strong verbs have more impact than adverbs and adjectives. Sprinkle your prose
with powerful verbs to give your words momentum and verve. Use active voice
(“He optimized the copy”) for copy, rather than passive voice (“The copy was
optimized”). Passive voice is less engaging and more confusing to your reader.
However, as discussed earlier, for shorter headlines, subheads, and bullet points,
passive voice can be useful in some cases.
Tug emotions through effective mental imaging
Paint a picture of how your customers will benefit from your offerings. Effective
writers don’t describe what their characters look like, they describe key specifics
about what the characters do, see, and hear. Our minds fill in the rest of the picture.
Write for scanning
People don’t read very much online. They skim and scan, foraging for useful
information.38 To make your content easy to scan, break your copy into discrete, subject-size chunks. Use short, punchy paragraphs to make your points
• Half the word count
• Meaningful headlines and subheads
• Highlighted keywords
• Bulleted lists
• One idea per paragraph
Emphasize the highlights
Emphasize the most important sections of your copy, using bold and italics to
highlight important phrases. Emphasis helps your readers pick up the gist of
your page as they scan. You should arrange your highlighted phrases so that
readers skimming them will understand your story in brief.
38Nielsen, J. May 6, 2008. “How Little Do Users Read?” Alertbox, http://www.useit.com/alertbox/percent-text-
read.html (accessed June 7, 2008).
Staging Your CRO Campaign |
Avoid jargon and hype
Using insider jargon erects a barrier to reader flow. Avoid hype when describing
your offerings—your visitors are highly skilled at detecting it. Instead, use clear,
specific wording and make claims you can back up.
Use testimonials
Testimonials lend your offerings credibility through social proof. Learning what
other people think of your book (Amazon), product, or service lends credibility
to your company statements.
Don’t be a wimp
Don’t go halfway and say this could, should, may, or might happen. Be positive!
Say that this will absolutely happen when visitors give you their credit card. Visitors need to be confident in their decisions and need to perceive that buying is a
low-risk operation.
Offer a guarantee
Customers want to reduce the risk of their investments. One way to remove an
objection is to offer an iron-clad money-back guarantee. By reducing their risk,
you increase confidence, which makes it more likely that your visitors will buy.
Ask for the order
Asking your prospective customers to place an order is an obvious point, but
you’d be surprised how often this is omitted.
Use graphics to enhance the sales experience
Finally, adding high-quality graphics that depict the actual product or service
can enhance your conversion rates. Avoid generic graphics such as clip art or
stock images that are unrelated to your offerings. Actual high-quality product
shots are best.
You can use the six persuaders you read about earlier in combination with these
writing techniques to create powerful prose that elicits action from your visitors.
Put it on paper and build graphical mockups
As Kelly Goto and Emily Cotler describe in their book Web Redesign 2.0: Workflow
That Works (Peachpit Press), by creating wireframes and paper prototypes, you can
make changes quickly without tying up your design team. You can use Fireworks for
rapid prototyping, or Dreamweaver, which offers more functionality. In general,
Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.) is effective for mocking up prototypes and wireframe models.
Wireframe web templates and mockups to finalize “look and feel.” Create mockups of optimized templates that follow popular website conventions, such as top navigation. Put
important content above the fold, the logo and tagline on the top left, and contact information in the top right. (For more details, check out Jakob Nielson and Marie Tahir’s
Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed [New Riders].) This wireframe layout
shows what elements will appear where on your pages (see Figure 5-10).
Chapter 5: Conversion Rate Optimization
Image & keyword
Live person
Top navigation | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link
Left navigation
Product image - content
Benefit bullets
Call to action
Figure 5-10. Wireframe layout
There are several types of web pages to optimize: home, lead generation, direct sales,
and e-commerce product and category pages. Overall, you can apply the same principles described earlier to each page type.
MyWeddingFavors.com is an example of a well-optimized home page that includes
most of the conversion builders we’ve discussed (see Figure 5-11).
MyWeddingFavors.com uses:
• Professional design and colors optimized for its target market
• Intuitive navigation
• Logo and USP in the top-left corner
• Contact information and Live Chat in the upper-right corner
• Testimonials/credibility builders such as third-party HACKER SAFE logos
• “Hero shots” of top products or services above the fold
• Calls to action
One addition would improve the MyWeddingFavors.com home page: a privacy policy displayed directly below the signup form.
Taking a different approach are sales teams for companies that sell complex or
expensive products or services, such as legal services, business software, dental services, or advertising, which mainly use lead generation. Lead generation pages get
website visitors to accept a free offer (such as free information or a white paper) and
to fill out a form with their contact information. The form generates the lead that the
sales team can then use to cultivate a relationship and close a sale.
Staging Your CRO Campaign |
Figure 5-11. Conversion elements integrated into the MyWeddingFavors.com home page
Advertising in these lucrative and competitive markets can be expensive. Therefore,
your lead generation page must be optimized to maximize conversions (leads) to generate an ROI for your advertising budget. For example, advertising on Google
AdWords for the hyper-competitive keywords human resources software can cost
upward of $10 per click! Some conversion builders to include on your lead generation pages are:
• Professional design and colors optimized for your target market
• No navigation to keep visitors on the page instead of clicking away
• Logo and USP in the top-left corner
• Contact information in the upper-right corner
• Benefit-oriented headline optimized with keywords used in Google AdWords ad
• Benefit-oriented copy with benefit bullets
• Testimonials and credibility builders
Chapter 5: Conversion Rate Optimization
• Privacy policy (ideally placed under the signup form)
• Hero shots of the product or service above the fold
• A compelling offer (such as a free white paper or consultation)
• A lead generation form
A software provider with a website called UltimateSoftware.com uses the lead generation page shown in Figure 5-12, which includes most of these conversion builders.
Figure 5-12. Ultimate Software’s lead generation page
Optimize your conversion paths to get the click
Optimizing the steps that visitors take on their way to conversion can yield significant improvements in your website’s conversion rates (see Chapter 4 for an example). A conversion path or conversion funnel is a path that a visitor takes from
entering your website to the point where the visitor becomes a conversion in the
form of a sale or lead (see Figure 5-13).
How efficient is your website at getting visitors to click from your home page to the
most important interior page or pages? Are your most popular products (or services)
featured prominently on your home page with persuasive headlines, descriptive
copy, and enticing product images? Optimize your website’s conversion paths and
increase your sales.
Staging Your CRO Campaign |
Visitors to website
10,000 total visitors to the site
Total visitors
100% of visitors
Visit shopping area
Place item in cart
Make a purchase
54 visitors complete goal
Figure 5-13. Conversion funnel
Google Analytics provides Funnel and Navigation Reports, which help you simplify
the checkout process of your website (see Figure 5-14).
Figure 5-14. Google Analytics’ Funnel and Navigation Report
Chapter 5: Conversion Rate Optimization
This report shows how many of your website visitors enter the conversion funnel and
how many actually make it to the end. This report also shows where your visitors go
if they drop out of the process. This can help you identify and correct obstacles to
For more details on optimizing your site with web metrics, including Google Website Optimizer, see Chapter 10.
Test Everything
Successful sites test everything to maximize ROI. They test alternative headlines,
call-to-action text, body copy, images, page component layout and design, text color,
link text, and landing pages. They use tools to compare those alternatives, such as
Google’s Website Optimizer to conduct multivariate tests and A/B split-testing to
find out which combinations work best to maximize conversion rates. One company
selling an expensive product enjoyed a tenfold increase in its CTR by changing the
text in a button from “Buy Online” to “Price and Buy.”39 It pays to test.
You can read about these testing methods and tools in Chapter 10.
CRO turns your website into a veritable persuasion machine. Sites that are conversionoptimized squeeze more leads, sales, and opt-ins from their visitors. CRO uses
benefit-oriented persuasive copywriting and credibility-based web design to influence visitors to accept your message and comply with your requests. Benefit-oriented
copy appeals to your visitors’ emotions and meets their needs, which increases their
desire. By combining desire, confidence, and trust-building elements such as testimonials, credibility-based professional design, and third-party badges, you will convert
more of your prospects into buyers.
This chapter detailed some of the best practices that improve conversion rates. You
also learned how to write persuasive copy, what the six persuaders are, and what our
automatic response is to source credibility. You can maximize your conversion rate
by testing different elements against one another with specialized tools. The most
important factors for high conversion rates are:
• Credibility-based professional design optimized for your target market
• Credibility-based logo and memorable USP/slogan in the top-left corner
• Intuitive navigation
• Contact information, form, and/or Live Chat in the upper-right corner
B., and E. Huizingh. 2006. “Website Optimization with Web Metrics: A Case Study.” In ICEC
2006 (Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada: August 14–16, 2006), 463–470.
Summary |
• The use of personas with tailored copy and trigger words for each customer personality type
• Persuasive, benefit-oriented copy and headlines (reflect keywords in PPC ads)
• Fast response times for browsers and queries
• Clear primary and secondary calls to action
• Useful engagement devices
• Illustrative product or service images—“hero shots” above the fold
• Testimonials, credibility builders (e-seals), and risk reversers (100% guarantee)
• No presentation flaws
• Privacy policy (ideally placed under the input form)
• Testing, tracking, and design iteration
Chapter 5: Conversion Rate Optimization
Web Performance Optimization
Web performance optimization streamlines your content and tunes your server to
deliver web pages faster. In the following chapters, you’ll learn how to optimize your
web pages and multimedia, shrink your Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) and HTML file
sizes, and reduce server requests with sprites and suturing. You’ll learn how to
squeeze your Ajax code and make it more robust. You’ll explore advanced techniques such as improving parallel downloads, caching, HTTP compression, and URL
Finally, in Chapter 10 you’ll read about best-practice metrics and tools to measure
and optimize your search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns and improve website
performance. First, let’s explore the user psychology of delay, and trends in web page
The Psychology of Website Performance
Previous research has shown that user frustration increases when page load times
exceed 8 to 10 seconds without feedback.1,2 Newer evidence shows that broadband
users are less tolerant of web page delays than narrowband users. A JupiterResearch
survey found that 33% of broadband shoppers are unwilling to wait more than four
seconds for a web page to load, whereas 43% of narrowband users will not wait
more than six seconds.3
Bouch, A. et al. 2000. “Quality is in the Eye of the Beholder: Meeting Users’ Requirements for Internet Quality of Service.” In CHI 2000 (The Hague, The Netherlands: April 1–6, 2000), 297–304.
In my own book, Speed Up Your Site: Web Site Optimization (New Riders), I determined an average of 8.6
seconds for tolerable wait time.
Akamai. June 2006. “Retail Web Site Performance: Consumer Reaction to a Poor Online Shopping Experience.” Akamai Technologies, http://www.akamai.com (accessed February 10, 2008). This is a JupiterResearch
abandonment survey commissioned by Akamai.
The Effects of Slow Download Times
Even small changes in response times can have significant effects. Google found that
moving from a 10-result page loading in 0.4 seconds to a 30-result page loading in 0.9
seconds decreased traffic and ad revenues by 20%.4 When the home page of Google
Maps was reduced from 100 KB to 70–80 KB, traffic went up 10% in the first week and
an additional 25% in the following three weeks.5 Tests at Amazon revealed similar
results: every 100 ms increase in load time of Amazon.com decreased sales by 1%.6
Overall, slow web pages lower perceived credibility and quality. Keeping your page
load times below tolerable attention thresholds will help to lower user frustration,7
create higher conversion rates,8 and promote deeper flow states.
Speed and Flow
Speed is the second most important factor, after site attractiveness, to increasing flow
in users (see Figure II-1).9 People who are more engaged while browsing your site
will learn faster and show an improved attitude and behavior toward your site.
To increase perceived speed, strive to display your initial useful content in less than
one or two seconds by layering and streamlining your content. Once total load time
exceeds six to eight seconds, provide linear feedback to extend the tolerable wait
time by lowering stress levels and allowing users to plan ahead.10 See Chapter 7 for
techniques on using CSS to streamline your content to display faster.
Linden, G. November 6, 2006. “Marissa Mayer at Web 2.0.” Geeking with Greg, http://glinden.blogspot.com/
2006/11/marissa-mayer-at-web-20.html (accessed February 8, 2008).
5 Farber, D. November 9, 2006. “Google’s Marissa Mayer: Speed Wins.” CNET Between the Lines, http://
blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=3925 (accessed February 10, 2008).
6 Kohavi, R., and R. Longbotham. 2007. “Online Experiments: Lessons Learned.” Computer 40 (9): 103–105.
The Amazon statistic was taken from a presentation by Greg Linden at Stanford: http://home.blarg.net/
7 Ceaparu, I. et al. 2004. “Determining Causes and Severity of End-User Frustration.” International Journal of
Human-Computer Interaction 17 (3): 333–356. Slow websites inhibit users from reaching their goals, causing
8 Akamai. 2007. “Boosting Online Commerce Profitability with Akamai.” Akamai Technologies, http://www.
akamai.com (accessed February 10, 2008). Based on the finding that 30% to 50% of transactions above the
four-second threshold bail out, Akamai estimated that by reducing the percentage of transactions above this
threshold from 40% to 10%, conversion rates will improve by 9% to 15%.
9 Skadberg, Y., and J. Kimmel. 2004. “Visitors’ flow experience while browsing a Web site: its measurement,
contributing factors and consequences.” Computers in Human Behavior 20 (3): 403–422. Flow is an optimal
experience where users are fully engaged in an activity.
10Nah, F. 2004. “A study on tolerable waiting time: how long are Web users willing to wait?” Behaviour &
Information Technology 23 (3): 153–163.
Part II: Web Performance Optimization
Figure II-1. Factors that affect flow in websites
Fast First Impressions
People make snap decisions about the aesthetic value and thus the credibility of
your pages. In as little as 1/20th of a second, users form a first impression of your
page that does not change significantly over time.11 Confirming these results,
Noam Tractinsky and others found that the average attractiveness ratings of web
pages after being exposed for only half a second were consistent with the ratings
after 10 seconds.12
Clearly you only have a very short time to make a good first impression on the Web.
Growth of the Average Web Page
The average home page has grown in size and complexity over the years. From 2003 to
2008, the size of the average web page grew more than 3.3 times from 93.7 KB to more
G. et al. 2006. “Attention web designers: You have 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression!” Behaviour and Information Technology 25 (2): 115-126.
12Tractinsky, N. et al. 2006. “Evaluating the consistency of immediate aesthetic perceptions of web pages,”
International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 64 (11): 1071-1083.
Part II: Web Performance Optimization |
than 312 KB (see Figure II-2). During the same five-year period, the number of objects
(separate files, such as images, CSS, and JavaScript) in the average web page nearly doubled from 25.7 to 49.9 objects per page.13,14
Figure II-2. Growth of web page size and objects over time
Object Overhead Dominates Web Page Delay
In the Web’s early days, when there were few objects per page, total page size dominated web page response times. With the growth of the number of objects per page,
however, the latency due to object overhead, not the objects themselves, now dominates most web page delays (see Figure II-3).15
For four or more external objects per page, the overhead of description time (DT in
the graph, caused by the dependency between objects) for objects plus waiting time
(WT in the graph, caused by limited parallelism) for threads makes up more than
J. et al. 2007. “A user-focused evaluation of web prefetching algorithms.“ Computer Communications 30 (10): 2213–2224.
14Flinn, D., and B. Betcher. “Re: latest top 1000 website data?” Email to author, January 8, 2008. Gomez, Inc.
provided the top 1000 web page data from June 2006 to January 2008 (available at http://www.
15Yuan, J. et al. 2005. “A More Precise Model for Web Retrieval.” In WWW 2005 (Chiba, Japan: May 10–14,
2005), 926–927. Figure used by permission.
Part II: Web Performance Optimization
Figure II-3. Relative distribution of latency components showing that object overhead dominates
web page latency
50% of web page delay. As the number of objects increases, the delay from downloading the actual objects pales in comparison, with only 20% or less due to object
size as the number of objects per page exceeds 20.
Because of this object overhead, improving parallelism is a more effective way to optimize throughput than Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), DNS caching, or persistent connections.16 Persistent and pipelined connections are more effective on
connections faster than 200 Kbps. Therefore, narrowband users suffer the most from
the inexorable increase in web objects.17 You’ll learn how to improve parallelism in
Chapter 9.
Response Time Guidelines
From 2003 to 2008, web page size has more than tripled and the number of external
objects has nearly doubled. So, over time narrowband users (56K and ISDN) have
experienced slower response times. Broadband users, however, have experienced
somewhat faster response times. For broadband users, the average download time of
the Keynote Business 40 Internet Performance Index (KB40) has decreased from 2.8 to
2.3 seconds from February 2006 to February 2008 (see Figure II-4).18
L., and G. Voelker. 2002. “Whole Page Performance.” In WCW 2002 (Boulder, CO: August 14–16,
2002), 8.
17Hall, J. et al. 2003. “The Effect of Early Packet Loss on Web Page Download Times.” In PAM 2003 (La Jolla,
CA: April 6–8, 2003).
18Berkowitz, D., and A. Gonzalez. “Andy: Keynote data for your use.” Email to author (February 8, 2008).
Keynote Systems, Inc. provided the graph of the KB40 response time from February 2006 to February 2008.
Part II: Web Performance Optimization |
Figure II-4. Average KB40 website performance over broadband from February 2006 to February
2008 (Source: Keynote Systems, Inc.)
So, the increase in the average speed of broadband is faster than the increase in the size
and complexity of the average web page. That is one reason why broadband users
expect faster response times, yet narrowband users experience slower response times.
Keynote recommends the following response times for different connection speeds:19
• Two to three seconds for business/high-end home speeds
• Three to five seconds for entry-level DSL
• 20 to 30 seconds for dial-up users (implies a total page size of 100 KB at 20 seconds)
So, the old 8- to 10-second rule has diverged. With the response time trend shown in
Figure II-4, we recommend three- to four-second total load times for broadband
users. Given the growth in average page size shown in Figure II-2, we recommend
keeping your HTML code under 40–60 KB (which will load in less than 8 to 12 seconds), and page graphics under 40–60 KB (another 8 to 12 seconds of progressive
load) for dial-up users. This equates to an absolute limit for dial-up of 120 KB.
Note that there are some exceptions. These recommendations apply to landing pages,
home pages, and pages where the user is likely to navigate quickly. For pages where the
user expects to linger, such as a white paper, breaking up the page can be annoying
and can make printing and searching more difficult.
B. “web performance download time guidelines?” Email to author, February 21, 2008. Keynote
response time guidelines.
Part II: Web Performance Optimization
Summary and Next Steps
With the spread of broadband, high-speed users are no longer willing to wait 8 to 10
seconds for a page to load. Today you have three to four seconds to respond, or you
risk abandonment. Although broadband users have seen faster load times, narrowband users have been left behind. With the average web page sporting more than 50
external objects, object overhead now dominates most web page delays. Minimizing
HTTP requests while still retaining attractiveness has become the most important
skill set for web performance optimizers.
In the following chapters, you’ll learn how to optimize your content by reducing file
sizes, using CSS, and applying advanced server- and client-side techniques.
Part II: Web Performance Optimization |
Chapter 6
Web Page Optimization
Web page optimization streamlines your content to maximize display speed. Fast
display speed is the key to success with your website. It increases profits, decreases
costs, and improves customer satisfaction (not to mention search engine rankings,
accessibility, and maintainability).
Streamlining transforms your pages to display navigable content faster, and to defer
or delay off-site content. In this chapter, you’ll learn how to reduce HTTP requests,
convert to semantic markup to more easily style with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS),
optimize graphics and multimedia, and defer or delay the loading of off-site content.
To maximize web page display speed, you can employ the following 10 techniques:
• Minimize HTTP requests.
• Resize and optimize images.
• Optimize multimedia.
• Convert JavaScript behavior to CSS.
• Use server-side sniffing.
• Optimize JavaScript for execution speed and file size.
• Convert table layout to CSS layout.
• Replace inline style with CSS rules.
• Minimize initial display time.
• Load JavaScript wisely.
Using the best practices in this chapter, you’ll transform your HTML and multimedia to
give your site more hurtle and less turtle. First, let’s explore some common web page
problems and trends that confront web performance engineers.
Common Web Page Problems
The size and complexity of the markup that you use in your web pages determine,
for the most part, their initial display speed. Pages that are large and complex, especially those with nested tables and mispositioned CSS and JavaScript files, delay the
time it takes for useful content to display. Sleek and streamlined pages feel faster
because of quicker feedback through progressive display. The idea is to streamline
your markup using standards-based techniques and let your code get out of the way
of your content.
CSS and JavaScript File Placement
Positioning CSS in the top (head) and JavaScript at the bottom (body) of your HTML
enables progressive rendering. Mispositioned CSS or JavaScript can delay the rendering of content in browsers. See the upcoming section “Put CSS at the top, JavaScript at
the bottom” for more details.
As Steve Souders describes in his book High Performance Web Sites (O’Reilly), 80%
of web page response time is in the content. Most of this time is spent dealing with
the objects that make up a web page. As the number of objects per page increases
beyond four, object overhead dominates total web page delay.
As you learned in the introduction to Part II, most popular web pages go well past
this threshold, averaging more than 50 objects per page and more than 300 KB in
total file size. Improperly coded, Ajax-enhanced pages can slow down interactivity,
even after the page has loaded.
Clearly, there is room for improvement in the performance of the average website.
Oust Oodles of Objects
With the advent of Ajax, DHTML, and Web 2.0 mashups, some web pages have
turned from simple HTML documents into full-blown interactive applications. With
this increased complexity comes a cost: larger web pages. The number of external
objects has grown accordingly as web pages have become more complex. Each additional object adds one more HTTP request and more uncertain delay.
Each object adds latency to your load time, increasing it an average of 0.25 seconds
per object on dial-up and 40 ms on cable.1 Overseas users suffer the most from
object overage because long-distance connections require more hops and present
more opportunities for data loss.
Chung, S. 2007. “The investigation and classifying the web traffic delay & Solution plans presentation.” In
ICACT2007 2 (February 12–14, 2007): 1158–1161.
Chapter 6: Web Page Optimization
Untangle Tables
Tables are a poor substitute for CSS layout. Despite the widespread adoption of CSS,
62.6% of web pages still use tables for layout.2 The average table depth has
decreased by half since 2006, from nearly 3 to about 1.5.3 Complex nested tables can
cause rendering delays with browsers because tangled tables must be parsed and rendered before your content displays.
Some database-driven sites create table-based content modules that are assembled on
the fly into table-based templates. All of these nested tables will bog down browsers
and overwhelm your content-to-code ratio. This reduces the potential search engine
rankings of your web pages.
You can reduce the depth of nested tables by styling, labeling, and positioning content areas with CSS and using simpler skeleton tables for layout. You can then target
content within labeled container cells with compound selectors such as:
td#main p{}
Or, you can use CSS entirely to position, style, and target content like this:
div#main ul{}
See “Step 7: Convert Table Layout to CSS Layout,” later in this chapter, for some
tips on creating and debugging CSS layouts, and Chapter 7 for tips on CSS dropdown menu creation. Teaching all the intricacies of CSS layout is beyond the scope
of this book; we encourage you to refer to some of the excellent books on the subject, including CSS Mastery by Andy Budd (friends of ED), and CSS Web Site Design
by Eric Meyer (Peachpit Press).
Optimize Overweight Graphics
The average web page has more than 54% of its page weight in graphics.4 In fact,
more than 60% of the pixels above the fold are used by graphics on the average web
In a July 2007 random survey of 500 pages indexed by Binghamton University’s Ryan Levering for this book,
62.6% of pages used the table tag and 85.1% used the div tag. Tables nested to an average maximum depth
of 1.47, with an average number of 12.57 table tags per page. The average maximum HTML depth was 15.35,
demonstrating how divs have replaced table nesting. The data for this web survey is available at http://www.
Levering, R., and M. Cutler. 2006. “The Portrait of a Common HTML Web Page.” In DocEng ’06 (Amsterdam, The Netherlands: October 10–13, 2006), 200. Tables nested to an average maximum depth of 2.95.
According to Levering’s 2007 survey, the average total image size was 118,683 bytes. The average total page
size was 218,937 bytes, and 266,070 uncompressed. Thus, images make up at least 54.2% of the average web
Levering and Cutler. “The Portrait of a Common HTML Web Page,” 200. More than 60% of the area above
the fold is used for graphics in the average web page.
Common Web Page Problems |
Unfortunately, many of the graphics on the Web are fat and unoptimized. As digital
camera resolution has increased, the file size of digital originals has ballooned, and
some online graphics exceed 1 MB. Trying to view such bloated graphics on a dialup connection is like trying to get a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.
The cost of banner advertising
Most popular media and blog sites use image-heavy advertising to generate revenue,
at a cost of about one-sixth more objects and one-third more latency.6 A survey of
the top 1,300 Alexa sites (http://www.alexa.com) found that 56% of these web pages
contained ads or some form of “extraneous content.”7 Blocking ads reduced the
number of objects and bytes by 25% to 30%, resulting in a proportional reduction in
We’ve analyzed web pages with 300 KB to 500 KB of banner ads. Without ad size
policies in place, the total impact of advertising can become even more significant.
If you use graphical ads, set file size criteria for the banner ads of your advertisers,
criteria that are appropriate to banner dimensions.
The growth in the number and size of advertisements has caused significant delays
for users. However, displaying ads also incurs the overhead of remote network hosting (in most cases) and additional logic to deliver ads to the screen (usually done with
JavaScript). Remote JavaScript is the most inefficient ad delivery method, yet it is in
widespread use because of its convenience. In “Step 1: Minimize HTTP Requests,” we’ll
show how server-side includes can deliver ads to save HTTP requests. In “Step 10: Load
JavaScript Wisely,” you’ll learn how to make JavaScript load asynchronously.
The Growth of Multimedia
The popularity of Flash and the likes of YouTube, Yahoo! Video, and MySpace have
increased the use of multimedia on the Web. As broadband penetration has
increased, videos have grown in size, bit rate, and duration (see Figure 6-1).
In 1997, 90% of online videos were less than 45 seconds in length (see Figure 6-1).8
In 2005, the median video was about 120 seconds long.9 By 2007, the median video
was 192.6 seconds in duration.10 The median bit rate of web videos grew from 200
Krishnamurthy, B., and C. Wills. 2006. “Cat and Mouse: Content Delivery Tradeoffs in Web Access.” In
WWW 2006 (Edinburgh, Scotland: May 23–26, 2006), 337–346.
7 Ibid., 346.
8 Acharya, S., and B. Smith. 1998. “An Experiment to Characterize Videos Stored On the Web.” In MMCN
1998 (San Jose, CA: January 1998), 166–178.
9 Li, M. et al. 2005. “Characteristics of Streaming Media Stored on the Web.” ACM Transactions on Internet
Technology 5 (4): 601–626.
10Gill, P. et al. 2007. “YouTube Traffic Characterization: A View From the Edge.” In IMC 2007 (San Diego:
October 24–26, 2007), 15–28. About 24% of videos are interrupted because of poor performance or poor
content quality.
Chapter 6: Web Page Optimization
Figure 6-1. Growth in the duration of web videos
Kbps in 2005 to 328 Kbps on YouTube in 2007. So, by late 2007, the median video
weighed in at more than 63 MB in file size.
The majority of multimedia traffic comes from files that are larger than 1 MB, but
most requests come from files smaller than 1 MB. More than 87% of all streaming media is abandoned by users in the first 10 seconds, however, wasting up to
20% of server bandwidth.11 Although only 3% of server responses are for videos,
they account for 98.6% of the bytes transferred.12 So, although videos account for
a small percentage of requests, they make up the majority of the traffic on the
Overall, for videos longer than 30 seconds, about 13% of home and 40% of business users experience quality degradation with their streaming media, caused by
rebuffering, stream switching, and video cancellation. For sessions longer than
300 seconds, the results are even worse. In “Step 3: Optimize Multimedia,” you
will learn how to combat the growth of multimedia with specialized tools and
11Guo, L. et al. 2005. “Analysis of Multimedia Workloads with Implications for Internet Streaming.” In WWW
2005 (Chiba, Japan: May 10–14, 2005), 519–528.
P. et al. “YouTube Traffic Characterization,” 20.
Common Web Page Problems |
How to Optimize Your Web Page Speed
To optimize your web page speed, start by stripping out all inline style. Pare down
your markup to pure HTML structure. Next, look at your page to see whether any
elements can be created by more efficient means. You can often morph HTML structural elements with CSS to replicate table-based elements more efficiently.
What Are CSS Sprites?
Originally used by 2D video game programmers to save resources, sprites have been
adapted for the Web using CSS. A CSS sprite is a grid of images merged into one composite image. This sprite is then set as a CSS background image for multiple classes,
and individual cells are displayed using background positioning for each class. CSS
sprites save HTTP requests, but you must use them with caution to ensure accessibility. See Chapter 7 for an analysis of sprites used by AOL.com.
After your code has been stripped of style and refactored, convert that embedded
style into rule-based CSS. To enable progressive display, position CSS files in the
head and JavaScript files at the end of your body code. Minimize the number of HTTP
requests by combining files, and by converting graphical text to CSS text. Use CSS
spacing, CSS sprites, image maps, and background colors to save requests. Optimize
any remaining images and multimedia to the lowest acceptable quality and frame
rates. Enable caching for persistent objects and distribute them over different servers
to minimize latency. Finally, use HTTP compression to shave an average of 75% off
XHTML, CSS, and JavaScript file sizes. You’ll learn how to configure your server for
caching and HTTP compression in Chapter 9.
Switch to Semantic Markup
The foundation of these techniques is a switch to web standards (XHTML 1.0 and
CSS2 or 3). By converting old-style nonsemantic markup into semantic markup, you
can more easily target noncontiguous elements with descendant selectors.
Artificial XHTML structure can crop up in web pages created manually and with
some WYSIWYG programs. This “fake structure” uses the font tag or CSS to artificially simulate structural markup, such as <h1>, <dl>, or <ul>.13 One problem with
fake structure is that it cannot be easily targeted with type or descendant selectors
that are designed to point to structural elements.
2007 survey concluded that 32.8% used the font tag and only 58.5% used the h1 tag.
Chapter 6: Web Page Optimization
High Performance Web Site Tips
The following tips are derived from the book High Performance Web Sites (O’Reilly) by
Steve Souders:
Make fewer HTTP requests to reduce object overhead.
Use a content delivery network.
Add an Expires header.
Gzip/compress text components.
Put stylesheets at the top in the head.
Put scripts at the bottom of the body.
Avoid CSS expressions which are CPU-intensive and can be evaluated frequently.
Make JavaScript and CSS files external.
Reduce Domain Name System (DNS) lookups to reduce the overhead of DNS
delay by splitting lookups between two to four unique hostnames.
Minify JavaScript.
Avoid redirects which slow performance. It’s better to CNAME or alias.
Remove duplicate scripts to eliminate extra HTTP requests in Internet Explorer.
Configure ETags for sites hosted on multiple servers. FileETag none in Apache
removes Etags to avoid improper cache validation.
Make Ajax cacheable and small to avoid unnecessary HTTP requests.
In addition, proper structural markup conveys helpful information to whoever is maintaining the site with headings, paragraphs, and list items. Semantic markup can save
countless hours of work in site redesigns. Search engines look for structural markup to
see what information is most important. Accessibility and cross-platform access through
mobile devices is enhanced when you use structural markup. Screen readers key off
structural waypoints and users tab through a page based on semantically meaningful
markup. For all these reasons, you should avoid fake structure like the plague.
So, for example, this (adapted from a real web page):
<p style="color:red"><strong>Fake descriptive term</strong><br>
&#160;&#160;&#160;<font size="2" color="black">Description of first term here, no
structure to target!</font><br>
<strong>Fake descriptive term 2</strong><br>
&#160;&#160;&#160;<font size="2" color="black">Description of second term here, no
structure to target</font></p>...
becomes this, by abstracting the inline styles to a matching structural element:
<style type="text/css">
<!-dl dt{font-weight:bold;color:red;}
dl dd{font-size:0.9em;color:#000;}
How to Optimize Your Web Page Speed |
term 1</dt>
1 here, no problem targeting</dd>
term 2</dt>
2 here, styled by a single CSS rule </dd>
Notice how clean the structural HTML code is when compared to the unstructured
The last code sample is easier to target with CSS using simple descendant selectors
(dl dt and dl dd). The first nonsemantic sample forces the use of embedded styles.
For more information about web standards, see http://www.webstandards.org and
Use container cells for descendant selectors
If you plan your web page to use container divs from the start—#masthead, #content,
#navigation, and #footer can be your major container divs—you can avoid the need
to embed classes within structural elements. You can then target enclosed content
with descendant selectors. For example, the following navigation menu can be targeted through the surrounding nav element:
<style type="text/css">
<!-#nav ul, #nav ul li {list-style:none;}
#nav ul li {font-weight:bold;}
Here’s the HTML markup:
<div id="nav">
Now you can declare these styles for all of your navigation, content, and other areas
without the need to embed classes within HTML elements. The idea is to strip your
HTML down to its structure, group the content within labeled divs, and target this
structure with CSS selectors, descendant or otherwise.
If all browsers were as well behaved as Opera, Firefox, and Safari, you could use
“grouping” elements such as body and html to avoid embedding classes within container divs. Instead, we recommend using labeled container divs such as #nav,
#content, and #footer. Use CSS IDs for these main container divs that are used only
once per page and then use CSS classes for most everything else. Keep in mind that
CSS IDs have stronger specificity than CSS classes.
Now that you’ve learned how to overcome common web page problems, and the
fundamentals behind those techniques, let’s explore the top 10 steps you can use to
speed optimize your web pages.
Chapter 6: Web Page Optimization
Step 1: Minimize HTTP Requests
Each unique object in a web page requires a round trip to the server, that is, an
HTTP request and a reply. Each object introduces indeterminate delays. As you
learned in the introduction to Part II, when the number of objects is greater than
four, object overhead dominates page download times.
By minimizing the number of objects in your web pages, you can minimize the number of HTTP requests that are required to render your page and thus reduce object
overhead. By requiring fewer HTTP requests, you’ll speed up load times and make
them more consistent.
The key to minimizing HTTP requests is to combine files and convert graphics-based
techniques to CSS. You can convert graphical text to CSS text; combine external
images, scripts, and CSS files; and eliminate frames and JavaScript includes. Convert
spacer cells into CSS margins, and replace JavaScript behavior with CSS :hover techniques. Combine multiple decorative images into one CSS sprite.
Image Replacement Schemes
Image replacement schemes work by substituting static or dynamic images for text, usually headers. These replacement techniques include sIFR3 (http://novemberborn.net/
sifr3), swfIR (swf Image Replacement, http://www.swfir.com/), and Stewart Rosenberger’s
Dynamic Text Replacement scheme (http://www.stewartspeak.com/projects/dtr/). Note
that using CSS to hide and show images actually doesn’t work well in screen readers.
JavaScript is more appropriate for the job.
Convert graphical text to styled text
Graphical text is often used for headers or menu items to achieve a certain look. As
yet, search engines can’t read text embedded in graphics. Rasterized text also introduces unnecessary HTTP requests. You can instead use CSS to style headers, or use
an image replacement scheme (see the “Image Replacement Schemes” sidebar, previously). By converting to CSS text, you lose some control but gain in speed, potential
search engine rankings, and accessibility.
So this:
<div align="center">
<img src="graphictext.gif" width="115" height="24" alt="graphic text example">
becomes this:
How to Optimize Your Web Page Speed |
<style type="text/css">
<!-h1 {font:bold 18px palatino,times,serif;color:#03c;text-align:center;}
<h1>CSS Text</h1>
Use text overlays. One variation on this theme is to separate graphical text from background images. To achieve high-quality text in a JPEG you need to increase the quality of the entire image so that it is higher than it needs to be, or use regional
compression. In some cases, it may be more efficient to remove the text from the
JPEG and overlay the text as either CSS text or, as a last resort, a transparent GIF or
PNG with the text embedded in the image. With a graphical text overlay you trade
an additional HTTP request for a smaller background image. A CSS text overlay
avoids this trade-off.
Convert spacer cells to CSS margins or padding
A common practice is to use spacer cells with a single-pixel GIF that is stretched to
enforce the spacing distance. Here is an example from Nasa.gov:
<!-- Empty spacer row -->
<td colspan="2" width="223"><img border="0" alt="" height="10" width="223" src="/
Even rocket scientists can use some help with their HTML. A better way would be to
use CSS to add spacing between cells:
<style type="text/css"><!-.vmargin {margin-top:10px;} --></style></head><body>
<td colspan="2" width="223" class="vmargin">Content goes here</td>
Even better is to use relative “em” spacing to allow for changes in font size made by
the user and div elements:
<style type="text/css"><!-.vmargin {margin-top:1em;} --></style></head><body>
<div class="vmargin">Content goes here</div>
Combine remaining images and map or sprite
You can reduce the number of HTTP requests that your pages require by combining
adjacent images into one composite image and mapping any links using an image
map. Instead of multiple HTTP requests, this technique requires only one (see
Figure 6-2). So, this:
Chapter 6: Web Page Optimization
<div align="center">
<h4 align="center">Two Images = Two HTTP Requests</h4>
<p><img src="1.gif" alt="first image">&#160;<img src="2.gif" alt="second image"></p>
becomes this, by combining the images into one composite image and using a clientside usemap:
<div align="center">
<h4 align="center">One Combined Image = One HTTP Request</h4>
<map name="map1">
<area href="#1" alt="1" title="1" shape="rect" coords="0,0,100,100">
<area href="#2" alt="2" title="2" shape="rect" coords="100,0,210,100"></map>
<img src="combined.gif" width="210" height="100" alt="combined image client-side
imagemap" usemap="#map1" border="0">
Figure 6-2. A tale of two images = two requests
This HTML creates a client-side image map with two target areas that correspond to
the “1” and “2” squares in the composite image. For the rect(angle) shape, coordinates are measured from the top-left corner of the image to the bottom right, so
0,0,100,100 defines an area starting in the upper-left corner (0,0), down to X = 100
pixels to the right, and Y = 100 pixels down (100,100).
We’ll explore the use of CSS sprites to consolidate decorative images in Chapter 7.
Combine and optimize CSS and JavaScript files
Many developers create separate stylesheets and import them into their pages as
needed. There are two problems with this approach: (1) it requires additional HTTP
requests, and (2) you can encounter the same-domain connection limit. Combining
files in the head of your HTML documents can avoid these problems. Browsers must
load and parse external CSS files referenced within the head of your HTML before
they parse the body content. By minimizing the HTTP request load, you can maximize the initial display speed of your content. So, this:
<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="/css/fonts.css" />
<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="/css/nav.css" />
<script src="/js/functions.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
<script src="/js/validation.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
becomes this, by combining the CSS files into one file and the JavaScript files into
one file:
<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="/css/combined.css" />
<script src="/js/combined.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
How to Optimize Your Web Page Speed |
Suture CSS or JavaScript files. A similar approach to saving HTTP requests is to automatically combine external CSS or JavaScript files by suturing them together on the
server. You can combine stylesheets or JavaScript files on demand to create one master file. Done properly, these combined files can also be cached.
Here is how this digital surgery would work for CSS. You need to tell the server two
things: first, to parse CSS files for PHP commands, and second, to send the correct
MIME type. Add the following lines to your httpd.conf file for Apache:
AddHandler application/x-httpd-php .css
header('Content-type: text/css');
Next, you can merge your CSS files together with PHP inside the CSS file, like this:
To deliver files based on browser environment variables (e.g., to simulate an @import
to filter out older browsers), you could use software such as phpsniff, available at
Cache dynamic files. As specified earlier, the dynamic CSS file will not cache properly.
If you add the following headers to the top of your PHP file after the content type,
they will cache for three hours (adjust 10,800 seconds as necessary):
header('Cache-control: must-revalidate');
header('Expires: ' . gmdate('D, d M Y H:i:s', time( ) + 10800) . ' GMT');
Put CSS at the top, JavaScript at the bottom. Steve Souders found that moving stylesheets
to the top in your head element makes pages load faster by allowing them to load
progressively. With scripts, the opposite is true. If possible, move external JavaScript
files to the bottom of your pages, or delay or defer the loading of JavaScript files in
the head. Progressive rendering is blocked for all content that is placed after scripts in
your HTML.
We’ll explore CSS optimization in more detail in Chapter 7. In Chapter 8, we’ll
touch on JavaScript optimization. Chapter 9 shows how to delay the loading of
scripts, even when they are referenced in the head of your HTML documents.
Eliminate (i)frames and JavaScript includes
More than 52% of web pages use frames, the vast majority of which are iframes used
to display advertising.14 Frames, iframes, and JavaScript includes can be especially
2007 survey found that most frames are iframes (found in 51.2% of web pages), whereas only
0.8% are frames. Note that some dynamically created frames were not counted in this survey, so these figures will be higher.
Chapter 6: Web Page Optimization
harmful to web performance because they introduce extra HTTP requests and can
include entire web pages within other web pages.
For advertising, you can eliminate the extra HTTP requests required by the preceding methods by using a server-side include-based ad delivery system such as 24/7
Real Media’s Open AdStream (http://www.247realmedia.com). Here is some sample
code from Internet.com that can be added to a web page to include a banner ad:
<!--#include virtual="/banners/adstream_sx.ads/[email protected]"-->
This technique uses server-side includes (SSIs) to include the banner ad directly into
the page, saving an HTTP request. The inserted code looks like this:
<div id="topvisibility"><table ALIGN="CENTER">
<td align="center">
<A HREF="http://itmanagement.earthweb.com/RealMedia/ads/click_lx.cgi/intm/it/www.
GEMS_1d/bluray2_750x100.jpg/34376565343564363437666663326530" target="_top"><IMG
GEMS_1d/bluray2_750x100.jpg" ALT="" BORDER="0"></A><img src="http://itmanagement.
34376565343564363437666663326530?_RM_EMPTY_" Width="1" Height="1" Border="0"></td>
The resultant ad displays as shown in Figure 6-3, saving an HTTP request.
Figure 6-3. SSI inserted banner ad (750 × 100 pixels)
The editors at Internet.com noticed an increase in speed after switching from JavaScriptbased ad serving to SSI-based ad serving. Again, the idea is to shunt work to the server
in exchange for less work for the browser.
Step 2: Resize and Optimize Images
More megapixels! That is what digital camera manufacturers are hawking these days.
As a consequence of this pixel pushing, photographs destined for the Web have
become larger in size and higher in resolution. We see sites with full-size unoptimized or partially optimized JPEGs resized into small thumbnails with height and
width dimensions. These files can be more than 1 MB in size and yet occupy only
100 × 100 pixels in screen real estate. One megabyte is around a hundred times larger
than these files need to be.
How to Optimize Your Web Page Speed |
A better way is to crop and resize your images to the final dimensions that you want
them to assume on your page. Then optimize them in a good-quality graphics program such as Photoshop or Fireworks. You can achieve higher compression ratios
using specialized graphics tools from companies such as BoxTop Software (http://
www.boxtopsoft.com), VIMAS Technologies (http://www.vimas.com), xat (http://www.
xat.com), and Pegasus Imaging (http://www.pegasusimaging.com). The idea is to
reduce the image to the lowest acceptable quality and resolution for the Web (72 dpi).
JPEG Wizard from Pegasus Imaging is one of the few graphics optimization programs that can recompress JPEGs without the generation
loss introduced in a decompress-compress cycle. It does this by working within the JPEG Discrete Cosine Transform space to avoid the
decompress step.
You can often switch formats to save even more bytes. For example, you can often
substitute PNG-8s used with or without dithering for JPEGs or GIFs at smaller file
sizes. Figure 6-4 shows the effect that file format and quality have on file size.
TIFF LZW Comp. = 84.4K
BMP 24 bit = 73.3K
JPEG Max Qual. = 40.5K
GIF 6 bit - 90% dith. = 10K
PNG 6 bit - 90% dith. = 8.7K
JPEG Med. Qual. = 6.3K
Figure 6-4. Image file size versus format
TIFFs, BMPs, and maximum-quality JPEGs are unsuitable for the Web (see the first row
of Figure 6-4, all greater than 40 KB saved from original in Photoshop). Switching to a
different format can make a significant difference in file size. The PNG in Figure 6-4 is
13% smaller than the GIF at equivalent settings. Although this smooth-toned balloon is
Chapter 6: Web Page Optimization
an extreme example, for most flat-color images PNGs are 10% to 30% smaller than
GIFs due to PNG’s superior compression algorithm.
Here is a summary of the techniques you can use to fully optimize your images, available from http://www.websiteoptimization.com/speed/tweak/graphic-optimization/:
• Plan ahead to maximize file size savings (e.g., simplify background images).
• Contextually crop to show only the most relevant parts of the image.
• Resize images to the exact pixel dimensions that you want for each web location.
• Combine images to save HTTP requests, and optionally create a usemap or CSS
• Blur backgrounds for JPEGs. Experiment with “surface blur” settings to see
which ones give a clean yet simplified appearance.
• Use CSS borders or backgrounds instead of embedding borders in images. Don’t
leave blank background borders of one color to achieve layout goals. Instead,
use a tightly cropped image combined with a coded background color.
• Replace GIFs and JPEGs with PNG images where appropriate; dither where
• Specify image size in HTML with width and height attributes.
• Use Smart Sharpen in Photoshop CS2 or later to make your images pop.
• Overlay text with CSS or a transparent GIF or PNG instead of embedding text in
JPEGs to allow higher compression.
• Minimize noise in all images before optimizing. Typical savings are 20% to 30%
off the file size. We recommend Noise Ninja (http://www.picturecode.com/) and
Neat Image (http://www.neatimage.com/) to reduce noise.
• Minimize dithering for GIFs and PNGs.
• Minimize bit depth for GIFs and PNGs.
• Use weighted optimization (regional compression) using alpha masks to optimize
backgrounds more than foregrounds.
• Use “lossy” compression for smaller GIFs and PNGs (where available).
• Reduce or eliminate drop shadows in layered images. Adjust layers in Photoshop to reduce the width and depth of drop shadows to make images more
Step 3: Optimize Multimedia
As you learned in “The Growth of Multimedia,” earlier in this chapter, multimedia
makes up only a small portion of server requests but accounts for the majority of
traffic on the Internet. So, the optimization of streaming media—and movies in particular—has become more important in maximizing web page speed and reducing
bandwidth bills.
How to Optimize Your Web Page Speed |
Behind the scenes, multimedia authors create a reference movie that
points to different sizes of movies. The reference movie gets the speed
of the user’s connection from the QuickTime Control Panel to select
the right movie. Users usually don’t know to set this parameter, however, and the bandwidth of the user is generally not tested. Thus,
broadband users typically see tiny, low-quality movies. Thankfully, in
the newer version of the QuickTime Control Panel, there is a new
default setting of “automatic”; although this is helpful for those who
don’t know to set their speed, you should change your connection
speed setting to match your connection type, that is, modem, DSL,
cable, and so on.
Optimizing videos for the Web
Movies optimized for the Web should be short in duration, small in dimension, and
optimized with the appropriate codec. We have seen videos 10 to 30 minutes long automatically loaded and playing into home pages, some 50 MB to 175 MB in file size.
Although this may grab the attention of high-bandwidth users, it is better to respect
your visitors’ bandwidth and provide a static placeholder image and a play button.
Take a look at the Apple.com website for an example of a best practice regarding
showcasing video to a potentially wide-range audience (http://www.apple.com/
trailers/). Apple takes the approach of allowing users to choose different size movies
to better match their bandwidth abilities. Sizes from “small” (320 × 240 pixels) to
“HD” (1,920 × 1,080 pixels) can be viewed. Overall, this was a lot of up-front work
for Apple; it had to compress one movie many different times, into many different
sizes. However, the extra work pays off with satisfied site visitors who are able to
find content that meets their needs and the amount of bandwidth available to them.
Video frame rates and dimensions. Higher frame rates (frames per second, or fps)
increase the fluid motion of the picture. However, each frame rate has 50% more
data per frame than the next lower frame rate, for the same file size. To sacrifice
some fluidity for greater usability by more viewers, you can reduce the frame rate to
as little as 8 fps. However, frame rates lower than 12 fps to 15 fps have been shown
to reduce users’ perception of video quality.15
The minimum dimensions should be 320 × 240 pixels. Anything smaller has little
impact and will be harder to view. For users on a fast connection, you can offer a
640 × 480 pixel video. To maintain quality, increase the data rate in proportion to the
image size using the following formula (especially with H.264):
Data rate =(frames per second * movie width * movie height) / 30,000
S., and G. Ghinea. 2006. “Defining User Perception of Distributed Multimedia Quality.” ACM
Transactions on Multimedia Computing, Communications and Applications 2 (4): 241–257.
Chapter 6: Web Page Optimization
This translates to:
DR = (FPS * W * H) / 30,000
Remember that doubling image size (320 × 240 to 640 × 480) requires a 4 × (not 2 × )
increase in data rate. For example, a 320 × 240 movie with 15 fps needs to be compressed to about 38.4 KB of data per second, whereas a 640 × 480 movie at the same
frame rate needs to be compressed to about 153.6 KB of data per second to maintain
quality. We’ll talk more about compression next.
Video production tips: Minimize noise and movement. To create highly optimized videos
you must start with the original, high-quality video files.
You can think of video creation as a war against unnecessary digital noise in your
content. The more noise in your video, the less it can be compressed, and the larger
the final result. The less movement there is, the lower the noise; and the less fine
detail in the background, the smaller the video. Here are some tips on creating highquality videos that optimize well:
• Minimize camera motion with a tripod if possible.
• Minimize subject motion.
• Use a lot of light.
• Use a simple background or blur the background (avoid background movement).
• Avoid camera pans and zooms.
• Use professional equipment.
• Use a digital format.
• If a tripod is not an option, use a gyroscopic stabilizer (http://www.ken-lab.com) or
an image-stabilized lens.
Editing your video. After you’ve captured your video with minimum noise, it’s time to
edit out unnecessary frames and test for playback. Break up longer videos into
smaller segments that are a few minutes long at most. Edit out the parts of the movie
that aren’t essential to your message. Here are some additional tips:
• Reduce dimensions to web standards.
• Use the minimum frame rate for smooth playback.
• Crop fuzzy edges.
• Reduce video noise (with filters).
• Adjust contrast.
• Adjust gamma level (for cross-platform viewing).
• Restore black and white.
• Deinterlace.
• Choose the best codec for the job that you are trying to accomplish.
How to Optimize Your Web Page Speed |
For example, if you are compressing video for the Web, choose a web codec such as
H.264 or WMV. If you are simply archiving your video for later use, try the PhotoJPEG codec. There are about 30 different codecs, and they each have a different use.
Where you plan to deliver your video should determine the codec that you select.
H.264 is one of the best for web and small device playback, such as a video phone,
so we’ll focus on that here.
Compressing videos for the Web. Now that you’ve got your video prepared and adjusted,
you can compress it. People are more accepting of temporal compression (over time)
than spatial compression (frame per frame). You must compress the size of your video so
that it can be successfully streamed or downloaded to your target audience. This process is called encoding in the industry, and it is full of hard, interdependent decisions:
Streaming media format
QuickTime versus RealMedia versus Windows Media
Supported playback platforms
Windows versus Mac or both
Delivery method
True real-time streaming versus HTTP streaming
Overall data rate
Compression versus quality versus bandwidth required
Audio quality
Mono versus stereo; CD quality, cassette tape quality, or cell phone quality
H.264 versus Sorenson versus WMV (the current leaders)
You’ll need to make some decisions to give the best compromise between quality
and size. QuickTime Pro provides a fast and convenient way to create optimized videos. For more control, you can use Autodesk’s Cleaner (http://www.autodesk.com).
Sorenson Video 3 Pro (http://www.sorensonmedia.com) can sometimes make videos
smaller than H.264 at similar quality. Finally, Telestream’s Episode Pro (http://www.
telestream.net/) offers maximum control over video compression with the ability to
compress to H.264, Flash, iPod, and other formats (see Figure 6-5). It is an excellent
application and can batch-compress into all the popular formats and workstreams.
Figure 6-6 shows the settings we used to optimize a test video in QuickTime Pro.
The unoptimized 30-second video was 6.8 MB and the optimized version was 816
KB at 360 × 240 and 544 KB at 234 × 156 pixels in dimension. Because H.264 is what
we recommend as the best codec, we will expand on its specifics.
Figure 6-7 shows the standard video compression dialog for QuickTime Pro. You
can see that we have chosen H.264 as our compression type. It’s helpful for you to
understand this dialog’s three main sections: Motion, Data Rate, and Compressor.
Chapter 6: Web Page Optimization
Figure 6-5. Episode Pro optimizing a video
The Motion section is where you can choose the frame rate (in fps) and the key
frames. If you are planning to compress your video, you might want to choose something other than Current in the Frame Rate box because Current does not remove
any frames. A good starting point is 15 fps; this alone results in a 50% reduction in
size for video that is 30 fps (or, more accurately, 29.97 fps).
Also in the Motion section is a Key Frames area. A key frame is a frame of uncompressed data from which the frames in between the key frames key off. So, if you set
the key frames to 15 (and your frame rate is 15 fps), you will be creating an uncompressed frame every second.
How to Optimize Your Web Page Speed |
Figure 6-6. Optimizing a video in QuickTime Pro
Always set your key frames to a multiple of your frame rate! For example, if your frame rate is set at 15 fps, you will want to set your key
frames to 15, 30, 45, 60, 90, and so on.
H.264 has a great automatic key frame option that is worth trying. Also, you should
make sure the Frame Reordering box is checked (unless you are using a real-time
encoder for a live broadcast).
Next is the Compressor section, where you’ll find three options: Quality, Encoding,
and Temporal. However, note that you don’t see the Temporal option in Figure 6-7
because it’s a hidden option that we will explain how to find shortly.
The Quality area is where you can control the look of individual frames. Set it to
Medium and compress, and then see how large your movie is. You will be surprised
how good a Medium setting can look. For Encoding, always click the “Best quality
(Multi-pass)” radio button. Yes, it takes twice as long, but your movie can be half as
small in file size.
Chapter 6: Web Page Optimization
Figure 6-7. QuickTime Pro standard video compression settings
Now, here is how to show the hidden Temporal slider. Put your cursor over the
Quality slider and press the Option key (on a Mac) or the Alt key (on Windows).
Notice that when you press the Option key the slider changes to read Temporal (see
Figure 6-8). This means you can separate the spatial (frame-per-frame look) from the
temporal (smoothness of playback or quality of delta frames).
Figure 6-8. Temporal compression slider
How to Optimize Your Web Page Speed |
The last section of the dialog is the Data Rate section. We recommend that you click
the Automatic radio button for your first try, but if you want to try to make your
movie smaller you can lower the data rate. Use Table 6-1 for reference.
Table 6-1. Video resolution and frame rate guidelines
Use scenario
Resolution and frame rate
Example data rates
Mobile content
176 × 144, 10–15 fps
50–60 Kbps
Internet/standard definition
640 × 480, 24 fps
1–2 Mbps
High definition
1280 × 720, 24 fps
5–6 Mbps
Full high definition
1,920 × 1,080, 24 fps
7–8 Mbps
Closing credits. Creating optimized videos for the Web requires a number of coordinated steps.
First, create a clean, noise-free video with the minimum possible number of zooms,
pans, and background detail and movement. Then prepare your video for compression by cropping fuzzy edges, adjusting contrast and gamma, and deleting any
unnecessary frames. Finally, compress your video with a high-quality compressor
such as Episode Pro. Use the data-rate formula (FPS * W * H)/30,000 as a starting
point, and always use a two-pass variable bit rate (VBR) and a multiple of 10 times
your fps for your key frames.
Flash optimization tips
Some typical problems we see with Flash are unoptimized images and too many
frames instead of tweened symbols. A tween is the calculation of all the changes
between frames, which is more efficient than having a lot of frames instead (see
Figure 6-9). You can significantly reduce the file size of Flash movies by optimizing
your images in Photoshop, not in Flash. Reduce the number of frames, minimize the
number of fonts, and tween between symbols.
Figure 6-9. Creating a Flash motion tween
Chapter 6: Web Page Optimization
Step 4: Convert JavaScript Behavior to CSS
Embedded JavaScript is widely used on the Web, with 84.8% of pages using some
JavaScript is used for form validation, menus and rollovers, browser sniffing, statistics, and more complex Ajax applications. You can accomplish a number of these
techniques with more efficient methods, however.
You can use CSS to control drop-down menus and rollovers with the :hover
pseudoclass (for more details, see Eric Meyer’s More Eric Meyer on CSS [New Riders].)
Chapter 7 shows a drop-down menu conversion example that saved 46.4% off
HTML file size by switching from JavaScript to CSS :hover to control the menu
behavior. Typically, you’ll save 40% to 60% off HTML and JavaScript file sizes by
converting to CSS :hover techniques, with a slight increase in CSS file size (which
cache reliably). Now that Internet Explorer 7 and later support the :hover
pseudoclass on the necessary elements, the :hover behavior hack that is in widespread use should eventually fall out of favor.16 You can analyze server-side logfiles
instead of using client-side statistics. Browser sniffing in particular can be done more
efficiently with a tool such as BrowserHawk (discussed next).
Step 5: Use Server-Side Sniffing
Browser sniffing is one area where JavaScript is in widespread use. To minimize the
JavaScript overhead that your users must download, you can substitute server-side or
PHP and JSP sniffing instead. BrowserHawk from cyScape (http://www.cyscape.com)
uses server-side browser sniffing or hybrid sniffing to detect a wide variety of parameters, including Flash, screen size, connection speed, cookies, and browser and
software versions (see Figure 6-10).
Sniffing with BrowserHawk
Here is some sample code that shows how BrowserHawk is enabled in a page and
some sniffed parameters:
// First import the com.cyscape.browserhawk namespace
<%@ page import = "com.cyscape.browserhawk.*" %>
// Now we get an immutable (unchangeable) instance of the browser object which
// represents the "basic" properties this browser supports.
:hover behavior hack is a JScript behavior used to add the :hover pseudoclass to elements other than
the anchor element in Internet Explorer 5 through 7, which do not properly support the :hover pseudoclass
on all elements.
How to Optimize Your Web Page Speed |
Figure 6-10. The BrowserHawk home page, which sniffs your browser environment variables
<% BrowserInfo browser = BrowserHawk.getBrowserInfo(request); %>
// At this point, our browser object contains all the basic browser capability
// information for the current visitor. Next, display this information to the screen
Your browser is: <%= browser.getBrowser( ) %> <%= browser.getFullversion( ) %><P>
Your platform is: <%= browser.getPlatform( ) %><P>
Browser major version: <%= browser.getMajorver( ) %><P>
Browser minor version: <%= browser.getMinorver( ) %><P>
Container* browser: <%= browser.getContainerBrowser( ) %><P>
Container version: <%= browser.getContainerVersion( ) %><P>
Container full version: <%= browser.getContainerFullversion( ) %><P>
Supports AJAX? <%= browser.getXMLHttpRequest( ) %><P>
Supports ActiveX controls? <%= browser.getActiveXControls( ) %><P>
Browser data file version: <%= browser.getBDDVersion( ) %>, dated: <%= browser.
getBDDDate( ) %><P>
BrowserHawk version in use: <%= BrowserHawk.getVersion( ) %><P>
Chapter 6: Web Page Optimization
For extended properties that can change with each session, you use the following
// First we create the ExtendedOptions object. This object is used to
// set various preferences and options, such as selecting which
// extended properties we want tested and related testing parameters.
ExtendedOptions options = new ExtendedOptions( );
// Now we tell BrowserHawk which tests we want it to perform on the
// browser. If there are other settings you want to check as well, you can
// just add them to this list.
See the ExtendedOptions class in the
// BrowserHawk documentation for more information.
options.addProperties("PersistentCookies, SessionCookies, JavaScriptEnabled, Width,
Height, WidthAvail, HeightAvail, Plugin_Flash, Broadband");
Session cookies enabled? <%= extBrowser.getSessionCookies( ) %><p>
Persistent cookies enabled? <%= extBrowser.getPersistentCookies( ) %><p>
JavaScript enabled? <%= extBrowser.getJavaScriptEnabled( ) %><p>
Screen resolution: <%= extBrowser.getWidth( ) %> x <%= extBrowser.getHeight( ) %><p>
Available browser window size: <%= extBrowser.getWidthAvail( ) %> x <%= extBrowser.
getHeightAvail( ) %><p>
Flash plug-in version installed: <%= extBrowser.getPluginFlash( ) %><p>
Broadband connection? <%= extBrowser.getBroadband( ) %><p>
You can also cache these results and get more granular data on the connection speed
of the user, version numbers, and capabilities. Once you have sniffed the user’s
browser, you can deliver conditional content based on these variables.
XSSI browser sniffing
Using conditional server-side includes (XSSIs), you can create environment variables
that closely mimic JavaScript-based sniffing. For example, this common JavaScript
IS_IE = (document.all) ? true : false;
IS_MAC = (navigator.appVersion.indexOf(" Mac") != -1);
IS_OPERA = (navigator.userAgent.indexOf(" Opera") != -1);
becomes this XSSI equivalent:
<!--#if expr="$(HTTP_USER_AGENT) = /MSIE [4-9]//" -->
<!--#set var="isIE" value="true" -->
<!--#endif -->
<!--#if expr="$(HTTP_USER_AGENT) = /Mac/" -->
<!--#set var="isMAC " value="true" -->
<!--#endif -->
<!--#if expr="$(HTTP_USER_AGENT) = /Opera/" -->
<!--#set var="isOPERA" value="true" -->
<!--#endif -->
<!--#if expr="(${isOPERA} && ${isMAC})/" -->
<!--#set var="isOPERAMAC" value="true" -->
<!--#endif -->
How to Optimize Your Web Page Speed |
Now you can use these XSSI variables to conditionally include code within your XSSI
includes without the need for JavaScript:
<!--#if expr="${isIE}" -->
<!--#elif expr="${isOPERAMAC}" -->
<!--#elif expr="${isOPERA}" -->
<!--#endif -->
It is faster to set environment variables at the server by configuring your httpd.conf
file using BrowserMatchNoCase. For example:
BrowserMatchNoCase "MSIE [4-9]" isIE
BrowserMatchNoCase Mac isMAC
BrowserMatchNoCase Opera isOPERA
Step 6: Optimize JavaScript for Execution Speed and File Size
After replacing as much JavaScript as possible with CSS and server-side techniques,
optimize any remaining JavaScript to minimize file size. You can use abbreviated
object, variable, and function names to shave bytes. You can automate the process by
using a tool such as w3compiler to automatically abbreviate and whitespace-optimize
your scripts.
Beyond minifying JavaScript, you can often refactor or rewrite procedures with less
code to accomplish the same thing (see http://www.refactoring.com). Remember to
measure first, then optimize. You can use a JavaScript profiler to locate performance
bottlenecks. Mozilla’s Venkman JavaScript Debugger (http://www.mozilla.org/
projects/venkman/) can profile JavaScript code.
Loop optimizations such as unwinding can also help you to gain some cycles to
increase your JavaScript execution speed. Often, built-in functions perform faster
than hand-crafted code. For advice on increasing execution speed and minifying
JavaScript, read Chapter 8. Finally, combine and compress external JavaScript files
to save HTTP requests and bandwidth where possible.
Step 7: Convert Table Layout to CSS Layout
Using CSS to lay out your page can save you a significant amount of markup, typically 25% to 50%.17 First look at the layout to see whether you can substitute CSS
lists and positioned divs to simulate the effects that are typically done with tables.
to Jeffrey Zeldman’s Designing with Web Standards (New Riders), converting to CSS layout typically saves from 25% to 50% off XHTML file size, and a net savings overall. We’ve found similar results in
our conversions.
Chapter 6: Web Page Optimization
Next, strip down the content to structural markup and build it back up again using
CSS style and positioning. Then test the new layout with different browsers. We recommend using BrowserCam (http://www.browsercam.com) to quickly test your new
CSS layout on different browsers (see Figure 6-11).
Figure 6-11. BrowserCam.com renders web pages on different browsers
CSS page layout
You can use CSS to position your entire layout or to format smaller sections of your
web pages. We often see tables used to format pages when CSS could have been used
more efficiently. You can create multicolumn layouts using CSS floats and margins
applied to divs (http://alistapart.com/topics/code/css/). You can make complex hierarchical menus by using lists controlled by CSS, not lists controlled by JavaScript as is
usually the case, as described in More Eric Meyer on CSS. You can create simple rollover effects using CSS, with and without graphics. For examples of CSS rollover
effects and menu conversion, see Chapter 7.
How to Optimize Your Web Page Speed |
Step 8: Replace Inline Style with CSS Rules
Replacing table layout with CSS layout certainly saves you bandwidth and reduces
maintenance headaches. Stripping down your markup to bare structure and replacing any inline style with CSS rules will help fully optimize your HTML.
Inline style includes the deprecated font tag, inline style blocks, and nonbreaking
spaces. Inline style such as:
<p style="font-size:12px;color:black;">Hardcoded text here.</p>
<p style="font-size:12px;color:black;">Inline style redux</p>
bulks up your code and makes it harder to make style changes. It is more efficient to
abstract multiple duplicate styles into CSS rules, like so:
<style type="text/css">
<p>Unencumbered text here</p>
<p>Free and easy</p>
Replacing inline style, font tags, and nonbreaking spacing with CSS rules can reduce
your HTML footprint significantly (by 15% to 20% or more), depending on the
amount of embedded style. The key to this type of code cleanup is to plan ahead for
targeting content elements with CSS using the CSS architecture you’ll read about in
Chapter 7.
CSS architecture uses structural HTML markup (p, ul, dt, etc.) and labeled containers (#main, #nav, #footer) that allow simple type and descendant selectors to target
noncontiguous content. Once your CSS architecture is in place, targeting similar
content is only a matter of creating targeted CSS rules using selectors to style the
same type of elements and declarations to apply your styles. You’ll learn more about
optimizing your HTML with CSS, as well as shrinking your style sheets, in
Chapter 7.
Step 9: Minimize Initial Display Time
You can improve the perceived speed of your web page by loading something useful
For example, the Weather Underground home page displays the weather search form
quickly in the top-left corner of the screen (see Figure 6-12). Unlike other weather
sites that require different elements to load first, Weather Underground gives priority to the most important part of the page first so that you can find the forecast for
your area fast.
You can ensure that your useful content (i.e., content that users can navigate with)
loads quickly by layering your tables or divs.
Chapter 6: Web Page Optimization
Figure 6-12. Weather Underground loads useful content first
Multimedia can also benefit from fast start techniques. Flash presentations can load a
separate file quickly while others stream in the background. Movies can load a static
placeholder image or preview to show something quickly to help engage the user.
QuickTime Pro lets you set up a movie to start playing from a web server before the
movie has completely downloaded. This is called a “Fast Start” movie (see Figure 6-13).
Figure 6-13. QuickTime Pro Fast Start movie
Web page optimization is not only about raw speed, but also about managing your
users’ experience.
How to Optimize Your Web Page Speed |
Step 10: Load JavaScript Wisely
External scripts referenced in the head of your pages are especially harmful because
they delay the display of your body content. Delays before your body content displays make it more likely that users will bail out. Human-computer interaction (HCI)
research has shown that delays before viewing pages are less frustrating than delays
after a page has loaded.18
Post-loading delays are a common problem with Ajax-enabled pages. When it is
poorly written, Ajax can make things especially difficult on narrowband users. Even
with HTTP compression, the latency due to grabbing all those separate files can
cause indeterminate delays. Ajax also introduces polling with the XMLHttpRequest
object (XHR). XHR-based communication has efficiency issues that we’ll address in
Chapter 8.
The perils of third-party widgets
Webmasters are outsourcing web services with widgets. Widgets are third-party gizmos that embed everything from Google AdWords, Flickr images, and Twitter
tweets to iTunes playlists. The problem with widgets is that they can delay the display of your web pages by many seconds and increase delay variability. Widgets are
typically used with a snippet of external JavaScript, and their performance relies on
the response time of the external server providing the service. Most web service providers lack the extreme data-farm resources and thus the responsiveness of a company such as Google. We’ve seen external survey widgets, Technorati blog tracking
code, and even Google Analytics when it first launched actually hang browsers and
cause web pages to time out. Removing these widgets or moving these third-party
tags to the end of your markup can help to minimize customer impact.
Give your widgets a WEDJE. However, there is a better way. By using Widget Enabled
DOM JavaScript Embedding (WEDJE), you can rewrite the widget embed code to effectively make your JavaScript work asynchronously. WEDJE creates a cross-platform,
cross-browser defer by using the document object model (DOM) to append a div,
create a script element, and then append the script element to the div, all with
JavaScript. An example of the technique follows:
<script type="text/javascript">
// create div below
(function( ){document.write('<div id="wedje_div_example">Loading widget...<\/div>');
s=document.createElement('script'); // create script element
// assign script to script element
// assign script s to div element
setTimeout("document.getElementById('wedje_div_example').appendChild(s)",1);})( )
B., and B. Kahn. 1999. “How Tolerable is Delay? Consumers’ Evaluations of Internet Web Sites
after Waiting.” Journal of Interactive Marketing 13 (1): 41–54.
Chapter 6: Web Page Optimization
When these elements are linked together in this way, browsers appear to decouple
the loading and execution of the attached JavaScript, making widget execution asynchronous! Here is the matching external JavaScript file, widget.js, which grabs the div
we created earlier and loads an image:
document.getElementById('wedje_div_example').innerHTML+='<img src="http://www.
example.com/images/example.gif" width="60" height="60" />';
Another option is to use iframes to load ads, but iframes can ruin the context-sensing
abilities of contextual ads and so you must use them carefully. For more details on
WEDJE, see Mike Davidson’s blog post on the subject at http://www.mikeindustries.
com/blog/archive/2007/06/widget-deployment-with-wedje. (Note that this technique has
some strange Internet Explorer 6-related issues, but you can filter with conditional
comments to use on only Internet Explorer 7 and later.)
Chapter 9 has more coding details on delaying the loading of external scripts.
Web page optimization streamlines your pages to download and display faster. As
your website performance improves, your bailout rates and bandwidth bills will go
down while your conversion rates and profits will rise. In this chapter, you learned
how to minimize HTTP requests, optimize graphics and multimedia, substitute
server-side for client-side sniffing, and load JavaScript wisely.
To reduce the overhead of multiple objects that causes the majority of web page
delay, minimize the number of objects referenced within your web pages. Also, put
all of your images, still and motion, on a strict file size diet. Minimize the size of the
head of your HTML, and layer your markup to display useful content quickly and
maximize your potential search engine rankings. Finally, move your CSS to the top
and your scripts to the bottom of your pages to enable progressive display.
Summary |
7 7
CSS Optimization
Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) optimization transforms your HTML by abstracting inline
style and behavior into minimal stylesheets. Whereas CSS makes a site easier to maintain, CSS optimization makes it load faster and makes it more search engine-friendly.
In this chapter, you’ll learn how to shrink your stylesheets and HTML at the same
time. CSS-specific techniques include (1) grouping declarations and selectors, (2)
merging common styles into shared classes, (3) inheritance, (4) abbreviating with
shorthand properties, and (5) abbreviating class and ID names. HTML-oriented
techniques include replacing JavaScript behavior with CSS, designing markup for
descendant selectors, and CSS layout. By combining these techniques, you can
reduce HTML and CSS file sizes by up to 50%, according to Jeffrey Zeldman’s
Designing with Web Standards (Peachpit Press). When you plan your site in this way,
you are giving it what we call CSS architecture.
Build on a CSS Architecture
Good CSS architecture involves planning from the very beginning for CSS layout,
style, and behavior. This way you can avoid most of the limitations and browser
quirks that creep into an unorganized CSS layout.
To create a solid CSS architecture, use the following techniques:
• Use a reset stylesheet to equalize rendering behavior.
• Plan for descendant selectors by using labeled container cells for main page sections (masthead, navigation, content, footer, and side columns).
• Position external CSS files in the head element to enable progressive rendering.
The preceding chapter dealt with planning for descendant selectors and positioning CSS
files. We will expand on reset stylesheets next. The general idea is to use appropriate
structural markup so that you can apply the most prevalent CSS rules to those elements. Then you can use classes for exceptions, minimizing the need to litter your
markup with classes. This technique optimizes your CSS and markup at the same time.
Anatomy of a CSS Rule
A CSS rule consists of the following components: a selector and a declaration block
of one or more declarations each followed by a semicolon. A declaration consists of
a property name and a corresponding value separated by a colon, demonstrated as
Selector { property : value ; }
The selector specifies what HTML elements are targeted. Selectors use simple type (p,
h1, ul), descendant (ul, li, or .nav a), or more complex patterns to target elements:
.nav > div a:hover
The declaration block specifies the properties of the target elements and their values.
Declarations come in longhand and some come in shorthand varieties. For example:
2em 2em 2em 2em;
or, in shorthand notation:
margin: 2em;
You’ll learn how to combine selectors and shorthand declarations in powerful ways
later in this chapter.
Use a Reset Stylesheet
One solution to overly specific CSS selectors and cross-browser compatibility is to
use a reset stylesheet. Advocated by Eric Meyer and Yahoo!, reset stylesheets set up a
known set of default style rules to equalize browser rendering behavior. An example
from Eric Meyer follows:
html, body, div, span, applet, object, iframe,
h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6, p, blockquote, pre,
a, abbr, acronym, address, big, cite, code,
del, dfn, em, font, img, ins, kbd, q, s, samp,
small, strike, strong, sub, sup, tt, var,
b, u, i, center,
dl, dt, dd, ol, ul, li,
fieldset, form, label, legend,
table, caption, tbody, tfoot, thead, tr, th, td {
margin: 0;
padding: 0;
border: 0;
outline: 0;
font-size: 100%;
vertical-align: baseline;
Build on a CSS Architecture |
background: transparent;
body {
line-height: 1;
ol, ul {
list-style: none;
blockquote, q {
quotes: none;
blockquote:before, blockquote:after,
q:before, q:after {
content: '';
content: none;
/* remember to define focus styles! */
:focus {
outline: 0;
/* remember to highlight inserts somehow! */
ins {
text-decoration: none;
del {
text-decoration: line-through;
/* tables still need 'cellspacing="0"' in the markup */
table {
border-collapse: collapse;
border-spacing: 0;
This reset stylesheet zeros out margins, padding, borders, and outlines for all type
selectors (this is more efficient than the universal selector * because of CPU overhead), as well equalizing font size to 100%, setting vertical-align to baseline to
equalize browser differences, and so on:
margin: 0;
padding: 0;
border: 0;
outline: 0;
font-size: 100%;
vertical-align: baseline;
background: transparent;
Note that this reset stylesheet is intentionally left generic. You should customize it to
match your preferences with text, background, and link colors.
Chapter 7: CSS Optimization
By resetting visiting browsers to default behavior, you can be more confident in styling your markup and omitting default values. This technique helps to eliminate the
majority of browser differences that plague developers when debugging CSS. For
some examples of reset stylesheets, visit http://developer.yahoo.com/yui/reset/ and
Browser Support for CSS
The majority of browsers today support the CSS techniques detailed in this chapter.
CSS2 browsers include Internet Explorer 7 and later (with some exceptions for Internet
Explorer 6, namely the universal selector, *), Firefox 2 and later, Safari 3 and later,
Konqueror 3.5.7 and later, and Opera 9.5b and later, which support CSS shorthand,
multiple classes, and grouping. The CSS3 attribute selector matching techniques
detailed in this chapter are supported by the aforementioned browsers. For details on
browser support for CSS2 and CSS3 see http://www.quirksmode.org/css/contents.html.
Top 10 Tips for Optimizing CSS
The following 10 best practices are designed to speed-optimize your CSS, and your
HTML markup:
1. Replace inline style with type selectors to target multiple instances of identical
2. Use descendant selectors to avoid inline classes.
3. Group selectors with common declarations.
4. Group declarations with common selectors.
5. Combine common styles into shared classes.
6. Use inheritance to eliminate duplicate declarations.
7. Use CSS shorthand to abbreviate rules and colors.
8. Abbreviate long class and ID names.
9. Use CSS2 and CSS3.x techniques.
10. Replace JavaScript behavior with CSS techniques.
In addition, you can eliminate extraneous whitespace by removing tabs, comments,
and returns.
Tip #1: Replace Inline Style with Type Selectors
This section starts with simple type selectors to streamline markup, and then it
moves through grouping, inheritance, and CSS shorthand, and finally to some
applied techniques to replace JavaScript behavior.
Top 10 Tips for Optimizing CSS |
Web pages that use inline style pepper HTML code with unnecessary font and style
tags. This effectively hardcodes the presentation directly within the HTML. Unless
the style is used only once, it is more efficient to create a CSS rule and target all elements of a certain kind with type selectors (i.e., p, ul, h2, etc.). For example, this:
style="font-size:1.2em;color:red;">Little red Corvette</h2>
style="font-size:1.2em;color:red;">Baby you're much too fast to embed</h2>
style="font-size:1.2em;color:red;">Little red Corvette</h2>
style="font-size:1.2em;color:red;">You need a love that's gonna last</h2>
becomes this, by abstracting the inline style to a block style:
<style type="text/css"><!-#main h2{font-size:1.2em;color:red;}
The corresponding HTML cleans up to this:
<div id="main">
<h2>Little red Corvette</h2>
<h2>Baby you're much too fast</h2>
<h2>Little red Corvette</h2>
<h2>You need a love that's gonna last</h2>
Note how clean the code becomes after you remove the inline styles. This CSS technique also helps search engine optimization (SEO) by boosting keyword density and
Tip #2: Use Descendant Selectors
Descendant selectors (sometimes called contextual selectors) target elements that are
contained within other elements using the inherent structure of your markup. Labeling your container cells (e.g., <div id="footer">) allows you to target content that is
enclosed within elements without the need for inline classes. Here is a minimalist
<style type="text/css"><!-div.warning p{color:red;} /* descendant selector */
<div class="warning">
<p>Warning! Meltdown is imminent.</p>
The descendant selector in the preceding code (div.warning p) targets the paragraph
element that is contained within the <div> element. Rather than explicitly embedding classes into each element that you want to target, it is more efficient to use a
descendant selector to target descendants of elements, labeled or otherwise.
Chapter 7: CSS Optimization
The child selector, >, allows finer-grained targeting and does not target all descendants, just the most immediate children. For unordered lists, the W3C recommends
using child selectors to style nested lists, not descendant selectors. Keep in mind that
Internet Explorer 5.5 and 6 do not support the child selector, but Internet Explorer 7
and later do.
ul > li{font-weight:bold;}
Tip #3: Group Selectors with Common Declarations
CSS allows you to group multiple selectors that share the same declaration. This
optimization technique allows you to apply the same style to multiple selectors, separated by commas, to save space.
So, instead of this:
.sitehead {
font-weight: normal; font-size: 12px; color: #0b2475; font-family: arial,
helvetica, sans-serif;
.sitenav {
font-weight: normal; font-size: 12px; color: #0b2475; font-family: arial,
helvetica, sans-serif;
do this, by grouping multiple selectors with common declarations:
.sitehead, .sitenav {
font-weight: normal; font-size: 12px; color: #0b2475; font-family: arial,
helvetica, sans-serif;
Even better, use the font shorthand property (more on this shortly):
.sitehead, .sitenav {
font: 12px arial,helvetica,sans-serif;color:#0b2475;
Tip #4: Group Declarations with Common Selectors
CSS allows you to group multiple declarations that share the same selector into one
rule set, separated by semicolons. This technique allows you to apply multiple declarations to one selector to save space.
So, this:
{font-size: 1em;}
{font-family: arial, helvetica, geneva, sans-serif;}
becomes this, by grouping multiple declarations that share the same selector:
body {
Top 10 Tips for Optimizing CSS |
font-size: 1em;
font-family: arial, helvetica, geneva, sans-serif;
color: #000000;
background: #ffffff;
Even better, use shorthand properties to abbreviate this rule even further, like this:
body{font:1em arial,helvetica,sans-serif;color:#000;background:#fff;}
Note that you need only one or two font faces and a default for the generic font family. We omitted the third geneva font face here.
Also, by combining the grouping of selectors that share the same declaration and
declarations that share the same selector, you can apply multiple declarations to
multiple selectors. This technique allows you to create compact yet powerful CSS
So, this:
ul {font-size:1em;}
ul li {font-size:1em;}
becomes this:
#nav, #nav ul, #nav ul li {font-size:1em; color:#000;background:transparent;}
Tip #5: Combine Common Styles into Shared Classes
One technique that you can use when optimizing CSS is to merge common declarations into separate classes. Not unlike “orthogonalizing” a database into normal
forms by eliminating redundant fields, this technique modularizes CSS. The feature
that makes this possible is the ability to assign multiple classes to one element which
the aforementioned CSS2-compliant browsers support.
For example:
<div class="nav align">...</div>
This ability to reference multiple classes gives authors new options when styling their
content. For elements that share the same styles (e.g., text-align:center) you can
group these shared styles into one shared class.
So, this:
<style type="text/css">
.nav{color:red; text-align:center;}
.main{color:#000; text-align:center;}
.footer{color:#00f; text-align:center;}
<div class="nav">...</div>
<div class="main">...</div>
<div class="footer">...</div>
Chapter 7: CSS Optimization
becomes this, after grouping the common center style into one shared class:
<style type="text/css">
<div class="nav align">...</div>
<div class="main align">...</div>
<div class="footer align">...</div>
The fourth .align class merges the common style (in this case, the text-align:center
declaration) into a class now shared by three elements. The additional class saves
space by eliminating redundant common declarations (which can bulk up larger
stylesheets). In effect, you are normalizing your CSS.
Tip #6: Use Inheritance to Eliminate Duplicate Declarations
You can use inheritance to flow property values down the document tree and eliminate duplicate declarations. An element inherits the properties of its parent element
unless otherwise specified. So, this overdeclared example:
<style type="text/css">
body{font:1em arial,helvetica,sans-serif;}
p.normal1em{font:1em arial,helvetica,sans-serif;} /* extra declaration */
div {font:1em arial,helvetica,sans-serif;}
/* another one */
#content em{color:red;} /* em for emphasis color */
#content em.ed {color:#00331a;}
<div id="content">
<p class="normal1em">Normal text here, brute forced from the p rule.
<em class="ed">Editors note: Note that inherited CSS can provide
this approach more efficiently.</em></p>
</div> </body>
becomes this, by moving the common font declaration up into the body rule and
eliminating the p rule and div rules which are implied by inheritance:
<style type="text/css">
<!-body{font:1em arial,helvetica,sans-serif;}
#content em{color:red;} /* em for emphasis color */
#content em.ed {color:#00331a;}
<div id="content">
<p>Normal text here, inherited from the body rule.
<em class="ed">Editors note: Note the inherited style
that CSS provides with this approach...</em></p>
</div> </body>
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The child div and paragraph elements now inherit the same font size and family from
the body rule. The idea is to simplify your style to remove redundant declarations. If
you see the same terms repeated in your properties or class names, this is usually an
area where you can squeeze some more bytes out of your CSS and markup.
It is a best practice to use functional class names that describe the purpose of the class rather than embed values within names (e.g., .default
versus .bluetext1). After all, designs can change, but the function of the
class will not. A .bluetext{color:red;} or .marg3em{margin:2em;} would
not make sense after a redesign.
Tip #7: Use CSS Shorthand
Some CSS properties and colors can be written in longhand or shorthand notation.
Longhand CSS explicitly spells out every related property in great detail. Shorthand
properties use the shorthand built into CSS for popular properties, including font,
border, and margin. Shorthand hex colors abbreviate longhand #rrggbb triplets to
#rgb shorthand.
Using shorthand colors
You can specify color values in CSS in three ways: by name, with RGB values, or as
hexadecimal numbers. The most efficient way to set colors is to use hex or, in some
rare cases, short color names. Longhand hex colors are specified as three red, green,
and blue triplets, like this:
p { color: #fdca30; }
You can abbreviate colors that have an identical value for each pair, that is, #rrggbb;,
with only one value per pair, so this:
p { color: #ffcc00; }
becomes this, using shorthand hex notation:
p {color: #fc0;}
Named colors can ease maintenance, but they are generally longer than their shorthand hex equivalents (other than red and tan).
Shorthand properties
CSS shorthand properties allow you to consolidate several related properties into one
abbreviated property declaration. For example, you can combine font-size and
font-family into a single font rule.
Shorthand properties in CSS2 succinctly specify property declarations according to
built-in rules (replication, inheritance) and defaults (none, normal). The list of shorthand properties is as follows:
Chapter 7: CSS Optimization
<font-style> <font-variant> <font-weight> <font-size> / <line-height>
<border-width> <border-style> <color> transparent
border-color: top right bottom left (uses replication)
border-style: top right bottom left (uses replication)
border-top: <border-top-width> <border-style> <color>
border-width: top right bottom left (uses replication)
background: <background-color> <background-image> <background-repeat>
<background-attachment> <background-position>
list-style: <list-style-type> <list-style-position> <list-style-image>
<margin-width> top right bottom left (uses replication)
<outline-color> <outline-style> <outline-width>
<padding-width> top right bottom left (uses replication)
Property value replication. For CSS properties that can specify values for four sides of a
box (border, border-color, margin, padding, outline, etc.), you can use replication to
save space. Here is how replication works. If there is one value, it applies to all sides.
Two values apply to the top/bottom, and right/left sides. Three values apply to top,
right/left, and bottom. For example:
2em; }
/* all margins set to 2em */
1em 2em; }
/* top & bottom = 1em, right & left = 2em */
1em 2em 3em; }
/* top=1em, right & left=2em, bottom=3em */
1em 2em 3em 4em; } /* top = 1em, right=2em, bottom=3em,left=4em */
top right bottom left;} /* full syntax */
The margin shorthand property. The margin shorthand property sets the margin for all
four sides of a box using one, two, three, or four widths in one abbreviated property.
margin takes the place of the margin-top, margin-right, margin-bottom, and marginleft properties. The syntax of the margin shorthand property is as follows:
margin: <margin-width>{1,4} | inherit
margin: <margin-width> top right bottom left
where the margin-width value can be a length (px, em, etc.), a percentage, or auto.
Here is a minimal example:
div { margin: 1em; }
This CSS rule sets the margin around all divs to 1 em space. You can set all sides of a
box to one width and zero out the widths of one or more sides like this:
div { margin: 1em; }
div { margin-bottom: 0; }
The padding shorthand property works exactly like the margin shorthand property
discussed earlier. For more information, visit the W3C’s box model page at http://
Top 10 Tips for Optimizing CSS |
The border shorthand property. The border shorthand property sets the same width,
style, color, and image for all four borders of a box. Unlike the padding and margin
shorthand properties, the border property cannot set different values for the different sides of a border. The syntax of the border shorthand is as follows:
border: <border-width> <border-style> <color> transparent inherit
For example, the following CSS rule:
div { border: solid red; }
sets a medium (the default initial value) red border for all sides of the div. This is
equivalent to:
div {
border-top: solid red;
border-right: solid red;
border-bottom: solid red;
border-left: solid red;
You can set the border style for all four sides of a box, and then set one or two sides
to save space. For example:
#nav div {
border: 1px solid #fc0;
border-right: 1px solid #c30;
border-bottom: 1px solid #c30;
You can also do this in another way by using defaults:
#nav div {
border-width: 1px; /* defaults to solid */
border-color: #fc0 #c30 #c30 #fc0;
Plus, you can zero out a border on one or more sides by specifying a zero width. For
p {
border: 1px double red;
border-width: 1px 0 0 1px;
Note that if you omit a property, the border shorthand uses the initial value of the
property. So, if a color is specified and you use border:solid;, the browser will use
the default medium solid border, with a color specified in the color property.
The font shorthand property. The font property is a shorthand property for setting the
font-style, font-variant, font-weight, font-size, line-height, and font-family
properties, all in one abbreviated notation. You should set font-stretch and fontsize-adjust with their individual properties. The syntax of the font: shorthand
property is as follows:
Chapter 7: CSS Optimization
font: <font-style> <font-variant> <font-weight> <font-size> / <line-height> <fontfamily>
The font-size and font-family are required properties, whereas the other properties
will revert to their defaults if they are missing. Here is a minimalist example:
p { font: 0.9em serif; }
This CSS rule sets all paragraph text to 90% of the current font size with the default
serif font family. A more complete example utilizing the entire font property follows:
p { font: italic small-caps bold 0.9em/110% "new century schoolbook", serif; }
To abbreviate a longhand declaration:
.errormsg {
font-size: 12px; color: #ff0000; font-family: arial, helvetica, sans-serif;
font-weight: bold;
do this, using the shorthand font: notation:
.errormsg {
font:bold 12px arial,helvetica,sans-serif;color:#f00;
Note that you can change the order in which some properties appear. Most browsers will allow this. However, to avoid any problems with current or future browsers
that may be stricter in their interpretation, it is a best practice to supply the properties in the order that the W3C lists them in the specification. For more information
on the font shorthand, see http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-CSS2/fonts.html#fontshorthand and http://www.w3.org/TR/css3-fonts/#font-shorthand.
The background shorthand property. The background property is a shorthand property
that sets the background properties of an element as a color, an image, or, as a fallback, both. The background property sets the following properties: background-color,
background-image, background-repeat, background-attachment, and backgroundposition, in one shorthand notation. The syntax for the background property is as
background: <background-color> <background-image> <background-repeat> <backgroundattachment> <background-position> inherit
Here is a minimalist example:
body {background: gray;}
This CSS rule sets the background-color of the body element to gray. It is better to use
the body rather than the html element here, which targets the entire HTML document. This shorthand rule is equivalent to:
body {
background-color: gray;
background-position: 0% 0%;
background-size: 30% 30%;
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background-repeat: repeat;
background-attachment: scroll;
background-image: none;
A more complete example of a background shows the entire rule:
div { background: gray url(steel.png) repeat fixed 50%; }
This shorthand rule is equivalent to:
div {
background-color: gray;
background-image: url(steel.png)
background-repeat: repeat;
background-attachment: fixed;
background-position: 50% 50%;
For more information on background shorthand, see http://www.w3.org/TR/CSS21/
colors.html andhttp://www.w3.org/TR/css3-background/.
The list-style shorthand property. The list-style property sets list-style-type, liststyle-position, and list-style-image in one abbreviated notation. The syntax is as
list-style: <list-style-type> <list-style-position> <list-style-image> inherit
For example, this:
ul { list-style: none; }
sets all unordered lists to not display a list-item marker. The following example sets
all ordered lists to uppercase Roman numerals:
ol { list-style: upper-roman inside; }
A final example illustrates the entire shorthand rule. Note that specifying a liststyle-type of disc is a fallback for when the image is not available.
ul { list-style: url("http://example.com/bullet.png") disc outside; }
The preceding code is shorthand for the following:
ul {
list-style-image: url("http://example.com/bullet.png");
list-style-marker: disc;
list-style-position: outside;
Note that the “outside” property is the default, and is optional in the preceding
shorthand version. For more information, see http://www.w3.org/TR/CSS21/generate.
html#propdef-list-style-position and http://www.w3.org/TR/css3-lists/.
The outline shorthand property. The outline property sets the outline-color, outlinestyle, and outline-width in one shorthand notation. Outlines differ from borders in
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that they take up no space, and they can be nonrectangular. The syntax of the
outline property is as follows:
outline: <outline-color> <outline-style> <outline-width> inherit
The outline style and width accept the same values as their border counterparts. The
outline-color property accepts all color values and also invert. invert performs a
color inversion of the pixels on the screen to ensure visibility of the outline. An outline is the same width on all sides, unlike a border property.
For example:
button { outline: thick solid; }
This rule draws a thick solid outline around all buttons to highlight them. You can
show which element has focus by using the outline property. Because they overlay
the element and do not take up additional space, turning outlines on and off should
not cause your web pages to reflow.
For example, you can use the focus and active pseudoclasses to set outlines according to the state of a button:
button:focus { outline: thick solid black; }
button:active { outline: thick solid red; }
These CSS rules draw a thick black line around a button when it has focus, and a
thick red line around a button when it is active. Note that Internet Explorer 5
through 7 do not support the outline property, but Internet Explorer 8b1 does. For
more information, visit http://www.w3.org/TR/css3-ui/#outline1 and http://www.w3.org/
Tip #8: Abbreviate Long Class and ID Names
Verbosity is a virtue in some programming circles, but not when you craft CSS. Long
class names may be more easily understood by subsequent designers, but your users
must download those extra bytes (at least the first time they load the CSS file). So,
#content .textadvertisingrectangle{text-align:center;}
becomes this, after some class name abbreviation:
#content .textadbox{text-align:center;}
At the extreme end, you could “pull a Yahoo!” by using one- or two-letter class
names, like this:
#c .ta{text-align:center;}
Be sure to watch out for namespace collisions when you do this for more complex
applications with layered stylesheets.
Top 10 Tips for Optimizing CSS |
Abbreviating class and ID names to one or two characters is an
extreme technique, and you should use it only after your website
design is set in stone. As most sites are not static, reserve this technique only for exceptional situations. Yahoo! uses this technique, as
well as URI rewriting, to squeeze every byte possible out of its home
page, because it has the busiest page on the Web.
Using semantically meaningful names
Whenever possible, use class and ID names that are semantically meaningful and
search-friendly. For example:
<style type="text/css">
<!-.box {border:1px solid #000;}
.bio h2, .bio h3 {color: #c00;background:#0cc;}
.testimonial h2, .testimonial h3 {color: #0c0; background:#c0c;}
<div class="box bio">
<h2>Our Staff Bios</h2>
<h3>Barack Obama</h3>
<p>Senator Obama ran for president in 2008...</p>
<h3>Albert Gore</h3>
<p>Vice President Gore raised awareness of global warming ...</p>
<div class="box testimonial">...</div>
This way, you need to change only the class name in the div, which uses multiple
classes, to achieve a different look. The bio class would have one look and the
testimonial class would have another.
Comments in CSS
You can manually or automatically remove comments from your CSS files. Another
strategy is to use PHP comments in your CSS. Once parsed, these comments will
automatically disappear. First, you need to tell your server to parse your CSS files for
PHP by adding the following lines to your httpd.conf or .htaccess file:
AddHandler application/x-httpd-php .css
php_value default_mimetype "text/css"
Next, include one- or multiline comments within your CSS file:
// this comment will disappear, a one-liner
For multiline comments:
/* multiline comment here, allows longer
Chapter 7: CSS Optimization
comments, that also don't appear in your CSS
Again, you trade some server processing power for size.
Tip #9: Use CSS2 and CSS3.x Techniques
Attribute selectors were introduced in CSS2, and the modern browsers listed at the
beginning of this chapter, with the exception of Internet Explorer 6, support them.
Internet Explorer 7 and later support attribute selectors, which allow authors to target elements with attributes that match certain characteristics. In CSS2.1, these selectors can match attribute characteristics in four ways:
Match when the element has the att attribute.
Match when the element’s att attribute value is exactly val.
Match when the element’s att attribute value is a space-separated list of words,
one of which is exactly val. The value may not have spaces.
Match when the element’s att attribute value is a hyphen-separated list of words,
beginning with val.
You can match elements that have an attribute, or that have a certain attribute value.
For example, the following rule:
div ul *[href] {color:red;}
looks for any element with an href attribute set, inside a ul, inside a div, and sets the
color to red. You could use this to select elements inside a navigation bar, for example.
CSS3 adds substring matching to attribute selectors. Substring matching allows you
to look for subsets of strings used in attribute values. Here is the syntax of CSS3
attribute selectors:
Matches elements with the att attribute whose value begins with val
Matches elements with the att attribute whose value ends with val
Matches elements with the att attribute whose value contains at least one
instance of the substring val
The most powerful selector here is the * selector, which looks for substrings anywhere in the attribute value:
Top 10 Tips for Optimizing CSS |
<style type="text/css">
a[href*="/services"] {color:green;} </style></head><body>
<p><a href="http://www.example.com/services/invisalign/">Invisalign</a></p>
You can look for strings at the beginning or end of attribute values. For example, to
highlight all PDF files, you’d do the following:
a[href$=".pdf"] {background: url(pdflink.gif) no-repeat right top:padding-right:
To highlight all external links, you can look for any anchor that begins with http:, like so:
a[href^="http:"] {background:url(externallink.gif) no-repeat right top;padding-right:
This rule flags all absolute URIs with a background graphic that displays an external
link image. It also flags internal links that are absolute, so you’ll need to filter all
absolute links from your own site like this:
a[href^="http://www.example.com"], a[href^="http://example.com"] {background-image:
Tip #10: Replace JavaScript Behavior with CSS Techniques
JavaScript is commonly used for rollovers and drop-down menus. However, in many
cases you can substitute CSS :hover effects for JavaScript rollovers. Here is a realworld example that uses graphics rollovers for a left navigation bar (see Figure 7-1)
that also uses graphical text (complete with underlines):
<img src="images/nav/nonav_top.gif"><br>
<a href="/tourism/" onMouseOver="act('tourism')" onMouseOut="inact('tourism')">
<img src="images/nav/tourism_off.gif" alt="Tourism" name="tourism" border="0"></a>
<a href="/trade/" target="_blank" onMouseOver="act('trade')"
<img src="images/nav/trade_off.gif" alt="Trade" name="trade" border="0"></a><br>
Figure 7-1. How not to do a menu
This menu has three things wrong with it:
• JavaScript is used for the rollovers.
• Graphics are used for the text.
• There is no structure to target.
Chapter 7: CSS Optimization
Here is what we’d recommend doing to convert this menu to CSS lists:
• Use CSS instead of JavaScript.
• Use text for the graphical text.
• Use lists for the tables.
With all CSS conversion projects, first strip the HTML markup down to a bare
<li><a href="/tourism/">Travel &amp; Tourism</a></li>
<li><a href="/trade/">Trade</a></li>
Then target your unordered list items with the following descendant selectors:
<style type="text/css">
ul {list-style:none;}
ul li a:hover{text-decoration:underline;}
Now you’ve substituted CSS behavior (:hover) for JavaScript behavior, greatly simplifying the code. We’ll explore how to style a similar menu later in this chapter.
One of the best uses of CSS is to save round trips to the server. As you learned in the
introduction to Part II, web page latency is dominated by object overhead. You can
minimize that overhead by using CSS in creative ways to save HTTP requests by substituting CSS-styled elements and hover effects for images and JavaScript.
CSS buttons
You can simulate graphical buttons with links and CSS and style input elements for
forms to make them stand out to improve conversion rates. The speed benefit of
using CSS to create buttons is that you save an HTTP request for each unique button. You can achieve this effect by changing the display property of an anchor to
block, and setting the width and height as well as styling the background and border
of the button (see Figure 7-2):
a {
display: block;
width: 7em; /* needed for ie5x win */
padding: 0.2em;
line-height: 1.3em;
background: #faa;
border: 1px solid #000;
color: #000;
text-decoration: none;
Top 10 Tips for Optimizing CSS |
Figure 7-2. A text-based button
The width is set for the Windows version of Internet Explorer 5, without which only
the link text would become active. We use line-height instead of height to avoid
having to vertically center the text manually. Make sure the button is wide enough to
contain the text without wrapping at reasonable font sizes.
CSS rollovers
Next, you can easily add a rollover effect by setting the background and text color
with the :hover pseudoclass (see Figure 7-3):
a:hover {
Figure 7-3. Adding rollover effects
Many CSS techniques are based on the :hover pseudoclass, including rollovers, dropdown menus including nested menus, and remote rollovers where one hotspot controls another.
Mono-image menu rollovers
You can use CSS to create simple rollover effects. But for more complex rollovers the
classic method is to use two images for each button: one for the “on” state and one
for the “off” state. The problem with this method is that it doubles the necessary
HTTP requests and can cause flickering problems when the “off” image is not preloaded. A better way is to combine the on and off state images into one mini sprite
and switch the background position on rollover (see Figure 7-4):
a:link, a:visited {
display: block;
width: 127px;
line-height: 25px;
color: #000;
text-decoration: none;
background: #fc0 url(image-rolloverdual.png) no-repeat left top;
text-indent: 25px;
Chapter 7: CSS Optimization
a:hover {
/* background: #c00; */
background-position: right top;
color: #fff;
Figure 7-4. Mini CSS sprite for menu rollover
The background in the off state (:link) positions the background image to the left
and top, showing the off state portion of the image. On rollover (:hover), the background position is shifted to the right, displaying the “on” portion of the background image. The width value effectively clips the image to show only the portion
of the image that you want to display. Note that the next section shows a more complex CSS sprite example.
You may want to zero out margin and padding values to eliminate rendering differences between browsers thusly:
a {
This will zero out all the margins and padding for all links, however. It is better to be
specific in your selectors to avoid coding extra CSS:
#nav ul li a {
See the “Use a Reset Stylesheet” section, earlier in this chapter, for more ideas along
these lines.
Very old browsers (older than version 5) may not work with some of these positioning techniques. To hide your CSS from older browsers, the @import method is the
easiest to implement. For example:
<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="basic.css" />
<style type="text/css"> @import "modern.css"; </style>
You can also use this technique to highlight visited links. For extra credit, create the
preceding effect entirely with CSS.
Top 10 Tips for Optimizing CSS |
CSS sprites
CSS sprites expand this approach to group multiple images into one composite
image and display them using CSS background positioning. Some of the busiest sites
on the Internet use CSS sprites to improve response times. Both AOL.com and
Yahoo.com use sprites extensively to save numerous HTTP requests for their intricate interfaces.
AOL.com CSS sprites. AOL.com uses CSS sprites on its home page to improve performance. AOL uses a CSS sprite for the icons in its main directory navigation bar
(Autos, Finance, Food, etc.) on the left side of its home page (see Figure 7-5).
Figure 7-5. The AOL.com home page uses CSS sprites
Its main CSS file sets up the directory navigation bar list:
<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="http://www.aolcdn.com/_media/aolp_v23.1/
main.css" />
#sm_col .dir ul li a, #sm_col .nav2 li a, #sm_col .nav3 li a {
padding:.28em 0 .28em 2.3em;
border-bottom:1px solid #fff;
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#sm_col .dir ul li a, #aiw, #sm_col .nav2 li a, #sm_col .nav3 li a {
#sm_col ul.serv li a:hover, #sm_col .nav2 li a:hover, #sm_col .nav3 li a:hover,
.eight .dir ul li a:hover {
This CSS sets the styles for the height of the directory menu, padding (with plenty of
room for the background icon—2.3 em—on the left), and a white border on the bottom, and hides any overflow. AOL displays the anchor as a block to make it clickable and set the width to 10.28 em and the rollover color to white. Note that AOL
could use background instead of background-color to save six bytes.
Then AOL sets the background of each directory class (as well as some other IDs) to
dir_sprite.png (see Figure 7-6):
.d1, .d2, .d3, .d4, .d5, .d6, .d7, .d8, .d9, .d10, .d11, .d12, .d13, .d14, .d15,
.d16, .d17, .d18, .d19, .d20, .d21,.d22, .d23, .d24, .d25, .d26, .d27, .d28, .d29,
.d30, .d31, #aim_sprTbEdt, #games_sprTbEdt, #sports_sprTbEdt, #weather_sprTbEdt,
#radio_sprTbEdt, #horoscopes_sprTbEdt, #video_sprTbEdt {
background:transparent url("dir_sprite.png") no-repeat 4px 0;
Figure 7-6. AOL menu sprite, dir_sprite.png (truncated)
This rule assigns the background image of the directory sprite to these classes and
IDs. For the subsequent directory menu items, it is just a matter of shifting the background image up 36 or 38 pixels to show each subsequent icon.
Top 10 Tips for Optimizing CSS |
.d2 {
background-position:4px -36px;
.d3 {
background-position:4px -74px;
.d4 {
background-position:4px -112px;
So, when you assign the class .d2 for finance, it shifts the background up 36 pixels,
showing the Finance icon (clipping within the dimensions of the list item with
overflow:hidden). The assignment of the sprite as a background to multiple classes,
and the shifting of background-position for each class, is the essence of CSS sprites.
The HTML code looks like this for the directory:
<div id="cols">
<div id="sm_col">
<a name="dir"><h6>Directory</h6></a><div class="dir">
<ul id="om_dir_col1_" class="serv c">
<li><a id="d1" class="d1" href="http://autos.aol.com/?ncid=AOLCOMMautoNAVIdira0001">
<li><a id="d2" class="d2" href="http://money.aol.com">Finance</a></li>
<li><a id="d3" class="d31" href="http://food.aol.com">Food</a></li>
<li><a id="d4" class="d3" href="http://games.aol.com">Games</a></li>
<li><a id="d5" class="d4" href="http://body.aol.com">Health & Diet</a></li>...</ul>
Yahoo.com CSS sprites. AOL uses classes and IDs to label its menu items. Yahoo!, on
the other hand, uses inline styles to embed the positioning of its sprite directly into
the list items (see Figure 7-7). AOL’s version uses slightly more code, but the code is
more flexible.
To maximize accessibility and usability, it is best to use CSS sprites for icons associated with links, or for decorative effects. AOL found that using CSS sprites for every
graphic caused accessibility and usability problems for browsers in High Contrast
Mode on Windows machines with images turned off. For more information on CSS
sprites, see http://www.websiteoptimization.com/speed/tweak/css-sprites/ and http://
List-based menus
For drop-down menus, you can substitute lists for tables and CSS for JavaScript to
save a significant amount of HTML markup and JavaScript code. Here is an example from CableOrganizer.com (see Figure 7-8).
Chapter 7: CSS Optimization
Figure 7-7. The Yahoo! home page uses CSS sprites
Figure 7-8. CableOrganizer.com CSS menus
Top 10 Tips for Optimizing CSS |
CableOrganizer reduced its HTML file by 46.4% (from 97 KB to 52 KB) by recoding
its page using CSS techniques. Here is the original JavaScript-powered XHTML
markup for its main menu on the left:
<div id="categories" class="left-nav">
<li><a href="http://cableorganizer.com/surface-raceways/" title="Wire Raceway,
Wire Duct, Conduit" id="menu1Link" onmouseover="ypSlideOutMenu.showMenu('menu1');"
onmouseout="ypSlideOutMenu.hideMenu('menu1')">Raceway, Duct &amp; Conduit </a> </li>
<li><a href="http://cableorganizer.com/cord-covers/" title="Electrical Cord
Cover" id="menu2Link" onmouseover="ypSlideOutMenu.showMenu('menu2');"
onmouseout="ypSlideOutMenu.hideMenu('menu2')">Cord Covers</a> </li>
The JavaScript file (menus.js) is 6.12 KB. The entire menus.js file was eliminated
using CSS :hover to re-create the drop-down behavior. Here is the HTML markup
for the same menu using CSS for behavior:
<div id="cat">
<li><a href="/surface-raceways/"><span>Raceway, Duct, Conduit</span></a>
<div class="sub">
<li><a href="/surface-raceways/">Raceways: HOME</a></li>
<li><a href="/cable-raceway/">Cable Raceway</a></li>
<li><a href="/cord-covers/">Cord Covers</a><div class="sub"><ul><li>...
In the CSS, CableOrganizer set the left-column categories to float left with a width of
153 pixels:
#mainwrap table tr td#lcol #cat,#cat{float:left;position:relative;overflow:
CableOrganizer positioned the submenus with a left margin of 155 px to offset the
menus to the right (note that relative measurements would scale better):
#cat ul div.sub{position:absolute;top:-3px;margin:0 0 0 155px;padding:0;clear:
Next, CableOrganizer hid the submenus by setting the visibility to none:
#cat ul li div.sub,#cat ul ul,#cat li:hover ul{display:none;}
Then it is just a matter of setting the visibility of the submenus on :hover like so:
body #cat #mainwrap li a:hover div.sub,body #cat li:hover div.sub,body #cat li:hover
ul,body #cat li:hover li:hover ul{display:block;}
This disjointed rollover is accomplished by including the .sub (menu) div within the
li. So, the li a:hover div.sub{display:block;} (and display:none) turns the submenu on and off.
Chapter 7: CSS Optimization
Conditional Comments to Avoid CSS Hacks
The tricky part of CSS is allowing for different browsers. Using Internet Explorer’s proprietary conditional comments is one solution. Other browsers ignore these comments
and only Internet Explorer 5 and later interpret them. Conditional comments also validate. For example, to remedy the lack of :hover support for list items in Internet
Explorer 6, CableOrganizer included the behavior fix only for Internet Explorer 6 with
conditional comments, like this:
<!--[if IE 6]><link rel="stylesheet" href="http://css.cableorganizer.com/
ie6home.php" type="text/css" /><style type="text/css">body {behavior:url(http://
The Internet Explorer behavior file from Peter Nederlof (the whatever:hover) uses
JScript to attach the :hover event to any element (see http://www.xs4all.nl/~peterned/
Auto-expanding menus. You’ve no doubt seen the body ID/class method used to highlight the current menu item (http://www.websiteoptimization.com/speed/tweak/current/).
You can also use a similar method to expand the menu of the current section upon
entry into the page. Wendy Peck created such a menu for a client (see Figure 7-9).
Figure 7-9. Automatically expanding menus
Top 10 Tips for Optimizing CSS |
The initial products page demonstrates all the menus deployed using the following
<style type="text/css">
.one, .two, .three, .four, .five, .six {
display: list-item;
Each menu is labeled with a number and is displayed with display:list-item;. Click
on any menu and the CSS deploys that menu (see Figure 7-10).
Figure 7-10. Menus expanded with CSS
The submenus default to hidden, and we auto-deploy the submenu of the page you
are on with a simple declaration of visibility. Let’s look at how this is done. First, we
set up our menus:
<div id="left">
<h3>PRODUCTS: Programs</h3>
<ul class="leftmenu">
<li><a href="#">Strategic Business and Design</a></li>
<ul class="sub one">
<li> <a href="#">Organizational Future by Design</a>&trade;</li>
<li> <a href="#">Strategic Planning For Action&trade;</a></li>
<li> <a href="#">Mergers and Reorganizations</a></li>
Chapter 7: CSS Optimization
<ul class="leftmenu">
<li><a href="#">Executive Leadership </a></li>
<ul class="sub three">...
Next, we set up our menus with standard CSS markup, and hide all of the submenus:
<style type="text/css">
.sub a:link {
color: #666;
text-decoration: none;
.sub a:visited {
color: #666;
text-decoration: none;
.sub a:hover {
color: #000;
text-decoration: none;
border-bottom:1px solid #ff3;
.sub {
display: none;
Note that you can further optimize these styles using grouping, like so:
<style type="text/css">
.sub a:link, .sub a:visited {
.sub a:hover {
border-bottom:1px solid #ff3;
.sub a:link, .sub a:visited, .sub a:hover {
.sub {
Then, to display the appropriate submenu, we use a second class (one, two, three,
four ...; ideally these would be class names related to the topic of the page instead in
case the order changes) to set the display property of the menu. So, when you click
on the Executive Leadership menu and go to the Executive Leadership page, we
include this brief CSS snippet in the page (to make it easier for the client to understand and change):
Top 10 Tips for Optimizing CSS |
<style type="text/css">
.three {
display: list-item;
This technique uses multiple classes to control the display of submenus. The sub
class is common to all submenus, and the classes one, two, three, and so on give a
label to each menu to turn them on selectively. You could also use the body ID/class
method to automatically display the menus, but we chose to simplify the CSS to
make it easier for the client to understand and edit.
The body ID/class method. To accomplish the same effect with the body ID/class
method, you would first label each page with a class in the body tag:
<body class="executive">
Then you’d use a compound descendant selector to display the appropriate menu,
like this:
.strategic .one, .executive .three, .sales .five... {display:list-item;}
You should not use CSS optimization in isolation. To fully optimize your CSS, you
need to transform your HTML markup. Replace table-based artificial structure and
inline redundant styles with standards-based semantic markup using CSS rules that
act on similar elements via external stylesheets. You can shrink your CSS by grouping selectors and declarations, using shorthand properties and colors, and by combining common declarations into shared classes. What is even more effective is to
transform your markup by using CSS to style lists and layout and replace JavaScript
By architecting for CSS design from the start with labeled container divs, you can use
descendant selectors to target your content, without the need for embedding classes
within elements. The new attribute selectors offer more granular control without the
need for inline classes for some techniques.
To recap, here are some techniques that you can use to optimize your CSS and
HTML pages:
• Use a reset stylesheet.
• Plan for descendant selectors by using labeled container cells.
• Position external CSS files in the head.
• Replace inline styles with type selectors.
• Group selectors with common declarations.
• Group declarations with common selectors.
Chapter 7: CSS Optimization
• Combine common styles into shared classes where appropriate (assign multiple
classes for individual elements).
• Use inheritance to eliminate duplicate declarations.
• Use shorthand properties and colors.
• Abbreviate long class and ID names.
• Use CSS sprites to save HTTP requests where appropriate.
• Replace JavaScript behavior with CSS :hover techniques.
• Use CSS buttons, not graphics.
• Use list-based menus, not graphics or JavaScript.
• Use the body ID/class method to highlight and deploy menus for the current
• Use external stylesheets instead of inline styles and style blocks.
• Use CSS2 and CSS3.x techniques.
— Use attribute selectors to avoid extra classes and IDs.
— Highlight different types of links and objects with attribute selectors (PDF,
Summary |
8 8
Ajax Optimization
First described by Jesse James Garrett,1 Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (Ajax) is
a new way to boost the interactivity of websites.
Ajax2 is a cross-platform set of technologies that allows developers to create web
pages that behave more interactively, like applications. It uses a combination of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), XHTML, JavaScript, and some textual data—usually XML
or JavaScript Object Notation (JSON)—to exchange data asynchronously. This
allows sectional page updates in response to user input, reducing server transfers
(and resultant wait times) to a minimum. Properly coded, Ajax pages replace the old
full-page paint, decide, click, and wait approach with streamlined partial page
redraws, thereby boosting response times, interactivity, and usability.
The communications pattern now known as Ajax was developed
before 2005. Web developers using DHTML, iframes, image-cookie
communication systems, Java applets, and Flash had experimented
with richer communication forms that resulted in a more desktop-like
experience. Until it had the new moniker “Ajax,” however, the partialpage update pattern wasn’t commonly utilized by web developers.
Maybe the time wasn’t right. Maybe large-scale examples were missing or maybe the terms Rich Internet Applications (RIAs), remote
scripting, and inner browsing design failed to capture the imagination
of the browsing public.
Ultimately, the goal of Ajax is to increase conversion rates through a faster, more
user-friendly web experience. Unfortunately, unoptimized Ajax can cause performance lags, the appearance of application fragility, and user confusion. It can even
Garrett, J. February 18, 2005. “Ajax: A New Approach to Web Applications.” Adaptive Path, http://www.
adaptivepath.com/publications/essays/archives/000385.php (accessed April 15, 2008).
Ajax was a mythological Greek hero who played an important role in Homer’s Iliad. He is described as the
strongest of all the Achaeans. Although not the origin of this technology’s name, it is certainly a suitable lineage for the power the technology provides.
harm your search engine rankings. The purpose of this chapter is to help you avoid
these possible pitfalls and reap the rewards of Ajax.
We recommend the following best practices for optimizing the performance, stability, and usability of Ajax applications:
• Applying Ajax appropriately to a problem
• Using a well-constructed and supported Ajax library
• Minimizing your JavaScript code footprint
• Reducing HTTP request requirements
• Choosing the correct data format for transmission
• Ensuring that network availability and performance concerns are addressed
• Employing a JavaScript cache
• Carefully polling for user input
• Providing a fallback mechanism for search engines and accessibility when JavaScript is turned off
• Saving state with the fragment identifier
Common Problems with Ajax
Before we explain the best practices that you can use to optimize your Ajax, let’s
look at some common problems that Ajax-based websites face. We have encountered the following issues when analyzing and optimizing Ajax for clients:
• Mandatory JavaScript-style architecture effects
— Accessibility problems
— Search engine optimization (SEO) problems caused by lack of indexing by
non-JavaScript-aware spiders coupled with one-page architecture issues
• Perception of browser and code errors by users
• Network effects
— Lags in response time when the user expects immediacy
— Timeouts and retries because of intermittent network issues
— Lack of appropriate network and server error handling
— Dependency and data ordering problems
• One-page architecture effects
— Breaking the Back button and bookmarking
— Difficulty with standard web analytics systems
— Indexability of deep content by search robots
Common Problems with Ajax |
Ajax: New and Improved JavaScript Communications
What Garrett described was a modified web communication pattern that was gaining great popularity. This was demonstrated by Google services such as Gmail, Google Suggest, and Google Maps. No longer would a user click and wait for a full-page
refresh. Instead, JavaScript would be used to make communication requests behind
the scenes and to asynchronously update portions of the page.
Figure 8-1 shows that individual requests are spawned behind the scenes and parts of
the page are updated. Here’s how it works. Ajax applications insert an Ajax engine
between the server and the user. The Ajax engine updates the page in response to
user requests, with and without data from the server. For example, consider the typeahead functionality provided by Google Suggest (http://www.google.com/
webhp?complete=1). As the keystrokes are entered, we see in the network trace that
requests are made on the partial queries to update the suggestion list below. You can
see in the final packet what appears to be a JavaScript function call containing the
terms and number of results that show in the drop-down list (see Figure 8-2).
This ability to quickly and dynamically filter such a large data set is powerful.
Because the data packets returned are quite small, it keeps things snappy unless you
are unlucky and encounter some network hiccups along the way.
In this chapter, we show that when misused, Ajax can be dangerous. Increased speed
at the expense of application robustness or search engine rankings is not a trade-off
that developers should accept. First let’s start with the most dangerous question of
all: is Ajax even necessary for our website?
Proper Application of Ajax
As with many web technologies, there is an initial hype phase followed by a pragmatic phase. Presently, Ajax is still in the tail end of the hype phase. Adventurous
web developers are ready to apply Ajax to just about any problem that they encounter, seeking the possibility of a rich and speedy desktop-like experience with little
consideration for the appropriateness of the pattern.
For an example of the possibility for over-Ajaxifying something, consider the idea of
adding Ajax to a simple contact form. You might imagine having some basic fields to
collect name, address, city, state, zip code, and so on. Now, in adding Ajax to everything, you might consider making an asynchronous request to the server with an
Ajax call to validate the fields as the user fills them out. For information such as
“name,” this clearly would be pointless. You might simply be checking whether the
user has put anything in the field. Standard client-side JavaScript can easily handle
such data validation.
Chapter 8: Ajax Optimization
Full page refresh
Full page refresh
Page A
Page B
User activity
User activity
User activity
Data transmitting
Data transmitting
Data transmitting
Data transmitting
Client side
Server side
Partial page refresh
Post Ajax
Partial page refresh
Page A
Page B
Data transmitting
UI update
Data change
UI update
Activity indicator
User event
Data transmitting
UI update
User event
Data transmitting
UI update
Data transmitting
Client side
User event
User activity
Server side
Figure 8-1. Asynchronous Ajax versus the traditional web communications model
But don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that Ajax is inappropriate for use with
form validation. When used with other fields it might make perfect sense. For example, consider validating the zip code field. You could provide basic client-side JavaScript code that checks whether numbers are entered. It is not rational, however, to
go to the server to ensure that numbers were entered. Rather, send the value and see
Proper Application of Ajax |
Figure 8-2. Google suggestions courtesy of Ajax requests
whether the entered zip code is actually valid. You could even populate related fields
such as city and state based on the entered zip code. Or if these fields are already
entered, you could check to see whether they match the zip code provided (see
Figure 8-3).
Without Ajax, this idea could not have been carried out unless one of the following
• A full-page server-post round-trip sequence was used; that would be annoying to
the user.
• All of the zip code data was downloaded for local client use, which certainly isn’t
Chapter 8: Ajax Optimization
Figure 8-3. Ajax is good for some things, but not everything
Another common misuse is submitting all form data via Ajax. Sometimes it is the
right thing to do—for example, if the form is only a small part of the page or the
results of the form repaint parts of the current page. If the form submission repaints
the entire page, however, it makes more sense to stick to basics and perform a normal CGI submit. Otherwise, unnecessary JavaScript must be written, the user must
deal with potential Back button problems, and the page will not behave as the user
expects it to.
Later we will discuss the Back button and other Ajax architectural effects in more
detail, in the “Understanding the Ajax Architecture Effect” section of this chapter.
Like other technologies, Ajax has its trade-offs. Even though the requests are smaller,
going to the network can be dangerous and certainly takes more time than doing
things client-side.
It is best to use Ajax only when needed, and then to do so optimally.
Proper Application of Ajax |
Rolling Your Own Ajax Solution
When you implement your first Ajax solution, you’ll discover that the improved
communication power of the Ajax pattern is caused primarily by the XMLHttpRequest
object commonly referred to in a shorthand form as XHR. The XHR object is
natively supported in browsers such as Firefox, Opera, and Safari, and was initially
supported as an ActiveX control under Internet Explorer 6.x and earlier. In IE 7.x,
XHRs are natively supported, although you can always fall back to the ActiveX version if necessary. Given the variations in implementation, it is best to abstract the
creation of an XHR. The most basic Ajax request that you would make will likely
employ a simple wrapper function such as this, ordered in preference for native and
more modern implementations first:
function createXHR( )
try { return new XMLHttpRequest( ); } catch(e) {}
try { return new ActiveXObject("Msxml2.XMLHTTP.6.0"); } catch (e) {}
try { return new ActiveXObject("Msxml2.XMLHTTP.3.0"); } catch (e) {}
try { return new ActiveXObject("Msxml2.XMLHTTP"); } catch (e) {}
try { return new ActiveXObject("Microsoft.XMLHTTP"); } catch (e) {}
return null; // no XHR support
Now you can just create an XHR with a simple call:
var xhr = createXHR( );
Once you’ve created the XHR, use the XHR object’s open( ) method to begin forming the request that you are interested in, specifying the HTTP method, URI, and a
Boolean value that indicates whether the request is to be synchronous or asynchronous. In this case, true means that you want it to be asynchronous or have a nonblocking behavior, which is the default for the object:
Synchronous Versus Asynchronous Communication
Although most requests should be made asynchronously so that the user can continue
working without the browser locking up as it is waiting for a response, do not assume
that synchronous data transfer is always an inappropriate choice. The reality is that
some requests must, in fact, be made synchronously because of dependency concerns.
Once the request has been initialized, assign a callback function to the
onreadystatechange event handler. This function will be invoked as data is returned
from the server.
xhr.onreadystatechange = function( ){responseCallback(xhr);};
Finally, send the request on its way....
xhr.send( );
Chapter 8: Ajax Optimization
Later, your function would be invoked as data is provided, moving through
readyState values of 2, 3, and finally reaching 4 when the request is finished. Next
you would look at the HTTP status code to see whether everything arrived OK and
then start to consume your data. We will show this in the callback function shortly.
An Illustrative Example
As shown in the following function, first pull out the XML document object model
(DOM) tree from the responseXML property of the passed XHR object. Then use
DOM methods to pull out the portion of the packet in which you are interested.
Next decide how you want to insert the response into the page. In this case, for brevity, just directly insert it with the innerHTML property. Even so, the DOM code is a bit
nasty for a “Hello World” example.
function responseCallback(xhr)
if (xhr.readyState == 4 && xhr.status == 200)
var xmlResponse = xhr.responseXML;
var responseString = xmlResponse.getElementsByTagName("message")[0].firstChild.
var output = document.getElementById("output");
output.innerHTML = responseString;
Here is the complete example:
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1" />
<title>Ajax Hello World</title>
<script type="text/javascript">
function createXHR( )
try { return new XMLHttpRequest( ); } catch(e) {}
try { return new ActiveXObject("Msxml2.XMLHTTP.6.0"); } catch (e) {}
try { return new ActiveXObject("Msxml2.XMLHTTP.3.0"); } catch (e) {}
try { return new ActiveXObject("Msxml2.XMLHTTP"); } catch (e) {}
try { return new ActiveXObject("Microsoft.XMLHTTP"); } catch (e) {}
return null;
function sendRequest( )
var xhr = createXHR( );
if (xhr)
Rolling Your Own Ajax Solution |
xhr.onreadystatechange = function( ){responseCallback(xhr);};
xhr.send( );
function responseCallback(xhr)
if (xhr.readyState == 4 && xhr.status == 200)
var parsedResponse = xhr.responseXML;
var responseString = parsedResponse.getElementsByTagName("message")[0].
var output = document.getElementById("output");
output.innerHTML = responseString;
window.onload = function ( )
document.getElementById("button1").onclick = sendRequest;
<form action="#">
<input type="button" value="Say it!" id="button1" />
<br /><br />
<div id="output">&nbsp;</div>
The server-side code that is called is quite simple. It generates a response packet containing a message that says “Hello World” to the user with a time and IP address of
access information:
header("Cache-Control: no-cache");
header("Pragma: no-cache");
header("Content-Type: text/xml");
$str = "Hello World to user from " . $_SERVER['REMOTE_ADDR'] . " at ". date("h:i:s A");
print "<?xml version='1.0' encoding='UTF-8'?>";
print "<message>$str</message>";
Chapter 8: Ajax Optimization
Note the use of the cache control headers. We will discuss this later when we
attempt to make Ajax applications and caches play nicely together.
You can see the example of the data that is returned in Figure 8-4.
If you run this example locally, you may run into problems. Security
restrictions will force you to run it off a server and not on your desktop.
Figure 8-4. “Hello World,” Ajax version
Prelude to Ajax optimizations
The goal is not to teach Ajax here. Rather, the “Hello World” example illustrates a
number of important optimization ideas.
First, you might ask, why did we write our own wrapper facility? Aren’t there Ajax
libraries out there that we can use? The answer is a resounding “yes.” Second, it
looks as though to do anything complicated you are going to write a lot of DOM
code. That is certainly true and you are going to want to employ techniques to make
DOM coding easier and the code footprint smaller. You might even want to avoid
DOM coding entirely.
Third, using XML as a data format for the response packet seemed kind of pointless
here. All we did was to pull out some text to shove it onto the screen. There must be
an easier way to do that.
Rolling Your Own Ajax Solution |
Finally, even in this simple example we are being quite naive with regard to all the
things that might go wrong. Is it possible that the XHR object doesn’t get created? Is
it possible that the request never returns? Can requests that return properly have
errors within them? Could the data be corrupted or even compromised upon delivery? The answer to all these questions is “yes.”
Bad things can and do happen to good Ajax applications. You very likely won’t even
realize that something has happened unless you have some instrumentation code in
place. Ajax optimization shouldn’t focus only on making things fast. The user won’t
care how fast things run if your code unexpectedly breaks.
HTTP Analysis Tools
To understand Ajax properly and debug any problems that you may encounter, you
have to be very network-aware. It is certainly a good idea to be armed with an HTTP
analysis tool such as the one used in Figure 8-4. HTTP analysis tools come in two types.
First, you can use an HTTP proxy to intercept, monitor, or even change requests from
your browser. Windows users commonly use Fiddler (http://www.fiddlertool.com).
Charles (http://www.charlesproxy.com) is one of many popular proxies available for
other platforms.
Second, you might consider a browser toolbar. Firebug (http://www.getfirebug.com) is
a very popular toolbar with Firefox users. Internet Explorer users often use toolbars
such as Nikhil’s Web Development Helper (http://projects.nikhilk.net/Projects/
WebDevHelper.aspx) or any one of the numerous commercial HTTP monitoring programs available today, such as HttpWatch (http://www.httpwatch.com).
Relying on Ajax Libraries
An optimal Ajax application should not only be fast for users to use, but also be fast
for developers to build. There are a number of open source JavaScript libraries that
you might turn to, such as Prototype (http://www.prototypejs.org), jQuery (http://
www.jquery.com), and the Yahoo! User Interface Library (YUI; http://developer.
yahoo.com/yui/). They make Ajax programming easier and faster. As an example,
take a look at a library rewrite of our “Hello World” example. It is much smaller.
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8" />
<title>Prototype Hello Ajax World</title>
<script type="text/javascript" src=" prototype.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript">
function sendRequest( )
Chapter 8: Ajax Optimization
new Ajax.Request("sayhello.php",{method:"get",onSuccess: responseCallback});
function responseCallback(response)
var responseString = response.responseXML.getElementsByTagName('message')[0].
Event.observe( window, "load", function( ) { Event.observe("button1", "click",
sendRequest);} );
<form action="#">
<input type="button" value="Say it!" id="button1" />
<br /><br />
<div id="output">&nbsp;</div>
Here we show the jQuery version, which is even terser:
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8" />
<title>JQuery Hello Ajax World</title>
<script type="text/javascript" src="jquery.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript">
function responseCallback(responseXML)
var msg = responseXML.getElementsByTagName('message')[0].firstChild.nodeValue;
$(document).ready(function( ){
$('#button1').click(function( ){$.get("sayhello.php", responseCallback);});
<form action="#">
Relying on Ajax Libraries |
type="button" value="Say it!" id="button1"
<br /><br />
<div id="output">&nbsp;</div>
If we desired, we could make the jQuery JavaScript code quite small by chaining
even further, as shown here:
$(document).ready(function( ){$('#button1').click(function( ){$.get("sayhello.php",
This shows how quickly you can start to optimize your code size with jQuery. Of
course, you have to also factor in the library footprint.
Finally, the YUI version is shown next. It is probably the most straightforward of the
bunch coding-wise, but the inclusion of multiple script files requires more HTTP
requests. To be fair, however, Yahoo! provides a special minified, gzipped, and
cached version of its library online in case you want to take advantage of all of its
optimization work. Yahoo! will also serve the files from its server closest to the user
for optimal response time. The minified and gzipped version of Yahoo!’s Ajax library
is 73.2% smaller than the unoptimized version.3
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8" />
<title>YUI Hello Ajax World</title>
<script src="http://yui.yahooapis.com/2.3.0/build/yahoo/yahoo-min.js" type="text/
<script src="http://yui.yahooapis.com/2.3.0/build/event/event-min.js" type="text/
<script src="http://yui.yahooapis.com/2.3.0/build/connection/connection-min.js"
<script type="text/javascript">
function sendRequest( )
YAHOO.util.Connect.asyncRequest('GET', "sayhello.php", { success:responseCallback
}, null);
function responseCallback(response)
Yahoo!’s YUI Ajax library was 143.4 KB unoptimized versus 38.46 KB after minimization, or about 73.2%
smaller overall. For the individual files, yahoo.js was 28.5 KB originally versus 5.86 KB minified, event.js was
79 KB unoptimized versus 17 KB minified, and connection.js was 35.9 KB unoptimized versus 13.6 KB optimized. These numbers were for version 2.3.0 of YUI.
Chapter 8: Ajax Optimization
var msg = response.responseXML.getElementsByTagName("message")[0].firstChild.
document.getElementById("responseOutput").innerHTML = msg;
YAHOO.util.Event.addListener('button1','click', sendRequest );
<form action="#">
<input type="button" value="Say it!" id="button1"
<br /><br />
<div id="output">&nbsp;</div>
Evaluating an Ajax Library
You would expect that employing a library would abstract basic functionality. But
what about more advanced functionality? Table 8-1 shows you what to look for
when evaluating an Ajax library.
Table 8-1. Characteristics of Ajax libraries
Library feature
Ajax communications
Good libraries should address network problems such as timeouts, retries, and error issues. They
should also provide helpful functions to sequence requests and address caching concerns.
Advanced libraries may add support for history management, offline storage, and persistence.
DOM utilities
Most popular Ajax-oriented JavaScript libraries provide methods to make working with DOM
elements easier. For example, the $( ) function is commonly implemented by such systems as a
greatly enhanced form of document.getElementById( ).
Event management
A significant headache for Ajax developers is addressing cross-browser event concerns. Because
of poor management of events and more time spent on a single page, Ajax applications that do
not manage events properly may leak memory. Older versions of Internet Explorer are particularly prone to this.
Utility functions
Ajax libraries should provide functions to address the serialization of user-entered form data.
Other data format encoding and decoding functions, such as dealing with JSON data packets, are
also typically included.
UI widgets
Higher-level libraries that go beyond core communications may provide widgets that encapsulate both higher-level UI and tie in with lower-level Ajax and DOM facilities. User interface elements such as auto-suggest menus and data grids that tie to remote resources are some of the
more sought-after “Ajaxified” interface widgets.
Visual effects
Users expect not only improved communications, but also richer interfaces in Ajax applications.
Many libraries provide basic animation and visual effects. Be careful, however. Don’t be seduced
by transitions and visual effects that may be more DHTML glitz than Ajax plumbing.
Relying on Ajax Libraries |
Using an existing library is certainly an optimal practice, but proceed with caution.
Ajax is still in a nascent state and so are some of the libraries. Many of the popular
libraries provide only the most basic form of network timeouts and error checking.
Only a few libraries include performance enhancements such as response caches or
request bundling. Most of the libraries optimize their JavaScript file size. This is fortunate because they can get quite large.
JavaScript Optimization
Given the intrinsic (and often prolific) use of JavaScript in Ajax, you should concentrate on improving your use of JavaScript to reduce your download footprint.
Many of the popular library authors understand the JavaScript bloat problem. They
provide their code in a standard, fully commented and maintainable version as well
as in a “minified” version. You should be familiar with “minification” and how it
works. Also be aware of the potential problems that you may encounter if you are to
fully optimize your Ajax application. It is likely that there will be code outside your
library that will need to be compressed as well.
First, we should note that many of the techniques for JavaScript optimization are similar to those used for markup and CSS, as discussed in Chapters 6 and 7. We’ll breeze
through those, but even as we do, keep in mind that you must apply all JavaScript optimizations more carefully. If you apply them improperly, they may break the page!
Remove JavaScript Comments
You can safely remove all JavaScript comments indicated by // or /* */. They offer
no value to the typical end-user and just increase file size. You do need to be aware
that script-masking comments such as this:
<script type="text/javascript">
alert("code here");
might be useful to preserve in the case of non-JavaScript-aware bots or old browsers.
It is probably best to include scripts outside the document, however, as it is easier to
make them XHTML-compliant.
Conditional comments
You also need to be aware of the conditional commenting system of Internet Explorer
often used with script includes or CSS. For example, a conditional comment-aware
browser will read the following statement and will then include the patch.js file if it is
an older Explorer version but not a newer version:
<!--[if lt IE 7]><script src="patch.js" type="text/javascript"></script><![endif]-->
Chapter 8: Ajax Optimization
Browsers that do not understand such a comment extension will, of course, safely
ignore the statement. During your XHTML optimization you should not remove
such conditional comments, because you may otherwise inadvertently break your
JavaScript. Fortunately, advanced page optimization tools are aware of this detail,
although many simpler ones are not.
Reduce Whitespace Carefully
JavaScript is fairly whitespace-agnostic and you can easily reduce the whitespace
between operators. For example, instead of writing this:
var str = "JavaScript is "
" times more fun than HTML ";
you can write this:
var str="JavaScript is "+x+" times more fun than HTML";
Be cautious when condensing, however. JavaScript treats line breaks as implicit semicolons. If you do not terminate lines with semicolons, you may find that whitespace
reduction can cause problems. For example, the following legal JavaScript uses
implied semicolons:
A simple whitespace remover tool might produce this:
This code would obviously throw an error. If you add in the needed semicolons, the
code will work:
Do note that if you add characters to make the code legal, you may gain little in terms of
byte savings, although you will make your script look “visually” more compressed.
Use JavaScript Shorthand
You can employ a number of shorthand JavaScript statements to tighten up your
code. You can use numerous abbreviated assignments to shave a few bytes.
For example, this:
can become this:
JavaScript Optimization |
You may also find that you can reduce simple if statements using a ternary operator, so this:
var big;
if (x > 10) {
big = true;
else {
big = false;
can become this:
var big = (x > 10) ? true : false;
If you rely on some of the weak typing characteristics of JavaScript, this can also
achieve more concise code. For example, you could reduce the preceding code fragment to this:
var big
= (x > 10);
Also, instead of this:
if (likeJavaScript == true)
{ /* something */ }
you could write this:
if (likeJavaScript)
{ /* something */ }
Use String Constant Macros
If you find yourself repeating portions of strings or whole strings over and over again,
you will find that a simple string macro using a global variable remapping can shave
off a number of bytes. For example, if you have a number of alert( ) invocations in
your program, like this:
alert("An error has occurred");
you could set a global variable, like this:
msg="An error has occurred";
to serve as a string constant and then replace the repeated strings in the various
alert( ) calls as follows:
You can even use this macro expansion idea for partial strings. For example, use the
earlier string constant that we set and modify it:
alert(msg+": email address is required");
There is one caution with this technique. You need to make sure that you use the
string often enough so that the macro makes sense and that the macro identifier is
short enough to provide an overall savings.
Chapter 8: Ajax Optimization
Avoid Optional Constructs and Kill Dead Code Fast
In many situations, you can remove code and syntax constructs without harming the
code. For example, given blocks for if statements and various loops that contain a
single statement, you can remove the braces, so this:
if (likeJavaScript)
alert("It's great!");
becomes this:
if (likeJavaScript)
alert("It's great");
You also may see that some statements, such as var, are not always needed. In JavaScript, variables spring into existence in the global space upon first use, so if you are
using globals—which you shouldn’t be, because they are a bad practice that
increases the chances for variable namespace collisions from other included scripts—
you can omit the var statement. When you do, this:
var global;
global = "domination";
would become simply this:
global = "domination";
As another byte-shaving example, you also can remove a return statement with no
argument just before the end of a function. So, this:
function doWork( )
/* complex code */
becomes this:
function doWork( )
/* complex code */
You can employ other byte-shaving tricks to tune code, but generally you should let
a tool such as w3compiler (http://www.w3compiler.com) do that for you.
Shorten User-Defined Variables and Function Names
For good readability, any script should use variables such as numRequests instead of n.
For download speed, however, the lengthy variable names are a liability. Here again,
writing your source code in a readable fashion and then using a tool to prepare it for
delivery is valuable. Remapping all user-defined variable and function names to short
one- and two-letter identifiers can produce significant savings.
JavaScript Optimization |
Some optimization programs allow you to control the remapping process with an
abbreviation list. Be careful, though, if you expect some functions to be called by
other scripts such as API calls. You may not want to remap these names because this
can cause syntax errors.
Remap Built-in Objects
The bulkiness of JavaScript code, beyond long user variable names, comes from the
use of built-in objects such as Window, Document, Navigator, and so on. For example,
given code such as this:
you could rewrite it as this:
Commonly, we see people perform remaps of frequently used methods such as
document.getElementById( ) like this:
function $(x){return document.getElementById(x)}
Given the chance for name collision, if you decide to employ such a technique, we
would suggest a slight variation, such as this:
function $id(x){return document.getElementById(x)};
function $name(x){return document.getElementsByName(x)}
function $tag(x){return document.getElementsByTagName(x)}
and so on.
Object and method remapping is quite valuable when the remapped items are used
repeatedly, which they generally are. Note, however, that if the window or navigator
object were used only once, these substitutions would actually make the code bigger.
Be careful if you are optimizing by hand. Fortunately, many JavaScript code optimizers will automatically take this into account.
This warning brings up a related issue regarding the performance of scripts with
remapped objects: in addition to the benefit of size reduction, such remappings may
actually improve script execution times because the objects are copied higher up
JavaScript’s resolution chain. Although this technique does improve both download
and execution performance, it does so at the expense of local browser memory
Chapter 8: Ajax Optimization
Name Collision Alert
One major problem with shorthand JavaScript coding practices is variable namespace
pollution. When scripts are included in a web page they all use the same variable
namespace. So, if more than one library has a function called init( ), one will be overwritten. To avoid this, you can employ prefixing in your definitions, like so:
function MyLibNamePrefix_init( ) { }
Or better yet, you might create an object wrapper such as this:
var MyLibName = {
init : function ( );
You’ll note, though, that both of these techniques fly in the face of the name reduction
tip discussed earlier, because now you will have to reference either MyLibNamePrefix_
init( ) or MyLibName.init( ) to invoke your hopefully protected code. You should be
especially concerned with minimalist naming of functions such as $( ) because many
libraries and code examples on the Web co-opt this popular identifier.
Inline Localized Functions
example, we associated a callback function with the
onreadystatechange. Because it is so small, we may as well inline it as an anonymous
function, like so:
if (xhr)
xhr.onreadystatechange = function( ){if (xhr.readyState == 4
var parsedResponse = xhr.responseXML;
&& xhr.status ==
var responseString = parsedResponse.getElementsByTagName("message")[0].
var output = document.getElementById("output");
output.innerHTML = responseString;
xhr.send( );
JavaScript Optimization |
Assume Default Values
Very often in coding, we are explicit in what we write so that later on we don’t have
to remember as much. As an example, in method calls some parameters can often be
omitted because defaults will be provided. Consider the use in Ajax of the open( )
method. You must specify the method and URI, but you do not have to pass in the
final Boolean value of true to achieve the default asynchronous nature of an Ajax
request. So, this:
becomes this:
And thus, we kiss five more bytes goodbye.
Every Byte Counts
Taken individually, none of the byte-shaving techniques described so far is going to
provide spectacular savings. When you put them together, however, you can routinely see a 20% to 40% reduction in code size. The size of this reduction depends on
how readable you made the code when adding comments, whitespace, and the
descriptive identifier names. As an example, consider our original “Hello World” listing, which weighs in at 1,499 bytes. Certainly, it is not in need of major optimization.
It lacks comments and other things that we might see in a more production-oriented
situation, but we can still see some reduction. If we crunch down the script portion
of the page, as shown next, we reduce the overall file size to 1,043 bytes, which is
more than a 30% savings:
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1" />
<title>Ajax Hello World</title>
<script type="text/javascript">
d=document;M="Msxml2.XMLHTTP";function c( ){try{return new XMLHttpRequest(
)}catch(e){}try{A=ActiveXObject;return new A(M+".6.0")}catch(e){}try {return new
A(M+".3.0")}catch(e){}try {return new A(M)}catch(e){}try {return new A("Microsoft.
XMLHTTP")}catch(e){}}function s( ){var x=c( );if(x){x.open("GET","sayhello.php");
x.onreadystatechange=function( ){if(x.readyState==4&&x.status==200)
getElementsByTagName("message")[0].firstChild.nodeValue};x.send( );}}
window.onload=function( ){d.getElementById("button1").onclick=s}
<form action="#">
<input type="button" value="Say it!" id="button1" />
Chapter 8: Ajax Optimization
<br /><br />
<div id="output">&nbsp;</div>
Applying many of the ideas in Chapter 6 for markup optimization, we can reduce
this further to 1,023 bytes, which makes it nearly 32% smaller than the original:
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/
xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"><html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"><head>
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1" /><title>Ajax
Hello World</title><script type="text/javascript">d=document;M="Msxml2.
XMLHTTP";function c( ){try{return new XMLHttpRequest(
)}catch(e){}try{A=ActiveXObject;return new A(M+".6.0")}catch(e){}try {return new
A(M+".3.0")}catch(e){}try {return new A(M)}catch(e){}try {return new A("Microsoft.
XMLHTTP")}catch(e){}}function s( ){var x=c( );if(x){x.open("GET","sayhello.php");x.
onreadystatechange=function( ){if(x.readyState==4&&x.status==200)d.
firstChild.nodeValue};x.send( );}}window.onload=function( ){d.
getElementById("button1").onclick=s}</script></head><body><form action="#"><input
type="button" value="Say it!" id="button1" /></form><br /><br /><div id="output">
Finally, if we apply an optimization to the ID values that represent the touch points
between the markup and script, renaming the button from button1 to b and the output div ID to simply o, we can chop a few more bytes off and reach an even smaller
size of 1,001 bytes (making it more than 33% smaller):
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/
xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"><html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"><head>
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1" /><title>Ajax
Hello World</title><script type="text/javascript">d=document;M="Msxml2.
XMLHTTP";function c( ){try{return new XMLHttpRequest(
)}catch(e){}try{A=ActiveXObject;return new A(M+".6.0")}catch(e){}try {return new
A(M+".3.0")}catch(e){}try {return new A(M)}catch(e){}try {return new A("Microsoft.
XMLHTTP")}catch(e){}}function s( ){var x=c( );if(x){x.open("GET","sayhello.php");x.
onreadystatechange=function( ){if(x.readyState==4&&x.status==200)d.
firstChild.nodeValue};x.send( );}}window.onload=function( ){d.getElementById("b").
onclick=s}</script></head><body><form action="#"><input type="button" value="Say it!"
id="b" /></form><br /><br /><div id="o">&nbsp;</div></body></html>
We can go even further if we can jettison some of the bulky DOM code that clutters
up our callback function.
Bundle Your Scripts
JavaScript developers commonly break out their JavaScript into separate .js files and
then include them in the document, like so:
JavaScript Optimization |
Employ Compression Tools Safety
Many tools exist for optimizing JavaScript. Unfortunately, many of them mangle the
code during this process.
The dynamic nature of JavaScript makes it difficult to safely rename and remap userand browser-defined variables, functions, and objects. For example, you know that
you want to go from veryLongDescriptiveName to v. But what happens when you have
a statement such as alert(eval("very"+"longDescriptiveName"))? Was the compressor smart enough to go inside the string and deal with it, and even so, should it? The
dynamic nature of JavaScript makes static analysis tricky. You have to either be very
conservative in choosing which variables to remap (i.e., locals), or run the risk of
changing the meaning of the code. The danger of breaking code during minification is
especially ominous when there are interdependencies between scripts in different windows and frames. Minification can be risky if you use tricky code with eval( ) and
with( ) or if you aggressively overwrite and extend built-in JavaScript constructs.
Many of the tools based on the Rhino JavaScript engine do a good job of compressing
safely, such as the YUI Compressor (http://www.julienlecomte.net/yuicompressor/) and
Dojo ShrinkSafe (http://www.dojotoolkit.com/docs/shrinksafe). Some open source tools
such as Dean Edwards’ Packer (http://dean.edwards.name/packer/) as well as commercial tools such as w3compiler (http://w3compiler.com) have more aggressive optimization features. The most powerful tools will leverage the interdependencies between
web technologies and allow for very granular tuning, but you need to understand how
to use them or you may break your code.
Given that all the code tends to be included in all pages and that all included JavaScript shares the same variable namespace, there is little reason for this separation
other than perhaps organizational convenience. Instead of using separate files, consider making one bundled and minified .js file that contains all of the files. This may
not seem like a significant change, but it can have a great effect. As we will discuss
shortly, browsers employ a two-connection limit to a website.4 So, in the preceding
example, only global.js and navigation.js will be fetched at once. The popup.js file
won’t be fetched until one of these files loads. Bundling them into one file eliminates
this problem.
<script src="text/javascript" src="bigbundle.js"></script>
We have done extensive testing on this default. There are ways to modify it in the browser, but by default,
two is the limit of simultaneous connections, at least for JavaScript files. See http://www.w3.org/Protocols/
rfc2616/rfc2616-sec8.html for more details.
Chapter 8: Ajax Optimization
Lazy-Load Your Code
Many JavaScript libraries employ a form of “lazy-loading” or on-demand fetching by
which code is loaded only when necessary. For example, you might employ this:
window.onload = function ( ) {
lazyCodeLoad(["http://example.com/somelib.js","http://example.com/otherlib.js"]) }
where the function defined reads each URI in the array and just creates a script tag
using the DOM. It then sets its source to the file in question and inserts it into the page
to retrieve it.
In addition, you might use a similar pattern to preload objects that are likely to be
used later, including images and CSS files. If your browser caches them properly,
they will be quickly available when needed later. Of course, you do pay the price of
potentially downloading objects that the user may never actually need.
Lazy-loading and preloading techniques often introduce more HTTP
requests. You may want to introduce steps to minimize this effect
because extra requests increase overall download time. One approach is
to employ a server-side bundling program which, when passed file names
as arguments such as .js and .css files, bundles them up to be downloaded all at once to be later unpackaged by your receiving script.
Pace Yourself
The lazy-load idea should have given you the notion that maybe you could use Ajax to
load information just before it is needed. For example, imagine if you had a large
amount of content and you wanted to fetch it 50 rows at a time. You could load in, say,
100 rows ahead of time and then, as the user pages forward, prefetch more data to stay
ahead of the user. This prefetching would give the user the sense of near-instantaneous
loading. Understand, of course, that if the user jumps ahead a few thousand records, he
will still pay a loading penalty because such a request will not have been expected.
Monitor User Rendering Time
Although we’re all for reducing script size, putting scripts in the right place, and
squeezing bytes, the only thing the user cares about is how long pages take to load
and how well they run.
Several observers have found that one of the main performance problems facing Ajax
developers (at least on the initial load of the application) is too many individual requests
for JavaScript files and other dependencies. They cite as much as 50% to 60% of the
start-time delay being related to having too many different requests for dependencies.5
Neuberg, B. August 15, 2006. “Tutorial: How to Profile and Optimize Ajax Applications.” Coding in Paradise,
http://codinginparadise.org/weblog/2006/08/tutorial-how-to-profile-and-optimize.html (accessed February 11,
JavaScript Optimization |
Yet, even if you bundle requests to reduce this potential problem, the time the user
waits for a page to render may not always be an exact function of the bytes delivered
and the requests made. Anything from a brief network hiccup to the fact that the
user’s local system might be overloaded could slow down the display time of the
page. Users won’t know where to direct their frustration, so you need to know what
they are experiencing. This is particularly true if you are promising them some
speedy Ajax-powered experience. You can use JavaScript to see how long it takes a
page to load. For example, at the top of an HTML document, start a script timer:
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8" />
<title>And they're off...</title>
<script type="text/javascript">
var gPageStartTime = (new Date( )).getTime( );
Then bind a script to stop the timer upon full-page load to calculate how long it
window.onload = function ( )
var pageEndTime = (new Date( )).getTime( );
var pageLoadTime = (pageEndTime - gPageStartTime)/1000;
alert("Page Load Time: " + pageLoadTime);
Of course, instead of alerting the page load time as we did here, we could transmit it
to our server with an Ajax request:
sendAjaxRequest("http://example.com/recordtime.php", "time="+pageLoadTime);
Practice Error Awareness
Similar to the preceding point, it would be a good idea to know when users are frustrated or experiencing trouble outside of slow downloads, such as a JavaScript error
or a feature problem. In fact, you might want to know that the user even has her
JavaScript turned on. This is actually pretty easy to do using the noscript tag. Consider the markup shown here:
<span class="error">Error: This site requires JavaScript.</span>
<img src="http://example.com/errormonitor.php?scriptoff=true" />
The image tag references a server-side script that will record that the user has her
JavaScript off. It will be fetched only when the browser has the script off.
Chapter 8: Ajax Optimization
If her JavaScript is on but you still encounter an error, you might imagine associating an error handler to window.onerror that then makes a call to the server indicating
what has happened. Here is the outline of such code:
window.onerror = reportJSError;
function reportJSError(errorMessage,url,lineNumber)
/* form payload string with error data */
payload = "url="+url;
payload += "message=" + errorMessage;
payload += "&line=" + lineNumber;
/* submit error message */
var img = new Image( );
img.src = "http://example.com/errormonitor.php"+"?error=scriptruntime&"+payload;
alert("JavaScript Error - Administrators have been notified.");
/* return true to suppress normal JS errors */
return true;
Please note that we opted not to use an XHR in our code example, but instead
invoked an image to issue our request. This is because when errors occur it might
just be because something that isn’t XHR-aware is running our script!
Clean Up After Yourself
The beauty of using a high-level language such as JavaScript is that you don’t have to
worry about allocating memory for objects. Or do you? JavaScript uses a garbage collection system to recover memory. It won’t do so, however, unless a value is no longer
used. In the past, most JavaScript developers were sloppy with memory and didn’t take
the time to set variables to null or use the delete operator on unused object properties.
Their scripts would often leak memory, but they usually didn’t know it. In a traditional
JavaScript application, you would unload the page relatively quickly and get a new page
that would cause the memory to be recovered. In the case of Ajax-style applications,
users will generally stay on pages much longer and memory leaks may occur.
Memory leaks and garbage collection in Internet Explorer
Internet Explorer up to version 6 has problems when garbage-collecting circular references. For example, if one object points to another object and that object points
back to the first object, neither of those objects will be collected. We see this most
often with closures and event handling when the event handler refers back to the
DOM object that caused the event. Circular references with event handlers and
excessive use of global timers can cause memory leaks and instability in some browsers, so always clean up after yourself. If you want to monitor Internet Explorer for
memory leaks, for which some older versions are notorious, you might find the Drip
tool useful (http://outofhanwell.com/ieleak).
JavaScript Optimization |
Go Native
Many Ajax libraries introduce various features to make DOM programming easier,
such as new methods like getElementsByClassName( ). Given that these methods are
indeed quite useful, some browsers such as Firefox 3 are making native versions of
them. If you employ a library or write your own version of such helpers, make sure
you check for a native version of the library first before using your own code, which
may be slower.
function getElementsByClassName(class)
if (document.getElementsByClassName( )
return document.getElementsByClassName(class);
/* otherwise do my slower version */
This move to native DOM is not limited to the getElementsByClassName( ) inclusion
in Mozilla. The W3C also is developing a selector specification so that methods such
as selectElement( ) may in the future become the preferred way to access the DOM
rather than $css( ) or $$( ) or getElementsBySelector( ).
Clock Your Runtime
Getting the large amount of JavaScript code down to the end-user in a timely manner is certainly a major objective, but it doesn’t address what happens next. When
the code executes, it could be slow for a number of reasons. The first step is to profile the JavaScript code to see where the problems might lie. Firebug contains a feature which profiles JavaScript so that you can see where any bottlenecks might arise
(see Figure 8-5).
With the profiler in hand you can then focus on the functions that are called frequently or that are slow to execute. You can certainly improve efficiency if you get
rid of unnecessary steps or recode algorithms. Be careful, however, when trying to
treat JavaScript like some low-level language where you tune it for cycles. First, you’ll
find that the language and its implementation in different browsers will surprise you.
The excessive use of a native DOM method call can be quite slow in one browser but
not in another. Second, if you turn to tricks that you learned from a lower-level language such as C, they might actually hurt performance. For example, bitwise operations don’t always make calculations any faster in JavaScript. It depends on how they
are used. They can actually make things worse. Remember that this is a high-level
interpreted language.
Next, understand that when you run the profiler, it is your machine running the code,
not the user’s machine. The user’s experience may be very different. Even if something
downloads fast and appears to run decently on your system, it is still possible that it is
painful to run on an end-user’s system. If you find out that this is the case, you may
want to create a diagnostic script to run some calculations to get a sense of how fast,
Chapter 8: Ajax Optimization
Figure 8-5. Firebug’s JavaScript profiler in action
medium, and slow computers execute and to get a sense of how many of your users
are experiencing slow execution.
Minimizing HTTP Requests
One aspect about web browsers that web developers often misinterpret is the twoconnection limit. According to the HTTP specification, browsers are limited to two
connections to a fully qualified domain. Conventional wisdom on the Web suggests
that some browsers exceed this limit (for images, at least), but this is actually not
true unless the end-user has modified them. As one article notes:
Minimizing HTTP Requests |
Clients that use persistent connections SHOULD limit the number of simultaneous
connections that they maintain to a given server. A single-user client SHOULD NOT
maintain more than 2 connections with any server or proxy. A proxy SHOULD use up
to 2*N connections to another server or proxy, where N is the number of simultaneously active users. These guidelines are intended to improve HTTP response times
and avoid congestion.6
The reality of the two-connection limit is the primary reason why people host images
or other dependent objects such as JavaScript and CSS files on other domains. For
example, the site Example.com serving an HTML page containing the following
image references:
would find that using other fully qualified domain names such as those shown here
will increase the fetching browser’s connection efficiency:
src="http://images.example.com/image1.gif" />
src="http://images.example.com/image2.gif" />
src="http://images2.example.com/image3.gif" />
src="http://images2.example.com/image4.gif" />
Your Ajax programs can make only two connections at a time, so if you make a third
or fourth request, it will have to wait until one of the other requests finishes. Now,
this can be quite problematic if your requests stall for some reason. You will find that
your connection will then choke.
Internet Explorer 8 introduces the possibility to go well beyond the
two persistent connections specified by the HTTP specification.
Although this may improve speed and remove some bottlenecks in
parallel requests, the impact on servers is yet to be fully understood.
Given the likely changes in simultaneous request restrictions, developers should proceed with caution.
Given the previous discussion of utilizing additional domains to increase image
request parallelization, you might be tempted to use the same trick here, but it will
not work. You see, Ajax falls under the security policy known as the Same-Origin
Policy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same_origin_policy), which limits you to making
requests from the same domain name that served the page.
There is currently no way around the two-requests-at-a-time limit to a single fully
qualified domain name when making a standard XHR request. Of course, if you use
a script tag communication mechanism, you won’t have this problem, but as you
Fielding, R. et al. June 1999. “Hypertext Transfer Protocol—HTTP/1.1.” RFC 2616, http://www.w3.org/
Protocols/rfc2616/rfc2616-sec8.html (accessed February 11, 2008).
Chapter 8: Ajax Optimization
are no longer using an XHR, you won’t have as much control over the request and
response. In addition, you will be introducing potential security concerns.
Recently, the idea of XHRs being extended to allow for cross-domain requests was
introduced in Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 8. If this concept is adopted, the use of
the multiple-domain technique to exceed the two-connection limit may again
become viable. At the time of this writing, however, that time is quite a ways off.
Given this simultaneous request restriction, we have even more reason to keep our
Ajax requests to a minimum and to make sure we time out any stalled requests, lest
the two-request limit become a bottleneck.
Choosing Data Formats Wisely
Ajax requests may be small, but there certainly are differences size-wise between the
various data formats, especially if you consider the included content versus the structural markup. For example, consider that when we request a simple list of commaseparated values, any returned data will be quite concise:
value1,value2,value3,...value N
If you encoded the same data in XML, it would be much bulkier:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?>
<item>Value 1</item>
<item>Value 2</tem>
<item>Value N</item>
Fortunately, in the case of an Ajax-style application, the data sent and received is
often very small and is textual, so it can be HTTP-compressed transparently for
The x in Ajax is supposed to stand for XML, but we often find that developers are
not terribly excited about using XML. First, there is the aforementioned bulkiness.
Second, there is the excessive DOM code that is necessary to deal with parsing out
the response. Finally, we may find that because browsers generally are not acting as
validating XML parsers but instead focus solely on well-formedness, the semantic
value of XML is somewhat wasted.
As an alternative to XML, many Ajax developers prefer to use JSON, available at
http://www.json.org. JSON is a lightweight data-interchange format that is based on a
subset of the JavaScript language. Because it is a subset of JavaScript, we can very
easily convert a JSON response into something that the receiving script can consume
For example, we may return the following, which is a valid JSON array:
Choosing Data Formats Wisely |
Or we might return a JSON object literal such as this:
{"today": "Wednesday", "planet" : "Earth" , "mood" : "happy" }
If this were found in the responseText property of an XHR object, we might quickly
make it available for use via this:
var result = eval(xhr.responseText);
And now you would be able to reference the individual values in the result object,
like so:
var str = "Today is " + result.today + " and on planet "+ result.planet + " people
are generally " + result.mood;
There are some downsides to using JSON. Various security concerns have emerged,
particularly with immediate eval( ) of a JSON payload from an untrusted source.
Many people have declared JSON to be the x in Ajax, given its ease of consumption
and the fact that the format is so simple that it is pretty much language-independent.
Unless there is some overriding reason to use XML in your Ajax application, don’t
do it. Use JSON instead.
Consider Ajah
Asynchronous JavaScript and HTML (Ajah) is a pattern whereby you pass back fully
rendered HTML responses rather than XML or JSON formats.
For example, with our “Hello World” example, our response with an XML packet
would be like this:
<?xml version='1.0' encoding='UTF-8'?><message id='message1'>Hello World to user from at 10:54:00 AM</message>
In an Ajah style, it might look like this:
<h3>Hello World to user from at 10:54:00 AM</h3>
Or it might just look like an unmarked-up string, such as this:
Hello World to user from at 10:54:00 AM
Consumption of an Ajah-style response is simply a matter of setting the innerHTML
value of some target element.7 For example, instead of a callback function handling
an XML response packet, like this:
function responseCallback(xhr)
if (xhr.readyState == 4 && xhr.status == 200)
var parsedResponse = xhr.responseXML;
Note that innerHTML has been added to the HTML 5 draft. See http://www.w3.org/html/wg/html5/diff/.
Chapter 8: Ajax Optimization
var responseString = parsedResponse.getElementsByTagName("message")[0].
var output = document.getElementById("output");
output.innerHTML = responseString;
you would simply have one that directly consumes the content, such as this:
function responseCallback(xhr)
if (xhr.readyState == 4 && xhr.status == 200)
var output = document.getElementById("output");
output.innerHTML = xhr.responseText;
If you then used chaining, you could further compress the result, like so:
function responseCallback(xhr)
if (xhr.readyState == 4 && xhr.status == 200)
document.getElementById("output").innerHTML = xhr.responseText;
before applying variable name reductions or other minimization techniques. This
particular callback is so small now that it is probably more appropriate to inline it, as
shown here:
if (xhr)
xhr.onreadystatechange = function( ){if (xhr.readyState == 4 && xhr.status ==
200)document.getElementById("output").innerHTML = xhr.responseText;};
xhr.send( );
With the reduced code needed from the Ajax pattern and having applied all the techniques discussed previously, our final compressed solution looks like this:
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/
xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"><html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"><head>
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1" /><title>Ajax
Hello World</title><script type="text/javascript">d=document;M="Msxml2.
XMLHTTP";function c( ){try{return new XMLHttpRequest(
)}catch(e){}try{A=ActiveXObject;return new A(M+".6.0")}catch(e){}try {return new
A(M+".3.0")}catch(e){}try {return new A(M)}catch(e){}try {return new A("Microsoft.
XMLHTTP")}catch(e){}}function s( ){var x=c( );if(x){x.open("GET","sayhello.php");x.
onreadystatechange=function( ){if(x.readyState==4&&x.status==200)d.
getElementById("o").innerHTML=x.responseText;};x.send( );}}window.onload=function(
){d.getElementById("b").onclick=s}</script></head><body><form action="#"><input
type="button" value="Say it!" id="b" /></form><br /><br /><div id="o">&nbsp;</div></
Choosing Data Formats Wisely |
The very terse code of this page weighs in at a svelte 947 bytes, for a total savings of
nearly 37%; with further gzipping you can save even more (as high as 62%). However,
continuing our efforts is somewhat foolish because we’re already below the minimum
packet size we’d typically encounter in TCP. Thus, it really buys us little to continue.
Addressing the Caching Quandary of Ajax
Unfortunately, Ajax and caching don’t get along that well. Internet Explorer caches
Ajax-fetched URIs, so if you aren’t careful, subsequent requests may appear not to
work. Interestingly, this may not be inappropriate, as a GET request should be
cacheable if you are requesting the same URI. Firefox does not cache Ajax-fetched
URIs. That itself is a problem, because you get a different behavior when requesting
the page directly through the browser and through the XHR object. In either
browser, if you make a POST request, you don’t have to worry because the browser
won’t cache the request. Some Ajax libraries now default to POST requests, although
some developers persist in misusing GET requests. The usual reaction to Ajax caching confusion is simply to make sure the browser does not cache Ajax requests.
There are three methods you can use to do this.
Method 1: Output No Caching Headers on the Server Side
You can easily keep the browser from caching requests by emitting headers on the
server. In PHP, you would use statements such as these:
header("Cache-Control: no-cache");
header("Pragma: no-cache");
There are many choices, and servers can be quite loquacious in the kinds of headers
they stamp on a response to avoid caching. For example, you might set some headers to really let caches know that you mean business:
Expires: Wed, 18 Nov 1981 09:12:00 GMT
Cache-Control: no-store, no-cache, must-revalidate, post-check=0, pre-check=0
Pragma: no-cache
Method 2: Make Requests with Unique URIs
A common way to bust a cache is to make the URIs different each time in a way that
does not affect the actual request. For example, imagine calling sayhello.php. This
page returns the time as part of the Hello statement, so we need a fresh response
each time it is called. Because the URI would be the same on subsequent requests,
you might be concerned that it would be cached so that you wouldn’t see the new
message. To make it unique, you could just append a query string such as sayhello.
php?ts=unique-value. A simple way to do this would be to use a timestamp such as
the one illustrated in this code fragment:
var ts = "ts=" + (new Date( )).getTime( );
sendRequest("sayhello.php", ts);
Chapter 8: Ajax Optimization
Method 3: Make Requests with an Old If-Modified-Since Header
Another way to prevent caching is use the XHR object’s method, setRequestHeader( ),
to set the If-Modified-Since in a request to a date far in the past so that the request
will appear to need to be refetched:
xhr.setRequestHeader("If-Modified-Since", "Tue, 14 Nov 1995 03:33:08 GMT");
Developers tend to prefer this method because it does not rely on changing the URI
and you can do it without any server-side modifications. There is one problem with
these suggestions, however. They do not optimize Ajax in any way other than making it work. We should want to use the browser cache!
Now, it would seem that for an optimal experience, we ought to take advantage of a
browser cache, not fight it. As you’ll discover in Chapter 9, you can employ a number of cache control techniques by setting various headers such as Cache-Control and
Expires. For example, if we used the Cache-control header to set max-age to be
31,536,000 seconds, which equals one year (60 * 60 * 24 * 365):
header("Cache-Control: max-age=31536000");
the browser should not re-request that object for quite a while. Alternatively, you
could simply set the Expires header far in the future, like so:
header("Expires: Sun, 05 Jan 2025 04:00:09 GMT");
If you are trying to use a cache on purpose with Ajax, you might be disappointed,
because some browsers currently do not seem to respect cache control headers when
the request is made with an XHR. Proceed with caution.
Create Your Own Cache
Although the opportunity to use the browser’s built-in cache now seems a bit problematic, there is a solution that might work: your own JavaScript-based memory
cache. Using a simple JavaScript array, you might create a cache that stores
requested URIs and their response packets. When you make another request using
your Ajax library, you could consult the custom cache array first before doing
another fetch. As the cache is stored in memory, it is good only as long as the user is
on the current page. In large-scale Ajax applications, users can remain on the same
page as long as they are at the site.
The code to write a custom cache isn’t tremendously involved. This is really a feature that should be part of a library, and we encourage readers to adopt a library that
supports response caching. Without caching, you are optimizing with one hand tied
behind your back. Hopefully, we’ll see improvements in the way the browsers handle caching with XHRs in the future so that caching can be more consistent.
Addressing the Caching Quandary of Ajax |
Addressing Network Robustness
While we’re on the subject of networking with Ajax, one important concern is network robustness: something few developers may want to acknowledge as a potential
Traditional web applications employ a useful form of human-based error correction
that we might dub “layer eight” error correction in reference to the seven-layer network model.8 Users are accustomed to failures with traditional web applications. If a
site takes too long to load, they simply click Stop and reload the page. They may
even retry this process a few times before timing out and giving up—clicking the
Back button or finding another site of interest.
Users are accustomed to doing this because the web browser informs them of the status of a connection with a pulsing logo, flipping cursor, loading status bar, and page
painting progress. They even expect failure knowing that when they click on a link
(particularly one to another site), they just might have to wait a few moments. With
an Ajax application, what will trigger a network connection is not as clear. So, the
user may sit by, watching a spinning logo that tells him next to nothing about what
is going on (see Figure 8-6).
Figure 8-6. It might spin, but is it informative?
Ajax developers are now responsible for making network requests and addressing
many issues that users and browsers addressed for them in the past. Optimal Ajax
applications acknowledge the fact that bad things happen. They try to mitigate these
problems if possible and to inform the user when there are no problems.
Timeouts, Retries, and Ordering
First, consider the simple fact that an Ajax request may not return. Make sure you or
your Ajax library employs a timeout mechanism. If you need to do it yourself, just set
a timer to fire after a set period of time—say, five seconds—to abort the connection
in progress.
Zimmerman, H. 1980. “OSI Reference Model—The IS0 Model of Architecture for Open Systems Interconnection.” IEEE Transactions on Communications COM-28 (4): 425–432.
Chapter 8: Ajax Optimization
var g_abort = false;
var xhr = createXHR( );
if (xhr)
var timeout = setTimeout(function ( ){g_abort=true;xhr.abort( );},5000);
xhr.onreadystatechange = function( ){responseCallback(xhr,timeout);};
xhr.send( );
You will notice the inclusion of a g_abort variable. This is added in because when the
XHR is aborted, the onreadystatechange function will be called with a readyState of
4. It is vital to ensure that the g_abort variable is set to false before processing
incomplete data.
Certainly, we shouldn’t be using global variables like this. We should instead pass an
object wrapper for the XHR that contains useful information to control it and the
timer as well, but the code requires enough changes to our “Hello World” example
to ruin the simplicity of it. Hopefully, the necessity of applying the inelegance of globals to keep this simple doesn’t distract you from handling network problems.
Of course, setting a realistic timeout is important. A smart timeout would actually be
related to the network conditions that the user is accustomed to and would adapt as
conditions change.
Retrying after a timeout
If your requests time out, you should retry them. Depending on your timeout time
and user tolerance, you should retry your Ajax request a few times before presenting
an error dialog to the user. If the user does encounter retries, it would be wise to
keep track of that situation and, if possible, transmit statistics about network problems back to your site.
var g_abort = false;
var g_retries = 0;
function sendAjaxRequest( )
var xhr = createXHR( );
if (xhr)
var timeout = setTimeout(function ( ){responseTimeout(xhr);},5000);
xhr.onreadystatechange = function( ){responseCallback(xhr,timeout);};
xhr.send( );
Addressing Network Robustness |
function responseTimeout(xhr)
g_abort = true;
xhr.abort( );
if (g_retries < 3)
sendAjaxRequest( );
Out-of-order responses
Finally, you need to acknowledge that your HTTP requests can come back out of
order. In traditional web application design, the whole page is the unit of execution,
so we tend not to worry about having one image come down before another. If you
are using Ajax to issue to a server multiple requests that depend on one another,
however, it is quite possible that in some situations you may receive responses out of
order. This could cause errors if unaccounted for. It is interesting that, so far, most
Ajax developers are unaware of this because they generally do not issue multiple
requests at the same time, especially dependent requests. More interestingly, when
they do, the two-simultaneous-request limitation often helps to minimize the problem.
Hoping for the best isn’t the way to build a robust Ajax application. It’s easy to solve
the ordering issue if you add a request and/or response queue mechanism to your
Ajax application to force sequencing. You can enforce the execution order yourself
so that you wait for a dependent request to come back before you move on.
At the time of this writing, you generally need to roll your own queuing mechanism
because many libraries currently overlook this problem.
Addressing Server and Content Error
There are more than just network errors to be concerned with in Ajax applications.
Just waiting around to get a 200 OK HTTP response isn’t going to ensure that you
actually have the content you were expecting. Application servers far too often return
error messages with such indications, and if you use the basic code such as this:
function responseCallback(xhr)
if (xhr.readyState == 4 && xhr.status == 200)
/* go to work */
Chapter 8: Ajax Optimization
it isn’t going to keep you from outputting or consuming an error message as though
it were content (see Figure 8-7).9
Figure 8-7. OK—it’s an error!
Your only protection against server and content errors is careful inspection of each
and every response. If you don’t see what you expect, bail out.
Polling Carefully
One surefire way to cause trouble with Ajax is to poll a server excessively. Even
though your requests may be very small, you need to acknowledge that web servers
can get network-bound even with small requests. In fact, if numerous Ajax-enabled
clients are continuously polling a server, the server’s ability to service other connections can be severely impacted.
For more in-depth error correction and prevention, see the “Networking Considerations” chapter (written
by T. Powell) in my book, Ajax: The Complete Reference (McGraw-Hill Osborne Media).
Addressing Network Robustness |
So, why do people employ such a polling scheme if it can cause such trouble? Usually the answer is that they want to create some type of application that gets updates
frequently or in near-real time, like a chat application. Ajax is a poor solution for
such a situation, frankly.
If, for some reason, you must poll, poll with a decay. This means that as you poll and
do not see any changes, you poll less frequently. When you see a change, go ahead
and poll more aggressively again.
Instead of polling, you might employ a different communication pattern in which
you keep an open connection between the browser and the server and push data
down the pipe. This pattern has many names, including “endless iframe,” “reverse
Ajax,” and, most commonly, “Comet.”10
The problem with polling
Although this push-style architecture can reduce the impact of polling, it has major
problems of its own. First, consider that the browser still maintains a two-connection
limit so, in employing this architecture, you will potentially tie up one connection
continuously. Second, web servers are ill-equipped to handle long-lived connections
with each connection potentially forking a process. Because of the stress on traditional web services from the use of the Comet pattern, you often must run a separate
helper server to work in conjunction with the web server to handle that push traffic
efficiently. Third, even if serving isn’t an issue, browsers may not be up to the job.
They crash or have memory problems if connections are held too long, particularly
when using the endless iframe approach.
If you really need to employ a robust push-style pattern within a browser, you may
best be served by using Flash or a Java applet to open a socket connection. In the
future, we may see that this binary crutch is no longer required when browsers are
extended to listen for server events. Opera 9, for example, already supports the event
streaming that follows the emerging What-WG/HTML 5 draft specification (http://
www.whatwg.org/specs/web-apps/current-work) that includes event streaming, which
is a Comet-like interface. Don’t blaze too many trails in search of new technology
and trouble, because many challenges with the use of Ajax are generally still unmet.
Understanding the Ajax Architecture Effect
Like many rich technologies, you can use Ajax to break the one-URI-equals-oneresource architecture of the Web. Consider entering an Ajax application and performing many different tasks. You will likely stay on the same page with partial
term Comet is not an acronym. The general introduction of the term is attributed to Alex Russell from
Dojotoolkit.org sometime in early 2006 (see http://alex.dojotoolkit.org/?p=545).
Chapter 8: Ajax Optimization
screen updates and the URI will probably not change. If you accidentally click the
Back button, you will very likely be ejected from the application. There will be no
way to actually use the browser’s native bookmarking feature to save your position
in the application. The application may, however, provide some internal button to
generate a URI to bookmark the current state. Finally, because of the complex use of
JavaScript and the inability to associate a state or resource with a differing URI, more
limited user agents such as search engine spiders and screen readers will simply be
locked out of many Ajax applications.
The Location Hash Technique
Using Ajax may not seem as appealing if it keeps your site from being searchindexed, breaks Back buttons, and makes it inaccessible under any less-than-ideal
conditions. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can, indeed, address the
problems of saving state by using an idea called the location hash technique.
Consider a traditional web application that may have URIs such as these, which perform the simple actions indicated by the URIs:
Now, if this were an Ajax application, we might start with a base URI such as http://
example.com/record. It would never change as you performed the various add, edit,
and delete tasks. You might change the URI so that it looks like http://example.com/
record#add or http://example.com/record#delete, depending on what state you were
in. The hash mark in the browser can be added and modified by JavaScript and not
cause a page refresh. Unfortunately, we have to hack around a bit to address the
Back button and history concerns for all browsers. We can add an invisible iframe
into our application and change its state to address that, and suddenly we find ourselves with an application that has a working Back button.
The actual implementation of the history and Back button fix for Ajax is quite ugly
and involved, and it’s best to rely on a library such as YUI to do the work for you.
Understand, however, that many libraries still label such history fixes as experimental, so test early and often.
Adding history and bookmarking capabilities may ease the user’s move from traditional to Ajax-style browsing, but you will have to spend time trying to design the
site so that it works with Ajax on as well as off. The best way to approach the problem is to start with a simple site that uses baseline technologies such as form posts
and links, and then to progressively enhance the site with new features such as CSS,
JavaScript, and Flash. As you enhance your site, build it so that if the user disables
the technology or simply doesn’t have it available, it falls back to what it can handle.
Understanding the Ajax Architecture Effect |
In contrast, you could start with the latest and greatest approach to application
development and then try to figure out a way to gracefully degrade in light of lesscapable browsers, but that approach tends to be harder. We’ll explore progressive
enhancement (static content overlaid with dynamic content) in Chapter 9. Although
this discussion is a bit philosophical, it serves as a great bookend for the beginning of
this chapter. The choice to use Ajax, particularly to make it mandatory, is a significant one. There will be an increase in implementation difficulty and testing, along
with serious side effects. User and search robot lockout are indeed real possibilities if
Ajax is misapplied.
The introduction of the Ajax communication pattern into a website or application
puts more emphasis on JavaScript and network management. Correct usage of the
pattern can result in a richer and faster experience for end-users. However, it is
quite easy to misapply the technology. If you add too much JavaScript, issue too
many requests, or fundamentally change the way the site or application acts, you
may inadvertently frustrate your end-users.
In this chapter, we explored a number of ways to reduce JavaScript code bulk and
add robustness so that the application of Ajax doesn’t sting.
Chapter 8: Ajax Optimization
Chapter 9
Advanced Web Performance
Now that you’ve learned how to crunch your content, let’s look at some more
advanced server- and client-side techniques for increasing web performance.
On the server side, this chapter explores methods that you can use to boost performance by:
• Optimizing parallel downloads
• Caching frequently used objects
• Using HTTP compression
• Deploying delta encoding
• Rewriting URIs with mod_rewrite
On the client side, we’ll investigate procedures that you can use to improve the speed
of content delivery. Although these techniques take some additional effort, they
boost both perceived and actual web page speed.
Server-Side Optimization Techniques
This section explores some server-side techniques that you can use to boost your
site’s performance. Note that some of these techniques are hybrids, combining
server-side settings with concomitant client-side modifications. For more on serverside performance optimization, you can also check out Web Performance Tuning:
Speeding Up the Web, by Patrick Killelea (O’Reilly).
Optimizing Parallel Downloads
The HTTP 1.1 specification recommends that browsers limit downloads to two
objects per hostname. This recommendation was created in 1999, in the days of dialup and less robust proxy servers. Most browsers default to this limit. Although users
can change these defaults, most don’t bother to do so. For sites hosted on one
domain, the result is slower load times with objects loaded two at a time.
Now that bandwidth and proxy servers have improved, you can improve parallelism
by using multiple domains (or subdomains) to deliver objects. Yahoo! found that
increasing the number of hostnames to two was optimal (see Figure 9-1).1
Figure 9-1. Loading an empty HTML document with 20 images using different numbers of aliases
Increasing to four or more hostnames actually degraded performance for larger
images, because of the overhead of off-site requests and “CPU thrashing.”
Ryan Breen of Gomez reported similar improvements after increasing the number
of subdomains to serve objects. He used Domain Name System (DNS) canonical
name records (CNAMEs) to create subdomains such as images1.example.com,
images2.example.com, and images3.example.com, all pointing back to the main
server, www.example.com.2 Then he used code to assign subdomains to images,
even though they all point back to the same server.
You may decrease the potential search rankings of content that is
hosted on subdomains, but for external objects such as images and
videos this technique can improve performance.
Theurer, T., and S. Souders. April 11, 2007. “Performance Research, Part 4: Maximizing Parallel Downloads
in the Carpool Lane.” Yahoo! Interface Blog, http://yuiblog.com/blog/2007/04/11/performance-research-part4/ (accessed February 11, 2008). Theurer provided the author with an updated figure.
Breen, R. December 18, 2006. “Circumventing browser connection limits for fun and profit.” Ajax Performance,
http://www.ajaxperformance.com/?p=33 (accessed February 11, 2008). Figure 9-2 used with permission.
Chapter 9: Advanced Web Performance Optimization
DNS Domain Aliasing Using CNAMEs
CNAMEs make one hostname an alias of another, and take the following form:
nickname [optional TTL] class CNAME canonical-name
For example:
images1.example.com IN CNAME www.example.com
images2.example.com IN CNAME www.example.com
where IN indicates Internet, and CNAME indicates CNAME record.
The preceding records indicate that images1.example.com and images2.example.com
are aliased to www.example.com. Note that you must also have an A record that points
www.example.com to an IP address.
For example:
These records are stored in a “zone” file on your DNS server. In addition, the web
server needs to be configured to respond to your new CNAME address. The
VirtualHost and ServerAlias configuration directives are often stored in the httpd.conf
For example:
ServerName images1.example.com
ServerAlias images2.example.com
DocumentRoot /var/www/images
ServerAdmin [email protected]
CustomLog /var/log/httpd/images1.example.com combined
Moving from two to six simultaneous connections improved the load time of a sample page by more than 40% (see Figure 9-2).
Figure 9-2. Response time improvement from two to six simultaneous connections
Server-Side Optimization Techniques |
When evaluating the maximum number of simultaneous downloads per server,
browsers look at hostnames, not at IP addresses. This technique fools browsers into
thinking that these objects are served from different domains, allowing more simultaneous downloads. Another way to increase parallelism is to downgrade your object
server to HTTP 1.0, which allows up to four simultaneous downloads. See http://
www.die.net/musings/page_load_time/ for some simulations of the effect of multiple
hostnames, object size, and pipelining on page load time.
Reduce DNS lookups
The Domain Name System (DNS) maps domain names to IP addresses. DNS gives portability to domain names by allowing sites to move to new servers with different IP
addresses without changing their domain name. DNS typically takes 20–120 milliseconds to look up the IP address for each hostname. The browser must wait for DNS
to resolve before continuing to download the page components. Therefore, minimizing
the number of hostnames per page will minimize the overhead due to DNS lookups.
Minimizing the number of hostnames per page also limits the number of parallel
downloads, however. For the average web page with more than 50 objects, the best
compromise is to split your objects among two to four hostnames to balance the
speedup of parallel downloads with the overhead of DNS lookups, opening TCP
connections, and the use of client-side resources. The CNAME trick we discussed
before can help to simplify object management.
Caching Frequently Used Objects
Caching is the temporary storage of frequently accessed data in higher-speed media (typically SRAM or RAM), or in media that is closer to the user, for more efficient retrieval.
Web caching stores frequently used objects closer to the client through browser, proxy,
or server caches. By storing “fresh” objects closer to your users, you avoid unnecessary
HTTP requests and minimize DNS “hops.” This reduces bandwidth consumption and
server load, and improves response times. Yahoo! estimates that between 62% and 95%
of the time that it takes to fetch a web page is spent making HTTP requests for objects.3
Caching helps to reduce costly HTTP requests to improve performance.
Unfortunately, caching is underutilized and often is misunderstood on the Web. A
July 2007 survey of Fortune 1000 company websites revealed that 37.9% used cache
control headers.4 What the survey doesn’t tell you is that most of these sites use “don’t
cache” headers. Developers routinely bust caches for fear of delivering stale content.
Theurer, T. November 28, 2006. “Performance Research, Part 1: What the 80/20 Rule Tells Us about Reducing HTTP Requests.” Yahoo! User Interface Blog, http://yuiblog.com/blog/2006/11/28/performance-researchpart-1/ (accessed February 11, 2008).
Port80 Software. July 2007. “Port80 Surveys HTTP Cache Control on the Top 1000 Corporations’ Web
Sites.” Port80 Software, http://www.port80software.com/surveys/top1000cachecontrol/ (accessed February
11, 2008).
Chapter 9: Advanced Web Performance Optimization
Browsers have also not helped the situation. To avoid “304” requests that would
come from revalidating previously downloaded objects, developers have adopted a
check-once-per-session scheme. If a user doesn’t shut down her browser, however,
she can see stale content. One solution is to cache web objects for longer periods
(some developers set their expiry times 20 years into the future), change object filenames for updates, and use shorter expiration times for HTML documents, which
tend to change more frequently.
Caching is not just for static sites; even dynamic sites can benefit from it. Caching
dynamically generated content is less useful than caching all the dependent objects,
such as scripts, styles, images, and Flash, which are often re-requested or at least
revalidated by browsers or intermediaries. Dependent objects such as multimedia
objects typically don’t change as frequently as HTML files. Graphics that seldom
change, such as logos, headers, and navigation bars, can be given longer expiration
times, whereas resources that change more frequently, such as HTML and XML files,
can be given shorter expiration times. By designing your site with caching in mind,
you can target different classes of resources to give them different expiration times
with only a few lines of code. You can test how well caching is set up on your site
using Port80 Software’s Cache Check tool (see Figure 9-3).
Figure 9-3. Checking the caching on CNN.com with Port80Software.com’s Cache Check tool
Server-Side Optimization Techniques |
Three ways to cache in
There are three ways to set cache control rules for your website:
• Via <meta> tags (<meta http-equiv="Expires"...>)
• Programmatically, by setting HTTP headers (CGI scripts, etc.)
• Through the web server general configuration files (httpd.conf )
In the section that follows, we’ll explore the third method of cache control: server
configuration files. Although the first method works with browsers, most intermediate
proxy servers don’t parse HTML files; they look for HTTP headers to set caching
policy, thus undermining this method. The second method of programmatically setting cache control headers (e.g., Expires and Cache-Control) is useful for dynamic
CGI scripts that output dynamic data. The third and preferred method is to use web
server configuration files to set cache control rules. In addition, we’ll explore mod_
cache, which provides a powerful caching architecture to accelerate HTTP traffic.
Example cache control conversation. To cache web objects, browsers and proxy servers
upstream from the origin server must be able to calculate a time to live (TTL), or a
limit on the period of time you can display an object from the cache since the last
time it was accessed or modified. HTTP does this digital melon-squeezing primarily
through brief HTTP header conversations between client, proxy, and origin servers
to determine whether it is OK to reuse a cached object or whether it should reload
the resource to get a fresh one. Here is an example HTTP request and response
sequence for Google’s logo image, logo.gif (see Figure 9-4).
Figure 9-4. Google’s logo: back to the future
First the browser requests the image:
GET /intl/en_ALL/images/logo.gif HTTP/1.1
Accept: */*
Referer: http://www.google.com/
Accept-Language: en-us
UA-CPU: x86
Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflate
User-Agent: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 7.0; Windows NT 5.1; .NET CLR 1.0.3705;
.NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 1.1.4322; Media Center PC 4.0)
Proxy-Connection: Keep-Alive
Host: www.google.com
Chapter 9: Advanced Web Performance Optimization
One of Google’s servers replies with the following:
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Content-Type: image/gif
Last-Modified: Wed, 07 Jun 2006 19:38:24 GMT
Expires: Sun, 17 Jan 2038 19:14:07 GMT
Server: gws
Content-Length: 8558
Date: Tue, 23 Oct 2007 23:21:55 GMT
This image was last modified June 7, 2006 and includes an Expires header set to January 17, 2038, far into the future. In its minimalist reply header, Google does not use
the Cache-Control header, an entity tag (ETag), or the Accept-Ranges header. The
Cache-Control header was introduced in HTTP 1.1 to provide a more flexible alternative to the Expires header. Rather than setting a hardcoded time into the future, as
the Expires header does, the max-age setting of the Cache-Control header provides a
relative offset (in seconds) from the last access. Here is an example that sets the
cache control maximum age to one year from the last access (in seconds):
Cache-Control: max-age=31536000
The Expires header works for browsers that encounter a server that switches to
HTTP 1.0, which should send only an Expires header. Of course, because Google
doesn’t use ETags, once it substitutes one of its patented seasonal logos it would
need to change the filename to make sure the logo updates in browsers (see
Figure 9-5).
Figure 9-5. Happy Halloween logo from Google
Use a future Expires header. By using an Expires header set far into the future, Google
ensures that its logo will be cached by browsers. According to the HTTP specification, the Expires header tells the browser “the date/time after which the response is
considered stale.” When the browser encounters this header and has the image in its
cache, the cached image is returned on subsequent page views, saving one HTTP
request and HTTP response.
Configure or eliminate ETags. ETags were designed to be a more flexible caching alternative to determine whether a component in the browser’s cache matches the one on
the origin server. The problem with ETags is that they are constructed to be unique
Server-Side Optimization Techniques |
to a specific resource on a specific server. For busy sites with multiple servers, ETags
can cause identical resources to not be cached, degrading performance. Here is an
example ETag:
ETag: "10690a1-4f2-40d45ae1"
In Apache, ETags are made out of three components: the INode, MTime, and Size.
FileETag INode MTime Size
You can configure your Apache server (in your httpd.conf file) to strip the server
component out of each ETag, like so:
<Directory /usr/local/httpd/htdocs>
FileETag MTime Size
However, most of the websites that we tested don’t bother configuring their ETags,
so a simpler solution is to turn off ETags entirely and rely on Expires or CacheControl headers to enable efficient caching of resources. To turn off ETags, add the
following lines to one of your configuration files in Apache (this requires mod_
headers, which is included in the default Apache build):
Header unset Etag
FileETag none
The effect of cookies on caching. Cookies are commonly used on the Web for tracking
and saving state across browser sessions, but they are often overused. Researchers
have found that popular sites indiscriminately set cookies for all their URIs, denying
themselves the benefits of Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) and caching, both of
which are impeded by cookies. For example, one study found that 66% of responses
were uncacheable or required cache validation. A significant fraction of these
uncacheable responses was due to the use of cookies (47% of all requests used).5
Most sites use the Set-Cookie header path of root (/), which sets cookies for every
object. If you segregate cookied content, move images to a separate directory or
server, and use more specific paths to assign cookies, you can minimize their impact
on performance.
A specific caching example
Let’s look at a specific example as we build up the caching efficiency for WebSiteOptimization.com’s logo, l.gif. First we request the image from Internet Explorer:
GET /l.gif HTTP/1.1
Accept: */*
Referer: http://www.websiteoptimization.com/
Accept-Language: en-us
Bent, L. et al. 2004. “Characterization of a Large Web Site Population with Implications for Content Delivery.”
In WWW 2004 (New York: May 17–22, 2004), 522–533.
Chapter 9: Advanced Web Performance Optimization
UA-CPU: x86
Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflate
User-Agent: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 7.0; Windows NT 5.1; .NET CLR 1.0.3705;
.NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 1.1.4322; Media Center PC 4.0)
Proxy-Connection: Keep-Alive
Host: www.websiteoptimization.com
To demonstrate the default Apache configuration, we eliminated the cache control
directives from our httpd.conf file, and the response was as follows:
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
date: Mon, 22 Oct 2007 23:32:20 GMT
server: Apache
last-modified: Sat, 19 Jun 2004 15:25:21 GMT
etag: "10690a1-4f2-40d45ae1"
accept-ranges: bytes
content-length: 1266
content-type: image/gif
This image was last modified June 19, 2004 and will not be changed for some time.
It is clear from these response headers that this object does not change frequently
and can be safely cached for at least a year into the future. Note the lack of Expires
or Cache-Control headers, and the inclusion of an ETag header for the image. Next
we’ll show how to add cache control headers.
Cache control with mod_expires and mod_headers. For Apache, mod_expires and mod_headers
handle cache control through HTTP headers sent from the server. Because they are
installed by default, you only need to configure them. Before adding the following lines,
first check that they are not enabled. On many operating systems, they are enabled by
default. For Apache 1.3x, enable the expires and headers modules by adding the following lines to your httpd.conf configuration file:
LoadModule expires_module
LoadModule headers_module
AddModule mod_expires.c
AddModule mod_headers.c
For Apache 2.0, enable the modules in your httpd.conf file like so:
LoadModule expires_module modules/mod_expires.so
LoadModule headers_module modules/mod_headers.so
Target files by extension for caching
One quick way to enable cache control headers for existing sites is to target files by
extension. Although this method has some disadvantages (notably the requirement
of file extensions), it has the virtue of simplicity. To turn on mod_expires, set
ExpiresActive to on:
ExpiresActive On
Server-Side Optimization Techniques |
Next, target your website’s root HTML directory to enable caching for your site in
one fell swoop. Note that the default web root shown in the following code (/var/
www/htdocs) varies among operating systems.
<Directory "/var/www/htdocs">
Options FollowSymLinks MultiViews
AllowOverride All
Order allow,deny
Allow from all
ExpiresDefault A300
<FilesMatch "\.html$">
Expires A86400
<FilesMatch "\.(gif|jpg|png|js|css)$">
Expires A31536000
ExpiresDefault A300 sets the default expiry time to 300 seconds after access (A) (using
M300 would set the expiry time to 300 seconds after file modification). The
FilesMatch segment sets the cache control header for all .html files to 86,400 seconds
(one day). The second FilesMatch section sets the cache control header for all
images, external JavaScript, and Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) files to 31,536,000 seconds (one year).
Note that you can target your files with a more granular approach using multiple
directory sections, like this:
<Directory "/var/www/htdocs/images/logos/">
For truly dynamic content you can force resources to not be cached by setting an age
of zero seconds, which will not store the resource anywhere (or you can set Expires
to A0 or M0):
<Directory "/var/www/cgi-bin/">
Header Set Cache-Control "max-age=0, no-store"
Target files by MIME type. The disadvantage of the preceding method is its reliance on
the existence of file extensions. In some cases, webmasters elect to use URIs without
extensions for portability. A better method is to use the ExpiresByType command of
the mod_expires module. As the name implies, ExpiresByType targets resources for
caching by MIME type, like this:
ExpiresActive On
ExpiresDefault "access plus 300 seconds"
<Directory "/var/www/htdocs">
Options FollowSymLinks MultiViews
AllowOverride All
Chapter 9: Advanced Web Performance Optimization
Order allow,deny
Allow from all
ExpiresByType text/html "access plus 1 day"
ExpiresByType text/css "access plus 1 year"
ExpiresByType text/javascript "access plus 1 year"
ExpiresByType image/gif "access plus 1 year"
ExpiresByType image/jpg "access plus 1 year"
ExpiresByType image/png "access plus 1 year"
These httpd.conf directives set the same parameters, only in a more flexible and readable way. For expiry commands you can use access or modified, depending on
whether you want to start counting from the last time the file was accessed or from
the last time the file was modified. In the case of WebSiteOptimization.com, we
chose to use short access offsets for text files likely to change, and longer access offsets for infrequently changing images.
Note the AllowOverride All command. This allows webmasters to override these settings with .htaccess files for directory-based authentication and redirection. However, overriding the httpd.conf file causes a performance hit because Apache must
traverse the directory tree looking for .htaccess files.
After updating the httpd.conf file with the preceding MIME-based code, we restart
the HTTP daemon in Apache for Linux using this command from the shell prompt:
service httpd restart
Red Hat Enterprise, Fedora, and CentOS all make use of the service command.
Note that the commands to restart the HTTP daemon vary among operating systems. On most systems, you can use the apachectl command or the /etc/init.d/
apache2 init script to start, stop, or restart Apache. Some administrators choose to
do Apache configuration and control entirely through a web interface such as Webmin, or through an OS-specific graphical utility.
HTTP header results. We updated the httpd.conf configuration file with the MIME type
code in the preceding section. Let’s look at the how the headers change when we
request the WebSiteOptimization.com logo (l.gif):
GET /l.gif HTTP/1.1
Accept: */*
Referer: http://www.websiteoptimization.com/
Accept-Language: en-us
UA-CPU: x86
Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflate
User-Agent: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 7.0; Windows NT 5.1; .NET CLR 1.0.3705;
.NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 1.1.4322; Media Center PC 4.0)
Proxy-Connection: Keep-Alive
Host: www.websiteoptimization.com
Server-Side Optimization Techniques |
The headers for our home page logo now look like this:
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Date: Thu, 25 Oct 2007 12:51:13 GMT
Server: Apache
Cache-Control: max-age=31536000
Expires: Fri, 24 Oct 2008 12:51:13 GMT
Last-Modified: Sat, 19 Jun 2004 15:25:21 GMT
ETag: "10690a1-4f2-40d45ae1"
Accept-Ranges: bytes
Content-Length: 1266
Content-Type: image/gif
As a result, this resource has cache control headers. We left the ETag in as we use
one server. Note also that the Server field is also stripped down, to save some header
overhead. This is done with the ServerTokens command:
ServerTokens Min
This minimizes the response header from this:
Server: Apache/1.3.31 (Unix) mod_gzip/ mod_auth_passthrough/1.8
mod_log_bytes/1.2 mod_bwlimited/1.4 PHP/4.3.8 FrontPage/ mod_ssl/2.8.19
to the minimal:
Server: Apache
Our images are now cacheable for one year. We could eliminate other headers, such
as Cache-Control, ETags, and Accept-Ranges, but we don’t gain as much by doing so.
Cache control with Microsoft IIS. You can do cache control in Internet Information Server
(IIS) by accessing the IIS Manager and setting headers on files or folders. First, navigate
with the IIS Manager to the file or directory that you want to target (see Figure 9-6).
Right-click Properties and choose the HTTP Headers tab. Check “Enable content
expiration” and then set the appropriate time frame (see Figure 9-7). This will land
you on the screen that includes the HTTP Headers tags and content cache options.
If your site is not organized in directories for cache control optimization, it can be
quite cumbersome to set cache control policies for a large number of files. See http://
www.port80software.com/support/articles/developforperformance2 for more details
about IIS cache control. You can’t set cache control headers by MIME type settings
with this technique, so Port80 wrote CacheRight to deal with this issue. CacheRight
is basically “mod_expires plus” for IIS.
Using mod_cache
With Apache version 2.2, mod_cache has become suitable for production use. mod_
cache implements a content cache that you can use to cache local or proxied content.
Chapter 9: Advanced Web Performance Optimization
Figure 9-6. Using IIS Manager to set caching policy
Figure 9-7. Setting content expiration in IIS
Server-Side Optimization Techniques |
This improves performance by temporarily storing resources in faster storage. It can
use one of two provider modules for storage management:
• mod_disk_cache, which implements a disk-based storage manager.
• mod_mem_cache, which implements a memory-based storage manager. You can
configure mod_mem_cache to operate in two modes: caching open file descriptors
or caching objects in heap storage. You can use mod_mem_cache to cache locally
generated content or to cache backend server content for mod_proxy when configured using ProxyPass (a.k.a. reverse proxy).
Content is stored in and retrieved from the cache using URI-based keys. Content
with access protection is not cached. Example 9-1 shows a sample mod_cache configuration file.
Example 9-1. Sample mod_cache configuration file
# Sample Cache Configuration
LoadModule cache_module modules/mod_cache.so
<IfModule mod_cache.c>
#LoadModule disk_cache_module modules/mod_disk_cache.so
# If you want to use mod_disk_cache instead of mod_mem_cache,
# uncomment the line above and comment out the LoadModule line below.
<IfModule mod_disk_cache.c>
CacheRoot c:/cacheroot
CacheEnable disk /
CacheDirLevels 5
CacheDirLength 3
LoadModule mem_cache_module modules/mod_mem_cache.so
<IfModule mod_mem_cache.c>
CacheEnable mem /
MCacheSize 4096
MCacheMaxObjectCount 100
MCacheMinObjectSize 1
MCacheMaxObjectSize 2048
# When acting as a proxy, don't cache the list of security updates
CacheDisable http://security.update.server/update-list/
CacheDirLevels, set to 5, is the number of directory levels below the cache root that
will be included in the cache data. CacheDirLength, set to 3, sets the number of characters in proxy cache subdirectory names.
For more details, see the Apache documentation at http://httpd.apache.org/docs/2.2/
Chapter 9: Advanced Web Performance Optimization
Using HTTP Compression
HTTP compression is a publicly defined way to compress textual content transferred from web servers to browsers. HTTP compression uses public domain compression algorithms, such as gzip and compress, to compress HTML, JavaScript, CSS,
XML, and other text-based files at the server. This standards-based method of delivering compressed content is built into HTTP 1.1. All modern browsers that support
HTTP 1.1 and PNG files support ZLIB inflation of deflated documents (see the
upcoming sidebar “Browsers That Support HTTP Compression”). In other words, they
can decompress compressed files automatically, which saves time and bandwidth.
Browsers That Support HTTP Compression
The Portable Network Graphics (PNG) format uses the ZLIB compression algorithm.
ZLIB can also decompress gzipped data. So, browsers that can handle PNG files
already have the necessary software to decompress gzipped data. Internet Explorer 4
and later (other than IE Mac versions 4.5 and 5), Firefox, and Opera 5.12+ all support
HTTP compression. Aren’t standards wonderful?
Browsers and servers have brief conversations regarding what they would like to
receive and send. Using HTTP headers, they zip messages back and forth over the
ether with their content shopping lists. A compression-aware browser tells servers
that it would prefer to receive encoded content with a message in an HTTP header
like this:
GET / HTTP/1.1
Accept: */*
Accept-Language: en-us
Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflate
User-Agent: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 7.0; Windows NT 5.1)
Host: www.webcompression.org
Connection: Keep-Alive
An HTTP 1.1-compliant server would then deliver the requested document by using
an encoding that is acceptable to the client. Here’s a sample response from WebCompression.org:
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Date: Sun, 06 Apr 2008 22:38:00 GMT
Server: Apache
X-Powered-By: PHP
Cache-Control: max-age=300
Server-Side Optimization Techniques |
Expires: Sun, 06 Apr 2008 22:38:00 GMT
Vary: Accept-Encoding
Content-Encoding: gzip
Content-Length: 1168
Keep-Alive: timeout=15
Connection: Keep-Alive
Content-Type: text/html; charset=ISO-8859-1
Now the client knows that the server supports gzip content encoding, and it also
knows the size of the file is 1,168 bytes (Content-Length). The client downloads the
compressed file, decompresses it, and displays the page. Without gzip compression,
the home page HTML of WebCompression.org would be 3,183 bytes, about 2.7
times larger in file size (see Figure 9-8).
Figure 9-8. File size savings with HTTP compression (from Port80Software.com tool)
Both IIS compression and Apache 2.x’s mod_deflate now do compression very well,
so the need for add-on compression modules has decreased. Products such as mod_
gzip, Vigos’s Website Accelerator, PipeBoost, httpZip, and others offer configurable
software to enable compression, and some offer hardware solutions to speed
response times. Applications servers, such as WebSphere, PHP, and Java, also offer
HTTP compression.
Compressing content in Apache
In Apache, you can either precompress content or configure a module to compress
content on the fly. Precompressing content requires changing links (.htmz or .html.gz,
etc.) which can be a lot of work. A more elegant method is to compress content on the
fly with a module such as mod_gzip (for Apache 1.3+) or mod_deflate (for Apache 2+).
Chapter 9: Advanced Web Performance Optimization
Content Negotiation in Apache
Since version 1.3.4, Apache has supported transparent content negotiation as defined
in the HTTP 1.1 specification. To negotiate a resource, the server needs to know about
the variants of each resource.
Multiviews implicitly maps variants based on filename extensions, such as .gz.
Multiviews is a per-directory option that you can set within .htaccess files or within
server configuration files (such as httpd.conf) on one or more directories. Setting the
Multiviews option within the .conf file is more efficient because Apache doesn’t have
to access an .htaccess file every time it accesses a directory. To turn on Multiviews,
append it to the Options line in your httpd.conf file:
<Directory "/usr/local/apache/htdocs">
Options Indexes FollowSymLinks MultiViews
AllowOverride None
Order allow,deny
Allow from all
Apache recognizes only encodings that are defined by the AddEncoding directive. So, to
let Apache know about gzip-encoded files, you’d add the following directive:
# AddEncoding allows you to have certain browsers
# uncompress information on the fly. Note: Not all browsers
# support this. Despite the name similarity, the following
# Add* directives have nothing to do with the FancyIndexing
# customization directives above.
AddEncoding x-gzip .gz .tgz
Now, with Multiviews set, webmasters need only create filename variants of resources,
and Apache does the rest. So, to create gzip-compressed versions of your .html or .js
files, you zip them up like this:
gzip -9 index.html
gzip -9 script.js
Then, when you link to the uncompressed .html or .js files, Apache will negotiate to
the .gz variant for capable browsers.
Content negotiation can produce significant overhead, on the order of 25% in some
cases. But as long as your server’s response time is measured in milliseconds, your
users won’t notice the difference in response times. The net effect will be faster because
smaller files are being transferred and decompression times are fast.
Port80 Software created PageXchanger to address content negotiation in Microsoft IIS.
For more information on content negotiation, see http://httpd.apache.org/docs/2.0/
Server-Side Optimization Techniques |
mod_gzip for dynamic compression. mod_gzip can compress content dynamically and use
content negotiation at the server to intelligently serve the appropriate content to
capable browsers. Dynamic compression does place an additional load on the server,
but the compiled C code is efficient and is an issue only for the slowest of servers. Be
sure that you have 1 GB or more of memory to handle the increased demand on your
server. Remember that many web servers are provided on low-end hardware with a
minimum amount of memory.
Setting up HTTP compression with mod_gzip. To configure mod_gzip, all your server
administrator needs to do is install the precompiled package from your package
management utility (for Linux and BSD; for Solaris you’ll want to download the precompiled module), edit the server configuration file, and restart Apache.6 mod_gzip
compresses content after everything else happens at the server, so it is always referenced last in any server configuration list. Here is an example addition to an httpd.conf
configuration file:
# Dynamic Shared Object (DSO) Support
# To be able to use the functionality of a module which was built as a DSO you
# have to place corresponding 'LoadModule' lines at this location so the
# directives contained in it are actually available _before_ they are used.
# Please read the file http://httpd.apache.org/docs/dso.html for more
# The order in which these modules load is important...
LoadModule rewrite_module
LoadModule expires_module
LoadModule php4_module
LoadModule bwlimited_module
LoadModule bytes_log_module
LoadModule auth_passthrough_module libexec/mod_auth_passthrough.so
LoadModule gzip_module
# ...
# Reconstruction of the complete module list from all available modules
# (static and shared ones) to achieve correct module execution order.
AddModule mod_env.c
AddModule mod_php4.c
AddModule mod_bwlimited.c
AddModule mod_log_bytes.c
AddModule mod_auth_passthrough.c
AddModule mod_gzip.c
Note how LoadModule and AddModule mod_gzip are the last commands in the list.
Next, configure mod_gzip with the minimum file size (anything less than 1,000 bytes
The mod_gzip software for Apache 1.3, and a link to a 2.x version, are available from SourceForge at http://
sourceforge.net/projects/mod-gzip/. A development version of mod_gzip for Apache 2.0 is available at http://
Chapter 9: Advanced Web Performance Optimization
is not worth the overhead), the maximum in-memory size directive (we chose
1,000,000 bytes as a maximum), and the types of files to include in compression:
<IfModule mod_gzip.c>
mod_gzip_on yes
mod_gzip_send_vary yes
mod_gzip_dechunk yes
mod_gzip_keep_workfiles No
mod_gzip_temp_dir /tmp
mod_gzip_minimum_file_size 1002
mod_gzip_maximum_file_size 0
mod_gzip_maximum_inmem_size 1000000
file "\.htm$"
file "\.html$"
mime "text/.*"
file "\.php$"
mime "jserv-servlet"
handler "jserv-servlet"
mime "application/x-httpd-php.*"
mime "httpd/unix-directory"
mod_gzip_item_exclude file "\.css$"
mod_gzip_item_exclude file "\.js$"
mod_gzip_item_exclude file "\.wml$"
Note that we include text, .htm/.html, and .php files but exclude .css, .js, and .wml
files to simplify this example. Do not HTTP-compress MP3 files (because they are
already compressed), or PDF files (Acrobat Reader can have problems reading
gzipped PDF files because they are already compressed internally).
Apache 2.0 and HTTP compression. Apache 2.0 includes the mod_deflate module instead
of mod_gzip. Setting up mod_deflate is easy because it is already included in Apache 2.0.
To configure mod_deflate, add the following lines to your httpd.conf file:
LoadModule deflate_module modules/mod_deflate.so
SetEnv gzip-only-text/html 1
SetOutputFilter DEFLATE
You can choose to approach configuring mod_deflate slightly differently, depending
on your style. You can either explicitly include MIME types, or explicitly exclude file
types from the compression routine.
This example, from the httpd.conf file, shows explicit inclusion by MIME type:
DeflateFilterNote ratio
DeflateCompressionLevel 9
DeflateMemlevel 9
DeflateWindowSize 15
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/html text/plain text/css text/xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/x-javascript
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/ms* application/vnd* application/postscript
Server-Side Optimization Techniques |
This example shows explicit exclusion by file extension:
SetOutputFilter DEFLATE
DeflateFilterNote ratio
DeflateCompressionLevel 9
DeflateMemlevel 9
DeflateWindowSize 15
SetEnvIfNoCase Request_URI \.(?:gif|jpe?g|png)$ no-gzip dont-vary
SetEnvIfNoCase Request_URI \.pdf$ no-gzip dont-vary
SetEnvIfNoCase Request_URI \.(?:exe|t?gz|zip|bz2|sit|rar|Z)$ no-gzip dont-vary
Both HTTP-compress your HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files.
From now on, when these text files are requested with the appropriate AcceptEncoding headers, they will be compressed. For compression solutions for different
operating systems, see the following URLs:
Average compression ratios for HTTP compression
So, what can you expect to save using HTTP compression? In tests that we ran on 20
popular sites, we found that, on average, content encoding saved 75% off text files
(HTML, CSS, and JavaScript) and 37% overall.7 A larger study of 9,281 HTML
pages of popular sites found a mean compression gain of 75.2%.8 On average, HTTP
compression reduced the text files tested to one-fourth their original size. The more
text-based content you have, the higher the savings.
Joe Lima, COO and head of product development at Port80 Software, said this
about HTTP compression:
HTTP compression provides such a clear benefit that it appeals to all kinds of users.
Our customers include consumer sites that want to improve end-users’ experience,
hosting providers seeking to differentiate their offering, Fortune 500s looking to make
a specific extranet application as bandwidth-efficient as possible, and many others.
Simply put, compression is easy to deploy, widely supported, and saves money. Who
could say no to that?
See Table 18.2, “Content Encoding Average Compression Ratios for Different Web Site Categories,” in my
book Speed Up Your Site: Web Site Optimization (New Riders).
Destounis, P. et al. 2001. “Measuring the mean Web page size and its compression to limit latency and
improve download time.” Internet Research 11 (1): 15. Analyzing five popular websites (CNN.com, Disney.
com, IBM.com, Microsoft.com, and Netscape.com), Destounis found a mean compression gain of 75.2%
across 9,281 HTML pages. The mean web page size was 13,540 bytes.
Chapter 9: Advanced Web Performance Optimization
Improving Compression Efficiency
Compression efficiency depends on the repetition of content within a given file.
Smaller files have fewer bytes, and therefore a lower probability of repeated patterns.
As file size increases, compression ratios improve because more characters mean more
opportunities for similar patterns. The tests discussed in this section ranged from a
13,540-byte mean (Destounis et al. 2001) to 44,582 bytes per HTML page (King 2003).
Smaller files (5,000 bytes or less) typically compress less efficiently, whereas larger files
typically compress more efficiently. The more redundancy you can build into your textual data (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript), the higher your potential compression ratio.
That is why using all lowercase letters improves compression in XHTML.
Typical savings on compressed text files range from 60% to 85%, depending on how
redundant the code is. Some JavaScript files can actually be compressed by more than
90%. Webmasters who have deployed HTTP compression on their servers report savings of 30% to 50% off their bandwidth bills. The cost of decompressing compressed
content is small compared to the cost of downloading uncompressed files. On narrowband connections with faster computers, CPU speed trumps bandwidth every time.
Use of HTTP compression among the Fortune 1000. Only 27.5% of the Fortune 1000 companies are using some form of HTTP compression, although the percentage of those
that compress is increasing at about 11.7% each year (see Figure 9-9).
Figure 9-9. Use of HTTP compression among the Fortune 1000 companies
Server-Side Optimization Techniques |
JavaScript optimization and gzip. Gzipping your JavaScript has a more significant effect
than minification on file size. However, by minifying your JavaScript before you gzip
it, you can realize even more file size savings. In Chapter 10, minification saved an
average of 4.8 percentage points (from 73.7% to 78.5% smaller), or 17.6% off the
gzipped-only versions of the CSS and JavaScript for seven popular sites. Note that
you can realize further savings by concatenating JavaScript files before compressing
them, because the efficiency of compressing a single large JavaScript file would be
greater than compressing multiple small ones.
Delta encoding (delta compression)
As it applies to web servers, delta encoding is a way to update web pages by sending the differences between versions of a web page. The server (proxy or origin)
sends only what has changed in the page since the last access, greatly reducing the
amount of data sent (in some cases, on the order of a few TCP/IP packets). As
about 32% of page accesses are first-time visits, about 68% of page visits are eligible for delta compression.
There are different ways to implement delta encoding: you can save old versions of
pages and send differences, use reference files on the same server that are in the
user’s cache, and use “value-based web caching” that employs blocks of data already
sent to the client, independent of file boundaries.9
Same-URI delta compression. Delta compression for pages at the same URI typically
achieves higher compression ratios than other schemes, but it has some drawbacks.
Sending deltas for the same URI assumes that the client has accessed the page in the
past. On the Web, this is true for only 30% of web pages, according to one study.10
This method also imposes costs to the origin or proxy server to save old versions of
the same page to use as reference files.
Different-URI delta compression. Delta compression for pages at different URIs typically achieves more modest compression ratios than the same-URI method, but it
does not suffer from the overhead of the same-URI method. Improvements of 1.7
times for all pages to 2.9 times for eligible text or HTML data have been found over
gzip compression.11
Savant, A., and T. Suel. 2004. “Server-Friendly Delta Compression for Efficient Web Access.” In Proc. of the
8th International Workshop on Web Content Caching and Distributing, 303–322.
10Mogul, J. et al. 1997. “Potential benefits of delta-encoding and data compression for HTTP.” In SIGCOMM
1997 (Cannes, France: September 14–18, 1997), 181–194.
11Savant and Suel. “Server-Friendly Delta Compression for Efficient Web Access.”
Chapter 9: Advanced Web Performance Optimization
Production delta compression. Although delta encoding is part of the HTTP 1.1 specification,12 it has not been widely adopted among browser and server software. However, some delta compression products use JavaScript instead, generally available
through website acceleration appliances. Delta encoding is usually performed as an
injected JavaScript that reassembles the differences between a base page and subsequent pages. It can reduce the page load down to a TCP packet or two in some cases,
particularly when combined with gzip for text. Cisco and Citrix both offer products
that use delta encoding.
Delta encoding and RSS. Although browsers and servers have been slow to adopt delta
encoding for websites, the practice has become popular in one area: RSS news feeds.
The problem with RSS is that most sites poll feeds for updates. For popular sites, this
can add up to a lot of bandwidth use.13 Delta encoding was proposed as a temporary
solution to reduce the overhead of polling while a push-based model is adopted.14
Sites that have adopted delta encoding for RSS news feeds report that the average
request was reduced by 75% (see Figure 9-10).15 Bob Wyman estimates that if
everyone had adopted the RFC 3229 protocol for RSS news feeds, the bandwidth
for his now-defunct news aggregation site PubSub.com would have been reduced
by two-thirds.
The Windows RSS platform (Vista) supports this feature, as do a number of other
RSS clients. If, unlike WordPress, your blog software provider doesn’t already support delta encoding of RSS, ask them to do so, to help save the Web’s bandwidth.
Although delta-encoded RSS can save bandwidth, sometimes it can bog down your
server. For example, dynamically created feeds such as those in WordPress can cause
servers to become overloaded during traffic spikes. That’s one advantage of Movable
Type. It uses static RSS files, which scale better under higher loads.
The Benefits of a Content Delivery Network
A CDN is a collection of web servers distributed geographically that is designed to
speed the delivery of content to users. CDNs such as Akamai (the industry leader
with 80% of CDN traffic and 20% of all Internet traffic), Limelight Networks, and
CDNetworks deliver content to users from a network of distributed caches.
J. et al. January 2002. “Delta encoding in HTTP.” RFC 3229, http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc3229.txt
(accessed February 11, 2008).
13Scoble, R. September 8, 2004. “Full text RSS on MSDN gets turned off.” Scobleizer, http://radio.weblogs.
com/0001011/2004/09/08.html#a8195 (accessed February 11, 2008).
14Wyman, B. September 13, 2004. “Using RFC3229 with Feeds.” As I May Think, http://www.wyman.us/
main/2004/09/using_rfc3229_w.html (accessed February 11, 2008).
15Wyman, B. October 3, 2004. “Massive Bandwidth Savings proven!” As I May Think, http://wyman.us/main/
2004/10/massive_bandwid.html (accessed February 11, 2008).
Server-Side Optimization Techniques |
Figure 9-10. Bandwidth savings by adopting delta encoding at PubSub.com
When you distribute your content over a CDN, sophisticated software routes
requests to cache servers based on where the user is located on the Internet. According to Steve Souders’ High Performance Web Sites (O’Reilly), tests conducted by
Yahoo! showed an overall 20% reduction in response times for the Yahoo! Shopping
Network after moving static components to a CDN. (Yahoo! uses Akamai.)
Although the price of large CDNs limits their use to larger companies, some low-cost
academic-based CDNs are available, including the Coral Content Distribution Network (http://www.coralcdn.org/) and CoDeeN from Princeton University (http://codeen.
Chapter 9: Advanced Web Performance Optimization
Rewriting URIs with mod_rewrite
For the Apache web server, mod_rewrite can map URIs from one form to another.
You can use mod_rewrite to abbreviate URIs to save bytes or create more searchfriendly URIs. For example, you can substitute URIs such as r/29 for longer ones
such as http://travel.yahoo.com to save space.
Apache, IIS, Manilla, and Zope all support this technique. Yahoo! and other popular
sites use URI abbreviation to shave off 20% to 30% of HTML file size. The more
links that you have within your pages, the more effective the abbreviation.
How mod_rewrite works
As its name implies, mod_rewrite rewrites URIs using regular expression pattern
matching. If a URI matches a pattern that you specify, mod_rewrite rewrites it according to the rule conditions that you set. Essentially, mod_rewrite works as a smart
abbreviation expander. For example, to expand r/pg into /programming Apache
requires two directives: one turns on the rewriting machine (RewriteEngine On) and
the other specifies the rewrite pattern matching rule (RewriteRule). The RewriteRule
syntax looks like this:
RewriteRule <pattern> <rewrite as>
The preceding code snippet becomes:
RewriteEngine On
RewriteRule ^/r/pg(.*)
This regular expression matches a URI beginning with /r/ (this sequence would signify a redirect to expand) with pg following immediately afterward. The pattern (.*)
matches one or more characters after the pg. So, when a request comes in for the URI
<a href="/r/pg/java/">Programming Java</a>, the rewrite rule expands this abbreviated URI into <a href="/programming/java/">Programming Java</a>.
Note that you can also use mod_rewrite in the same manner to map search-friendly
URIs to database queries:
/keyword1+keyword2 /index?cat=153
RewriteMap for multiple abbreviations. The preceding technique will work well for a few
abbreviations, but what if you have a lot of links? That’s where the RewriteMap directive comes in. RewriteMaps group multiple lookup keys (abbreviations) and their corresponding expanded values into one tab-delimited file. Here’s an example map file
snippet from the Yahoo.com home page:
Server-Side Optimization Techniques |
The MapName file maps keys to values for a rewrite rule using the following syntax:
${ MapName : LookupKey | DefaultValue }
MapNames require a generalized RewriteRule using regular expressions. The
RewriteRule references the MapName instead of a hardcoded value. If there is a key
match, the mapping function substitutes the expanded value into the regular expression. If there’s no match, the rule substitutes a default value or a blank string.
To use this MapName we need a RewriteMap directive to show where the mapping file
is, and a generalized regular expression for our RewriteRule:
The new RewriteMap rule points the rewrite module to the text version of our map
file. The revamped RewriteRule looks up the value for matching keys in the map file.
The permanent redirect (301 instead of 302) boosts performance by stopping processing once the matching abbreviation is found in the map file.
Binary hash RewriteMaps. For maximum speed, you should convert your text map files
into a binary *DBM hash file, which is optimized for maximum lookup speed. To
create a DBM file from a source text file, use the httxt2dbm utility:
$ httxt2dbm -i abbr_yahoo.txt -o abbr_yanoo.map
As such, the earlier RewriteMap line would look like this:
Yahoo! saves nearly 30% off its home page HTML with this technique. Yahoo! also
uses subdomains, which helps to redistribute the load. For more details on using
mod_rewrite, see the Apache documentation at http://httpd.apache.org/docs/2.2/mod/
Client-Side Performance Techniques
Beyond optimizing your content so that it is as small as possible and loads more efficiently, you can delay the loading of some types of content to boost the initial display speed of web pages. You can defer certain types of JavaScript to execute after
the page loads. You can employ progressive enhancement to layer more advanced
functionality over HTML elements. You can stage Flash, Ajax, and JavaScript to load
only on demand or asynchronously. You can cache offsite files on your server to load
locally. Finally, inline images can reduce HTTP requests for the browsers that support them.
Chapter 9: Advanced Web Performance Optimization
Delay Script Loading
You can improve page load times by delaying the loading of your scripts until some
or all of your body content has displayed. For nonessential services (advertising,
interface enhancements, surveys, etc.) this technique can boost the initial display
speed of your pages. You can also load scripts, such as Ajax, on demand via document object model (DOM) methods, or by using iframes.
One problem with JavaScript is that it is a single-threaded language: it executes
scripts linearly. There are exceptions to this with extensions such as Google Gears.16
When there is a slowdown in loading or executing a script, it delays the rest of the
objects in a page from loading and rendering.
Scripts in the head of HTML documents must be processed before the body content is
parsed and displayed. Including multiple external CSS and JavaScript files in the head of
HTML documents can delay the download and display of body content due to the connection limit default that is present in browsers that follow the HTTP 1.1 specification.
(Refer back to Chapter 8 for more details on simultaneous connection limits; servers
with HTTP 1.0 allow up to four simultaneous connections per hostname.)
Even after placing external scripts at the end of the body element, your users can
experience delays caused by slow server response. Late-loading scripts can have
adverse effects, including stalling any events attached to the onload event. So, be sure
to initialize as soon as possible and don’t use onload for the fastest initialization. In
this section, we’ll explore the following ways to delay or accelerate script loading to
combat JavaScript load lag:
• Use progressive enhancement.
• Load JavaScript on demand or onload.
• Use an iframe for external widgets to simulate asynchronous JavaScript.
Use progressive enhancement
Progressive enhancement (PE) is a web design strategy that uses layers of standardsbased technology (XHTML, CSS, and JavaScript) to deliver accessible content to any
browser regardless of its capability. By providing static HTML content and overlaying dynamic content with CSS, JavaScript, or Flash, Java, or SVG, PE provides basic
content for all browsers, and an enhanced version of the page for browsers with
more advanced capabilities. PE improves performance by separating data (XHTML)
from presentation (CSS) and behavior (JavaScript), allowing for better caching. PE
uses the following techniques:
• Sparse, semantic XHTML for basic content accessible by all browsers
• Enhanced layout provided by external CSS
“Gears” API includes the ability to run scripts asynchronously in the background. Available at http:/
Client-Side Performance Techniques |
• Enhanced behavior provided by external JavaScript
• JavaScript to add/subtract objects from the DOM
• JavaScript to add advanced functionality
One early example of PE was WebReference.com’s News Harvester Perl/DHTML
news flipper.
News Harvester: Overlaying static HTML with DHTML. The simplest method of delaying the
loading of external JavaScript is to place the script at the end of your body element,
and provide empty stub functions in the head to avoid script errors. This technique
requires that core HTML functionality be present upon page load, and that
enhanced functionality be layered on top after the script loads. We used this technique for our Perl/DHTML news flipper at WebReference.com (see Figure 9-11).
Figure 9-11. DHTML news flipper at WebReference.com
First we used a Perl script to grab an XML feed, and then we inserted two or three
headlines as an HTML include. These headlines displayed even with JavaScript
turned off. We then overlaid a DHTML news flipper on top to replace the headlines.
Once the core feature was in place, we created empty stub functions to avoid JavaScript errors if users had rolled over the element (to stop the flipping) before the
JavaScript loaded:
<script type="text/javascript">
function newsflipper( ){};
At the end of our body tag, we redefined the DHTML news flipper function like so
(delayed load):
<script src="/scripts/newsflipper.js"></script>
Empty stub functions allow users to interact with the page without generating
“undefined” JavaScript errors. Another method would be to add the event-based
triggers to the elements with JavaScript after defining the functions. The script loads
just before the closing body tag to redefine the stub function once the body content
has displayed. Because the script is small and on the same server, users experienced
Chapter 9: Advanced Web Performance Optimization
little or no delay with this approach. See http://www.webreference.com/dev/evolution/
for more information.
Be careful with this approach, however. Large JavaScript files, especially those that
execute slowly, can bog down your page’s response time after it has loaded.
Progressively enhanced tabs. David Artz, leader of the AOL Optimization team (and
coauthor of Chapter 10), has developed a suite of accessible rendering technologies,
which are demonstrated at his site, http://www.artzstudio.com/artz/. He invented a
technique for disassembly of the “enhancement” on the fly, saving the user’s preference with a cookie. What follows is a brief review of this technique.
A tab box example. Tabs are a common form of navigation on the Web. You can avoid
loading a new page when selecting a new tab by using Ajax, DHTML, CSS, and
Flash. Artz used lightweight CSS and JavaScript to toggle tab (and matching content
box) visibility using multiple CSS classes (class="tab on"), setting a cookie to
remember user preferences, and standards-based XHTML (see Figure 9-12). He
invented two improvements to PE to toggle the visibility and position of the elements by dynamically assigning a class with JavaScript, and to toggle attaching the
artz_switch( ) function and text to the “Enable AOL Accessibility” link.
Figure 9-12. Example PE tabs from Dave Artz
Client-Side Performance Techniques |
Clicking on one of the tabs instantly flips to the next set of headlines. With JavaScript turned off, the same page looks like Figure 9-13.
Figure 9-13. PE example with JavaScript turned off
Without JavaScript, the page is still accessible, showing the default content. Artz
starts with the default content using standard XHTML to define the content module
and uses CSS to style and position the presentation:
<link rel="stylesheet" href="/artz/a.css" type="text/css" media="screen" />
<div id="main"><h2>tab box</h2>
<div class="module-container">
<script type="text/javascript" src="tab-box.js"></script>
<p><a href="javascript:void(0)" class="artz-switch"></a></p>
<div id="sports-bloggers-live" class="artz-tb">
<div class="head"><h2>SPORTS BLOGGERS LIVE</h2></div>
<div class="desc">
<a href="#"><img class="photo" src="i/sasha.jpg" alt="image of snowboarder
width="75" height="75" /></a>
<h4>'If He Wants to Ski Drunk, Then Let Him'</h4>
<p>SBL previews Turin with figure skaters Johnny Weir and Sasha Cohen,
snowboarder Shaun White and many more.</p>
Chapter 9: Advanced Web Performance Optimization
<p><a href="http://sports.aol.com/bloggerslive">Hear Sports Bloggers Live</
a> | <a href="http://journals.aol.com/dcsportsguy/mrirrelevant/entries/2262"
target="new">Watch the SBL Video</a></p>
Next, Artz inserts the tabs dynamically with JavaScript. The code is commented here
for reference when styling, but these elements are created with JavaScript based on
the text of the <h3>s in the document (the real function is abbreviated). Here is the
<!-- DYNAMICALLY INSERTED HTML (artz_tabbox_init)
<ul class="dtabs">
<li onclick="artz_tabbox_set(e)" class="on">SBL Audio Clips</li>
<li onclick="artz_tabbox_set(e)">Blog Buzz</li>
<li onclick="artz_tabbox_set(e)">Top Blogs</li>
<li onclick="artz_tabbox_set(e)">Podcasts</li>
The JavaScript to add these tabs follows:
for (var i=0;i<l;i++){
var li=ce('li');
li.className = c;
it to the <li>
click event
create a new list item (<li>) element
assign the class name to the <li> element
clear the class name for the future
grab the text of the <h3> element and append
// assign the tb.set( ) function to the <li>'s
// append the <li> to the unordered list <ul>
Next, he displays the default tabs and matching content all within a single unordered
list item (<li>) like so:
<ul class="tabs">
<li class="tab on">
<h3>SBL Audio Clips</h3>
<p>Five recent guests on AOL's Sports Bloggers Live podcast:</p>
<li><a href="http://us.video.aol.com/audio.full.
adp?pmmsid=1462037" target="_blank">Dave's Football Celebrates 'One for the Thumb'</
<li><a href="http://us.video.aol.com/audio.full.
adp?pmmsid=1462036" target="_blank">The 12th Man Complains About Refs and Detroit</a>
Note the <li class="tab on"> here to set visibility to “on” for this list item with CSS.
Next, Artz includes the code for the other three tabs in a similar fashion. The only
difference is the lack of an “on” class to hide these tabs.
<li class="tab">
<h3>Blog Buzz</h3>...</li>
Client-Side Performance Techniques |
Now when a user clicks on another tab, JavaScript toggles the selected tab to be visible, and turns the other tabs off, completing the effect:
<li onclick="artz_tabbox_set(e)">Blog Buzz</li>
One tricky part is the “Enable AOL Accessibility” link:
<p><a href="javascript:void(0)" class="artz-switch"></a></p>
This link is dynamically updated with JavaScript to an “on” or “off” state. When
accessibility is switched on with a click on the link, the following code finds the element associated with the artz-switch a(nchor) with getElementById and a class
(using the custom function getElementsByClassName to manipulate elements by class
and tag) and removes and adds the event listener from the accessibility links:
if (artz.toggle == null || typeof(artz.toggle) != "object") artz.toggle = new Object(
artz.toggle = {
init: function ( ) {
var on='Enable AOL Accessibility', off='Disable AOL Accessibility';
var s,sw;
artz.on( )?s=off:s=on;
sw = gc('artz-switch','a',' ');
for (var i=0,l=sw.length;i<l;i++) {
!sw[i].hasChildNodes( )?ac(sw[i],ct(s)):sw[i].firstChild.data=s;
Another tricky thing that Artz did was dynamically apply an outer class, artz, to the
tab box module with JavaScript. This turns on the following styles:
/* Dynamically enabled classes (artz_tabbox_init) */
.artz .artz-tb .tabs h3, .artz .artz-tb .tabs .tab {display:none;}
.artz .artz-tb .tabs .on, .artz .dtabs {display: inline;}
So, if you do not have JavaScript, the artz class never gets applied, and thus these
styles never get applied. The beauty of this technique is that all of the CSS stays in
the CSS, and JavaScript toggles accessibility and applies the artz class that controls
visibility. The following code does that trick:
tb.parentNode.className+=' artz';
tb.className+=' artz';
For a working example and other accessible progressive enhancement techniques,
see http://www.artzstudio.com/artz/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_
Chapter 9: Advanced Web Performance Optimization
Load JavaScript on demand (remote procedure calls)
A common Ajax pattern is to load resources on demand as they are needed. You can
do the same using only JavaScript without the need for Ajax. Using the DOM you
can create a script element and append it to the head element, like this:
function include_js(file) {
if(document.getElementByTagName) {
var html_doc = document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0];
var js = document.createElement('script');
js.setAttribute('src', file);
js.setAttribute('type', 'text/javascript');
js.onreadystatechange = function ( ) { // for IE
if (js.readyState == 'complete') {
alert('JS onreadystate fired');
// return true;
js.onload = function ( ) { // for non-IE
alert('JS onload fired');
// return true;
return false;
else alert('getElementsByTagName not supported');
Now the function $include_js('http://domain.com/myfile.js') will add a script
element to the head of your XHTML document. Note that Opera spawns an error
when appending a script element to the body element, so it is best to append scripts
to the head element.
Improvements to JavaScript on demand. You can make a few enhancements to the script
in the preceding section. First, to avoid caching, you can add a random seed to the
script name, like so:
function include_jsNoCache {
var ms = new Date().getTime( ).toString( );
var seed = "?" + ms;
include_js(src + seed);
This function will import the script with a random query parameter to avoid caching. Unfortunately, Safari doesn’t spawn an onload event with the preceding code.17
S.G. September 26, 2005. “09.26.2005—Safari & createElement(‘script’).” slayeroffice, http://
slayeroffice.com/archives/?p=172 (accessed February 11, 2008).
Client-Side Performance Techniques |
It turns out that setting the onload and src attributes before loading the script will
spawn an onload event in Safari. The preceding script also does no housecleaning to
conserve memory. Once a script has been added to the DOM and used, it can be
removed to save memory. Here is the revised script:
include_js = (function( ){
var uid = 0;
var remove = function(id){
var head = document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0];
head.removeChild( document.getElementById('jsInclude_'+id) );
return function(file,callback){
var callback;
var id = ++uid;
var head = document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0];
var js = document.createElement('script');
if( document.all )
js.onreadystatechange = function( ){
if(js.readyState == "complete"){ callback(id);remove(id); }
js.onload = function( ){
callback(id); remove(id);
return uid;
})( );
For more details on this technique by Stoyan Stefanov, see http://www.phpied.com/
Consider JavaScript libraries to avoid problems. You could make other improvements with
this technique. For example, namespaces are not supported, and previously loaded
scripts will be loaded again. You could address these issues, or turn to a library
designed to import scripts in a cross-browser manner. Ajile by Mike Skitz is one solution, and it is available at http://ajile.iskitz.com/.
LazyLoad from Ryan Grove is another cross-browser solution that supports multiple
scripts and callbacks. For more, visit http://wonko.com/article/527.
Use an iframe for external JavaScript
One solution to fixing slow-loading JavaScript problems is to use an iframe to load
the external script or data. If there is any delay in loading the script, only the iframe
will be delayed, not the entire web page. Because JavaScript can access variables
from an HTML file to an embedded iframe and vice versa, this effectively makes a
synchronous HTML page asynchronous by breaking it up into iframes.
Chapter 9: Advanced Web Performance Optimization
First, create a function to process the data once the iframe loads:
function mainPageFunction (data) {
// code that uses the iFrame data
Next, create the iframe to load the external JavaScript file. Note that iframes can
cause layout problems, so the easiest way is to use a hidden iframe, like so (some
browsers don’t like positioned iframes):
<div style="position:absolute;left:0;top:0;visibility:hidden;" id="datadiv">
<iframe height="0" width="0">
<script src="http://www.example.com/scripts/widget.js"
Or you could load the data with an empty iframe, like so:
<iframe src="about:blank" height="0" width="0" name="dataframe"></iframe>
<script type="text/javascript">
Now, once you fill up JavaScript variables with data in the iframe, you can pass them
to the main HTML page using the following code:
parent.mainPageFunction (data);
Cache Off-Site Files on the Server and Load Locally
The Web has experienced a proliferation of third-party web services (ad software,
surveys, web analytics, etc.), with most relying on JavaScript to accomplish their
tasks. We’ve found that even after placing these scripts near the end of the body element, unexplained delays can occur when waiting for overloaded servers. One
method you can use with non-real-time content is to cache the off-site file locally. In
Unix-like operating systems, you can use a cron job to grab the file periodically and
load it locally to avoid any delays for overloaded external servers.
With more real-time content, such as stock quotes, you can use the following strategy. Every time you grab the data, cache the previous entry. If you get a bad result,
use the previous entry. After a certain number of bad results, spawn an alert.
Example RSS cache
To localize an external RSS feed, you can use a conversion script such as Jonathan
Eisenzopf’s rss2html.pl script to grab an RSS feed and convert it to HTML or text on
your server.18 Once the feed is on your server, you can display it locally to avoid any
off-site delays. The format for a cron job file is as follows:
[min] [hour] [day of month] [month] [day of week] [program to be run]
J. September 1, 1999. “Using RSS News Feeds.” Mother of Perl column, WebReference.com,
http://www.webreference.com/perl/tutorial/8/ (accessed February 11, 2008).
Client-Side Performance Techniques |
field = allowed values
min = 0-59
hour = 0-23
day of month = 1-31
month = 1-12 (or names, see below)
day of week = 0-7 (0 or 7 is Sun, or use names)
Here is an example cron job to grab The Daily Sucker from Vincent Flanders’ site
once a day at 3:10 A.M. (it is created around midnight PST):
# grab the day feed for flanders' web pages that suck site
10 3 * * * /www/yourdir/cgi-bin/rss2html.pl
http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/dailysucker/rss.xml > sucker.html
To save an HTTP request, you could merge this file within the destination page with
a CGI script or a content management system (CMS). Alternatively, you could use a
server-side include (SSI) to include it within your page, like this:
<!--#include virtual="/news/feeds/sucker.html" -->
In Microsoft IIS, you can use the AT command for the Schedule service to achieve a
similar effect. The syntax is as follows:
at \\computername id / delete | /delete/yes
at \\computername time /interactive | /every:date,... /next:date,... command
For example, to back up the sales server at 11:30 P.M. every weekday, create a batch
file that contains the backup commands in Backup.bat, and press Enter to schedule
the backup:
at \\sales 23:30 /every:M,T,W,Th,F backup
JavaScript Optimization and Packing
A number of JavaScript packers remove whitespace and comments and abbreviate
variable names. Some packers remap object names. (See Chapter 8 for more details
on object remapping and other JavaScript-specific optimization techniques.) Rhino,
compliments of the Mozilla Project, analyzes your code with a JavaScript parser,
minimizing the possibility of errors. Java-based Rhino compresses JavaScript with
the aforementioned techniques, plus it is scriptable.
First, install Rhino. Next, run it from the command line, like this:
java -jar rhino.jar -c orig.js > opt.js 2>&1
This code optimizes orig.js and outputs opt.js. Rhino removes spaces and comments, and shortens variable names. The Dojo Project and Yahoo! also offer compressors based on Rhino. Dojo offers ShrinkSafe, available at http://dojotoolkit.org/
Chapter 9: Advanced Web Performance Optimization
Julien Lecomte offers the YUI Compressor, also based on Rhino. Lecomte claims
higher compression ratios than Dojo’s ShrinkSafe. For more information, visit http://
Another JavaScript, CSS, and XHTML optimizer is w3compiler from Port80 Software, available at http://www.w3compiler.com.
W3compiler safely removes whitespace and comments, replaces entity and color values, removes unnecessary meta tags, abbreviates variable names, function names,
and filenames, and remaps built-in JavaScript objects. W3compiler is smart enough
not to remap names to ensure that the relationship between the XHTML, CSS, and
JavaScript stays intact.
W3compiler also does dead-code removal, curly-brace removal on statements such
as if/while with only one inner statement, and expression condensing (e.g., x=x+1
becomes x++). Once you’ve optimized your JavaScript, you can then gzip it for additional savings. We explored HTTP compression earlier in this chapter.
Extreme optimization not advised
Note that some optimization tools will remove quotes from attributes, DOCTYPE
tags, and closing tags, and will substitute shorter but less semantic tags (e.g., <b> for
<strong>). We don’t recommend violating web standards, even if you do it for the
sake of a marginal increase in download speed. In fact, practices such as omitting
closing tags can actually slow down the rendering of your pages by making the
browser work harder to parse your page by switching to “quirks” mode.
Inline Images with Data URIs
You can embed images directly into your web page markup without the need to reference an external file using the data URI scheme. Although data URIs were detailed in
RFC 2397 back in 1998,19 Internet Explorer versions 5 through 7 do not support them.
Internet Explorer 8 reportedly does support data URIs.20 Other standards-compliant
browsers such as Opera 7.2+, Firefox, Safari, and Mozilla do support data URIs, so
at least you can save HTTP requests for these browsers. Workarounds are available
for older versions of Internet Explorer.
You’ve no doubt seen other URI schemes in your travels around the Web, such as
http:, ftp:, and mailto: schemes. The data: URI scheme is a way to embed “immediate data” as though it were included externally. Data URIs use the following syntax:
L. August 1998. “The ‘data’ URL scheme.” RFC 2397, http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2397.txt
(accessed February 11, 2008).
20Lawson, B. December 19, 2007. “IE8 passes Acid2 test.” The Web Standards Project, http://www.
webstandards.org/2007/12/19/ie8-passes-acid2-test-2/ (accessed February 12, 2008).
Client-Side Performance Techniques |
In the case of an image, you’d use a MIME type identifying the image (e.g., image/
gif) followed by a Base64 representation of the binary image. To create a Base64 representation of a binary image you can use the online data URL generator at http://
Here is an example:
<img src="data:image/gif;base64,R0lGODlhEAAOALMAAOazToeHh0tLS/7LZv/0jvb29t/f3//Ub//
MxIC6e0CcguWw6aFjsVMkkIr7g77ZKPJjPZqIyd7sJAgVGoEGv2xsBxqNgYPj/gAwXEQA7" width="16"
height="14" alt="embedded folder icon">
The resultant image is a folder icon (see Figure 9-14).
Figure 9-14. The folder icon
Disadvantages of inline images
The Base64 textual representation of image data also takes up more bytes than the
binary image. In our tests, the Base64 data was 39% to 45% larger than the binary
image, but with gzip compression the difference was reduced to only 8% to 9%
larger.21 Optimizing the images before converting to Base64 reduced the size of the
string proportionally.
There are size limitations for inline images. Browsers are required to support URIs of
up to only 1,024 bytes in length, according to RFC 2397. Browsers are more liberal
in what they’ll accept, however. Opera limits data URIs to about 4,100 characters.22
Firefox supports data URIs up to 100 KB, so this technique is best used for small,
decorative images.
CSS and inline images
Embedded in XHTML files, data URI images are not cached for repeated use, nor are
they cached from page to page. One technique to enable caching is to embed background images in external CSS files. CSS is cached by browsers, and these images can
be reused with a selector. For example:
ul {list-style:none;}
ul > li {
margin:0 0 .1em;
our inline image size comparison, the folder image was 526 bytes for the Base64 code, versus 409 bytes
gzipped, versus 377 bytes for the folder image GIF.
22Mozilla Developer Center. February 12, 2007. “The data URL scheme.” Mozilla Foundation, http://
developer.mozilla.org/en/docs/The_data_URL_scheme (accessed February 11, 2008).
Chapter 9: Advanced Web Performance Optimization
MxIC6e0CcguWw6aFjsVMkkIr7g77ZKPJjPZqIyd7sJAgVGoEGv2xsBxqNgYPj/gAwXEQA7) top left norepeat; )
Now the folder image is repeated for each instance of the li (or you could use a class
or ID here as well):
<li>Testing one</li>
Figure 9-15 shows results in the page in Firefox.
Figure 9-15. Caching an inline image with CSS
There is one issue with this approach. You must recalculate the Base64 data and edit
the CSS file every time the image changes. The problem has a simple PHP solution:
<?php echo base64_encode(file_get_contents(" ../images/folder16.gif")) ?>
This code reads the image and converts it to Base64 automatically at the server. You
pay for this editing convenience with some server-side processing.
Internet Explorer workarounds. There are two ways around the lack of data URI support in Internet Explorer versions 5 through 7. Using browser sniffing, you can simply show the external image for Internet Explorer and the embedded images for
other browsers. Or you can use JavaScript to simulate data URI support in Internet
Explorer, but this method requires a fair amount of JavaScript code.23 The earlier
PHP code makes insertion of the Base64 equivalent of an image easy:
ul {list-style:none;}
ul > li {
margin:0 0 .1em;
B. March 25, 2005. “A Cross-Browser Method for Embedding Images in Self-Contained HTML
Documents.” BennHerrera.com, http://www.bennherrera.com/EmbeddedImage/EmbeddedImageArticle.html
(accessed February 12, 2008).
Client-Side Performance Techniques |
background: url(data:image/gif;base64,<?php echo base64_encode(file_get_
contents("../images/folder16.gif")) ?>) top left no-repeat;
Now when your server parses the CSS file, it will automatically encode the binary
image file into Base64 and send the encoded inline image data directly within the
CSS file.
Next you need to add browser sniffing to deliver the image for Internet Explorer and
the inline image for all others. You could do this within the CSS file with PHP or
with conditional comments, like so:
<!–[if gte IE 5]>
<link type="text/css" rel="stylesheet" href="ie.css">
<!--[if !(IE)]>
<link type="text/css" rel="stylesheet" url="notie.css">
where the ie.css would have a normal image reference:
ul > li {
margin:0 0 .1em;
background: url("/images/folder16.gif") top left no-repeat;
For more information on this technique, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data:_URI_
This chapter highlighted some of the most effective server- and client-side techniques you can use to speed-optimize your website. You learned about optimizing
parallel downloads using multiple hostnames, targeting frequently used objects for
caching, and using HTTP compression to reduce text file sizes by 75%. We explored
using delta encoding for RSS XML feeds, and using mod_rewrite to abbreviate and
map search-friendly URIs. On the client side, we explored progressive enhancement
to improve accessibility and performance, loading JavaScript on demand, caching
off-site resources locally, and inlining images with data URIs.
You can use other techniques to shrink your content and improve server response times.
To learn more, see the Speed Tweak blog at http://www.websiteoptimization.com/speed/
Chapter 9: Advanced Web Performance Optimization
Chapter 10
Website Optimization Metrics
What gets measured gets managed.
—Peter Drucker
Without quantifiable metrics, website optimization (WSO) is a guessing game. But
with hundreds of billions of e-commerce dollars at stake, most companies cannot
afford to guess.1
With web metrics, you can progressively improve your search engine marketing
(SEM) campaigns, conversion rates, and website performance. The results of using
these controlled experiments2 are more profits, happier customers, and higher return
on investment (ROI). The folks at Amazon.com have a saying that nicely sums up
the gist of this chapter: “data trumps intuition.”3
Web analysts are a special breed. They’re people who measure everything. They know how many miles per gallon their cars get, the
expense associated with each mile, and which routes to take to increase
efficiency. According to Jim Sterne, founder of the eMetrics Summit
(http://www.emetrics.org), good web analysts are in short supply.4
Eisenberg, B. November 26, 2007. “Future Now’s 2007 Retail Customer Experience Study.” Future Now,
(accessed February 21, 2008). Forrester Research projects that U.S. online retail sales will grow to $316 billion by 2010.
Kohavi, R. et al. 2007. “Practical Guide to Controlled Experiments on the Web: Listen to Your Customers,
not to the HiPPO.” In KDD 2007 (San Jose, CA: August 12–15, 2007), 959–967. Don’t listen to the Highest
Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO), but rather pay attention to experimental data. The researchers stress the
importance of statistical power and sample size.
Kohavi, R., and M. Round. 2004. “Front Line Internet Analytics at Amazon.com.” In eMetrics Summit 2004
(Santa Barbara, CA: June 2–4, 2004), http://ai.stanford.edu/~ronnyk/emetricsAmazon.pdf (accessed February
21, 2008).
As of May 2008, there were 2,199 open jobs for “web analytics” at http://www.simplyhired.com/a/jobs/list/
Nevertheless, website owners are awash in a sea of data. With such a surfeit of statistics the variety of metrics available to analyze can be overwhelming. You can use web
analytics software such as WebTrends to analyze server log data and provide standardized reports. But how do you choose the best metrics to measure website success? How do you best run controlled experiments such as A/B split tests,
multivariate tests, and parallel flights? What is the best Overall Evaluation Criterion
(OEC) for your particular goal?
This chapter will boil down this statistical tsunami to highlight the most effective metrics and techniques that you can use to optimize the effectiveness of your website.
What follows is a summary of the most effective metrics, including some you may
have not yet seen. For each subject area (SEM and performance), we will then highlight the metrics that have the most impact on website success. Next, we’ll show
some examples of select metrics in action. Finally, we’ll highlight some of the best
tools you can use to measure and tweak websites. Let the optimization begin!
Website Success Metrics
Although website content optimization is basically common sense—who doesn’t
want a fast, easy-to-find site with engaging content?—it helps to know the real
impact that it can have on your audience growth, engagement, and ultimately, conversion and monetization. The following are generally accepted, simple metrics that
you can change through the optimization techniques detailed in this book.
Figure 10-1 shows some of them in action.
Unique visitors
Hits are not what you think. A server hit is an HTTP request for a single web
object. One web page view can require many hits to the server. The true mark of
how you should measure your audience is in unique visitors. You want to
increase your unique audience by providing fast, engaging, relevant, and navigable web pages. Tracking new unique visitors can help you track audience
Average time on site (ATOS) and length of visit
How long are your users sticking around? According to ClickTracks, ATOS is
one of the best measures of user engagement and the propensity to buy.5
Pages per visit
The number of pages that were consumed during a visit is a broad and simple
measure of user engagement. Pages per visit and ATOS are two measures that
can indicate possible flow states of high engagement.
Eisenberg, B. et al. 2006. Call to Action: Secret Formulas to Improve Online Results (Nashville, TN: Thomas
Nelson), 218.
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
Controlled Experiments: Powerful Change
In isolation, human intuition is poor at predicting the value of novel or radical ideas.
We are bad at assessing changes that are not incremental. We often confuse ourselves
with the target audience. We bias our intuitive decisions with anchoring, or rely too
heavily on one point of reference. Experts can experience overconfidence and can be
influenced by office politics.a Controlled experiments, however, are immune to these
drawbacks. To find the best alternatives, controlled experiments can confirm or refute
our intuitive judgment of proposed website changes.
Controlled experiments are tests in which users are randomly shown one of several
variants (e.g., control and treatment in a simple A/B test). User interactions are instrumented, and an Overall Evaluation Criterion (OEC) is computed for each variant. Any
difference in the OEC between the control and the treatment can be explained by only
one of two things: the change itself, or random chance. Everything external to the system impacts both factors in the same way. Statistical tests are made to rule out the possibility that the change is due to chance, so if the difference is statistically significant,
what remains is that the change is responsible for the difference in the OEC. This
establishes causality.
Even small changes can have significant effects. Amazon found that every 100 ms
increase in the load time of its pages decreased sales by 1%.b
Microsoft has done extensive research on this topic, and Ronny Kohavi, general manager, is in charge of Microsoft’s Experimentation Platform (http://exp-platform.com).
After performing numerous web-based controlled experiments, Kohavi offered the following advice:
Conduct single-factor tests to study decoupled incremental design changes.
Make bold bets on different designs and iterate the winner.
Use factorial designs when you suspect that several factors may interact.
Watch out for the primacy effects of new features; new users can be utilized to
avoid this effect.
• Integrate controlled experiments into your system to avoid coding errors and
allow fast failures.
• Lower the cost of experimentation and thus increase the number of experiments.
Ideally, companies create a controlled experimental platform where they can run
experiments faster. This will reduce the cost of failure and encourage iterative improvement. Optimost.com, Offermatica from Omniture, and Google Website Optimizer all
offer the ability to run controlled experiments. Because these products depend on JavaScript modifications to call services, they are platform-independent.
Kohavi, R. 2005. “Focus the Mining Beacon: Lessons and Challenges from the World of E-Commerce.” In
PKDD 2005 (Porto, Portugal: October 3–7, 2005). Invited keynote.
Kohavi, R., and R. Longbotham. 2007. “Online Experiments: Lessons Learned.” Computer 40 (9): 103–105.
This is an Amazon statistic taken from a presentation by Greg Linden at Stanford: http://home.blarg.net/
~glinden/StanfordDataMining.2006-11-29.ppt, November 29, 2006.
Website Success Metrics |
Figure 10-1. Google Analytics dashboard showing site usage trends
Bounce rate
The bounce rate is the percentage of users who left your site without browsing to
another page or terminating by some means within a certain period of time. You
should examine pages with high bounce rates closely for improvement to content or technical impediments.
Conversion rates
The ratio of the number of objectives accomplished (i.e., sales, cart additions,
opt-ins, etc.) when compared to unique visitors is your conversion rate. You can
boost your conversion rate in myriad ways, all of which you can test. See
Chapter 5 for more information on increasing conversion rates.
Primary content consumption
Every site visit has to have an entry point. This is the percentage of times that a
page constitutes the first impression of a site.
PathLoss is the percentage of times that a page was seen within a visitor’s navigation path where the visit was terminated without bouncing. PathLoss can indicate attenuation, distraction, incomplete information, faulty navigation, or a
misguided search marketing tactic.
ROI by keyword or campaign
Which keywords or campaigns are making you the most money? ClickTracks
and other analytics software can track these metrics.
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
Cost per conversion
If the cost per conversion for a particular campaign, ad group, or keyword is
larger than the average sale value for the associated item, you’ll lose money. Find
a better way to do it with an ROI calculator.
Popular Web Metrics
How are companies measuring website success? According to JupiterResearch, companies use metrics to track the basic measures of click-throughs, impressions, site
interaction, and engagement, as well as rich metrics such as online registration
(66%), online purchases (55%), revenue per order (37%), and profit per order
(23%). Advertisers using cross-tactic optimization techniques have shown higher
usage of each of these metrics.6
Measuring SEM success
How do companies measure the success of their SEM campaigns? According to a survey by the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO), the most
popular metrics used to track the success of companies’ SEM campaigns are to:
Report overall traffic levels (73%)
Determine conversion rates (71%)
Determine click-through rates, or CTRs (68%)
Tracking ROI comes in fourth at 62% (see Figure 10-2).7
In Figure 10-2, you can see that the top two reasons for using website metrics are
related to traffic measurement. Knowing how your unique visitors and impressions
are growing is a good start, but what types of visitors are visiting your site? What
fraction of users is on broadband? Where are they coming from? Is your traffic
organic search engine, PPC, bookmark, or link-driven traffic? Are users aborting page
loads partway through or are they engaged? How much revenue are you generating
per order? What is the average amount of time spent on your site? As you delve
deeper into the metrics matrix, you’ll find that with more sophisticated analytics
software you can glean more of this type of detail.
Next, we’ll explore the different types of metrics tools that are available, including
server-side, client-side, a hybrid of both, and user experience testing software that
acts as a virtual usability lab.
Riley, E., I. Mitskaviets, and D. Card. 2007. “Optimization: Maximizing ROI Through Cross-Tactic Optimization.” JupiterResearch, http://www.jupiterresearch.com (accessed February 12, 2008).
SEMPO. December 2006. “Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization survey of SEM agencies and
advertisers, December 2006. Global Results.” SEMPO, http://www.sempo.org (accessed February 12, 2008).
Website Success Metrics |
Figure 10-2. Metrics used to measure SEM campaign success
Types of Web Analytics Software
There are two common types of analytics technologies to be aware of: web server log
analysis and JavaScript page tagging. Individually, these methods each have their pros
and cons. Taken together, they provide a holistic view of what is going on with your
website from both server-side and client-side perspectives. A brief overview of each
method, as well as a hybrid of the two, follows.
You’ll learn how you can use these methods to track the success metrics outlined earlier with the recommended tools. You’ll also read about two more advanced analytics
tools, namely Google Website Optimizer and the user experience tool WebEffective
from Keynote Systems.
Web Server Log Analysis
Web servers record every single HTTP transaction in text files known as logs. This
includes every image, Cascading Style Sheet (CSS), JavaScript, HTML page, and any
other file served to your visitors.
Because this data is already available on the web server, there is no need to modify your
pages to start receiving data. Thus, there is no decrease in performance. You need only
install a log analysis tool, configure it (consolidate browser IDs, eliminate internal traffic, exclude bots, etc.), and point it to the logs. However, installation is not as simple as
in JavaScript page tagging, and is typically performed by a system administrator.
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
Webalizer, AWStats, and Analog are three of the commonly supplied logfile analysis
tools. They are all free. Because server logs are usually in a standard format, they will
work across all platforms and web servers. For more details on these packages, see
the following sites:
• Webalizer, http://www.mrunix.net/webalizer/
• AWStats, http://awstats.sourceforge.net/
• Analog, http://www.analog.cx/
Commercial Web Analytics Packages
Commercial web analytics packages feature either logfile analysis, client-side tagging,
or both. Two popular packages are WebTrends and ClickTracks.
WebTrends Analytics
An online marketing analytics solution available for both software and hosted
implementations. It supports both logfile analysis and client-side data collection
via JavaScript tagging. The product provides predefined reports for measuring and
optimizing the performance of online marketing campaigns, organic and paid
search engine traffic, pages and content groups, Web 2.0 content, paths and conversion funnels, products and merchandising, visitor segmentation, and geographic analysis.
ClickTracks web analytics
Available as a hosted web service. Part of Lyris’s marketing suite, Lyris HQ, ClickTracks features intuitive reports that overlay behavior data on top of each web
page. Using client-side JavaScript, ClickTracks users can analyze site visitors by
PPC campaign, email campaign, search keyword, search engine, purchase behavior, or other measures. ClickTracks shows visitors’ behavior—from their entry
point into the site through their purchase, lead generation activity, or exit—in the
context of the actual website. It provides predefined reports on site navigation patterns, page views over time, ATOS, ROI, return on advertising spend (ROAS),
click fraud, and funnel reports.
AWStats, for example, breaks out humans from search robots in its summary traffic
report (see Figure 10-3). The behavior of web robots, spiders, and crawlers is something that JavaScript-based analytics tools cannot show you, because search engines
cannot execute JavaScript and send data back to the tracking server.
Server hits and an accurate count of bytes sent are also information that you will not
get from a JavaScript-based solution. These two metrics can help you benchmark the
performance of your web server. Log analyzers can also show you reports on 404s
(Page Not Found errors) along with the referring page to help you track down broken links. You can also find this type of information through Google Webmaster
Central’s Sitemaps tool, at http://www.google.com/webmasters/.
Types of Web Analytics Software |
Figure 10-3. AWStats breaking out viewed and not viewed traffic
The drawback to log analyzers is that they will not see transactions that do not take
place on the server, such as interaction with DHTML on the page, or web pages that
are cached by the user’s web browser. For busy sites that see heavy traffic, logfiles
can become huge over a short period of time. For these reasons, as well as the desire
to centralize and outsource analytic data services, JavaScript page tagging was born.
JavaScript Page Tagging
Analytics tools based on JavaScript page tagging are popular for their ease of installation and for their ability to track cached page views and non-HTTP interactions
within Flash movies, DHTML, or Ajax, assuming the analytics code is in the cached
The technology works by adding a bit of JavaScript to a page, or tagging it. When a
user loads the page in a browser, the code is executed and sends a 1 × 1-pixel transparent GIF image back to a web server with information collected about the page
Installation is easy and is typically a cut-and-paste operation. To install Google Analytics, a developer need only include this bit of code on every page in the site by
means of a site-wide footer:
<script type="text/javascript" src="http://www.google-analytics.com/ga.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript"> var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker("UA-xxxxxx-x");
pageTracker._initData( );
pageTracker._trackPageview( );</script>
Unlike with log analysis tools, you can also track JavaScript or Flash events caused
by widgets that don’t necessarily call the server. In Google Analytics, you can do this
through the trackPageview function.
Say we want to count a page view every time a user clicks the Next button in a photo
gallery without refreshing the page. We could write the following bit of JavaScript:
<input type="button" onclick="getNextPhoto( ); pageTracker._trackPageview('/photogallery/next/');" value="Next" />
Now when users interact with our photo gallery, even though the page does not
fully refresh, we will record a page view. You can find more instructions on this
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
level of tagging at http://www.google.com/support/googleanalytics/bin/answer.
JavaScript tagging can also provide more information about the user’s browsing
capabilities, whereas log analyzers rely on the User-Agent header sent with the
browser to gather insight in this area (which can be and sometimes is forged, especially in Firefox and Opera):
User-Agent: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1; .NET CLR 1.1.
4322; .NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 3.0.04506.30)
JavaScript-based analytics solutions can give you information about screen size, color
support, and installed browser plug-ins (e.g., Flash, Java) in addition to browser and
operating system types. Unlike server-side logfile analysis, JavaScript tagging incurs a
performance hit from both downloading and executing the JavaScript and the overhead of the image beacon. Improperly coded, external resources can grind your
pages to a halt if the tracking server goes down or becomes unresponsive.
Multivariate testing with Google Website Optimizer
Google’s Website Optimizer is a free A/B testing tool that allows developers to run
controlled experiments. Released in late 2006, Website Optimizer has revolutionized the testing of multiple variations to optimize conversion rates. Now there is no
need to purchase specialized software run by white-coated lab technicians to run
multivariate tests. Website Optimizer packages the mathematics of statistical power,
sample size, and random variation into an intuitive integrated system. Figure 10-4
shows an overview of how Website Optimizer works.
You can use Website Optimizer as an A/B split testing service for sites with lower
page traffic (less than 1,000 page views per week) that want to test alternatives, or as
a multivariate testing platform for busier sites that want to test multiple content
changes simultaneously.
Using Google’s interface, developers take the following steps to run a multivariate
1. Choose the elements to test.
2. Set up the experiment by inserting JavaScript in various places in the target
3. Launch the variations.
4. Analyze the results.
Step 2 uses JavaScript to randomly display and monitor content variations. A header
script, page control script, and tracking script do the heavy lifting. The greater the
number of combinations, the more traffic or time will be needed to have enough statistical power to achieve a significant result. Google Website Optimizer is a great way
to try out different ideas to maximize your conversion rates. For more information
about Website Optimizer, see http://www.google.com/websiteoptimizer/.
Types of Web Analytics Software |
Figure 10-4. Multivariate testing with Google Website Optimizer
Hybrid Analytics Systems
By combining logfile analysis with client-side tracking, you can harness the best features of both. UsaProxy is a hybrid analytics system developed by University of
Munich researchers that can track both client-side interaction and HTTP activity.8
The UsaProxy architecture is HTTP-based. It has a proxy server that automatically
injects JavaScript into web pages to track client-side behavior. It also improves logfile functionality by recording both HTTP requests as well as client-side activity such
as mouse movements and document object model (DOM) interaction within the
same logfile. Here is a sample from an actual logfile showing mousemove and keypress
activity: 2007-12-02,23:04:46 httptraffic url=http://mail.google.com/mail/ sd=624 2008-00-02,23:04:48 sd=627 sid=Adn1KR0Hr8VT event=load size=0x0 null httptraffic url=http://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=2 ik=ae8caaf240
view=cbj sd=632 2008-00-02,23:04:48 sd=627 sid=Adn1KR0Hr8VT event=load size=300x150
Atterer, R. et al. 2006. “Knowing the user’s every move: User activity tracking for website usability evaluation and implicit interaction.” In WWW 2006 (Edinburgh, Scotland: May 23–26, 2006), 203–212.
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
www.IrPDF.com 2007-12-02,23:05:02 httptraffic url=http://mail.google.com/mail/ sd=649 2008-00-02,23:05:06 sd=627 sid=Adn1KR0Hr8VT event=mousemove offset=75,27
coord=84,54 dom=abaaaaaaaaaababcaaa 2008-00-02,23:06:24 sd=627 sid=Adn1KR0Hr8VT event=keypress key=shift+H 2008-00-02,23:06:25 sd=627 sid=Adn1KR0Hr8VT event=keypress key=m
The combined logfile allows finer-grained analysis, timings, and overlays of clientside interaction on web pages (see Figure 10-5).
Figure 10-5. Mouse trails recorded by an HTTP proxy overlaid onto a screenshot
The advantage to the HTTP proxy technique is that there is no need to tag pages.
One disadvantage is that HTTP compression is disabled while gathering data. You
should run UsaProxy only for logging on a live website when site visitors have agreed
to it, because the high level of detail raises some privacy concerns, such as login identifiers and passwords. The UsaProxy software is available at http://fnuked.de/
User Experience Testing Software
What if you want to track metrics across multiple sites, including those of your
competitors? Or compare task completion success to user attitudes? That’s where User
Experience (UX) testing software comes into play. UX testing was once the exclusive
Types of Web Analytics Software |
domain of usability labs. Now UX software semiautomates user experience testing with
specialized software for running usability tests and capturing results. Keynote Systems’
WebEffective software is one such UX testing platform (see Figure 10-6).
Figure 10-6. Keynote Systems’ WebEffective output
Available under license or as a service, WebEffective is a flexible platform for conducting in-depth user experience and market research studies on individual sites or
across an entire industry. WebEffective uses a small ActiveX component or a proxy
server to track user behavior and gather input during the test. Detailed clickstream
data is available only through Internet Explorer and the ActiveX control, but you can
use WebEffective with all other browsers for task-based testing. Researchers design
and deploy tests that include screening panelists and running tasks on one or more
sites, while at the same time gathering detailed information on user activity and success rates. The tool provides a window into the real-world attitudes, behaviors, and
intentions of users. For instance, users tend to overestimate success rates when compared to actual drop-off rates (see Figure 10-7).
The significance of Figure 10-7 is that 70% of testers said they completed the task, but
only 20% of those actually completed the task as it was designed to be completed.
The software provides robust reporting tools, showing success rates, browsing time,
page views, stay and load times, and other metrics. More important, it integrates user
feedback with results (shown in Figure 10-7). So, not only do you find out what happened, but you can also learn why it happened. Figure 10-8 shows some sample
results from a comparison between the Club Med and Beaches websites.
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
Figure 10-7. Conversion funnel with drop-off rates and comments
Club Med findings: Booking process
On Club Med, two-thirds indicated that they would like to abandon the site
during the booking process in real life
Q57. Self-reported
I’m not sure
Booking process
key task metrics
Q70. Satisfaction
Q73. Ease of completing the task
Q74. Experienced problems or
Q75. Would abandon the site
during process
n=50 per site
Significantly higher or lower
than Club Med at 90% CI
Figure 10-8. Club Med findings: booking process
Types of Web Analytics Software |
This kind of integrated approach to usability testing can boost conversion rates significantly without the need for an expensive usability laboratory. Think of it as a global usability lab without walls.
Search Engine Marketing Metrics
Search metrics help marketers improve website PR campaigns and conversion rate
optimization (CRO) efforts. By tracking your progress over time or against the competition, you can optimize the effectiveness of your advertising budget. By running
controlled experiments to compare alternatives, you can quickly determine higher
return strategies. The type of analytics software that you choose to use is less important than which metrics you choose to measure.
Search Marketing Strategy
Search marketing is all about strategy. It’s thinking about moves, trying them out,
measuring, making predictions, testing, and going back and trying them over and
over again until you find what works for your site.
Let’s face it. The mechanics of setting up PPC campaigns and site submission can be
successfully taught to relatively inexperienced personnel. The true work in search
marketing is in developing theory and testing it with enough statistical power, by
which we mean validity, to realize significant change. Web analytics information can
tell marketers the language and specific word combinations that are most frequently
used on a per-page basis within their sites. That information is the key to making
good decisions on where and at what level to expend financial resources for the benefit of the company.
Optimal paths
Think of your website as a digital informational organism composed of smaller subordinate organs or pages. The relationship between a page and its purpose is directly
correlated to its value (you value your heart more than your appendix, right?). Every
major goal for a site has an optimal path for navigation from the home page and popular, or valued, landing pages. The notion of a page within an optimal path is where
measurement should begin, but this is the most common omission made by analysts.
Classes of Metrics
Now that you’re collecting and analyzing SEM metrics data, how do you use it? To better explain how metrics fit into the big picture, the Web Analytics Association (WAA)
categorized them through counts, ratios, and key performance indicators (KPIs).9
Burby, J., and A. Brown. August 16, 2007. “Web Analytics Definitions.” Web Analytics Association, http://
www.webanalyticsassociation.org (accessed February 5, 2008).
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
Research conducted by Wicked Business Sciences argues that website metrics can
be categorized into four basic functional classifications: volume, content, means,
and objectives.10 In some descriptions, the words means and content may appear
to be a part of the same grouping. Regardless of how you categorize metrics, by
placing any metric into one of these groupings you can more easily find the context and relevance of each of the numbers and how they relate to your overall
Volume is, quite simply, “How many?” Volume is any metric that deals with percentages of the whole. Metrics such as unique visitors, sessions, and page views are volume measures.
Content refers to the quantified behaviors exhibited on a site. Content metrics help
to gauge how users respond to the presentation, layout, and persuasiveness of the
materials on the page as it relates to the site’s primary purpose. When the goal is
optimization, content should be valuable to search engines and engaging to your
human audience. Messages need to be carefully crafted to entice users and help them
find the action areas of the page easily. Content is the primary area for experimentation for both quantitative and qualitative analysis. We discussed it in more detail in
Chapter 5.
Objectives are the actions that you want users to take. These are exhibited behaviors
indicative of the primary purpose of the site. In some sites, this might be a visit
resulting in a sale. In others, it might be something like a user signing up for a newsletter or commenting on a blog post.
The means are the aggregated paths into and away from the objectives. These are the
most qualitatively rich and contextually fulfilling metrics of a website. The class of
means includes page-based metrics, contributions, and compositions. It also represents the multitude of opportunities to optimize the site’s messages at their most
influential position. This area speaks directly to marketing.
D. December 15, 2007. “Definitions of Web Analytics Metrics by Classification of Function.”
Wicked Business Sciences, http://wickedsciences.com/research/white-papers/5163,0512,1215,2007.pdf
(accessed February 4, 2008).
Search Engine Marketing Metrics |
You can break down each general metric class into sets of specific metrics that comprise the widely used measures of the Web. By organizing them by function, we can
show their relationships to each other, to the larger classifications, and to the world
of people and behaviors that create them.
The remainder of this section will clearly illustrate these metrics in action.
Volume Metrics
Volume is primarily broken down into traffic metrics or numbers, independent of
any operations. The WAA refers to this as count. These metrics house the building
blocks that are the most familiar to members of your optimization team. Some basic
volume metrics include page views, visits or sessions, and unique visitors.
Page views
A page view is the act of calling a single, completely loaded URI from a server. With
the increasingly volatile adoption of new technologies to provide useful content—
things such as Flash, Ajax, RSS and XML—this volume term is becoming increasingly fuzzy. The page views metric is still in use, but it has become somewhat less
Visits or sessions
A visit or session is the act of requesting one or more pages from within the defined
parameters of a specific site. Each subsequent page view, as long as it remains within
the agreed length of inactivity prior to session termination, counts as part of that single session. A common standard is to view 30 minutes of inactivity (or lack of tag
collection) from a single site. Sessions also terminate when the browser is closed.
Unique visitors
Ideally, a unique visitor count would be the number of real people who have visited
your site within a specified time frame. This is actually not the case for log-based
analyzers. With JavaScript-based systems each user gets a unique cookie, which
ensures that each person accessing from the same IP (e.g., an office LAN) counts as a
unique visitor. Unique visitors refer to the unique browsers that have acquired their
first tag in a solution per IP in a given time frame. Cookie deletion can cause issues in
this realm.
The WAA remains attached to the idea that unique visitors are, in fact,
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
Cookie Deletion and Sweetened Traffic
Cookie deletion is the practice of removing browser cookies from your computer’s
cache of private data. Because of the tremendous amount of data being stored in cookies, people regularly delete these files in the hope that they will protect their privacy or
make their machine run more efficiently.
When users delete all cookies from a browser, the portion of the analytics or test version information stored on them is rendered incomplete. Therefore, when cookies are
deleted, a user, in essence, becomes a new user. This might mean that the user’s Google Website Optimizer test participation variation might change, or that the user is no
longer considered a return or loyal customer by solutions such as SiteCatalyst.
Although more than 30% of computer users clear their first-party cookies each month,
this should not prevent you from using analytics to make decisions.a
Abraham, M. et al. June 2007. “The Impact of Cookie Deletion on the Accuracy of Site-Server and Ad-Server
Metrics: An Empirical ComScore Study.” ComScore, http://www.comscore.com/request/cookie_deletion_
white_paper.pdf (accessed February 5, 2008). According to the study, “Approximately 31 percent of U.S.
computer users clear their first-party cookies in a month” Under these conditions, a server-centric measurement would overestimate unique visitors by 150%.
The metrics we just discussed detail the packaged volume metrics of most enterprise
solutions. For WSO purposes, these metrics are used as denominators in equations
to get a sense of the ratios where objectives are posed as the numerator. Analysts at
events such as the eMetrics Summit (http://www.emetrics.org) and the Semphonic
XChange (http://semphonic.com/conf/) frequently discuss the need for new metrics.
Based on those venues and on publications presented by the WAA, some additional
standardized metrics might be included in this publication’s volume classification.
These include the following.
New visitors
The WAA defines new visitors as “The number of Unique Visitors with activity
including a first-ever visit to a site during a reporting period.” New visitor is a useful
alternative term for first-time visitor because it addresses the idea that the user is not
only a unique visitor, but also that her first actual visit to the site occurred within the
time frame of the report. This fundamental volume term can be extremely useful in
gauging marketing and optimization efforts.
Some vendor tools may handle the new visitor designation differently.
Search Engine Marketing Metrics |
You can test new users to eliminate the primacy effect that sometimes occurs for new
features. For example, a new navigational system may be better, but may initially
show lower usability for existing users.
Repeat visitors
A repeat visitor is a unique visitor who visits more than once in a given time frame.
This, of course, is dependent on the cookie deletion rate for tag-based solutions,
multiple browser use, and the percentage of unique IPs experienced over the same
time period. The numbers associated with this metric can be tricky. As stated earlier,
it is important to consult the definitions in your particular analytics solution to
adjust this metric to fit into the confines of the tool.
Although Omniture SiteCatalyst uses the term instances rather ambiguously, it is a
handy metric. Instances refer to the number of times an event occurs. It may be used
to quantify searches on a site, or for the execution of some page behavior. As more
sites begin to transition to live-writable data tables updated by Ajax or off-site XML,
this most likely will become a more important metric of consideration.
Content Metrics: Measuring Each Component
Content metrics deal with specific functions of web pages. Content has virtues based
on function within a hierarchy of overlapping dimensions. Content is defined by its
purpose within the structure of a website to supplement the primary goal.
Entry page
The page on a website where the visit originates.
Landing pages
Entry pages that are specifically designed to convert users for marketing campaigns.
Segue pages
Pages that exist for the purpose of taking a user from a general informative state
of gathering information into an actionable state. Segues may be subcategory
pages or a topic cloud.
Action pages
Pages that are meant to elicit a response from the user. Examples are product
pages with an “Add to Cart” action function or any blog page where the author
invites users to comment. Bloggers have so few valuable metrics by which to
truly measure their success that a major conversion metric for a blog might be
the number of comments per post or article.
Fulfillment pages
Pages whose primary function is the exchange of information.
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
Content is evaluated and measured on a page-by-page basis. Each page is taken as a
single entity for the purpose of its improvement. In addition, each page should conform to the actionable goals of the entire site. As such, each page comes with a set of
metrics that help to evaluate a subset of purposeful valuations.
Each page is potentially a landing page as well as a page within a path to the ultimate goal. This tension between destination and path creates the duality of page
design. Optimization efforts, then, must prepare the page for the best results of each
world. This encompasses principles of:
• Search engine readability and relevance
• Clear and visible navigational cues
• Persuasive and engaging content
Entries are the origination of a visit. This might be perceived as a volume metric, but
because entries are typically used in making determinations for a single page of content, it can be argued that they are most applicable to content metrics. Because this
term is frequently used in the context of content valuation, this metric is defined as
content by virtue of its primary function.
Single-access visits
Like entries, single-access visits are a building-block volume term used to build out
calculated metrics for content. A single-access visit is literally a bounce.
Bounce rate (and simple engagement)
Bounce rate = single-access visits / total entries
The bounce rate is the percentage of people who arrive on a page and leave it within
a defined period of time without performing any action that shows engagement. This
is actually a packaged metric in Google Analytics and a calculated metric in other
solutions. It is an inherently negative metric.
For reporting purposes, consider using simple engagement, the formula for which
Simple engagement = 1 – (single-access visits / total entries)
Simple engagement is the reciprocated percentile created by subtracting the bounce
rate from 1. In other words, it is an inversion of the “bounce rate” metric. It is a great
metric for quickly determining whether visitors find content immediately relevant
and engaging. It can point to major deficiencies in a page’s design or content. You
also can use it to measure the effectiveness of a new ad campaign.
Search Engine Marketing Metrics |
Killer Keywords
Bounce rate or simple engagement can give an analyst a quick means to identify fundamental issues with a page. Usually a very high bounce rate indicates that there is a
loading problem with a server or script on a page, or a major keyword flaw. One client
provided this example with the search word clutter. After looking into pages where
clutter was a frequently sought-after term, we noticed traffic coming in from their paid
campaigns using that word in the context of results for “Clutter Family Murders.”
The murders of the Clutter family were described in the book In Cold Blood by Truman
Capote (Random House). This was not exactly what they were looking for in traffic.
Therefore, with the high bounce rate, we decided to flag family and murder as negative
keywords, thus reducing the likelihood of getting inadvertent traffic. Using these negative
keywords reduced our client’s bounce rate on those pages, as well as their costs on those
Figure 10-9 illustrates the bounce rate per search engine referring visits to CableOrganizer.com during a given time period. Baidu and Yandex appear to give the
highest bounce. This should not be surprising, as CableOrganizer.com provides no
content in the dominant languages of those search engines.
Figure 10-9. Bounce rate per search engine referring visits
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
Google Analytics also provides pie charts, comparative charting, and trending to
show metrics assigned to certain timelines and composition models.
Revenue per visit(or)
On a content basis in e-commerce, it is important to understand how each page contributes to the site’s success. The amount of revenue per visit or per page view can be
a very important metric to note when optimizing a site.
Page attrition
1 – (primary objective / immediately preceding step of primary objective)
Page attrition is a reciprocated metric. It is similar to bounce rate in that it is inherently a negatively connotative metric and it indicates an action that is undesirable.
This metric shows the percentage of people exposed to a single page and who do not
act on the content of that page in a positive way.
PathWeight and ProxyScoring
PathWeight is a metric CableOrganizer.com invented to identify the importance of
each page within the optimal path to conversion. This algorithm is based on inputs
associated with each of the important components of a page. PathWeight indicates
its value in comparison to pages of the same tier in relation to the primary objective.
When sorted by PathWeight, pages of equal characterization and hierarchy should
be isolated together (see Figure 10-10).
ProxyScoring is the idea that, when going into testing and optimization scenarios, you
need to present success metrics within the specific context of the page’s purpose.
Developing a series of powerful calculated metrics, it is possible to employ surrogate
conversion metrics. In doing so, the relative success of a page becomes clear against
the backdrop of otherwise indirect conversion metrics. A pleasant side effect is that
using proxies based on this system, testing to optimize a page based on alternative
objectives shortens the time needed to achieve statistically sound results.
We find that this is an excellent proxy scoring metric as well. When running a multivariate test, we often have to create a means to indicate proxies to conversion to
speed up testing times. When a page is undesirably far away from the primary objective in terms of hierarchy and characterization, choosing pages with a high PathWeight or ProxyScore can bring the virtual conversion up as an objective and can cut
testing time significantly.
Primary content consumption
PCC = [(page views) * (entries / visits)] / (total page views)
Primary content consumption is the percentage of each page as a portion of those
aggregate first impressions. This percentile helps to sort pages based on the number
Search Engine Marketing Metrics |
Figure 10-10. PathWeight and ProxyScoring in action
of times each is the first page representing your site. How important is this? If you
consider that every page is a possible spokesperson for your brand, this metric can be
the single most important metric by which to sort everything else.
PL = (exits – single access) / (page views – entries)
PathLoss11 is the percentage of times a page was seen within a visitor’s navigation
path where the visit was terminated without bouncing. In other words, it is the percentage of times in which a potentially valuable visit ended prematurely. It might
indicate attenuation, distraction, or the possibility of incomplete information (see
Figure 10-11).
Exit rate (or page exit ratio)
ER = exit ratio = exits / page views
is a metric developed by Paul Holstein of CableOrganizer.com.
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
Figure 10-11. PathLoss metric showing path abandonment
Exit rate is the percentage of times a particular page acts as a means to exit the site.
With the sole exception of the “Thank You” page for your shopping cart or other
post-conversion closure, a high rate of exit means the page content has properties
that are causing attrition.
By looking at a cross section of your website through the exit ratio, you can
quickly identify where problems might exist or where language might be confusing
or ambiguous.
Optimization and analytics help you to understand the processes and behaviors of
your users to get a sense of how to improve your site. They help you present the
appropriate stimuli to evoke the desired impulse. By creating a system of objectives
or checkpoints, a website becomes easier to build or improve. The checkpoints ultimately build a path or pattern up to and following through to a primary goal.
Understanding objectives
The objectives are the goals of your site. For some sites, the goals are sales or signups. For other sites, they might be simply to engage the audience in viewing content
such as videos or a blog. Whatever your site’s purpose, you have goals. The number
of times those goals are reached is a percentage of the number of opportunities the
Search Engine Marketing Metrics |
user was given to perform them. Objectives are made up of performance checkpoints and primary success metrics. Often, to create conversion metrics or ratios, we
would place the objective in the position of the numerator and the count or volume
in the place of the denominator.
Ad clicks
For informational pages that seek to build a revenue model on advertising, ad clicks
are the primary goals. Collecting and analyzing this data can be difficult because all
of the information has to come from diverse sources.
Goal pages
If the primary objective of a website is to provide information to the user, some pages
can meet that objective better than others. That objective may need to be a page that
is set up solely for that purpose. It could be a link off-site, or to some other page. Be
sure to properly tag the location of your goal to ensure that you can collect, aggregate, and appropriately quantify it in relation to the volume metrics of your navigation activity.
For the benevolent bloggers who seek to inform and garner discussion, an appropriate objective might be to see commentary or trackbacks as the primary goal.
Orders are the single most important objective for any online retailer. Every business
function is measured, in some way, on the ability to produce orders. A wise man
once said that anything multiplied by zero is zero. If you have zero orders, revenue is
a secondary consideration. However, once you can begin to accumulate orders, more
interesting metrics become valuable, and eventually, a system of measurement and
key performance indicators can be sifted from your silos of data.
Sign-ups include signing up to a newsletter, subscribing to an RSS feed or blog community membership, and signing up to receive “Coming Soon” promotional ticklers.
For example, Chumby.com marketed a cool alarm clock radio that plays a dashboard piped in from a Wi-Fi connection. For months, you couldn’t get the product,
but you were able to sign up so that when they started selling it you could “Be the
First in YOUR neighborhood with a Chumby.” It worked. We signed up.
Cart additions
Retailers view cart additions as a secondary metric. However, cart additions can be
valuable for the purpose of looking into bigger problems that might exist on the site.
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
Your shipping calculator might be a persistent problem area. Your cart-addition-toorders ratio is a great metric to monitor to show the impact on your conversion performance.
CV = objective / opportunity
Conversion is essentially the number of times you reach a goal divided by the number of times where it was possible (see Figure 10-12).
Figure 10-12. Conversion rate graph from Google Analytics
Measuring the Means
The means refers to the way in which a site visitor reached the objectives. The means
are the previous sites, search engines, ad creatives, and campaign metrics. These
measure the performance of efforts in advertising and marketing, and encompass
search marketing and targeted content. In multiple types of analyses, you can use
these metrics to make channels and functions accountable. You also can use them to
alter strategies to increase the likelihood of success.
Search Engine Marketing Metrics |
CPC: Cost per click
CPC = clicks / ad spend
CPC is the cost of each click on a banner or text ad. Search marketing bases this on a
“bid” price, which is determined by the venue used and the terms described. Banner
and graphics advertising can work on either a fixed CPC or with a bidding system.
Generally, CPC is the preferred form of measurement over CPM (cost per 1,000
impressions) because it is more measurable and tangible than the CPM alternative.
CTR: Click-through rate
CTR = clicks / impressions
This is the rate at which users click on a displayed ad when starting a visit. Clickthrough is useful as a metric for multivariate tests of text or alternative creative
ROAS: Return on ad spend
ROAS = revenue / cost of means
ROAS is a simple metric applicable to most marketing efforts. It is useful primarily as
an estimate of returned value for a keyword, an ad group, a campaign, or a search
ROI: Return on investment
ROI = yield – COGS – (human resources + ad costs)
ROI is a more complete version of the ROAS metric. Whereas ROAS only calculates
return based on the keyword or creative costs by whichever incremental they are
reported, ROI is valuable in its ability to calculate based on resource consumption,
cost of goods sold (COGS), and holding costs. A solid program to maximize campaign value should track this metric.
Omniture has the ability to add what is called a VISTA rule (visitor identification,
segmentation, and transformation architecture) to your campaign. VISTA rules correlate the cost of goods, per uniquely defined product, to product SKU or another
variable from a hosted shopping cart solution (e.g., product ID). Being able to focus
on the keywords that yield the highest ROI is much more valuable than a potentially
problematic and incomplete metric such as ROAS.
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
Success Metrics = Reaching Goals
Improving your search engine marking success is all about reaching your goals. Web
metrics quantifies those goals so that you can measure and improve your online marketing campaigns. Rather than measure simple volume metrics such as impressions
and unique visitors, savvy analysts measure the value of each page within the context of how it contributes to the site’s success. In other words, they measure how
effective and engaging pages are within optimal paths, and how well they retain and
attract users. Metrics such as primary content consumption, PathWeight, and PathLoss proactively help you to locate these problem areas for improvement before they
become trends in monthly reports.
Web Performance Metrics
At first glance, measuring the speed of a web page seems straightforward. Start a
timer. Load up the page. Click Stop when the web page is “ready.” Write down the
For users, however, “ready” varies across different browsers on different connection
speeds (dial-up, DSL, cable, LAN) at different locations (Washington, DC, versus
Mountain View, California, versus Bangalore, India) at different times of the day
(peak versus off-peak times) and from different browse paths (fresh from search
results or accessed from a home page).
Also, what’s ready for one user may not be ready for another. Some users wait until
the page is fully loaded before interacting with it. Others begin scrolling right away.
Some users will bail out of the page if they do not see a response in a few seconds.
For them, “ready” does not come soon enough. As you learned in the introduction to
Part II, the old 8- to 10-second rule has split into faster response guidelines for
broadband users and slower ones for dial-up users.
In reality, a web page is ready at a variety of different times. Performance optimization, therefore, serves to reduce the variability of those times despite all conditions.
Consistent response times make it easier for users to attune to a website’s performance characteristics.12
As a result, the speed of your web pages can have a profound impact on conversion
rates, on user engagement, and on the overall experience of your web site.
In this section, we will establish a working vocabulary in the metrics that impact load
times. We will show how to baseline your pages using the best tools available today,
and we will leave you with some advice in managing the numbers.
C. 1998. “Designing for Delay in Interactive Information Retrieval.” Interacting with Computers 10
(1): 87–104.
Web Performance Metrics |
Keeping Score
I mean, he’ll see everything, he’ll…he’ll see the
Big Board!
—George C. Scott in Dr. Strangelove
One thing you’ll take away from this section is that you need to keep score. You
need a big board to point to. Maintain a tracking spreadsheet or scorecard. This lets
you effectively manage the progress of your changes. You can then do some competitive analysis and see how much you have improved.
Effective management
The analytics numbers and their trends will seed actionable tasks for improvement and will keep all eyes in the room focused on the prize.
Competitive analysis
The cost of switching between similar sites and content is small; use speed as a
competitive advantage and beat your competitors’ numbers.
Historical reference
Quickly seeing where you were and how much you have improved enables you
to validate and learn from past decisions. You can give rightful credit for the
gains and account for the losses.
Feel free to create your own scorecard based on the information provided here, or
you can download the one from this book’s companion website, http://www.
websiteoptimization.com/secrets/metrics/scorecard.xls, and follow along.
You can divide the metrics we will be tracking, analyzing, and inserting into three
• Speed checklist
• Request statistics
• Load times
The benefit of this method is that one category impacts the next. Improving your
speed checklist score improves request statistics, which in turn improves load times.
Speed checklist
Thanks to the advancement of performance optimization tools, we can now see
whether web pages leverage basic speed optimization techniques and track them as
metrics. We covered implementation of these techniques in Part II of this book, but
here we will briefly describe why they are important to track:
Cache static objects
All static objects (images, JavaScript/CSS, SWF, etc.) should have cache headers
(max-age, Expires) specified, because this minimizes Not Modified (304) requests
on repeat page views. Ideally, set the expiration time to 30 days or more. Streamline your workflow to rename the objects when they need to be updated.
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
Combine JavaScript/CSS files
You should combine JavaScript and CSS requested from the same server to
reduce the number of requests, a key influencer of load times.
Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
Using a CDN improves the time to first byte (TTFB) of individual objects,
directly improving load times (more on this shortly).
Modern web browsers support HTTP compression using primarily the gzip algorithm. Think of it as WinZip (PC) or StuffIt (Mac) for the Web. Turning on gzip
reduces kilobytes received of text-based files (HTML, JavaScript, CSS, XML, etc.),
typically by 70% to 75%.13 We reduced the JavaScript and CSS files of seven
popular sites by 73.7% using gzip compression (see Table 10-1).
Compress images
You should store graphics in a format (typically, GIF, PNG, or JPG) that results
in the smallest possible file size at the best possible quality. Although this is as
much a subjective art as it is a science, you should monitor it closely to reduce
kilobytes received.
Keepalive or persistent connections
Web servers configured with HTTP keepalive enable browsers to reuse and conserve socket connections. A socket connection takes as much load time as an
object request, and can also bog down servers as more and more are opened and
served. Although in general this is not a large issue anymore on the Web (ad
servers seem to be the only ones without a clue), you should account for and
watch it.
Never set cookies to a domain or path from which static objects are served. The
cookies will be sent out with the request on every CSS, JavaScript, or image
object on that domain, or within that path. Moving these objects to a CDN is a
common technique for stopping unwanted cookie stowaways.14
Minify JavaScript/CSS
Minifying is the process of removing unnecessary comments and whitespace
from code, at the cost of making the code less maintainable. We recommend
keeping a fully commented development copy of your JavaScript and CSS files
and minifying only for the live server. Although gzip compresses code quite well,
K., and A. King. 2003. “Compressing the Web.” In Speed Up Your Site: Web Site Optimization.
Indianapolis: New Riders, 412. A test of 25 popular sites found that HTTP gzip compression saved 75% on
average off text file sizes and 37% overall.
14Bent, L. et al. 2004. “Characterization of a large web site population with implications for content delivery.”
In WWW 2004 (New York: May 17–20, 2004), 522–533. In a 2004 trace, 47% of requests used cookies; 34%
of all requests were for cookied images; and 73% of all cookied requests were for images, showing that judicious use of cookies would cut their use by half and enable caching.
Web Performance Metrics |
you can squeeze even more bytes from gzip when you combine it with minifying. The impact can be surprisingly large on reducing kilobytes received (see
Table 10-1).
Table 10-1. Minification and gzip savings
Minified and
100 KB
78 KB (22%)
27.8 KB (72.2%)
21.6 KB (78.4%)
45.5 KB
37 KB (18.7%)
12.4 KB (72.7%)
9.9 KB (78.2%)
211.4 KB
180.2 KB (14.8%)
45.4 KB (78.5%)
38.8 KB (81.6%)
168.5 KB
164.8 KB (2.2%)
52 KB (69.1%)
45.5 KB (73%)
179.4 KB
148.1 KB (17.4%)
52.8 KB (70.6%)
41.3 KB (77%)
297.9 KB
231.2 KB (22.4%)
73.7 KB (75.3%)
59.1 KB (80.2%)
223.4 KB
190.7 KB (14.6%)
50 KB (77.6%)
42.7 KB (80.9%)
175.2 KB
147.1 KB (16%)
44.9 KB (73.7%)
37KB (78.5%)
On average, minifying reduced the file size of the home page JavaScript and CSS
of these seven popular sites by 16%. Compressing them with gzip reduced them
by 73.7% on average, with a small performance penalty for decompressing the
files at the browser. Combining minifying with gzip compression reduced them
by 78.5% overall. So, minifying buys you 16% without compression and 4.8 percentage points more than gzip compression alone. Note also that using lowercase text and markup improves the efficiency of gzip compression by increasing
the likelihood of string matches. The speed checklist metrics make it easy for us
to determine that fundamental optimization techniques have been implemented:
our goal is 100% compliance.
Request statistics
These metrics are positively correlated to load time. To illustrate this fact, we took a
load time sampling of the top U.S. web sites and correlated their kilobytes and object
requests (see Figure 10-13).
The higher these metrics are, the greater the chances of high load times. You will
want to work to reduce these:
Kilobytes received
The size (or weight) of the objects in the page, including HTTP headers (cookies, etc.), images, scripts, advertisements, and so on. The slower the user’s Internet connection, the more strongly kilobytes received influences load times.
Kilobytes sent
The total weight of the outbound object request headers (user-agent, cookies,
etc.) sent by the browser. Cookies are the source of excess weight here, and they
affect the speed with which the browser is able to make requests.
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
Figure 10-13. Load times, kilobytes, and requests are directly correlated
Number of requests
The number of objects called by the page. Each object called has a speed tax
associated with it for simply existing (refer back to Part II’s introduction for
more details). On faster connections such as fiber optic, the number of objects
becomes the key influencer of load times.
Socket connections
Before requesting an object, the browser must establish a connection to the web
server. Because of the advent of persistent connections (covered in the preceding
list, in the entry for keepalive or persistent connections), sockets are less of a factor but are still worth watching and improving when necessary.
Domain Name System (DNS) lookups
For every domain or hostname referenced by your markup, a DNS lookup
occurs. These can be dangerous because you cannot predict how much time they
will take. Although the user’s Internet service provider (ISP) and browser typically cache them, it is not uncommon to see these take seconds or longer if a
DNS server is acting up. It is best to reduce as much as possible the chances of
this occurring.
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Not Modified (304)
The 304 response code indicates a request for an object that existed in the user’s
browser cache. In other words, the request did not need to occur in the first
place, but it impacted load time.
Redirects (301/302)
A 301 or 302 response code indicates that a server redirect has occurred. For
example, if a user accesses http://www.example.com and she is redirected to http://
www.example.com/main, this adds an additional request/response and increases
load time as well as potentially harming search engine rankings if done improperly. For fast performance, it is best to reduce the number of redirects.
Not Found (404)
Sometimes HTML code references images or scripts that no longer exist.
Although nothing is downloaded, the request is still made and it impacts performance, making this metric important to watch.
Improving these metrics will have a direct impact on your load times, and we will be
tracking and analyzing them all very closely.
Load times
Yes, load times, plural. Instead of working on one master load time, we will be looking to improve four points of time critical to the user experience:
The time period measured from when a user requests the HTML document until
it is processed on the server and content starts to download.
Start Render
The point at which the screen begins to draw. Until this point is reached, the
page is blank for users.
Document Complete or “Web 1.0” time
This event fires when all images and scripts called by the HTML and CSS have
been downloaded. It is a great load time indicator for basic content sites such as
Fully Loaded or “Web 2.0” time
Images and scripts called by JavaScript or Flash can be loaded after the onload
JavaScript event fires. This behavior makes it necessary to have a measurement
for content that is dynamically pulled into the page. Flash-enabled websites such
as http://www.disney.com typically initialize their content after the onload event,
illustrating the need for a metric capturing the elements loading thereafter.
We break load times into four parts to make each piece more actionable. For example, a
long TTFB could indicate server or network congestion. Tracking only the Fully Loaded
time metric would not give you enough information to allow you to act on this problem immediately, or to even know whether there was a problem to begin with.
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
We recommend tracking all of these times, and reporting either Document Complete (Web 1.0) or Fully Loaded (Web 2.0) for the sake of simplicity for those who
insist on only one load time metric.
Scorecard tips
If you haven’t yet downloaded our sample scorecard, there are a few final requirements that we should mention:
We should make these metrics easy to track over time and calculate percentage
gains for reporting progress.
Multiple pages
The scorecard should support multiple pages. Tabs in Excel come in handy here.
Multiple paths
Because page performance can be different depending on the path users take to
access it, we need to account for this. At a minimum, we recommend showing
the first view versus the follow-up, or repeat view.
Armed with our speed metrics and scorecard in hand, we can move on to measurement.
Designing a Sample Test
Because of the many conditions in which users may access our page, we need to standardize on a few things.
Find your audience
Your analytics software can tell you the dominant browser and connection speed
that the majority of your visitors are using. For our purposes, we will assume Windows XP, Internet Explorer 7, and a 1.5 Mbps connection speed.
Analytics software can also tell you what browse paths are common. For example, if it
turns out that a common path to the product details page is from a search engine and
from the home page, this might be an important path to baseline in your scorecard.
We are also going to capture two types of page loads: the first view and the repeat
view. The first view simulates the first impression experience of a user who has never
visited the site before. The return experience metric tests the speed of the page
should the user return to the page within the hour.
Clear cache and cookies
Recent research by Yahoo!’s performance team suggests that the empty cache page
view is more common than one would assume. Their study concluded that 40% to
60% of Yahoo!’s users have an empty cache experience and about 20% of all page
Web Performance Metrics |
views are done with an empty cache (see Figure 10-14).15 Possible explanations are
that browser caches fill up quickly and that users have been trained to clear their
cache and cookies to fix issues with slow performance and other problems.
Figure 10-14. Empty cache views over time
You should also clear cookies. Cookie traffic can have an impact on load times
because the extra bytes piggyback onto the outbound request. To delete your
browser cache and cookies, follow these steps:
For Internet Explorer 7:
1. Select Tools ➝ Internet Options ➝ Delete ➝ Delete Files and then click Yes.
2. Select Tools ➝ Internet Options ➝ Delete ➝ Delete Cookies and then click Yes.
For Internet Explorer 6:
1. Select Tools ➝ Internet Options ➝ Delete Cookies and then click OK.
2. Select Tools ➝ Internet Options ➝ Delete Files and then click OK.
For Firefox:
1. Select Tools ➝ Clear Private Data ➝ Check Cache, Cookies ➝ Clear Private Data
15Theurer, T. January 4, 2007. “Performance Research, Part 2: Browser Cache Usage—Exposed!” Yahoo! User
Interface Blog, http://yuiblog.com/blog/2007/01/04/performance-research-part-2/ (accessed February 22,
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
Flush DNS
Every time a browser encounters a new domain during page load, it performs a DNS
lookup to the ISP to determine the IP address of the domain name. The speed of the
lookup varies by ISP, but it is generally 10 to 20 ms.16
Because we are aiming to simulate users who have never looked up the domain
before, we should clear this as well.
For Windows XP:
1. Select Start ➝ Run.
2. Type ipconfig /flushdns and then click OK.
For Mac OS X:
1. Select Open Terminal.
2. Type lookupd –flushcache.
Simulate connection speeds
Bandwidth and network latency are the two biggest factors that influence a page’s load
times. We will use a tool called Charles, available at http://www.charlesproxy.com/, to
simulate the common broadband speed of 1.5 Mbps, as well as to induce a latency of
80 ms (see Figure 10-15).17,18 Typical end-to-end latencies in the United States are
from 70 to 80 ms for the average web surfer. Analog modem or ISDN connections
add 30 to 150 ms of latency. You can see how latencies will vary with connection
speed. Narrowband latencies average about 250 ms whereas broadband connections
average about 100 ms.19 Satellite connections have longer latencies on the order of
250 to 500 ms.
Charles is a web debugging proxy. Among its other features, it can throttle bandwidth. The tool is shareware and is fully functional for 30 days. A license costs about
$50 (at the time of this writing) and is well worth it if you are serious about optimizing for performance on all types of connection speeds and network latencies.
L., and G. Voelker. 2002. “Whole Page Performance.” In WCW 2002 (Boulder, CO: August 14–16,
2002), 11. The average DNS lookup in the United States takes about 7.1 milliseconds.
17Cardwell, N. et al. 2000. “Modeling TCP Latency.” In INFOCOM 2000 (Tel Aviv, Israel: March 26–30,
2000): 1742–1751. Found that 70 ms is a reasonable round-trip time (RTT) for web objects.
18Habib, M. A., and M. Abrams. 2000. “Analysis of Sources of Latency in Downloading Web Pages.” In WebNet 2000 (San Antonio, TX: October 30–November 4, 2000), 227–232. Round-trip times range from 20 to
90 ms across the United States. Overseas RTT ranged from 140 to 750 ms for a satellite link to Bangladesh.
About 40% to 60% of total web page latency is from the initial request to receiving the first byte, due mainly
to overhead, not server delay.
19Touch, J. et al. December 1998. “Analysis of HTTP Performance.” USC/ISI Research Report 98-463.
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Figure 10-15. Charles throttling bandwidth
Charles comes with presets for dial-up, ISDN, and low DSL connection speeds (as
shown in Figure 10-15). We will configure Charles to the typical U.S. DSL broadband connection speed in 2008: 1.5 Mbps or 1,500 Kbps.
In addition to bandwidth threshold, you can set the utilization percentage to simulate users who don’t get the fully advertised speed, who download files at the same
time, or who share a connection with a neighbor. You can also adjust round-trip
latency to simulate poor network conditions (satellite Internet, Wi-Fi) or geographic
issues. For example, a round trip to India from the United States takes about 400 to
750 ms.
We will configure Charles with an 80 ms round-trip latency as our standard with
95% utilization and start our tests. Your browser needs to be configured to properly
use Charles for repeatability (see the installation steps for auto-configuration at the
Charles website).
It’s Measuring Time
With our cache, cookies, and DNS cleared and with Charles throttling our connection to a common broadband speed, we are ready to roll. We are going to baseline
Digg (http://www.digg.com), a popular social bookmarking service, starting from a
blank page (about:blank).
If you have a machine dedicated to performance analysis, use about:
blank as your home page.
IBM Page Detailer
IBM Page Detailer is a Windows tool that sits quietly in the background as you
browse. It captures snapshots of how objects are loading on the page behind the scenes.
Download it from http://www.alphaworks.ibm.com/tech/pagedetailer/download.
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
IBM Page Detailer captures three basic performance metrics: load time, bytes, and
items. These correlate to the Document Complete, kilobytes received, and number of
requests metrics we are tracking.
We recommend capturing three to five page loads and averaging the metrics to
ensure that no anomalies impacted performance in the data, such as a larger ad. It is
important, however, to note the occurrence and work to mitigate such anomalies.
Table 10-2 shows our averaged results.
Table 10-2. IBM Page Detailer metrics for http://www.digg.com
Load time (sec.)
Items (requests)
First view
Repeat view
Under the hood: Waterfall reports
The real power of IBM Page Detailer is in its detailed “waterfall reports.” These
charts show the sequence and timing of web page objects as they download for a
requested web page (see Figure 10-16). They can illustrate common web performance issues, such as blocking JavaScript files and the browser limitation of “two
simultaneous connections per hostname” on HTTP 1.1 servers. We covered the perils of parallelism in the introduction to Part II.
Figure 10-16. IBM Page Detailer waterfall report
The Chart tab of IBM Page Detailer shows a graphical view of all objects loading on
the Digg.com home page (as shown in Figure 10-16). Page Detailer shows how each
request breaks down between Server Response (time associated with the request) and
Delivery (time to download all of the object’s kilobytes). This is also shown in Figure 10-16. The darker bar represents the time waiting for the server response, and the
lighter bar is the delivery time of all the bytes.
IBM Page Detailer also has a Details view that helps you understand more about the
impact of each object on the page. Here you can sort by load time to see the big
offenders. Be sure to check out the additional columns (right-click the column name,
and then select Add Column), especially Item Start Offset, to understand when each
Web Performance Metrics |
object loads into the page. In Figure 10-17, you can see that on this page load,
jquery.js took one second and label.js didn’t start to load until 4.16 seconds.
Figure 10-17. IBM Page Detailer Details tab
IBM Page Detailer works with both Internet Explorer and Firefox, but you must load
it separately from the browser as a standalone application. For performance analysis
tools that load right in the web browser, read on.
Firebug: A simple alternative
Firebug is an add-on for Firefox that adds a cross-platform measurement tool to your
belt. Though not as detailed as the aptly named IBM Page Detailer, you can use it to
dig in to what’s happening in Firefox.
Like IBM Page Detailer, Firebug provides a waterfall report, as well as the basic
speed metrics such as requests, kilobytes, and load time in seconds (see
Figure 10-18). Notice that CSS has the same blocking effect as JavaScript in Firefox.
This is one of the differences in the way files are handled between Internet Explorer
and Firefox. Another difference that you may encounter is that JavaScript files pulled
dynamically (via DOM methods) block objects in Firefox, whereas in Internet
Explorer they do not.
If you mouse over any of the images, you will get a preview of the image to quickly
identify fat graphics (also shown in Figure 10-18).
Unlike IBM Page Detailer, Firebug doesn’t show detail regarding server response and
delivery. It combines everything into one time. It also includes JavaScript execution
time. Keep this in mind when using this tool! For example, on the Repeat view, you’ll
see objects pulled from cache (not 304s) show up in the report. You aren’t crazy: this is
how Firebug works and why Yahoo! patched it in its YSlow tool (more on YSlow
The fact that Firebug can measure execution time can also be a good thing; you can
profile your JavaScript functions to see where your holdups are. To profile execution
time, click Console and then Profile. Load the page, and then click the Profile button again to see a detailed report of all the functions executed by the page and how
long they took (see Figure 10-19).
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
Figure 10-18. Firebug output display of Digg.com, first view
Figure 10-19. Firebug JavaScript profiler
Remember that JavaScript blocks pages from rendering until they are requested,
downloaded, and executed, so optimization here can prove worthwhile.
What about keeping score? So far, we have seen two popular tools for performance
analysis, but none that quickly summarize the metrics outlined early in this section.
A new tool called AOL Pagetest allows a finer-grained performance analysis than previously possible.
AOL Pagetest
AOL uses Pagetest, a homegrown performance measurement tool recently released
to the open source community. At the time of this writing, Pagetest has more features than any other tool, free or otherwise.
In addition to the waterfall reports you have seen so far, Pagetest adds a timeline
across the top, numbered objects down the side, and vertical bars marking key
points in time in the page load process (see Figure 10-20).
Web Performance Metrics |
Figure 10-20. AOL Pagetest waterfall report, Digg.com cached view
The first vertical bar (shown as green on this book’s companion site) represents
when the browser window has a width and height greater than zero: in other words,
when the document starts to render. This correlates to our Start Render metric identified earlier in this section.
The second vertical bar (blue) represents when the browser fires the Document Complete JavaScript event, and is a good indication of when the page is ready for Web 1.0
or progressively enhanced sites that don’t rely on Flash and Ajax.
The black line at the end represents the fully loaded time. It captures any additional
requests made after the previous event, such as objects requested through JavaScript
and Flash. The fully loaded time fires after two seconds of network inactivity.
Each object request is numbered, which makes it easy to discuss performance problems. Notice, for example, that objects 8 and 9 in Figure 10-20 are highlighted and
are returning 304s. This is a ripe opportunity for cache headers!
Inside an HTTP request. Notice that in Pagetest, each object request is broken down into
different colors (or shades of gray in Figure 10-20). Recall that in Firebug, all we get to
see is the overall time of the object, but here we have more details within each request.
These colors correlate to the different parts of an HTTP request with more granularity
than IBM Page Detailer. Figure 10-21 shows the HTTP request breakdown.
As we covered in our overview of request statistics, DNS lookups occur when accessing new hostnames. The operating system then stores them for about 30 minutes in
the user’s local cache. It is important to reduce lookups, as times will vary.
After getting the IP, the browser opens a socket connection with the server. Two
simultaneous socket connections stay open at any given time, assuming persistent
connections (keepalives) are enabled. If persistent connections are not enabled, the
browser opens a socket connection for every request.
Once the socket is opened (or reused), the browser makes another request to the web
server (e.g., Digg.com). The TTFB, as described earlier, is the period between when
the browser makes the request and when the server processes the request and then
sends the first byte of the page (or object) back to the browser.
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
The HTTP Request
first byte
Send data (KB)
Get IP
last byte
Open socket
Initial HTTP
Time to first byte
first byte
last byte
Content download
Figure 10-21. Anatomy of an HTTP request and correlation to Pagetest legend
Finally, the server responds with the content the browser requested. This period is
where the object’s kilobytes and the user’s bandwidth, or throughput, impact the
time it takes to download.
Special responses. If the user already has the object in his cache, a Not Modified (304)
response is returned and the content download is avoided. One study found that 29%
of objects requested from servers were not modified.20 Pagetest highlights these in yellow, so you can quickly spot them and address them with the proper cache headers.
If the object wasn’t found on the server, a Not Found (404) response is returned. The
problem here is that the browser still went through all the time and trouble to
request it. What a waste!
Finally, Pagetest will also highlight requests that were redirects. As you may have
guessed, 301/302 redirects also count as requests, so we want to be sure we really
meant for them to happen.
Summarizing load time and request statistics. We have kept you waiting long enough.
Now that you understand how HTTP requests work and why reducing them is
important, it is time to update our scorecard.
In Pagetest, go to File ➝ Save Optimization Report. At the top of the saved file, you
will find a summary with all of the metrics we want to track (see Figure 10-22).
Scrolling down, you will also find an organized summary of all objects that failed to
meet the items in our speed checklist. Pagetest is available for download at http://
pagetest.sourceforge.net. It is also available as an online tool at http://www.
20Bent, L. et al. “Characterization of a Large Web Site Population with Implications for Content Delivery,” 511.
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Figure 10-22. AOL Pagetest Optimization Report summary
Speed Up Your Site
Now you know how fast your site is loading and how to measure website performance and the various request statistics that impact speed. Next, it is time to
improve performance and track it via our speed checklist metrics.
Pagetest provides a chart that shows a quick analysis of all the optimization checklist
metrics outlined earlier in this chapter. The chart is at the page object level. To check
it out, in Pagetest select File ➝ Export Checklist. Each heuristic is scored individually, making them great metrics to track and improve (see Figure 10-23).
Figure 10-23. AOL Pagetest Optimization Checklist Report
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
The optimization checklist tests each object against eight techniques that we recommend for every page on the Web (cache, CDN, gzip, compress images, minify, combine JavaScript/CSS, keepalives, and cookies), with few exceptions. Pagetest
calculates a score based on the number of passing objects versus failed objects. This
is translated into an overall percentage score. To get a good read, make sure you run
the checklist on the first view (cleared cached) experience.
We can transfer these numbers directly into our scorecard, so we can watch how
they impact load times.
Note that Pagetest includes this chart in text format in its Optimization Report
(select File ➝ Save Optimization Report) in a more actionable format. At AOL, this is
the start of a performance action plan for product teams. All that’s missing are owners and dates for when offending objects will be fixed.
Enhance Firebug with YSlow
YSlow is a great companion to Firebug. It was designed to check web pages against
Steve Souders’s rules for speeding up your site (see Figure 10-24). It uses Firebug’s
Net Panel and traverses the HTML DOM to develop a thorough list of objects to
score the page.
Figure 10-24. YSlow Performance tab
Using Digg.com as our example, we see that it gets a failing grade compared to several important best practices, especially #1: make fewer HTTP requests.
Web Performance Metrics |
Clicking the arrows will give you actionable information on what caused it to fail.
For example, to address Rule #1, the 15 CSS background images might be good candidates for using a CSS sprite map (covered in Chapter 7). The 12 external JavaScript files should be combined into fewer files, directly improving our number of
requests and start render metrics.
YSlow patches the Net panel of Firebug, adding an option to get rid of objects that
were pulled from cache from the waterfall chart (remember, Firebug shows execution time, unlike Pagetest and IBM Page Detailer). Be cautious of this patch, however. In our testing, it sometimes did not show scripts loading on the first view,
mistaking them somehow for cached objects. The YSlow team is good about quickly
releasing patches, so be sure to keep it up-to-date and cross-check it with IBM Page
Detailer or Pagetest’s results.
On YSlow’s Stats tab, we see that it further breaks down the total kilobytes and
HTTP requests and categorizes them so that they are more actionable. For a nice
summary report, select Tools ➝ Printable View (see Figure 10-25). It makes a punch
list of things to fix.
Figure 10-25. YSlow Stats tab
Reporting the Numbers
By now, you have a scorecard that holds the key metrics for web performance optimization. We went ahead and baselined Digg.com a month later, to check on its
progress and to show you our metrics in action (see Figure 10-26).
Let’s examine what Digg did to improve its site between November 2007 and
December 2007.
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
Figure 10-26. Digg.com performance scorecard
Looking at our speed checklist metrics, we see that Digg improved in two areas, that
is, in the “Combine” and “GZIP” items. These metrics typically impact start render,
as they address CSS and JavaScript files in the head of the document. Digg’s score
improved 178.6% for “GZIP” in particular, so we can expect big savings here.
On the downside, we see that Digg.com’s Cache score dropped by 34.4%. We can
almost certainly expect more Not Modified (304) responses and longer load times on
the Repeat view to be reflected in the metrics in Figure 10-26.
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Turning our attention to our request statistics, we see a big improvement in “KB
Received”; Digg reduced it by 36.5%, or 146.9 KB. This was no doubt caused by the
savings we had due to the gzip win.
However, Digg bumped its requests up from 50 to 60, and also appears to be making more DNS lookups and socket connections. This hints at ad issues. We will see
how this plays out in Digg’s load time metrics. Finally, as predicted, we see a 93.8%
rise in Not Modified (304) responses, something that will guarantee a slower Repeat
Finally, we arrive at Digg’s load time metrics. Digg made major headway in its “Start
Render” time, engaging its users 31.1% faster than before! This illustrates the power
of gzip. Its poor caching issues and increased 304s are impacting its Repeat view load
times, rendering them more than 50% slower than before.
In its next release, Digg should apply cache headers to its static template images, and
after celebrating its already big win in start render time, should work to combine its
JavaScript and CSS files to engage its users even sooner and to serve a near immediate first impression.
A movie is worth a thousand scorecards
Clients can sometimes be overwhelmed by numbers, but a visual aid can help. If you
are really trying to sell web performance, you’ll want to have movies in your arsenal.
To illustrate how compelling this can be, we have a video of Digg.com’s load time for
download at our companion site (see Figure 10-27).
The most basic way to measure performance is simply to give it a good look and time
some of the key points visually:
Start render
The first sign of feedback to the user
Useful content
The time when content is usable, that is, navigation or search appears, the window is scrollable, and so forth
Graphics loaded
The time when the experience is visually complete with all logos and icons in
place above the fold
Ads loaded
The time when advertisements on the site have loaded and impressions have
been registered
Let’s look more closely at each key visual performance metric.
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
Figure 10-27. Video of Digg.com showing key load times
Web Performance Metrics |
Start render
Up to this point, users are staring at the page where they started. Before a page is displayed, it must download all the elements called from the <head> HTML element.
This is typically all the JavaScript and CSS needed by the web page. The start render
time is arguably the most important, because at this point we are at the greatest risk
of a user bailing out before she experiences the content.
You can improve the start render time by optimizing the JavaScript and CSS in the
HTML head by combining files, reducing their weight, moving the JavaScript to the
end of the HTML document, or loading them on demand.
Ideally, you want your start render time to be within one second, which would be
perceived as a near-instant response on the Web. Jakob Nielsen wrote:
1.0 second is about the limit for the user’s flow of thought to stay uninterrupted, even
though the user will notice the delay. Normally, no special feedback is necessary during delays of more than 0.1 but less than 1.0 second, but the user does lose the feeling
of operating directly on the data.21
Useful content display
After the page is visible, HTML text typically displays first in the load order. The
more text there is on the page, the more a user has to interact with. Be sure to set
important headers, navigation, and readable content as HTML text to give the best
“useful content” time.
Pages that are designed correctly, with CSS at the top and JavaScript at the bottom,
display content progressively. This page-loading behavior is a form of feedback that
makes users more tolerant of delays. You can improve useful content times by simplifying HTML markup (de-nesting divs and tables) and by converting graphical text
to CSS text. See Chapter 6 for details on progressive rendering and optimal placement of CSS and JavaScript files.
Your target for useful content display should be in the range of one to two seconds
over broadband. According to research, that is the threshold for retaining a user’s
attention. See the introduction to Part II for details on attention thresholds.
Graphics loaded
Images and graphics will paint in after the text has loaded. This time is important,
especially if the graphics contain critical information to users accomplishing a task.
In Digg’s case, most of the important content is conveyed as text. Digg does a good
job here. Only user icons and some background gradients make up Digg’s design.
J. 2007. “Response Times: The Three Important Limits.” Useit.com, http://www.useit.com/papers/
responsetime.html (accessed January 18, 2008).
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
Keep in mind that some users do wait for all graphical elements to load before proceeding to browse, so it is important that we improve the graphics load time.
Improving graphics load time involves using CSS sprites, and using more text and
CSS-based design treatments.
As for time limits, if there is useful content in graphics, we will want the graphics to
display in one to two seconds; otherwise, we recommend a threshold of 3 to 4 seconds
for broadband-targeted content and 8 to 12 seconds for dial-up. The key word here is
targeted. Examine your audience and ensure that your site appeals to your users for
their respective bandwidth thresholds. Optimizing for dial-up will enable you to better
monetize their traffic, as well as make your broadband users even happier.
Ads loaded
It is important to note the time when ads are loaded because in most cases that is
when your money is made. If ads are taking too long to load, you may not be getting
those impressions because of user bailout. It is important to fully monetize your website and load ads as quickly as possible.
The best solution we have found for advertisements is to compromise and stick them
in iframes so that they will load sooner. Although they eat up bandwidth, iframes load
asynchronously and they ensure early impressions. If you head down this path, be sure
to test extensively across browsers to ensure that the ads still function properly.
Our target time for loading advertisements should be as soon as possible to gain
impressions. To improve performance, offload any video or extended interactive creative until the end of the page load.
Commercial Monitoring Tools
Although we have detailed how to measure web performance metrics on your own,
several commercial services are available. These services provide measurements of
your site’s performance from different geographic areas, as well as more detailed
transaction reports for e-commerce sites.
Keynote is a leader in end-user experience testing, and can track your key pages
under a variety of configurations. Keynote has the ability to script tests using a real
Internet Explorer browser, and collect metrics from all over the globe. One of its
newer capabilities that sets it apart is its mobile testing, where it can do speed testing
across an array of mobile devices and carriers. Keynote claims to have the marketleading infrastructure for testing, measuring and monitoring website performance,
streaming downloads and live streaming, mobile content quality, VoIP, and online
customer experience.
Web Performance Metrics |
To accomplish all this, the company maintains an infrastructure of more than 2,400
measurement computers and real mobile devices representing actual end-user experience from more than 160 metropolitan areas worldwide. Additionally, it maintains a
panel of more than 160,000 people who perform interactive website studies that
assess online user experience with the goal of improving overall online business
Gomez also does end-user testing, using both a browser and an emulator. The combination provides the deep data needed to analyze performance and a window into
how your website’s performance is perceived across multiple browsers and operating systems. Gomez’s claim to fame is that its software can run on any machine, and
can serve as a peer that reports performance data back to its data centers where it is
then aggregated and analyzed. Gomez claims it has 38,000 such peers around the
globe. It has also developed a solution that actually reports how users experience a
website by using a JavaScript tag and reporting data back to the Gomez mother ship.
Finally, we can see how our users truly experience our content!
Overlooked Web Performance Issues
We talked to Ben Rushlo, senior manager of Service Level Management Consulting
at Keynote Systems, to get his input on performance metrics for his Fortune 100 clients. We asked Rushlo, “What performance issues do you find that clients overlook?” He replied:
Typically, customers have pet metrics—metrics such as average download time or
average availability. While these can be great for long-term trending and, in some
cases, SLA management,22 they are very imprecise for understanding the actual technical quality of a site. In fact, just using the term technical quality is a stretch for folks
who are entrenched in the idea of uptime or speed (as key metrics).
For Keynote, technical quality is a holistic way of looking at the site and gauging if all
the pieces and parts are working together to create a good technical experience for site
In order to measure technical quality, you have to look beyond simple averages. Averages hide the real interesting data, data that indicates site health.
We suggest that our customers look not only at averages, but also at variability. That
is, variability over hour, over time, and over geography. You might have a site whose
search process downloads in three seconds on average (acceptable for our standards).
However, the average is hiding the fact that off-peak the process takes one second and
on-peak (when users want to use the site) it slows down to five seconds. This variation (we call it load handling) indicates a significant issue on the site. The average
would never tell you that.
service level agreement (SLA) is a formally negotiated agreement between two parties that records a common understanding of the level of service.
Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics
Finally, just as variability gives shape to the averages, we suggest customers use tools
to measure their site that can give them details about each part of the download time
of the page. If all you have is the total page download time, or even large “buckets” of
time (like content download versus network), you won’t be able to improve performance. This is especially true in the more complex world of the Web where application calls are hidden within the content portion of the page and third parties are
critical to the overall download time. You need to have a view into every piece of the
page load in order to manage and improve it.
Website optimization requires using web metrics. With the right metrics and analytics
tools, you can pinpoint potential problem areas for improvement and progressively
improve them. To optimize your SEM campaigns and conversion, analysts should
track measures of engagement such as pages per minute, PathLoss, and, of course,
Performance metrics let you sleep well at night, knowing your audience is happily
and efficiently flowing through your content without unnecessary delays. Watching
and reducing key metrics such as 304s, requests, and kilobytes received will have a
direct effect on improving load times. Using tools such as Pagetest, Firebug, and
YSlow can be a cost-effective way to quickly identify trouble spots and achieve 100%
scores in your speed checklist. As we demonstrated with our scorecard, tracking and
visualizing improvements over time helps to sell the value of web metrics, and ensure
management buy-in.
Summary |
$ selector, 201
$$( ) method, 242
$( ) function, 229
* selector, 201
, (comma), 23
^ selector, 201
301 response code
AOL Pagetest support, 337
resource moved, 39
server redirects, 328
302 response code
AOL pagetest support, 337
resource moved, 39
server redirects, 328
304 response code
AOL Pagetest support, 336, 337
caching static objects, 324
object in browser cache, 328
404 response code
AOL Pagetest support, 337
HTML reference errors, 328
log analyzer support, 303
resource moved, 39
A records, 259
A/B tests
controlled experiments, 299
multivariate testing, 305
about attribute, 43
Accept-Encoding header, 276
Accept-Ranges header, 263
ActiveX controls, 222, 308
ad campaigns
BodyGlove.com case study, 105–106
differences in bulk editing, 58–59
duplicate keywords, 70
importance of metrics, 297
metrics tracking ROI by, 300
PPC recommendations, 63
SEM metrics, 310
setting up, 56
targeting, 55
tracking phone call conversions, 90
ad clicks, 320
ad copy, 55–56, 76–79
ad groups
defined, 56, 71
grouping guidelines, 72
optimizing after launch, 74
optimizing bids, 91
PPC optimization and, 55, 56
recommendations, 55
themed, xxiii, 71, 72, 73
ad spend, 59
AddEncoding directive, 273
Adepoju, Samson, xxiii
Adobe Creative Suite, 140
Adobe ImageReady, 10
Adobe Photoshop, 168, 169, 176
ads, 56, 345
(see also PPC advertising/optimization)
AdWords (see Google AdWords)
We’d like to hear your suggestions for improving our indexes. Send email to [email protected]
AdWords Editor
duplicate keywords, 70
functionality, 58–59
Keyword Grouper, 72
aesthetics, website design and, 9
Ajah (Asynchronous JavaScript and
HTML), 246–248
Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML)
applying properly, 218–221
architecture effect, 254–256
assuming default values, 236
avoiding optional constructs, 233
best practices, 217
bundling scripts, 237, 238
byte-shaving techniques, 236–237
caching quandary, 248–249
clocking runtime, 242
common problems, 217
data format considerations, 245–246
error awareness, 240, 241
example, 223–226
functionality, 216
garbage collection, 241
improved communication, 218, 222
JavaScript shorthand, 231, 232
lazy-loading code, 239
localized functions, 235
minimizing HTTP requests, 243–245
monitoring rendering time, 239–240
network robustness, 250–252
polling support, 184, 253–254
reducing whitespace, 231
remapping built-in objects, 234
removing comments, 230–231
server/content error, 252
shortening names, 233
staging loading, 282, 283
strange attractors, 34
string constant macros, 232
web page considerations, 156
XHR object support, 222
Ajax libraries
evaluating, 229–230
Hello World example, 226–228
open source, 226
Ajile library, 290
Akamai CDN, 279
alert( ) statement, 232, 238
aliases, 259
AllowOverride All command, 267
AltaVista Babel Fish translator, 34
controlled experiments, 299
“data trumps intuition”, 297
scarcity principle, 116
slow download times, 148
social proof, 115
Analog tool, 303
anchor text
keyphrases in, 26
keyword placement, 25
PhillyDentistry.com case study, 49
ranking factors, 16
anonymous functions, 235
AOL Pagetest, 335–338
AOL.com, 206–208, 285
Apache servers
AddEncoding directive, 273
cache control, 265
content negotiation, 273
ETags, 264
mod_cache module, 268–270
mod_deflate module, 272, 275–276
mod_disk_cache module, 270
mod_expires module, 265, 266
mod_gzip module, 272–275
mod_headers module, 265
mod_mem_cache module, 270
mod_proxy module, 270
mod_rewrite module, 281–282
ProxyPass directive, 270
RewriteEngine directive, 281
RewriteMap directive, 281
RewriteRule directive, 281, 282
ServerAlias directive, 259
VirtualHost directive, 259
apachectl command, 267
Apple.com website, 170
Artz, David, xix, xxii, xxiii, 285–288
Ask.com, 58
asynchronous communication, 222
Asynchronous JavaScript and HTML
(Ajah), 246–248
Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (see Ajax)
Atlas Search, 92
Atom news feeds, 35
ATOS (average time on site), 298, 303
attribute selectors (CSS), 201–202
auction bids (see bids)
Audette, John, xxii
authority (persuader), 114, 116
Autodesk Cleaner, 172
auto-expanding menus, 211–214
automated bidding, 92
average time on site (ATOS), 298, 303
AWStats tool, 303
Babel Fish translator (AltaVista), 34
background shorthand property (CSS), 197,
bandwidth, page load times and, 331–332
banner advertising, 158
Base64 representation, 294, 295, 296
Beasley, Michael, xxiii
benefit bullet format, 124
Betcher, Bill, xxiii
bid gaps, 87–89
bid-jams, 88, 89
BidRank, 92
ad group guidelines, 72
adjusting, 90–91
automated, 92
branding considerations, 92
defined, 56
direct, 69, 71
e-grooming book example, 92–95
initial strategies, 87
penalties for new accounts, 86
PPC recommendations, 55, 56
process overview, 86
vendor differences, 61
(see also minimum bids)
binary images, 294, 296
blogs, categorizing content, 30–31
blurb (headline), 29
BMP format, 168
body element, 283, 284
body ID/class method, 211, 214
body text (see content (web page))
BodyGlove.com case study, 103–110
border shorthand property (CSS), 196
bounce rate (metric), 300, 315
BoxTop Software, 168
branding, 92, 112, 121
Breen, Ryan, 258
broad matching
defined, 66
direct bidding comparison, 69, 71
long tail keywords and, 69
browser sniffing, 177–180, 295, 296
BrowserCam, 181
BrowserHawk, 177–179
BrowserMatchNoCase directive, 180
Ajax considerations, 217, 242
browser toolbars, 226
caching considerations, 248, 263
child selectors, 191
conditional comments, 211, 230
connection status, 250
container cells, 162
cookie deletion, 313
cross-domain requests, 245
CSS support, 189, 199, 201
data URIs, 293, 294, 295
download limitations, 257
: hover pseudoclass, 177
IBM Page Detailer, 334
JavaScript page tagging, 305
JavaScript profiler, 242
memory leaks, 241
minimizing HTTP requests, 243
onload event and, 289
polling considerations, 254
script tags and, 289
XHR object support, 222
BSD platform, 274
Budd, Andy, 157
budgeting, PPC advertising, 65
bulk editing, vendor differences, 58–59
Business.com, 36
Businesswire.com, 35
CableOrganizer.com, xxiii, 208–210, 316
Cache-Control header
cache control, 249, 262, 264
max-age setting, 263
Ajax considerations, 248–249
clearing prior to tests, 329
frequently used objects, 260–270
mod_cache module, 268–270
off-site files, 291–292
PE strategy and, 283
static objects, 324
underutilization of, 260
web analytics limitations, 304
writing custom caches, 249
California Milk Processing Board, 121
calls to action, 113, 123, 135
campaigns (see ad campaigns)
canonical name (CNAME) records, 258, 259
cart additions (metric), 320
Cascading Style Sheets (see CSS)
case studies
BodyGlove.com, 103–110
PhillyDentistry.com, 44–54
CDN (Content Delivery Network)
benefits, 279
cache control and, 264
speed considerations, 325
CDNetworks, 279
CentOS platform, 267
Charles tool, 226, 331–332
child selectors, 191
circular references, 241
Cirka, Ken, 44
click fraud, 97–98, 303
click spend, 59
click-through rates (see CTRs)
ClickTracks web analytics, 298, 303
client-side optimization
caching off-site files, 291–292
inline images/data URIs, 293–296
JavaScript considerations, 292
script loading, 282–291
cloaking, page redirects and, 39
closing the loop, 63–64
CMS (content management system), 27, 292
CNAME (canonical name) records, 258, 259
CNN.com, 24, 29
codecs, 170, 172
CoDeeN CDN, 280
CSS shorthand techniques, 194
website considerations, 133
comma (,), 23
comma-separated value (CSV) files, 58, 245
conditional, 211, 230
objectives, 320
removing in CSS, 200, 325
removing in JavaScript, 230–231, 293,
Compact URIs (CURIEs), 43
company names
baking in, 26
in title tags, 21, 22
evaluating, 67
reviewing landing pages, 85
trademark issues, 98–100
Competitive personality type, 117
delta, 278–279
gzip, 271, 273, 325
images, 325
improving efficiency, 277
JavaScript-supported tools, 238
lossy, 169
regional, 169
spatial, 172
temporal, 172
ZLIB algorithm, 271
conditional comments, 211, 230
conditional server-side includes (XSSIs), 179,
confidence interval testing, 77–79, 90–91
configuration files
caching via, 262, 265
content negotiation, 273
HTTP compression, 274, 275
overriding, 267
storing directives, 259
consistency (persuader), 114
container cells
descendant selectors and, 162
labeling, 190
content (web page)
Ajax considerations, 252
benefit-oriented, 113, 124, 135, 136
best placement, 112, 122
building inbound links, 37
headlines as microcontent, 24
keyword placement, 25
keyword-focused, 27–34
keywords meta tag, 23
negotiating, 273
ranking factors, 16
#content container div, 162
Content Delivery Network (see CDN)
content management system (CMS), 27, 292
content metrics
action pages, 314
bounce rates, 315
defined, 311, 314
entry pages, 314, 315
exit rate, 319
fulfillment pages, 314
landing pages, 314
page attrition, 317
page exit ratio, 319
PathLoss, 318, 323
PathWeight, 317, 323
primary content consumption, 317, 323
ProxyScoring, 317
revenue per visit, 317
segue pages, 314
simple engagement, 315
single-access visits, 315
content network, 95–96
Content-Length header, 272
contextual selectors (see descendant
controlled experiments, 299
conversion funnels, 56, 143, 145
conversion paths, 56, 143, 145
conversion rate optimization (see CRO)
conversion rates
direct bidding, 69
estimating, 65
importance of metrics, 297
landing pages and, 85
long tail keywords, 69
as metric, 300
PPC optimization, 63
writing style and, 138
conversion, defined, 321
cookie deletion, 313
caching and, 264
clearing prior to tests, 329
PE strategy and, 285
speed considerations, 325
Coral Content Distribution Network, 280
cost per clicks (see CPCs)
cost per conversion, 301
count, defined, 312
Cowley, Gregory, xxiii, 8
CPCs (cost per clicks)
BodyGlove.com case study, 106
defined, 56
estimating conversion rates, 65
maximum, 56
measuring, 322
minimum, 61
PPC optimization, 63
CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions), 322
creatives, 56, 345
logo, 112, 119–120
source, 113, 119
website design, 9
CRO (conversion rate optimization)
Ajax support, 216
benefit-oriented content, 113, 124
benefit-oriented headlines, 112, 122
benefits, 111–112
best content placement, 112, 122
best practices, 112–117
calls to action, 113, 123
credibility-based design, 112, 118–119
defined, 111
easy navigation, 112, 119
hero shots, 113, 124–126
interactivity/engagement, 113, 126–127,
logo credibility, 112, 119–120
memorable slogans, 112, 121
PhillyDentistry.com case study, 49–54
psychology of persuasion, 113–117
right-sizing keyphrases, 18
as SEM component, 1
SEM metrics, 310
source credibility, 113, 119
staging discovery phase, 128–132
staging optimization phase, 134–145
staging planning phase, 132–135
testing considerations, 85, 145
website focus and, 10
cron jobs, 291
CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)
abbreviating long names, 199–201
Ajax support, 216
attribute selectors, 201–202
browser support, 189
cache control, 266
combining common styles, 192, 193
converting JavaScript, 177–180, 202–214
converting table layouts, 180
creating buttons, 203, 204
creating solid architecture, 186
descendant selectors, 190, 191
duplicate declarations, 193, 194
grouping declarations, 191, 192
grouping selectors, 191
HTTP compression, 276, 278
inheritance support, 193, 194
inline images and, 294–295
list-based menus, 208–214
logfiles, 302
minifying, 325, 326
minimizing HTTP requests, 163–166
CSS (continued)
optimization best practices, 189
optimizing speed, 160–161
PE strategy, 283, 285–288
placement considerations, 156
removing comments, 200
reset stylesheets, 187–189
rollover effects, 204, 205
script processing, 283
search-friendly headlines, 24
shorthand colors, 194
shorthand properties, 194–199
speed considerations, 325
Start Render time metric, 344
switching to, 160–162
table usage and, 157
type selectors, 189
w3compiler tool, 293
CSS rules, 187
CSS sprites
AOL.com support, 206–208
defined, 160
improving response times, 206
optimizing images, 169
Yahoo! support, 208
$css( ) method, 242
CSV (comma-separated value) files, 58, 245
CTRs (click-through rates)
benefit-oriented headlines, 122
BodyGlove.com case study, 106, 109
boosting, 55
direct bidding, 69
measuring, 322
new account penalties, 86
PPC optimization, 63
profit-per-impression equation, 75
CURIEs (Compact URIs), 43
Cutts, Matt, 10
cyScape BrowserHawk, 177–179
Daily Sucker cron job, 292
data formats, choosing, 245–246
“data trumps intuition”, 297
data: URI scheme, 293–296
data-rate formula, 176
Davidson, Mike, 185
DBM files, 282
Dean Edwards’ Packer tool, 238
DeBeers, 121
decay (polling), 254
deck (headline), 29, 30
declaration blocks (CSS), 187
default values, assuming, 236
del.icio.us, 37
delimiters, 23
delta compression, 278–279
demographics, 128
descendant selectors
container cells and, 162
CSS optimization, 190, 191
noncontiguous elements, 160
description meta tags, 23
designated marketing areas (DMAs), 59
DHTML, 284, 304
baselining, 332, 340
performance metrics, 339–345
submission considerations, 37
direct bidding, 69, 71
DiscoveryStore.com, 127
dithering, 169
DKI (dynamic keyword insertion), 80
DMAs (designated marketing areas), 59
DNS (Domain Name System)
A records, 259
CNAME records, 258, 259
flushing prior to tests, 331
reducing lookups, 161, 260
request statistics, 327
Document Complete time metric, 328, 333,
Document object, 229, 234
document object model (see DOM)
document.getElementBy( ) method, 234
Dogpile.com, 13
Dojo ShrinkSafe, 238, 292
DOM (document object model)
Ajax considerations, 225, 229
browser support, 242
circular references, 241
Hello World example, 223–224
hybrid analytics systems, 306
loading scripts on demand, 283, 290
PE strategy and, 284
Domain Name System (DNS)
A records, 259
CNAME records, 258, 259
reducing lookups, 161, 260
domain names, baking in, 26
Domino’s Pizza, 131
Dreamweaver, 140
Drip tool, 241
drop shadows, 169
Drucker, Peter, 297
Dubinko, Micah, xxiii
duplicate content (websites)
ranking factors, 16
SEO barrier, 10, 11
duplicate keywords, 70
dynamic keyword insertion (DKI), 80
Edwards, Dean, 238
Eisenberg, Bryan, xxiii, 117
Eisenberg, Jeffrey, 117
Eisenzopf, Jonathan, 291
eMarketer, 58
eMetrics Summit, 297, 313
encoding process, 172
error handing
Ajax considerations, 240, 241, 252
high bounce rates, 316
e-seals of approval, 115
ETags, 263, 268
eval( ) statement, 238, 246
event management, 229
exact matching, 67
exit rate (metric), 319
Expires header
cache control, 249, 262, 264
caching and, 263, 324
set into future, 263
ExpiresByType command, 266
Facebook, 37
fear factors, online buying, 115
Federal Express (FedEx), 121, 131
Fedora platform, 267
Fiddler proxy, 226
Firebug extension
Firebug toolbar, 226
JavaScript profiler, 242
waterfall reports, 334
YSlow support, 339–340
Firefox browser
Ajax support, 242
caching considerations, 248
container cells, 162
cross-domain requests, 245
CSS support, 189
data URIs, 293, 294
IBM Page Detailer, 334
JavaScript page tagging, 305
XHR object support, 222
(see also Firebug extension)
Fireworks, 140, 168
Flanders, Vincent, 292
div element support, 8, 9
fast start techniques, 183
index limitations, 10
optimization tips, 176
PE strategy, 283
polling considerations, 254
SEO trick, 8–9
staging loading, 282
strange attractors, 34
tracking events, 304
web page problems and, 158
FlashObject class, 9
Flickr, 37
Flinn, David, xxiii
font shorthand property (CSS), 191, 196
#footer container div, 162
FQDNs (fully qualified domain names), 244
frame rates, 170, 176
key, 173, 174
web page optimization, 166
ftp: URI scheme, 293
Fully Loaded time metric, 328
fully qualified domain names (FQDNs), 244
anonymous, 235
localized, 235
shortening names, 233
Galletta, Galletta, xxiii
garbage collection, 241
Garrett, Jesse James, 216, 218
geographic regions, 129
geotargeting, vendor differences, 59
GET request, 248
getElementById( ) method, 229, 288
getElementsByClassName( ) method, 242,
getElementsBySelector( ) method, 242
GIF format, 168, 169
Girard, Linda, xxiii
Glonka, Bradley, xxiii
goal pages, 320
goal setting
metrics and, 323
PPC recommendations, 55–56, 62, 66
caching considerations, 263
content network issues, 95
keyword stuffing and, 22
Keyword Tool, 68
page redirects and, 40
penalizing sites, 38
ranking factors, 16, 36
Search Query Performance reports, 68
slow download times, 148
Traffic Estimator, 65
trusting new sites, 38
Google AdWords
bidding considerations, 86, 89
click fraud, 97, 98
content network issues, 96
conversion-tracking scripts, 62
differences in bulk editing, 58–59
differences in geotargeting, 59
differences in minimum bids, 61
differences in Quality Scores, 61
DKI support, 80
evaluating landing pages, 81
KEI considerations, 67
keyword matching options, 66
landing pages for, 81, 82
new account considerations, 86
optimized ad serving, 77
Google Analytics
bounce rate metric, 315
chart support, 317
functionality, 63, 68
Funnel and Navigation Report, 144
JavaScript page tagging, 304
web page problems, 184
Google Gears, 283
Google Maps, 148
Google Sandbox, 38
Google Suggest, 218
Google Webmaster Central, 303
Google Website Optimizer
controlled experiments, 299
cookie deletion and, 313
multivariate testing, 305
testing landing pages, 85
web metrics, 145
caching, 261
embedding keywords, 10
image compression, 325
index limitations, 10
inline images/data URIs, 293–296
loading considerations, 344
optimizing, 157
product/service images, 84, 113, 124–126
resizing/optimizing images, 167–169
SEO considerations, 10
Greiling, Dunrie, xxiii
Grove, Ryan, 290
gut reactions, designing, 113
gyroscopic stabilizers, 171
gzip compression
AddEncoding directive, 273
HTTP compression and, 271
speed considerations, 325
H.264 standard, 172–174
Haig, William, xxiii, 119, 120
Hammocks.com, 39
hCard microformat, 42
HCI (human-computer interaction), 184
head element
remote procedure calls, 289
script considerations, 283, 284
web page optimization, 166
benefit-oriented, 112, 122, 135
compelling summaries, 29, 30
creating search-friendly, 24–25
keyphrase placement, 25
writing engaging, 136–137
Hello World example
Ajah version, 246
Ajax libraries, 226–228
DOM version, 223–224
optimizing, 236
hero shots, 113, 124–126
Hockin, Matt, xviii, xxii, xxiii
Holstein, Paul, xxiii
:hover pseudoclass, 177, 202, 204
.htaccess file, 267, 273
HTTP compression, 276
innerHTML property, 246
JavaScript support, 290
keyword stuffing, 5
load order, 344
logfiles, 302
overlaying with DHTML, 284
script processing, 283
search-friendly headlines, 24–25
HTTP analysis tools, 226
HTTP compression
Apache support, 272–276
average compression ratios, 276
delta compression, 278–279
functionality, 271–272
speed considerations, 325
HTTP headers, 262, 267, 268
HTTP requests
AOL Pagetest support, 336
caching and, 262, 292
data URIs and, 293
lazy-loading code and, 239
minimizing, 163–167, 203, 243–245
optimizing images, 169
out-of-order responses, 252
web analytics support, 306
http: URI scheme, 293
httpd.conf file (see configuration files)
HttpWatch monitoring program, 226
httpZip module, 272
human-computer interaction (HCI), 184
Humanistic personality type, 117
IBM Page Detailer, 332–334
if statement, 232, 233
If-Modified-Since header, 249
iframes, 166, 290
IIS (Internet Information Server)
cache control, 268
compression support, 272
content negotiation, 273
page redirects, 40
Schedule service, 292
image tag, 240
ImageReady (Adobe), 10
images (see graphics)
inbound links
best practices, 13
dilution considerations, 37
getting high-ranking, 36
harmful outlinks, 38
leveraging higher-ranking pages, 36
link exchange cautions, 38
measuring, 41
nofollow attribute, 39
page redirects, 39–40
paid lines, 38
PhillyDentistry.com case study, 47
primary keyphrase in, 26
ranking factors, 16
SEO considerations, 7
social networking, 37
user-generated content, 37
Ajax problems, 217
Flash limitations, 10
graphics limitations, 10
JavaScript limitations, 10
ranking factors, 16
search engine limitations, 10
information scent, 2, 122
inheritance, 193, 194
init( ) function, 235
inline images, 293–296
inner browsing design, 216
instances, 314
Interactive Marketing, LLC, xxii
Internet Explorer browser
browser toolbar, 226
child selectors and, 191
conditional comments, 211, 230
CSS support, 189, 199, 201
data URIs, 293, 295
:hover pseudoclass, 177
IBM Page Detailer, 334
memory leaks, 241
widget issues, 185
XHR object support, 222
Internet Information Server (see IIS)
Internet service provider (ISP), 327
invisible text, 5
ISP (Internet service provider), 327
HTTP compression, 272
PE strategy, 283
polling considerations, 254
assuming default values, 236
avoiding optional constructs, 233
bundling scripts, 237, 238
byte-shaving techniques, 236–237
cache control, 266
clocking runtime, 242
converting to CSS, 177–180, 202–214
error awareness, 240, 241
JavaScript (continued)
garbage collection, 241
HTTP compression, 276, 277, 278
iframe support, 290
index limitations, 10
lazy-loading code, 239
loading on demand, 289–290
loading wisely, 184–185
localized functions, 235
logfiles, 302
minifying, 325, 326
monitoring rendering time, 239–240
name collisions and, 235
optimization and packing, 292
PE strategy, 283, 285–288
placement considerations, 156
reducing whitespace, 231
refactoring, 180
remapping built-in objects, 234
removing comments, 230–231
SEO considerations, 10
shortening names, 233
shorthand statements, 231, 232
speed considerations, 325
staging loading, 282, 283
Start Render time metric, 344
string constant macros, 232
XSSI support, 180
(see also Ajax)
JavaScript includes, 166
JavaScript Object Notation (JSON), 216,
JavaScript page tagging, 302, 304–305
Jordan, Lawrence, xxiii
JPEG format, 167, 168, 169
jQuery library, 226, 227
.js file extension, 237, 273
JScript, 211
JSON (JavaScript Object Notation), 216, 245
Jung, Carl, 117
Juon, Catherine, xxiii
JupiterResearch, 147, 301
Kaiser, Shirley, xxiii
Kanoodle, 58
keepalive connections, 325
KEI (keyword effectiveness index), 15, 17, 67
Kenkai.com, 36
key frames, 173, 174
Keynote Systems, 308, 345
in anchor text, 26
baking into domain names, 26
baking into site URIs, 29
creating tag clouds, 32–34
CRO discovery considerations, 129
deploying strategically, 11
determining, 13–15
finding, 15
keyword-focused content, 28
long tail keywords, 69
optimum length, 19, 20
placement in headlines, 25
rankings and, 11, 13
refining, 18–21
re-sorting, 18–21
right-sizing, 18–21
targeting multiple, 21
in title tags, 21, 22
writing title tags, 21–22
(see also primary keyphrase)
keypress event, 306
keyword effectiveness index (KEI), 15, 17, 67
keyword matching, 66
keyword phrases (see keyphrases)
keyword research, 67–68
keyword stuffing
defined, 5
optimization and, 5, 22
ranking factors, 16, 22
Keyword Universe (Wordtracker), 68
KeywordDiscovery, 67
adding tactically, 25–27
baking in, 26
calculating minimum bid, 60
content focused on, 27–34
deploying strategically, 11
duplicate, 70
embedding in graphics, 10
in headline summaries, 29
keyword suggestion tool, 13
long tail, 69
metrics tracking ROI by, 300
negative, 68, 316
paid links, 38
PhillyDentistry.com case study, 47, 53
placement in headlines, 122
PPC optimization and, 55, 56, 69–71
pruning unrelated, 18–21
ranking factors, 16
sorting by popularity, 16–17
keywords meta tag, 23
kilobytes received (metric), 326, 333
kilobytes sent (metric), 326
King, Andrew B., xviii, xix, xxi
King, Jean, xxiii
King, John, xxiii
Kohavi, Ronny, xxiii, 299
Konqueror browser, 189
long tail of search query distribution
overview, 11
PPC optimization, 69–71
targeting multiword phrases, 13
lossy compression, 169
Loszewski, Steve, xxiii
Lynx browser, 46
Lynx viewer, 46
Lyris HQ, 303
landing pages
AdWords support, 81, 82
content metrics, 314
defined, 56
minimum bids and, 81
PPC optimization and, 55, 56, 64
testing, 85
visitor focus, 82–85
banner ads and, 158
object overhead and, 156
page load times and, 331–332
post-loading delays, 184
LazyLoad library, 290
lazy-loading code, 239
Lecomte, Julien, 293
Levering, Ryan, xxiii
liking (persuader), 114, 115
Lima, Joe, 276
Limelight Networks CDN, 279
link exchanges, 38
headlines as, 122
optimizing on-site, 12
paid, 38
ranking factors, 16
SEO considerations, 7
(see also inbound links)
Linux platform, 274
list-style shorthand property (CSS), 198
LivePerson customer support tool, 127
load time (metric)
performance analysis, 333, 342
request statistics, 326–329, 337
location hash technique, 255
locations as long tail keywords, 69
logfiles, 302, 306
caching, 264, 265
credibility, 112, 119–120
Macromedia Fireworks, 10
macros, string constant, 232
mailto: URI scheme, 293
margin shorthand property (CSS), 195
MarketingSherpa.com, 24
Marketleap.com, 41
#masthead container div, 162
Matzan, Jem, xxiii
maximum CPCs (costs per click), 56
defined, 321
measuring, 311, 321–322
measuring CPCs, 322
measuring CTRs, 322
measuring ROAS, 322
measuring ROI, 322
measurement (see metrics)
memory leaks, 241
menus, auto-expanding, 211–214
meta tags
caching support, 262
description, 23
keywords, 23
ranking factors, 16
removing, 293
Metacrawler.com, 13
metadata, 42–43
method remapping, 234
Methodical personality type, 117
average time on site, 298
bounce rate, 300, 315
cart additions, 320
content, 311, 314–319
conversion rates, 300
cost per conversion, 301
differences in Quality Scores, 61
exit rate, 319
IBM Page Detailer, 333
metrics (continued)
keeping score, 324–329
kilobytes received, 326, 333
kilobytes sent, 326
load time, 326–329, 333, 337, 342
measuring means, 311, 321–322
new visitors, 313
number of requests, 327, 333
objectives, 311, 319–321
page attrition, 317
page exit ratio, 319
page view, 312
pages per visit, 298
PathLoss, 300, 318, 323
PathWeight, 317, 323
primary content consumption, 300, 317,
profit-per-impression equation, 75
ProxyScoring, 317
repeat visitors, 314
request statistics, 326–328
revenue per visit, 317
ROI by campaign, 300
ROI by keyword, 300
SEM support, 301, 310–323
setting PPC budget, 65
tracking PPC success, 62, 63
unique visitors, 298, 312
visits or sessions, 312
volume, 312–314
web analytics software, 302–310
Meyer, Eric, 157, 187
microcontent, headlines as, 24
microformats, 42–43
Microsoft adCenter
differences in bulk editing, 58–59
differences in geotargeting, 59
differences in minimum bids, 61
differences in Quality Scores, 61
trademark issues, 98
Microsoft Experimentation Platform, 299
MIME types
targeting files by, 266–267, 275
URI schemes and, 294
minimum bids
landing pages and, 81
vendor differences, 61, 67
minimum CPCs (costs per click), 61
MIVA, 58
mod_cache module, 268–270
mod_deflate module, 272, 275–276
mod_disk_cache module, 270
mod_expires module, 265, 266
mod_gzip module, 272–275
mod_headers module, 265
mod_mem_cache module, 270
mod_proxy module, 270
mod_rewrite module, 281–282
model numbers as long tail keywords, 69
monitoring tools, 345
Morville, Peter, xxiii
mousemove event, 306
Movable Type publishing platform
categorizing with blogs, 30, 31
creating tag clouds, 32–34
delta compression, 279
Mozilla browser
data URIs, 293
JavaScript support, 292
Venkman JavaScript Debugger, 180
MP3 files, 275
MSN.com, 36
caching objects, 261
fast start techniques, 183
web page optimization, 169–176
web page usage, 158
Multimedia Marketing Group, Inc., xxii
multivariate testing, 305
MySpace, 158
MyWeddingFavors.com, 141
name collisions, 234, 235
namespace collisions, 199
nav element, 162
CRO factors, 112, 119
CSS sprites, 206
graphics-based, 10
JavaScript-only, 10
keyword placement, 26
landing pages and, 84
obscure, 10
optimal paths, 310
PE strategy, 285–288
SEO considerations, 10
site patterns, 303
#navigation container div, 162
Navigator object, 234
Neat Image, 169
Nederlof, Peter, 211
negative keywords, 68, 316
negative matching, 67
Netconcepts.com, 11
network robustness, 250–252
new visitors (metric), 313
New York Times, 29
Nielsen, Jakob, 21
Nikhil Web Development Helper, 226
nofollow attribute
as microformat, 42
optimizing on-site links, 12
PageRank and, 37, 39
Noise Ninja, 169
noscript tag, 240, 241
number of requests (metric), 327, 333
NyQuil, 131
O’Neil, Daniel, xxiii
cart additions, 320
comments, 320
conversion, 321
defined, 311, 319
orders, 320
sign-ups, 320
ad clicks, 320
goal pages, 320
remapping, 234
OEC (Overall Evaluation Criterion), 299
OEC (overall evaluation criterion), 298
off-site SEO, 5
Omniture Offermatica, 299
Omniture SiteCatalyst, 313, 314
on-demand fetching, 239
onerror event, 241
Oneupweb study, 6
onload event, 283, 289, 328
onreadystatechange function, 222, 235, 251
on-site links, 12
on-site SEO, 5, 28
open( ) method, 236
Opera browser
container cells, 162
CSS support, 189
data URIs, 293, 294
JavaScript page tagging, 305
polling considerations, 254
script tags and, 289
XHR object support, 222
optimal paths, 310
Optimost.com, 299
Orbitz.com, 116
orders as objectives, 320
outline shorthand property (CSS), 198, 199
Overall Evaluation Criterion (OEC), 299
overall evaluation criterion (OEC), 298
padding shorthand property (CSS), 195
page attrition (metric), 317
Page Detailer (IBM), 332–334
page exit ratio (metric), 319
page redirects, 39–40
page URIs, 26
page view (metric), 312
dilution considerations, 37
harmful outlinks, 38
leveraging higher-ranking pages, 36
nofollow attribute, 39
page redirects, 39–40
paid links, 38
social networking, 37
user-generated content, 37
pages per visit (metric), 298
pain points, 129, 131
parallel downloads, 257–260
Pareto distribution, 12
part numbers as long tail keywords, 69
PartyCity.com, 134
patch.js file, 230
PathLoss (metric), 300, 318, 323
PathWeight (metric), 317, 323
pay-per-click (see PPC
PDF files, 275
PE (progressive enhancement)
strategy, 283–288
Peck, Wendy, xxiii, 211
Pegasus Imaging, 168
performance analysis, 332–337
performance gaps, 131
Persing, Devon, xxiii
persistent connections, 325, 327, 336
CRO campaign considerations, 128
defined, 117
maximizing conversion, 117
psychology of persuasion, 112, 115
source credibility, 113
persuasion (see psychology of persuasion)
Peterson, Eric, xxiii
Peyser, Robert, xxiii
PhillyDentistry.com case study, 44–54
phone call conversions, 90
Photo.net, 37
Photo-JPEG codec, 172
caching considerations, 248
HTTP compression, 272
inline images and, 295
phrase matching, 66, 69
Pierzchala, Stephen, xxiii
PINT, Inc., xxiii
PipeBoost module, 272
Pirolli, Peter, xxiii
PNG format, 168, 169, 271
PNG-8 format, 168
polling, 184, 253–254
Port80 Software
background, xxii
HTTP compression, 276
PageXchanger, 273
w3compiler tool, 180, 233, 238, 293
POST request, 248
Powell, Thomas A., xix, xxii, xxiii
power law distribution curve, 12
PPC (pay-per-click) advertising/optimization
ad components, 74–75
BodyGlove.com case study, 103–110
click fraud, 97–98
closing the loop, 63–64
common problems, 57
content network issues, 95–96
defined, 55
DKI support, 80
goal setting, 55–56, 62, 66
keyword research, 66–68
optimizing ad copy, 55–56, 76–79
optimizing bids, 86–95
optimizing landing pages, 81–86
organizing ad groups, 71–74
PhillyDentistry.com case study, 50
profit-per-impression equation, 75
recommendations, 55
ROI considerations, 62, 66
selecting keywords, 69–71
SEM component, 1
setting budget, 65
tracking and metrics, 63
trademark issues, 98–100
vendors overview, 58–62
website focus and, 10
work cycle overview, 57
press releases, 35, 36
primacy effect, 314
primary content consumption (metric), 300,
317, 323
primary keyphrase
baking in domain name, 26
finding, 15
paid links, 38
PhillyDentistry.com case study, 53
search-friendly headlines, 24
PRNewsWire.com, 35, 36
product images, 113, 124–126
professional website design, 9, 12
profit-per-impression equation, 76
progressive enhancement (PE)
strategy, 283–288
property attribute, 43
Prototype library, 226
prototyping, 140
ProxyPass directive, 270
ProxyScoring (metric), 317
PRWeb.com, 35, 36
psychographics, 128
psychological reactance, 116
psychology of persuasion
authority, 116
building trust, 116, 139
consistency, 114
CRO considerations, 135
liking, 115
reciprocation, 114
scarcity, 116
social proof, 115
psychology of website performance, 147–148
PubSub.com, 279
Pure Visibility Inc., xviii, xxii, xxiii
Quality Scores
landing pages and, 82
new account penalties, 86
optimizing ad groups, 74
vendor differences, 61
QuickTime Pro
Compressor section, 174
Data Rate section, 176
Encoding area, 174
fast start technique, 183
Frame Reordering box, 174
Key Frames area, 173
Motion section, 173
optimizing video, 172
Quality area, 174
Temporal slider, 175
acquiring inbound links, 13
adding keywords tactically, 25–27
Ajax considerations, 217
best practices, 11–13
building inbound links, 35–41
deploying keywords strategically, 11
determining keyphrases, 13–15
duplicate website content and, 11
Google factors, 16
harmful outlinks and, 38
importance of, 5, 6
keyword stuffing and, 16, 22
keyword-focused content, 27–34
negative factors, 16
on-site optimization and, 5, 12
optimizing key content, 12
optimizing on-site links, 12
page redirects and, 39
positive factors, 16
professional website design, 12
refining keyphrases, 18–21
reinforcing site theme, 11
re-sorting keyphrases, 18–21
search-friendly headlines, 24–25
sorting keywords, 16–17
steps for improving, 13–41
writing keywords meta tags, 23
writing meta tags, 23
writing title tags, 21–22
(see also SEO)
RDF (Resource Description Framework), 42
reciprocation (persuader), 114
Red Hat Enterprise platform, 267
reference movies, 169
regional compression, 169
remote procedure calls, 289
remote scripting, 216
repeat visitors (metric), 314
replication, 195
resource attribute, 43
Resource Description Framework (RDF), 42
return on advertising spend (see ROAS)
return on investment (see ROI)
return statement, 233
revenue per visit (metric), 317
RewriteEngine directive, 281
RewriteMap directive, 281
RewriteRule directive, 281, 282
RFC 2397, 293, 294
Rhino JavaScript engine, 238, 292
RIAs (Rich Internet Applications), 216
ROAS (return on advertising spend)
defined, 59
measuring, 322
web analytics support, 303
robots exclusion protocol, 11
ROI (return on investment)
calculating, 62
importance of metrics, 297
measuring, 322
PPC optimization and, 55, 62, 66
tracking by campaign, 300
tracking by keywords, 300
web analytics support, 303
root terms
ad group themes, 72
broad matching, 69
unique keywords and, 69
Rosenfeld, Louis, xxiii
RSS news feeds
building inbound links, 35
caching off-site files, 291
delta compression, 279
headline summaries, 30
registering, 35, 36
search-friendly headlines, 24
sign-ups, 320
rss2html.pl script, 291
Rushlo, Ben, xxiii, 346
Safari browser
container cells, 162
CSS support, 189
data URIs, 293
onload event and, 289
XHR object support, 222
sales cycle
building trust, 116
calls to action, 113, 123
multiple conversion points, 84
stages in, 63
scarcity (persuader), 114, 116
scent, information, 2, 122
script tag, 239, 244, 289
bundling, 237, 238
conversion-tracking, 62
delaying loading, 282–291
PE strategy, 283–288
remapped objects and, 234
remote, 216
search behavior, 1–3
search engine marketing (see SEM)
Search Engine Marketing Professional
Organization (SEMPO), 301
search engine optimization (see SEO)
search engine rankings (see rankings)
search engine result pages (see SERPs)
search engines
estimating search volume, 13
index limitations, 10
ranking considerations, 13
search parameters, 29
simulating with Lynx, 46
user interaction, 1–3
security policies, 244
selectElement( ) method, 242
selectors (CSS)
attribute, 201–202
child selectors, 191
defined, 187
grouping, 191
grouping declarations, 191, 192
replacing inline style with, 189
reset stylesheets, 187–189
(see also descendant selectors)
SEM (search engine marketing)
classes of metrics, 310–312
content metrics, 311, 314–319
defined, 1
importance of metrics, 297
measuring metric means, 311, 321–322
measuring success, 301
metrics overview, 310
objectives for metrics, 311, 319–321
strategies, 310
volume metrics, 312–314
web analytics software, 302–310
website success metrics, 298–301
(see also CRO; PPC; SEO)
Semphonic XChange, 313
SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing
Professional Organization), 301
SEO (search engine optimization)
Ajax considerations, 217
benefits, 5, 6
common barriers, 7–11
CSS optimization and, 190
defined, 5
duplicate content, 10, 11
fixing focus, 10
Flash proliferation, 8–9
graphics-based navigation, 10
inadequate inbound links, 7
increased competition, 13
JavaScript-only navigation, 10
long tail keywords, 69
metadata, 42
obscure navigation, 10
PhillyDentistry.com case study, 44–54
process components, 5
as SEM component, 1
splash pages, 7
unprofessional design, 9
website focus, 10
(see also rankings)
SERPs (search engine result pages)
attention span considerations, 3
click patterns, 2
company names in, 21
description meta tags, 23
importance of rankings, 5, 6
keyphrased domain names, 26
two-URIs-per-hostname limit, 11
viewing statistics, 1
ServerAlias directive, 259
server-side includes (SSIs), 167, 179–180
server-side optimization
cache control, 260–270
Content Delivery Network, 279
HTTP compression, 271–279
mod_rewrite module, 281–282
parallel downloads, 257–260
ServerTokens command, 268
service command, 267
service images, 113, 124–126
session IDs, 29
sessions, defined, 312
Set-Cookie header, 264
setRequestHeader( ) method, 249
Shields, Daniel, xix, xxiii
Shop.org study, 128
sign-ups, 320
simple engagement, 315
Sistrix study, 26
“Skip Intro” links, 7
Skitz, Mike, 290
Slashdot, 37
slogans, memorable, 112, 121
sniffing, browser, 177–180, 295, 296
social networking, 37
social norms, 114
social proof (persuader), 114, 115
socket connections, 325, 327, 336
Solaris platform, 274
Sorenson codec, 172
Sorenson Video 3 Pro, 172
Souders, Steve, 161
source credibility, 113, 119
spaces as delimiters, 23
spatial compression, 172
speed tax, 327
Speed Tweak blog, 296
Speed Up Your Site
Web Site Optimization, xxiii, 276, 325
splash pages, 7
Spontaneous personality type, 117
sprites (see CSS sprites)
SSIs (server-side includes), 167, 179–180
Start Render time metric, 328, 342, 344
Stefanov, Stoyan, 290
Sterne, Jim, xii, xiii, xxiii, 297
“strange attractors”, 34
string constants, 232
structural assurance, 116
StuffIt, 325
substring matching, 201
Sullivan, Danny, xxiii, 37
sweetened traffic, 313
synchronous communication, 222
tag clouds, 32–34
taglines, 112, 121
Technorati.com, 184
Telestream Episode Pro, 172
temporal compression, 172
Tennison, Jeni, xxiii
ternary operator, 232
ads, 77–79, 90–91
confidence interval, 77–79, 90–91
designing sample tests, 329–332
landing pages, 85
multivariate, 305
UX software, 307–310, 345
Text-Link-Ads.com, 38
Textlinkbrokers.com, 36, 38
themed ad groups
advantages, 71
defined, 72
example, 72, 73
guidelines, 72
Shields on, xxiii
themes, 28, 67
Theurer, Tenni, xxiii
TIFF format, 168
time to live (TTL), 262
timeout mechanisms, 250–252
title tags, 16, 21–22
trackPageview function, 304
trademarks, 98–100
trigger words, 113, 117
triple concept, 42
TTFB time metric, 328, 336
TTL (time to live), 262
type selector (CSS), 189
UltimateSoftware.com, 143
unique selling proposition (USP), 112,
unique visitors (metric), 298, 312, 313
caching considerations, 248
data, 293–296
delta compression, 278
keyword placement, 26
page redirects, 40
PhillyDentistry.com case study, 49
rewriting, 281–282
search-friendly, 28, 29
usability standards, 9
UsaProxy system, 306
Usenet, 37
User Experience (UX) testing
software, 307–310, 345
User-Agent header, 305
USP (unique selling proposition), 112,
UX (User Experience) testing
software, 307–310, 345
value hierarchies, 124, 135, 136
value propositions, 129
var statement, 233
variables, shortening names, 233
vCard address book standard, 42
compressing, 172–176
data-rate formula, 176
dimensions, 170
editing, 171
frame rates, 170
production tips, 171
Vielmetti, Edward, xxiii
Vigos Website Accelerator, 272
VIMAS Technologies, 168
VirtualHost directive, 259
visits, defined, 312
Vista platform, 279
VISTA rule, 322
volume metrics
defined, 312
entry pages, 315
instances, 314
new visitors, 313
page views, 312
repeat visitors, 314
unique visitors, 312, 313
visits or sessions, 312
W3C, 197
w3compiler tool
byte-saving support, 233
optimization support, 180, 238, 293
WAA (Web Analytics Association), 310,
312, 313
waterfall reports
AOL Pagetest, 335
Firebug extension, 334
IBM Page Detailer, 333–334
Weather Underground web site, 182
web analytics
hybrid systems, 306
JavaScript page tagging, 304–305
UX testing software, 307–310
web server log analysis, 302–304
Web Analytics Association (WAA), 310,
312, 313
web pages
Ajax support, 216
common problems, 156–159
container cells usage, 162
content negotiation, 273
converting JavaScript, 177–180
converting table to CSS layout, 180
growth in size/complexity, 149–152
loading JavaScript wisely, 184–185
minimizing HTTP requests, 163–167
minimizing initial display time, 182–185
monitoring rendering time, 239–240
multimedia growth, 158
object overhead, 156
optimizing graphics, 157
optimizing multimedia, 169–176
optimizing speed, 148, 155, 160–161
resizing/optimizing images, 167–169
semantic markups, 160–162
slow download times, 148
speed checklist, 324–326
table usage, 157
web performance optimization
designing sample test, 329–332
growth of web pages, 149–152
keeping score, 324–329
monitoring tools, 345
overlooked issues, 346–347
overview, 147
performance analysis, 332–337
reporting metrics, 340–345
response times and, 147–148
speed checklist metrics, 338–340
visual aids, 342
(see also Ajax; client-side optimization;
CSS; server-side optimization;
web server log analysis, 302–304
Webalizer tool, 303
WebCompression.org, 271, 272
weblogs, 30–31
WebReference.com, 284, 285
website design
color schemes, 133
credibility-based, 118–119
CRO considerations, 132–135
professional, 9, 12, 112
psychology of performance, 147–148
website optimization (see metrics; SEM; web
performance optimization)
WebSiteOptimization.com, 264, 267
WebSphere servers, 272
WebTrends Analytics software, 298, 303
WEDJE (Widget Enabled DOM JavaScript
Embedding), 184
weighted optimization, 169
What-WG/HTML 5 draft specification, 254
reducing carefully, 231
removing, 189, 293, 325
Wicked Business Sciences, xxiii, 311
Widget Enabled DOM JavaScript Embedding
(WEDJE), 184
Ajax support, 229
defined, 184
tracking Flash events, 304
WEDJE support, 184
Williams, Mark, xxiii
Window object, 234, 241
WinZip, 325
Wired.com, 29
wireframes, 140
with( ) statement, 238
WMV format, 172
Wolf, Jason, xxiii
WordPress, 279
functionality, 13, 15, 67
KEI support, 15, 17, 67
Keyword Universe, 68
limitations, 13
sorting keywords, 16
WorkForce.com Vendor Directory, 35
writing techniques, effective, 139–140
WSO (website optimization) (see metrics;
SEM; web performance
Wyman, Bob, 279
XFN microformat, 42
XHR (XMLHttpRequest) object
aborting, 251
Ajax support, 222
caching and, 248
cross-domain requests, 245
innerHTML property, 223
polling support, 184
responseText property, 246
responseXML property, 223
setRequestHeader method, 249
Ajax support, 216
compression efficiency, 277
data URI images, 294
PE strategy, 283
switching to, 160
w3compiler tool, 293
XMLHttpRequest object (see XHR object)
XSSIs (conditional server-side includes), 179,
building inbound links, 37
CSS sprites, 208
parallel downloads, 258
performance tips, 161
ranking new sites, 36
reset stylesheets, 187
response time study, 280
rewriting URIs, 282
Rhino engine, 292
Yahoo! Search Marketing (see YSM)
Yahoo! Shopping Network, 280
Yahoo! User Interface Library (YUI), 226,
228, 255
Yahoo! Video, 158
Yahoo! YSlow tool, 334, 339–340
YouTube.com, 37, 158
YSM (Yahoo! Search Marketing)
bid gaps, 87
differences in bulk editing, 58–59
differences in geotargeting, 59
differences in minimum bids, 61
differences in Quality Scores, 61
trademark issues, 98
YUI (Yahoo! User Interface Library), 226,
228, 255
YUI Compressor, 238, 293
ZLIB compression algorithm, 271
About the Author
Andrew B. King is the president of Website Optimization, LLC, a web performance and search engine marketing firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan
(http://www.websiteoptimization.com). Since 2002, the WSO team has helped firms
optimize the effectiveness of their websites to improve their ROI. Their clients include
Bank of America, AOL, Time Warner, Net Zero, WhitePages.com, and Caravan Tours.
Andy is the author of Speed Up Your Site: Web Site Optimization, a highly regarded
book on web site performance tuning and search engine optimization. He holds a
BSME and MSME from the University of Michigan, specializing in design optimization of structures. He was recruited by NASA after graduation, but chose instead to
join the fast-paced world of engineering consultants.
Since 1993, Andy has worked full time as a web professional applying and teaching
web optimization and creation techniques. He is the founder and former managing
editor of WebReference.com and JavaScript.com, two award-winning developer sites
owned by Jupitermedia. (WebReference.com was acquired by Mecklermedia—now
Jupitermedia—in 1997.) His license plate reads OPT1MIZ. His hobbies include
photography, hiking, and skiing.
The animal on the cover of Website Optimization is a common nighthawk (Chordeiles
minor). Members of the nightjar family, nighthawks are medium-size birds, measuring 9
inches long and 2.2–3.5 ounces, with a wingspan of roughly 21 inches. They have large
heads and tiny bills disguising a cavernous mouth. Like its nearest relative, the owl, the
nighthawk’s plumage comprises well-camouflaged shades of black, brown, and gray.
Common nighthawks inhabit all of North America, and are known by several other
names depending on region. In many parts of the U.S. and particularly in the south,
they are called bullbats; “bull” is believed to derive from the bellowing sound the male
makes during the breeding ritual, and “bat” because nighthawks’ erratic flight resembles that of a bat. Nighthawks are also known as “goatsuckers” due to an ancient belief
that they fed on goats’ milk at night. (In actuality, any evidence of the birds’ presence
near goats is likely attributable to the flying insects in the surrounding fields, which
constitute much of the nighthawk diet.) Other names include the Louisiana French
Creole crapau volans (“flying toad”), “pick-a-me-dick” (an imitation of one of the bird’s
notes), pisk, pork and beans, will-o’-wisp, burnt-land bird, and mosquito hawk.
Nighthawks are quite beneficial to humans, as they eat many of the insects that destroy
vegetation or are otherwise harmful, such as beetles, boll-weevils, and mosquitoes.
The nighthawk opens its beak as it flies through clouds of insects, scooping them into
its enormous mouth. It can eat more than 2,000 insects at a time, and as many as 50
different species have been found in the stomach of one nighthawk.
The cover image is from Wood’s Animate Creation. The cover font is Adobe ITC
Garamond. The text font is Linotype Birka; the heading font is Adobe Myriad
Condensed; and the code font is LucasFont’s TheSansMonoCondensed.
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