Front end optimization: almost everything your users care about

Prepare yourself for a simple question that will determine whether or not your website requires front end optimization: Does your website have users? If the answer is yes, then your website needs front end optimization, or FEO. What it is, why you need it, and how a content delivery network (CDN) is a big-time help is coming up.

Defining front end

When it comes to your website, the ‘front end’ encompasses the interaction between your website and a user’s web browser – everything a user experiences when he or she visits your website. Front end optimization, therefore, is basically everything that can be done to make your website more browser-friendly and speed up page load times, thereby greatly improving user experience. In a nutshell, front end optimization is a large part of what your users care about when it comes to your website’s performance.

If you’d like some numbers to back up that assertion, here they are: a mere one second delay in page load time has been found to drop user satisfaction by 16%, drop conversions by 7%, and reduce page views by 11%. Yikes. Furthermore, front-end delays have been found to make up 80% of your website’s response time (according to yahoo). Double yikes.

Reducing your Time to First Byte

One of the metrics most commonly used to measure a website’s response time is the Time to First Byte, or TTFB. In terms of actual load time when it comes to a browser interacting with a website, TTFB is how long it takes the first data byte to reach the requesting browser from the website’s server.

Even more important than actual load time, however, is perceived load time, which is how long it takes the browser to parse the first data byte after downloading the HTML file. It’s this perceived TTFB that impacts user experience. After all, to a user it doesn’t matter how quickly that byte actually gets to the browser. It’s all about how fast the browser can start parsing those data bytes and turn them into web pages.

FEO largely exists to improve website responsiveness and cut down on that perceived TTFB. It’s worth mentioning that not only will this keep your users happy, but Google rankings like fast page load times as well.

The ins and outs of FEO

According to CDN guide written by Incapsula, there are several main methods of improving your website’s responsiveness through front end optimization.

One of these methods is file compression, which shrinks CSS, HTML, JavaScript and other code files to a fraction of their original size. This is especially effective for complex pages with large code files. It is also possible to compress image files, however caching image files is generally more effective. Caching static content – including image files – is another effective method of improving website responsiveness.

Code minification is also an integral part of front end optimization. When developers a.k.a. humans write code they do so in a way that is easily readable to the human eye with things like spaces and line breaks. Machines don’t need the readability help, so code minification strips out these nonessential characters making code faster to read and reducing file size.

Code minification (Source: Incapsula CDN guide)

Lastly, one of the most essential components of front end optimization and improved website response time is network optimization – better managing the TCP connections required by a browser for each HTTP request made, which equals out to the number of page elements a browser has to download. Network optimization can pre-pool TCP connections and ensure they stay open for the duration of a session. This eliminates the delays caused by closing and reopening TCP connections.

Reducing HTTP requests (Source: Incapsula CDN guide)

Making FEO an easy reality

Front end optimization can seem like a pretty big undertaking. And if you had to optimize all of those aspects individually, it would be. But there’s a much easier way.

A CDN - content delivery network – which is a global network of servers engineered to quickly deliver your website’s content to users – is designed to do all of the things listed above. File compression, content caching, code minification, network optimization. A CDN does it all and then some, also providing load balancing and protection against DDoS attacks to guard against downtime. Perhaps most importantly, a CDN improves page load times by directing users to the server located closest to them. The closer a user is to a server, the faster your website will load.

CDN Advantage (Source: Incapsula CDN guide)

Do it for your users, and for you

Since investing in front end optimization via a CDN benefits your users, it ultimately benefits you. According to the question we brought up at the start, you know your website could use FEO and a CDN. Unless you answered no to that whole website user question, in which case get on the phone with your mom and maybe a few other relatives, start driving a little traffic, and then revisit the FEO and CDN idea. Take it one step at a time.


Author: Patrick Vernon

Patrick is a freelance writer, specialising in business and finance related content. Patrick has gained experience writing for a variety of magazines and websites, researching the latest money saving tips and offering his advice to the public.

March 22, 2016
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