Hindsight is Always 2020: How to Win in the New Year with These Up and Coming Trends

Welcome to a new decade! Crazy, right? Where does the time go? Well, according to YouTube, most of it was spent watching a guy dance Gangnam Style and a 10-year-old cowboy yodel in Walmart. And with that, here we are, the year 2020. Welcome to the future!

Did you know it was predicted that by 2020:

 

  • We’d be vacationing on the moon (via com, 2010)
  • We’d vote in presidential elections from our homes (via Wired, 1999)
  • The letters C, X, and Q, would be excluded from the alphabet (via Ladies Home Journal, 1900)
  • Drinking coffee would no longer be a thing (via Nikolas Tesla, 1937)
  • Neither would eating or going to the bathroom (via Ray Kurzweil, 2005)
  • Taco Bell would be the world’s only restaurant (The Demolition Man, 1993)
  • Paul Rudd would age a day (via logic)
  • Robots would wipe out most of humanity (via The Terminator, 1984)
  • Humans would live to be 200 … and the world destroyed (via Nostradamus, 1500s)

 

Welp, turns out those never occurred. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some big things in store in the days ahead, especially if you are a digital marketer.

So let’s take a look at what’s really going to happen in the coming year. Here are the most important digital marketing trends of 2020 you need to be aware of.

Trend 1: Old Trends Will Continue

In the grand scheme of things, not a whole lot changed between December 31st, 2019 and January 2020. That’s because, for the most part, change doesn’t happen overnight.

So it only makes sense that a lot of the digital marketing trends that were big in 2019 will continue onwards into 2020. We’re talking about stuff like voice search, geofencing, rich schema, featured snippets, chatbots, mobile speed, user experience, long-form content marketing, artificial intelligence, the list goes on.

Heck, some of the marketing trends that were big way back in 1920 will continue onwards into 2020. (We’re looking at you Personalization.) That’s because a lot of times, it’s easy to confuse a “trend” with best practice. Really, the best “trends” are merely new means of capitalizing on the timeless fundamentals of a sound marketing strategy. So in that regard, consider the trends that follow as weapon upgrades in the fight against Digital Darwinism.

What’s Digital Darwinism?

Here’s how digital analyst Brian Solis describes it:

“Each business is a victim of Digital Darwinism, the evolution of consumer behavior when society and technology evolve faster than the ability to exploit it. Digital Darwinism does not discriminate. Every business is threatened.”

Yeesh, that sounds a bit bleak. But don’t worry. We’re not heading towards a digital dystopia. In fact, the trends below show quite the opposite. We’re moving into an exciting new frontier. So let’s see how some of these cool upgrades, both old and new, will impact your future marketing efforts.

Trend 2: AI-Based Automation

We know everyone’s been saying it for a while now, but this time it’s for real: in 2020, robots will finally rise and take over… but in a good way.

Gartner analysts predicted that by 2020, Ai technologies would be in almost every new software product. Predictions like this have led to the likes of Techgrabyte proclaiming:

“Artificial intelligence is the biggest commercial opportunity for companies, industries, and nations over the next few decades… AI latecomers will find themselves at a serious competitive disadvantage within the next several years.”

Here are several examples of how AI will improve the way you do business:

  • Automated SEO – Machine learning software that can provide better insight, automation, and personalization for SEO strategies. SEO AI, like our TitanBot, allows digital marketing teams to see how search engines index content in ways humans can’t, identifying opportunities for improvement and helping better predict outcomes.
  • 24/7 Communication – Using AI-based tech like chatbots to talk in real-time, day or night, with customers or site visitors. They provide prompt customer service, automate repetitive tasks, and immediately meet customer expectations. By 2020, chatbots will power 85% of customer service, and by 2022, they will be saving businesses over $8 billion annually.
  • Programmatic Advertising – Offloading ad-buying decisions to an AI bot related to ad placement, performance tracking, customer targeting, real-time bidding, and media channels lowers acquisition costs and frees up time so you or your agency team can handle more important tasks.

AI also supports big data with predictive analytics that pool from online search patterns and social media use to help brands learn more about their audiences and create more personal experiences at scale.

And that’s the key.

Because AI automation should not supplant the human aspect of digital marketing, but supplement it. So don’t worry, the robots will not take over our jobs. But they will help reduce costs and spur growth. AI tools will eliminate much of the grunt work so your team of awesome humans can streamline workflow and concentrate more on what really matters — engaging with people.

Speaking of which…

Trend 3: Hyper-Personalization

Some trends never go out of style. Creating a personalized customer experience has been, is, and should always be at the core of any marketing strategy. So when you hear someone proclaim “personalization” is the next big thing as if it’s something new, please feel free to roll your eyes.

That said, in 2020, personalization will only grow more important. Today’s consumers are bombarded with information and marketing messages from multiple channels like never before. Amidst all that chaos begging for attention, the best brands will stand out by forging a real connection with individuals — emphasis on the word individual.

Just consider that 63% of consumers say they are annoyed by generic advertising, and 80% of consumers are more likely to do business with brands providing personalized experiences.

Advances in technology and data collection (thanks to AI) are furthering the levels of personalization possible by brands. Merely having the name of a recipient auto-populate within email blasts is no longer going to cut it. Every aspect of business, from content to design to product recommendations, and everything in-between, needs to be hyper-personalized to each individual.

Take these companies who are winning the personalization game:

 

  • Amazon – Every inch of Amazon’s pages are tailored to show you what they think you want based on your search and buying patterns.
  • EasyJet – Launched an email campaign using customer travel history to share personalized suggestions on where they might like to travel next. Over 12 million unique emails were sent, garnering 25% higher CTR than non-personalized emails.
  • Target – Assigns each customer a personal tracking Guest ID that allows for a personalized analysis of demographic and buying behavior to predict future purchasing needs, and then send out coupons and deals related to those specific needs.

These companies are setting a precedent that consumers across the board are coming to expect from their interactions with brands. Follow their lead and give the people what they want — an experience that speaks to them.

Trend 4: Immersive Video Marketing

The end of the last decade saw a mounting swell in video-based marketing strategies. These strategies are based on creating informative, personable, and immersive viewer experiences.

On one end exists vlogging, where YouTube, Instagram Stories, and Snapchat provide videos that encourage engagement through shared experiences. This is proving especially useful in building product awareness. Just ask any parent who still can’t figure out why their kids are so mesmerized by watching someone else open up toys.

On the other end exists dynamic content that allows the viewer to influence what’s happening rather than just sitting by passively watching. These include:

 

  • 360-Degree Videos – Customers interact with a brand and their offerings from every angle imaginable
  • Live Videos – From interviews, seminars, product demos, and behind-the-scenes glimpses; viewers spend 3x longer watching live video on Facebook than pre-recorded video
  • 1:1 Videos – Personalized “face-to-face” messages in place of a call or email

 

From an SEO perspective, Google is fully aware that people would much rather watch a compelling video than read static words, so they may push pages that include videos higher in rankings.

Trend 5: Micro-Influencer Marketing

Word-of-mouth has always been one of the strongest marketing tactics. But few could have guessed that social media “influence” would become one of the hottest and most profitable commodities in the digital marketing landscape.

Influencer marketing — Using key figures to amplify your brand messaging to a larger market — has become so successful that the big-time influencers (think the Kardashians) have formed huge enterprises just off of sponsored word-of-mouth. But turning influence into big business is a slippery slope, which is why so many digital marketers are now turning to micro-influencers.

Micro-influencers are smaller to mid-sized online personalities with niche followings. In addition to being more affordable, micro-influencers tend to come off as more authentic and relatable than bigger, celebrity influencers. For example, the British supermarket chain, Iceland, switched from using celebrities in their ads to teaming up with the YouTube community Channel Mum and other real-life moms to promote their brand.

Since micro-influencers target smaller, niche audiences, they tend to produce better engagement rates. A study from Adweek found that micro-influencers (categorized as accounts with around 30,000 followers) had 60% higher engagement while being 6.7x more cost-effective than those with higher follower counts.

Trend 6: Social Commerce

Getting social media followers to make purchases has always been one of the biggest obstacles faced by e-commerce sites. But recent advancements in social commerce have set the stage for an online selling explosion in 2020.

Social commerce refers to buying products directly through social media posts or ads without having to leave the site or app. The trend got its start with Pinterest’s shoppable pins and Instagram Checkout. With shoppable posts, e-commerce brands can shorten the sales funnel, decrease cart abandonment, and give consumers instant access to the products they want, especially ones shared by social media influencers.

In the upcoming year, expect to see a lot more of interactive, social commerce posting.

Trend 7: Voice Search

Voice search was a big thing in 2019. And it’s only going to get bigger throughout the next decade. The increasing popularity of voice search is causing brands to rethink their digital marketing strategies entirely.

Just consider that it was predicted 50% of all searches would be made via voice by 2020. While we’re not quite there yet, smart speakers are one of the fastest-growing technologies out there and are playing an increasingly important role in providing information and managing our digital lives. We’ll soon be hard-pressed to find someone not using voice assistants like Siri and Alexa.

Certainly, voice search will present new challenges to companies, but with those challenges come even greater opportunities.

Brands that learn to optimize, advertise, and deliver value-based audio content via voice search will have a leg up on the competition. Here are some already leading the charge:

  • Purina – Helps people answer pet-related questions via “branded skills”
  • Domino’s – Makes ordering pizza as easy as talking out loud
  • PayPal – Lets you send money to friends or businesses without having to pick up a phone or open your wallet

The smartest brands will realize that tapping into voice search is about creating a more connected brand experience through improved consumer interactions. Those who do this well will find voice search to be a lucrative ad channel. Companies can also get ahead by optimizing content with voice search in mind. Pretty soon, we’ll all be working on VSEO — voice search engine optimization.

Trend 8: Better Analytics

Don’t get us wrong; Google Analytics is amazing. But in this vast and fastly growing omnichannel marketing world, it will no longer be enough.

The average consumer engages with a brand on up to 6-8 touchpoints before making a purchase. Cross-tracking all that activity is a challenge, especially within the limited scope of Google Analytics. As the likes of voice search enter the mix and make the customer journey even more complex, brands will need to find more modern ways to analyze behavior.

This trend will likely veer towards a more comprehensive all-in-one analytics approach. One focused on gaining overall business intelligence to make brand-centric decisions, like improving the lifetime value (LTV) of customers, rather than looking solely at means to boost conversions within each separate channel.

One of our favorite data visualization tools (which is also free-to-use) is Google Data Studio.

Taking this a step further is sentiment analysis. Also known as “social listening,” sentiment analysis uses data-collecting tools and algorithms to quantify the reactions people have to a product or service — all to better understand how consumers perceive brands.

Conclusion

The future of digital marketing is bright. Which is why we’re excited to see where the industry will go in 2020 and beyond.

For any digital marketer, change goes with the job description. If you can adapt to these developments, you can help your business grow even stronger into the next decade.

We’re here to help you embrace it and stay ahead of the curve. Together we can keep pace with your customer’s ever-changing behaviors and evolve your business to use these trends in turning your brand into a 21st-century rock star.

12 Step Guide to CRO like a Pro

CRO Guide – Conversion Rate Optimization

Conversion rate optimization is one of the most important things you can do to convert your online traffic. Not only is it important, but it is also one of the easiest ways to increase ROI for your business. Yet, you don’t hear much about it…

Despite having a direct impact on your sales, lead generation, and revenue, CRO often gets lost in the shuffle. So we figured we’d talk about it.

The fact of the matter is, if you want to grow your business, you need to give your conversion rate the attention it deserves, and the easiest way to start is with this 12-step CRO action plan.

But before diving in, let’s get a better understanding of exactly what conversion rate optimization is and why it is so important to the success of your business.

When Should You Perform CRO?

Are people flocking to your site but just hanging around doing nothing like a bunch of bored teenagers on a Friday night? You spent all that time and money crafting awesome Facebook ads, designing the world’s best landing pages, SEOing the heck out of your content, and ordering Starbucks. Lots and lots of Starbucks.

Alas, no one’s taking action. No one’s hitting that big colorful button. No one’s sharing their email. No one’s buying your novelty Baby Yoda dolls. You have amazing CTRs but nothing to show for it. What more can a digital marketer do? Drink more Starbucks?

No! Stop right there. Put the coffee down and start optimizing your conversion rates immediately.

CRO marketing is such a lucrative task that many teams bring in Conversion Optimization specialists to clean house. However, we’re going to share some conversion rate optimization techniques you can do in-house. Either way, specialist or no specialist, you should be familiar with CRO best practices at a minimum.

So that’s exactly what we’re going to cover next.

What is a Conversion?

A conversion is anything that involves someone completing a goal. As far as digital marketing is concerned, a conversion occurs when a website or app visitor completes an action on your site (or app) that you want them to. Conversions are at the bottom of the sales funnel.

There are two types of conversions:

Macro Conversions – the primary goal

Micro Conversions – smaller engagements

Website Conversion Examples

Examples of conversions for both types include:

Macro Conversions:

  • Service subscription
  • Purchase
  • App install
  • Form submission

 

Micro Conversions:

  • Button click
  • Link click
  • Form submission
  • Landing page view
  • Email signup
  • Account creation
  • Send to cart

 

There are also offline conversions that could be directly related to your online activities. The most common are phone calls (micro), in-store visits (micro), and in-store purchases (macro).

Very often, a micro conversion precedes a macro conversion. For example, a micro conversion, like a newsletter signup can lead to a macro conversion like making a purchase. Another example would be someone selecting a “Sign Up” button (micro) and then filling out a form (macro). (Depending on its purpose, a form can count as either a macro or micro conversion.)

How to Calculate Conversion Rate?

Conversion rate is the number of times a user completes a conversion divided by site traffic. Here’s what that looks like in a nifty equation:

Say you have a landing page that 1,000 people visited. Of those, 50 clicked your CTA. Your conversion rate is 5%. (50 ÷ 1000 = 0.05)

You can further hone in on conversion rate by dividing total conversions by any number of different visitation stats, such as total number of user sessions, total number of all sessions, and the total number of sessions by traffic source. You can also break total conversions down further across CTAs.

What is a Good Conversion Rate?

The latest studies show that across industries, the average landing page conversion rate is 2.35%. However, what constitutes a good conversion rate is dependent on your industry, business model, and several other factors. For example, e-commerce has a much lower average conversion rate than finance. So while a 2% conversion rate might be poor for some businesses, it could be favorable for another. At the end of the day, a good conversion rate is whatever you need to grow your business and beat your competitors. (Here are some tips on how to crack the code on your competitors.)

That said, you don’t want a “good” conversion rate. You want a GREAT conversion rate.

In the example below of collective industry averages, the average landing page conversion rate for the 25th percentile of best-performing sites was 5%. However, the top 10th percentile converted at rates of 11.45% and higher. That’s a big difference!

To understand what a great conversion rate is for YOU, you’ll want to compare conversion rate data to your specific industry. But if you want to achieve greatness, the same rule of thumb applies.

If you want to be at the top of your industry, shoot for a CVR that is 3-5x higher than your industry average.

 

What is CRO?

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is a strategy to increase conversion rates by improving user experience. CRO seeks to find the best ways possible to compel visitors to take the actions you want them to take.

From a statistical standpoint conversion rate optimization:

  • Lowers acquisition costs
  • Increases revenue per visitor

In other words, it helps you create more profit from your existing traffic.

The Difference Between CRO and SEO

SEO seeks to increase the number of qualified visitors to your site who are actively searching for a product or service like yours. CRO seeks to convert that traffic. Together they deliver a one-two punch.

They are, however, two entirely separate beasts. Many digital marketers gravitate towards SEO first because they are interested in bringing more prospective customers to their site. But if that traffic isn’t converting, then SEO efforts won’t be as effective.

Your SEO and CRO should complement one another. As unique as they are, these two processes do share a lot of similarities, and engaging in both can amplify your results.

One Piece of PIE at a time…

When you begin looking at your site, CRO may seem like an insurmountable task. Especially if you have a very large site. So before we jump into best practices, a quick tip on project management. This simple technique will help prevent you from biting off more than you can chew.

The PIE Framework helps prioritize conversion rate optimization by showing which tasks and tests should get the most attention. It does so by considering three factors:

 

  • Potential – how much potential does the task have for improving the bottom line?
  • Importance – how important is the task for your business?
  • Ease – how easy will the task be to complete, according to time and or complexity?

 

Using PIE, start your CRO by focusing on pages that can improve the most, have the most valuable traffic to leverage, and are low-hanging fruit that can be easily optimized now.

The PIE Framework helps rank your tasks according to these prioritizations. Rank an individual task as it relates to P.I.E. on a scale from 1 to 5. Add the three scores together. The average is your PIE score for that task. Do this for all your CRO tasks. Then start with the highest-ranking task and work your way down the list.

Had your fill? Let’s dive right in!

CRO Marketing Best Practices

Start your CRO by answering two simple questions:

  • Why do people visit my site/page?
  • What do I want people to do while on my site/page?

The answers to these questions will drive the rest of your CRO strategy and should be short, simple, and clear. The first shows a pain point. The second provides a solution. You’ll want to answer these questions for your site as a whole, and also separately for each page, noting specifically which micro conversions lead to which macro conversions.

Once you can do that, it is time to embark on this 12-step action plan to improve conversion rates.

Don’t perform CRO blind in the dark. Data should drive all your CRO decisions.
It can be very tempting to take action based on hunches, guesswork, or assumptions; or to look at competitors and decide just because they’re doing something, you should too – without ever really knowing why. But that’s a bad strategy.

A good strategy starts by properly tracking all your conversions and traffic. From this data, you’ll be able to ascertain entry points, exit points, bottlenecks, demographics, user journey, and user behavior. To gain an even greater insight into behavior, supplement your quantitative data analysis with qualitative methods such as surveys and user testing.

Once you have sufficient data about your visitors, quantify your conversion goals. For instance, if you’re looking to turn leads into paying customers, the following can help determine those goals:

 

  • Lead Value = Total Sales Value ÷ Total Leads
  • # of Customers Needed = Revenue Goal ÷ Avg. Sales Price
  • Conversions Needed = Revenue Goal ÷ Lead Value
  • CRO Goal = # of Customers Needed ÷ Conversions Needed

 

The best tactic is to change only ONE thing from test to test. Try testing a different page heading, CTA text, or image, but not all three.

If you’re A/B testing a landing page, try several different variations of your main heading. After a given period, whichever variation saw the most conversions is your winner. Use this winner as your main heading and then test another item, and so forth. A great CRO strategist A/B tests everything and is never satisfied with a winner.

But be careful about how you test. You will need an adequate sample size (the tools below can help you determine that). So make sure you have a decent amount of site traffic and are testing for the right amount of time, or else your results could be misleading.

 

Bottlenecks are anywhere in your user journey (or sales funnel) where visitors are consistently failing to move on to the next stage. High abandonment and bounce rate are often the result of bottlenecks.

Maybe you require people to create an account before making a purchase, and no one is doing so. That’s a bottleneck. Maybe your landing page has too many CTAs, and people are too overwhelmed to pick any. That’s a bottleneck. Maybe your Facebook ads have a great CTR, but no one converts on your landing page. That’s because there’s likely a disconnect between ad messaging and site messaging. That too is a bottleneck.

One of the easiest ways to identify bottlenecks is reviewing funnels on Google Analytics. So make multi-channel funnel reports your new best friend.

 

Keep your eye on the prize.

Remember above all else, the goal here is to grow revenue. So don’t focus all your attention on conversions that don’t directly contribute to that goal. Getting a lot of people to give you their email is great, but those leads are most valuable once they become a customer.

High conversion rates should not be your only (or probably even main) goal here. Obtaining high-quality leads that convert at the macro and not just micro level is what is most important. Ensure your micro conversions are always being optimized to funnel into your macro conversions because a macro conversion is where your true success lies.

 

One of the best ways to prioritize macro conversions is to treat your digital marketing efforts like a story. For example, a campaign to sell something should have a beginning (Facebook Ad), a middle (landing page), and an end (purchase).

Your sales funnel represents the story of your user journey. Branding and messaging should be consistent and there should be a singular theme running throughout that concludes with your macro conversion. Everything else is just a buildup to that end.

And be sure there is an ending. Don’t tell some ambiguous story that’s open to interpretation. Funnel your users to your macro conversion, and don’t provide many opportunities to stray. Also, don’t go crazy with your number of CTAs. When faced with too many choices, we usually make none.

 

Calls-to-action (CTAs) are the lifeblood of your conversions. Don’t just follow the tried-and-true methods of other sites. Prove (or disprove) that they can work just as well for you. The best way to do this is to get more creative with your CTAs and test the results.

Ever hear of banner blindness? It’s what happens when people become accustomed to ignoring banner-like information on websites. It’s why some people instinctively skip over the first few ad links of search results. And it’s why buttons commonly get ignored, especially when a page has too many of them.

Try testing text-based CTAs inserted strategically into your copy or unique button designs to catch the attention of visitors. Play around with the placement of your CTAs. Having a button above-the-fold might not be the best solution for your site. Few visitors are going to take action without knowing why they should first. So write compelling copy to funnel them into your CTAs.

Finally, don’t rely on generic text like “Buy Now” or “Submit.” A/B test those against more engaging text that is specific to your visitor’s pain point and the solution your conversion provides. Because it all boils down to supply and demand, your visitor has a demand and your CTAs supply it.

 

It very often happens that someone makes a small design tweak and the next thing they know conversion rate has jumped up 6%, only for it to drop back down again shortly after that. Very likely, this is due to two things:

 

  • Site traffic is stagnant
  • They don’t have a lot of conversions so just one conversion can impact your %.

 

If that’s the case, in the short term, any change will seem bigger than it is.

Like SEO, top-performing CRO requires patience, data-driven techniques, and long-term strategies.

One easy way to ensure your data is trustworthy is to run A/B tests for the right lengths of time and with as large a sample size as possible. (Step 12 below links to some tools to help ascertain these factors.)

 

Procrastination and overthinking are the archnemeses of conversions. If someone feels like they need something immediately or there’s a risk of missing out on it, they are more likely to convert. It’s basically the entire business model of home shopping networks.

Reduce the gap between interest and follow through by creating a sense of urgency for your conversions. Share limited time offers. Offer incentives to buy now. If you offer multiple products, show when they sell out so people are more motivated to buy what remains. If there’s a limited number available, show how much is left when the count gets low.

But above all else, make sure you’re authentic. (You’re not fooling anyone, hotel booking sites. We know there are more than two beds still available.)

 

Just a one-second delay in page load time can result in major decreases in conversions, so it goes without saying that you want to keep your site as speedy as possible.

A lot goes into boosting the performance of a site. From optimizing images to reducing HTTP requests and improving server response time, you will want to make sure that every aspect of your site’s performance is optimal. Do that, and you will remove one of the biggest barriers to getting your visitors to convert — time.

To ensure your site is running like a well-oiled machine, check out our tips on the most effective ways to improve page load time.

 

The majority of people who visit your site will leave without ever converting. It’s a sad fact of digital marketing life. But luckily, there is a way for you to attract many of those people back into the fold.

Remarketing (or retargeting) is a tactic that uses tracking cookies to serve targeted ads to people who have visited or taken action on your site. Facebook Ads, Instagram Ads, Google Ads all provide a means for remarketing.

There is a learning curve associated with remarketing, but master how to use it effectively, and you’ll be a certified CRO superstar. Effective remarketing all goes back to the first two questions we answered above. (Reminder: Why do people want to visit your site, and what do you want them to do when they get there.) When deployed correctly, remarketing keeps your brand top of mind and reaffirms that you can provide what they are looking for.

So why does remarketing work so well? One word: personalization.

 

CRO begins and ends with user experience. If your visitors do not feel like you get them, they will be less likely to convert. So, create a user-focused experience.

Avoiding generic marketing doublespeak is a good place to start. Show that you’re just as human as the humans you’re trying to sell to. Make your copy and site experience about them rather than your business. Don’t be afraid to use the word “you.” Talk less about who you are and more about what you can do for them as a customer.

Building trust goes a long way. You have to earn it, but once you do, you will have reached the highest echelons of CRO — turning your leads and customers into advocates. Personalized emails, social posts, chatbots, digital assistants, and relatable onsite copy will all go towards building trust. So too will creating engaging ‘About’ pages that show who you are and why your visitors should like you.

 

So you’ve gone ahead and implemented the greatest conversion rate optimization the world has ever seen. What now? It’s time to see how you did.
From heat maps to click maps, user surveys, and traffic monitors, there is no shortage of tools to test CRO performance. Some include:

Some of these tools overlap in function, so you’re probably not going to want all of them. Do some research to find the ones that can provide the data you need to improve your conversion rates.

CRO Next Steps

It’s no coincidence that the final step (testing CRO) ties back nicely to our very first step (make data-driven decisions). Because conversion rate optimization is a never-ending story.

At the very heart of A/B testing is the notion that you should always be looking to find new ways to enhance user experience. The data you collect using the tools above will help you find those new opportunities.

From there, prioritize efforts according to the P.I.E framework, and continuously focus on improving the following:

 

  • Landing page design
  • Website copy
  • CTAs
  • Forms
  • Navigation and site structure
  • Page speed

And above all else, remain true to the CRO maxim: There is always room for improvement.

Reduce HTTP Requests Like a Pro & Boost Your Site Speed

Have you ever looked under the hood of a poor performing website? It’s terrifying. There’s code spewing everywhere. Stylesheets barely connect. A paper clip is somehow holding together the header. The bandwidth is running low. Who knows the last time the redirects were audited. And the HTTP requests! So, so many HTTP requests. Don’t even get us started on the HTTP requests.

Actually, on second thought, get us started. HTTP requests are a big deal in the world of web optimization, especially now that speed has become so vital to visibility. Making sure your requests are running smoothly is no longer a choice; it’s a necessity.

So let’s take a closer look at how to reduce your HTTP requests and turn your site into a hot rod by giving it a request tune-up. Because if you’ve ever looked under the hood of a well-maintained, high-performing website, it’s a thing of beauty. Not to mention, it runs like an SEO champ.

What is an HTTP Request?

An HTTP Request is a message sent from a client to a server requesting information using the hypertext text transfer protocol (HTTP). It is the method by which a web browser (client) receives the files necessary to display a web page. These files include images, text, CSS, JavaScript, and the like.

Each time you visit a web page here’s what goes down:

    1. Your browser says hi to the page’s hosting server and asks if it will send over a file containing content associated with the page, like a video
    2. The server either says ‘get lost’ or graciously grants the request
    3. If granted, the browser says ‘thank you’ and begins rendering the page
    4. If the browser needs more content to render the page, it sends another request
    5. This repeats until all requests have been received and the page is fully loaded
    6. You can now watch that video recap of last week’s Downton Abbey episode you’ve been patiently waiting to play

 

At its core, an HTTP request is a fancy way of saying “sending things back and forth” between a server and a browser.

Why is Reducing HTTP Requests Important?

As you can see from our example above, HTTP requests are a key component to displaying your site, but all that talking back and forth takes time. In fact, Yahoo has purported that 80% of a web page’s load time is spent downloading HTTP requests.

A web page needs to download information like images, stylesheets, and scripts in order to display properly. This information is retrieved via an HTTP request sent by a browser to your site’s servers. The more HTTP requests, the longer it takes your page to load. The longer a page takes to load, the greater the likelihood of users leaving your site, and the less likely the page will appear high in SERPs. That’s bad for business all around.

In fact, studies have shown a mere increase from 2 to 5 seconds in page load time can result in bounce rates soaring from 9% to 38%.

So, reducing HTTP requests is good for both SEO and user experience.

How Many HTTP Requests Should Web Pages Have?

You should strive to keep the number of HTTP requests under 50. If you can get requests below 25, you’re doing amazing.

By their nature, HTTP requests are not bad. Your site needs them to function and look good. But you probably don’t need as many HTTP requests as you have. Overall, your goal should be to have as few as possible without sacrificing user experience or page functionality.

Currently, the average number of requests per page is around 70. But we know you can do better than that.

A Note on Minimizing Round-Trip Times

Reducing the number of HTTP requests begins here. Literally.

Round-Trip Time (RTT) is the time it takes for a server to respond to an individual file request sent when someone visits your site. To load properly, files need to be requested individually. Doing so can take a lot of time. Reducing their number improves that time.

Some speed improvement guides count minimizing RTT as the be-all-end-all task. And there are some solutions (like CDNs) that can lower RTT without you needing to do much else. But while that may improve speed short-term, it’s not lowering your HTTP requests.

So if you’re interested in improving the overall efficiency and performance of your site (without bandaids), then continue reading! Below we’ll dive into the specifics of reducing requests (and thus minimizing RTT) with tasks like CSS Sprites, concatenation, and trimming redirects.

So, let’s get our hands dirty. (Not literally.)

1. Combine HTML, CSS, JavaScript Files

Combining files (aka “concatenation” if you’re a word nerd) works just like it sounds. If your site runs multiple CSS and JavaScript files, this solution combines them into one. Because requesting one file is a lot faster than requesting ten.

A site can have multiple CSS files and multiple JS files. Run a CSS test and JS test for your site to see how many you have. If you have more than one external CSS or JS file, you might try combining them into a single CSS or JS file.

Some WordPress plugins like WP Rocket, WP-Minify, or W3 Total Cache help you automatically concatenate. In other cases, you will need to use a third-party online tool or do it manually. Note, you can only combine files hosted on your site. If the file’s domain is something other than your own, you can’t combine it.

Be aware that combining files might not always be right for your site. Certain functions could stop working, or content may not load properly. Backup your site before making any changes. If anything seems off after combining, either undo the concatenation or locate the specific files causing the issue and refrain from combining them with the others.

Concatenation and HTTP/2

In our guide on improving page load speed, we discussed the benefits of HTTP/2, which is designed to transfer multiple small files simultaneously. Although combining CSS and JS files can still improve load performance in HTTP/2, instead of creating a single file, it’s most optimal to group them into several smaller bundles of related content. In other words, if you have ten JS files, instead of combining them into one file, group them into 3-4 based on how related they are to one another.

2. Prioritize File Placement

File placement plays a big role in request speed. As a best practice, CSS relating to design and interface should appear at the top of the page in the <head> section. These stylesheets are integral to showing a page properly and need to load as fast as possible.

JavaScript, on the other hand, should go at the bottom of the page, right above the </body> tag. This is because loading scripts severely delay rendering the page.

But before you go shuffling around your files, don’t forget to….

3. Defer Parsing of JavaScript

Not all JavaScript is created equal. Some JS is necessary to load a web page, and solely moving it to the bottom of the page is not enough. That’s where deferring JavaScript comes in.

If you defer the parsing (loading) of JS, it will ensure any render-blocking, non-critical JS will run only after the page has loaded, while critical JS still executes normally. There are plenty of plugins that can automatically do this for you like W3 Total Cache. Or you can defer JavaScript manually.

4. Fix Broken Links

Fixing broken links (404 errors) isn’t just good for improving page load time; it’s smart SEO all around. For every external link that exists, an HTTP request is sent. If the linked page exists, it will respond faster than one that doesn’t. So, having a link that directs visitors to a page that doesn’t exist keeps your site waiting longer, drains bandwidth, and wastes resources.

Our team leverages TitanBOT to find all broken links. If you are not currently working with our team, you can also find broken links using an online tool like Broken Link Checker.

5. Reduce Redirects

Having 301 (permanent) or 302 (temporary) redirects is definitely preferable to 404 errors (broken links), but they are still not ideal. In a perfect, speedy world, there would be no redirects. But that’s not really practical.

A TitanBOT crawl is a great way to identify 301 redirects. There are also additional tools, like httpstatus, available that will check status codes for a list of URLs. Run a scan and sort by “Status Code.” See if there are any 301s that are unnecessary. Look closely for redirect chains. These are redirects that point to other redirected pages. Redirect chains are the worst. If you must have a redirect, cut out the middleman and have only one link redirecting to the most recent version of a page.

Also, be sure to check your .htaccess or other server configuration files to make sure you don’t have any old legacy redirects. These can really add up and slow down your site if unchecked.

6. Use CSS Sprites

A CSS Sprite is one large image that represents all the images on your site. Kind of like a sitemap, but for images. It acts like a map containing the coordinates to each image used on your page. It includes icons, logos, photos, graphics, and so on. CSS is then used to position these images where you want them on the page.

It is faster for a browser to load one big image than a lot of smaller images. Why? You guessed it! Because doing so requires fewer requests.

SpriteMe or the aptly named Gift of Speed offers handy CSS Sprite generators.

7. Don’t Use @Import

Avoid using CSS @import to connect to your stylesheets. Instead, directly link to them using the <link> tag.

A CSS @import operates client-side, so each @import request adds another request to the main file request. That’s too many requests for that sentence, let alone for your site. A <link> tag allows browsers to download stylesheets in parallel, which is much simpler and faster. Besides, some older browsers don’t even support @import anymore, so it’s best to avoid them whenever possible.

8. Reduce External Scripts

External scripts are code pulled from other third-party locations and are not hosted on your server. They include anything from commenting modules, analytics tools, external fonts like Google Fonts, social media boxes, and so on. For example, when you allow Google Analytics or Facebook Pixel to track your site, that adds an external script to it and with it an extra HTTP request.

Some external scripts are extremely useful and vital to your business, but some are just clutter. Find any that are unnecessary and eliminate them. Maybe you have an email signup pop-up on your site that you no longer want. Remove it, and you’ll remove an HTTP request. Most performance tools like GTmetrix and Google Pagespeed Insights will show you which external scripts are using the most resources.

9. Enable Keep-Alive

When someone visits your page, their browser sends messages to your server, asking permission to download page files. HTTP Keep-Alive opens a single connection between the two that allows downloading of multiple files without repeatedly asking permission. This saves on a lot of bandwidth.

To enable HTTP Keep-Alive copy and paste the following code into your .htaccess file (take backups first):

         <IfModule mod_headers.c>

                Header set Connection keep-alive

         </IfModule>

10. Add Expire Headers

If you’ve ever run a performance test on Gtmetrix, there’s a good chance you got an ‘F’ for leveraging browser caching. That’s because you didn’t set expiry times for your files. (Don’t worry, we’ve all done it.)

A web server uses an Expires header to tell browsers how long to cache something when someone visits one of your pages their browser stores a version of it in their cache. (Unless they have caching disabled or are using a private window.) If they return to that page instead of requesting all the files again from your servers, the browser loads it from the cache. This is a lot faster. Adding Expire headers dictates this process, reducing the number of HTTP requests.

On WordPress, you can get a plugin to add Expire headers for you. Or better yet, avoid adding a new plugin, and leverage browser caching manually.

11. Reduce Plugins

Above, we’ve tried to provide both plugin and manual solutions to implementing tasks. That’s because while plugins make life easier, they don’t always make pages load faster.

Not only do plugins add to the size of your site as a whole, but they also generate HTTP requests. In some cases, a single plugin sends multiple requests. For example, Disqus is called on every page of your site, regardless if it’s being used on a page, which creates a lot of unnecessary requests.

Remove any WordPress plugins you don’t need or try to find lighter alternatives to ones you’re currently using. Page Performance Profiler is an easy way to analyze your plugins and see which are the most resource-heavy. (Just be sure to remove it once you’ve finished.)

Testing Your Efforts

How’s your website running now?

You can test to see total HTTP requests for your pages (and benchmark your reduction efforts) using tools like Gtmetrix and Pingdom. If you successfully implement the tasks above (even just a few), you’ll notice an immediate difference. Best of all, if done right, user experience will go unaffected and your visitors will be none the wiser to all the tinkering you did under the hood. They’ll just appreciate how fast your site is loading.

Vroom vroom!