CDN performance
11 Aug 2020

Front-End Optimization – A Checklist for Performance

Front-End Optimization is a complex task in any web development project. As the migration to digital platforms continues to grow exponentially, rapid performance with pages that load within a few seconds is vital. However, optimizing your front-end technologies is not a simple task as it involves the orchestration of several fundamental variables. 

Site assets that load in real-time, such as JavaScript, fonts, and images, directly influence page load speeds. Encryption, API calls, and the location of your origin server also play an essential part. Trying to manage the configuration of all these moving parts can be overwhelming. However, if you take a planned, strategic approach, you can achieve the balance between features and performance your site requires. 

Leveraging a front-end optimization checklist can help you make the correct technology decisions upfront. This approach ensures you deliver your solution with as little rework as possible and gives you the competitive advantage you need.

Goals and Objectives

The first step in creating a practical front-end optimization checklist is setting realistic goals and objectives. As with any other strategic undertaking, there is no singular, universal plan that fits every enterprise’s requirements. You need to set performance targets that are realistic and align with your site’s objectives. For example, the performance strategy for a public news site differs from that of a cloud-based CRM application. Page load speeds are vital to both, but the content they load and the audiences they serve are distinct. 

Taking a customer-centric approach to setting performance objectives is vital. Understanding your target market and discerning your customers’ needs is a fundamental principle that needs to permeate your digital strategy. The competitive landscape is another aspect that requires focus and attention. In an online world, competition is global, but so is your customer base. Setting a front-end optimization objective of ensuring your site loads 20% faster than any of your competitors is an example of a well-defined goal. It is easy to measure and can set the tasks for the rest of your strategy.

Defining Your Target Environment

When it comes to aligning your performance objectives with your target environment, optimization-based metrics are not equal. For example, the vital page elements that make up a news site will differ from those of an online email service. 

In the first instance, text and images need priority. If you provide your readers with these elements, while the rest of the content loads in the background, it enhances the site experience while giving you time to render non-essentials like JavaScript and video. News site visitors will typically take time to review the available content before clicking on their next link. 

The user workflow of an email app differs slightly. When users first log in, they may need to open and read an important message right away. They may also need to compose an urgent email and not take the time to review their unread items. As the user workflow is not the same as that of a news site, your vital performance metrics will differ.

Performance metrics are not the only elements you need to consider when defining your target market objectives. Your user’s device and their location also need consideration. Users who access your service from a mobile device with low Internet speed will require one strategy. In contrast, those accessing it via a laptop with excellent online connectivity will need another. 

Building Your Test Environment

Once you have set your objectives and defined your target market, it is time to set up your test environment. Ideally, this environment needs to replicate the real-world of your user base. For example, all the underlying technologies your site uses must form part of your testing platform. 

As each element on the site and the path the data travels have an impact on performance, you need to test each component separately. Starting with the application in an isolated environment is the first step. By measuring the performance of each element that makes up your site, you can identify any fundamental issues. Working out from this point, you should test the website over a local network, and then move on to the Internet. Finally, you should check it from several global locations to ascertain the user experience from each locale.

In addition to testing your site’s critical path, you also need to check it on a variety of devices and browsers. This additional testing phase will allow you to identify any technology-specific impediments that may hinder your web application’s performance. 

Testing the Elements

After you build your test environment, the next task on your front-end optimization checklist is to examine each element. Modern websites leverage several components that render in real-time. From text and images to stylesheets and JavaScript, these assets combine to create the final page the renders in the user’s browser. By using readily available online tools and developing your site with contemporary technologies, you can enhance your front-end optimization. 

For example, JavaScript is an element that weighs heavily on page load speeds. By utilizing the correct library that is fit for purpose, you can optimize your site’s performance. Images are another component that can detrimentally impact the user experience. Applying the correct image optimization strategy can also result in increased speed and enhanced page loading. 

JavaScript and images are only two of the many elements that developers use to create a modern user interface. Text, font files, Cascading Stylesheets (CSS), and in some cases, even video and sound affect site performance. Your front-end optimization checklist must include tasks to test every element and, where possible, optimize it. 

Testing Delivery for Front-End Optimization

Testing the individual elements that create the pages of your web app or service, ensures you have optimized the page rendering of your site. However, an end-to-end front-end optimization checklist must also include your delivery route. As users worldwide access your website, several networking technologies work in unison routing traffic from your origin server to the end-users and back again. 

If you cater to a global audience, you must test your site’s performance from various locations. As services typically host their origin server in one area, users in other parts of the world will see different page load speeds to those located in the same region. If you discover that particular geographic locations experience a sub-par performance, you need to leverage the services of a Content Delivery Network (CDN).

A CDN caches static content such as text, images, stylesheets, and even video and audio across a global network of servers. When users access your site, static content loads in their browser from a nearby node, significantly increasing page load speeds. 

Front-End Optimization Requires Consistency and Monitoring

Consistency and monitoring are vital to a successful front-end optimization strategy. By taking a scientific approach, you can build a feature-rich site and performant front end for your end-users. As with any strategic undertaking, you must set goals and objectives. Your testing environment should also replicate any real-world constraints to ensure your testing is sufficient. Once you have these platforms in place, you should test and optimize each element in isolation and then look at refining your delivery network.

After launching your site, continuous performance monitoring is vital. As digital platforms live in dynamic environments, keeping an eye on crucial metrics ensures you continue to deliver the best possible experience to your users.