Simon Hearne

Web Performance Architect

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Is it time for a Web Performance rebrand?

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Web Performance is a niche term in a broad market, should we widen our appeal to reach more people?

❤️ 37 likes 🔁 13 reposts 💬 19 comments 🔗 13 shares 🔖 1 bookmark as of 11:00, November 26


Web performance has been a hot topic in web development and browser engineering since the first public web pages. The first book on the topic, Web Performance Tuning: Speeding Up the Web was published in 1998, with Steve Souders kicking off the Web Performance Optimisation industry when he published his book High Performance Websites nine years later in 2007.

As an industry-within-an-industry we have built resources, adopted hashtags (#WebPerf, #PerfMatters) and created meetups and conferences (LDNWebPerf, #PerfMatters, Performance.now). We’ve focused in on a subset of web development, whilst simultaneously complaining that it’s hard to get business buy-in and wider appreciation of the topic. We’ve even created a site to collect proof that web performance is important to business success! We know that web performance is important, but we consistently struggle to convince the wider world to prioritise speed as a feature.

Something that has long troubled me when discussing web performance with customers (and friends outside the industry) is that the term “web performance” is ambiguous, it means different things to different people. To someone in marketing it might mean the performance of web campaigns, measured in click-through rate and engagements. To ecommerce it might mean the business performance of the website, measured in conversions and revenue. To SEOs it could be the ranking of key pages, and to performance artists it means using the web as a medium for their art!

This ambiguity can work in our favour; it means our messaging lands with lots of different parties within a business: everyone wants to improve web performance! This often leads to confusion in the first meeting, requiring early clarification of what web performance means to us and our tools & services. I find myself describing our version of web performance as “measuring and optimising the speed of a web or mobile application to maximise user experience and business success”.

Web Performance is measuring and optimising the speed of a web or mobile application to maximise user experience and business success

If we are to correctly engage the broadest possible audience with our messaging, we could do better with more targeted language. Should we be using a different term when generating marketing material and engaging with external stakeholders?

Site speed or page speed are often mentioned by executives and analysts. I think we can assume that Google is to thank here! Web performance stats in Google Analytics are under the Site Speed section, and PageSpeed Insights is the Google tool to find performance issues. How often do we hear “We need to improve page speed” vs. “We need to improve web performance”?

Whilst certainly not scientific, a quick look on Google Trends shows that page speed is by far the most common search term, followed at some distance by site speed, with web performance barely registering at ~5% relative interest.

Google trends chart showing page speed has the highest popularity, followed by site speed, with web performance only 5% relative interest
Google Trends for top three web performance terms. Link to original query.

Take a look at #SiteSpeed on Twitter and you will see tweets from a range of SEO, business and Marketing folks, whereas the #WebPerf hashtag is mainly technical tweets from folks in the industry, tools providers or front-end developers.

Web Performance and Web Performance Optimization are still valid and descriptive terms for our industry, but we might benefit from a change to our language when working with others. The language we use could be critical to the success of making the web a faster and more accessible place.

I’ll be testing this out with my messaging to clients, I’d be interested in your thoughts too. Some other ideas from the community:


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Recent comments

  1. surfer190

    Does web performance tend to focus more on the browser side aspects?

    reply
  2. Mehul Kar

    Interesting! Do you think site speed covers all of the RAIL model or focuses only on Load?

    reply
  3. Simon Hearne

    IMO anything that impacts the speed of the user experience is in scope, from backend response through protocols and CDN to client side. Plus everything and everything in between! You can’t really have good #WebPerf with a bad back-end.

    reply
  4. surfer190

    That makes it a very expansive topic.

    reply
  5. Simon Hearne

    Yes indeed! The sub-specialisms would be Front- and Back-end Optimisation. There’s a gap between the two which is delivery (DNS, TLS, HTTP, CDN & Caching). #WebPerf / #SiteSpeed covers the full stack (again, IMO)

    reply
  6. surfer190

    Exactly. However there is another branch - load. Managing and maintaining server side performance while introducing multiple simultaneous requests or concurrent users. They go hand in hand - but doesn’t feel like the words WebPerf or SiteSpeed cover it.

    reply
  7. Simon Hearne

    That’s over to capacity planning & load testing, but still part of #WebPerf (as in back-end optimisation). Anything that slows down the user experience is in scope.

    reply
  8. surfer190

    Ok, but it isn’t getting any simpler for regular people. It is overwhelming.

    reply
  9. Sergey Chernyshev

    I don’t want to say what execs are looking for - you are probably right that majority of their motivation is coming from Google ranking today, but I feel that your explanation here is why I am trying to rebrand it to “UX Speed”.

    reply
  10. Simon Hearne

    Yes, I’ve thought the same! My potential worry is that speed could then be partitioned off as a UX specialism, when companies don’t invest as much as they should in UX either. We should sit alongside SEO, UX, Dev and Marketing.

    reply
  11. Sergey Chernyshev

    I feel we need to be aligned with finance as well, but there does not seem to be anything that unifies all of that other than experience of the users.

    I feel that the answer is in helping people work together across departments and a name should appeal to them all.

    reply
  12. Sergey Chernyshev

    I feel that the core need for renaming #webperf is to support creating fast user experiences earlier in product cycle because today it is mostly considered an engineering task and mostly optimization post factum, but reality is that it’s a product design task. #UXSpeed

    reply
  13. Šime Vidas

    I’m just gonna throw webspeed out there…

    reply
  14. Aaron Peters

    SEO, CRO … two well established terms and activities that are on all web teams’ agendas. Why not SSO? Site Speed Optimization? I like UX Speed too. Naming is hard.

    reply
  15. Sergey Chernyshev

    SSO is Single Sign-On - will bring too much confusion. I feel that putting Optiomization as part of #WPO was a mistake as we tried to align with existing SEO and name never took hold. I agree with Simon that Google’s marketing it and their hook made #SiteSpeed most popular today.

    reply
  16. Aaron Peters

    Agree. SSO is poor. Agree on WPO taking off because of efforts by Google. I would be fine with site speed because … it is about the speed of the site.

    reply
  17. MachMetrics

    Interesting! We definitely use different terms interchangeably when creating posts and articles. Would be nice to have an industry standard

    reply
  18. Nicolas Hoizey

    The difference between “site speed” (or “page speed”) and “web performance” might come from the fact that people using “speed” focus on their own site speed, while we (as a tech community) want to promote performance for the whole Web.

    reply
  19. Ethan Gardner

    Rebranding is fine, but it needs some education around it too. People want fast, but businesses also want revenue and data. When we’re talking milliseconds, that doesn’t doesn’t really sound like a lot of time to people.

    reply

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