Speed: Improving User Experience

Kelly Larkin, of kellyinthecity.com, is a Chicago-based fashion and lifestyle writer. Her sharp eye and helpful advice garner hundreds of thousands of pageviews every month. In just a few short years, Kelly has cultivated a loyal audience and become one of the most prominent voices in the space.

Like many bloggers, Kelly seeks to grow her audience steadily and in the style blogging game, pageviews are king. The more pageviews, the more clicks to featured products, the more revenue generated by affiliate relationships. Paid sponsors prefer big audiences, too.

As readership grew, Kelly recognized her site needed changes, quickly. While she didn't want dramatic aesthetic modifications, she knew her site speed and overall user experience were in dire need of improvement.

Old Kelly in the City
The previous kellyinthecity.com home page design, which the client liked aesthetically.

Upon assessment, the problems were clear. The theme being used was pretty to look at but had a bloated infrastructure. The primary contributor to slow site speed was the multitude of large images loaded on every page. This presented a challenge: like most fashion-based blogs, kellyinthecity.com must display lots of large, beautiful photography. That's the point!

After careful consideration, we came up with a two-pronged approach to solve the issues. First, we offloaded the images to a service optimized for just that (in this case, we used Amazon Web Services). Kelly has tens of gigabytes worth of images – that's a lot! Then, on each page visit, only load images when necessary. Why load an image offscreen at the bottom of a page when the user is at the top? With as many as 50 large images on any one page, this proved critical.

New Kelly in the City
The new kellyinthecity.com home page design.

The above, combined with a complete re-architecture of her site theme and countless added features, resulted in a 72%+ reduction in page load time . That's the difference between a reader losing patience (eventually leaving the site) and staying to read a post.

With all sites, it's imperative to pinpoint the most important aspects as they relate to the business. Then, and only then, optimize everything towards those.. Too often, priority is given to less important elements of a site that may check boxes off a list, but don't move towards achieving real business goals.

In Kelly's case, her images are most important, but were also the largest pain point at the start of the project. By optimizing the management and delivery of her photos, we dramatically improved the experience for both Kelly and her readers. In time, that will help grow her business.

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