by Daniel Sim
Successfully finding an expert to speed up your Shopify store can be a bit trickier than finding a developer who can code up a new feature for you. We've worked on hundreds of Shopify speed jobs: here's what we find works well.
Decide on your goals
Giving your expert a blank slate of 'speed up my shop' is a recipe for disaster. Speed can be measured in a surprisingly large number of ways so it's important you both agree on what to use as a measure of success.
A lot of store owners care most about PageSpeed score. It can be useful as an indicator of the things that might be possible to do to speed up a shop.
What it is
Lower scores indicate that Google believes your shop might be able to be more speed optimized.
What it isn't
It is no substitute for a human expert knowing if a) something is technically possible to optimize and b) if optimizing it will actually make your shop feel faster to users.
Taking (a), there are certain things that just aren't possible on Shopify. Shopify is a platform offering an out-of-the-box ecommerce solution. Awesome. It's easy to enable new features by adding apps. With this comes some limitations about what is possible to get access to to optimise. A Shopify expert will know this, Google PageSpeed does not.
Another example of (a) are situations where PageSpeed knows the in-a-perfect-world situation but a speed expert knows the real-world situation. For example, some code must load before the rest of the page (called render blocking). If it does not certain features on the page are broken. PageSpeed assumes nothing needs to be render blocking.
Important too is that PageSpeed has a very limited view of (b): how much faster it will feel to users if a certain change is made. Some recommendations must be tried and tested to understand if these make your shop look and feel faster. Things like lazy loading of images for example can sometimes make things feel slower than preloading them.
An expert will try the recommendation out and then make a judgement (which is sometimes subjective) on if the shop looks and feels faster or not. This detail PageSpeed Insights doesn't get into.
How and when to use PageSpeed as your goal
For the 'what it isn't' reasons above it is shortsighted to singularly focus on just PageSpeed. Saying to a Shopify speed expert: "get me a 95 PageSpeed score" is not the best for your customers, the expert or you.
PageSpeed is an excellent tool for guiding the speed expert in what might be possible to do to improve your speed. They bring their expertise into it and implement the things that are possible and will actually speed up your shop.
Every shop is different so a good PageSpeed score is depends on your unique setup. While we don't recommend using the PageSpeed score by itself, it is valid to ask for it to increase following your expert's work. As a rule of thumb anything over 75 is good. This is only a rule of thumb though, your setup (apps/theme/code/images) may make it not achievable by any means.
In short, the recommendations from PageSpeed Insights are good guidance for your Shopify speed expert. Discuss before the work starts that you would like to see an improvement in the scores and ideally end up with both mobile and desktop scores over 75.
Loading time in seconds
Many tools like GTMetrix offer to measure your shop's loading time in seconds. This gives a good indication of how fast your shop loads for users. There are nuances and caveats to this that we'll look at below.
What it is
This one seems simple: how long your shop takes to load in seconds for a user. But due to the way modern browsers work there is a nuance. We can measure either the 'fully loaded' or 'onload' time in seconds. These are two different things.
Fully loaded time is the time it takes for everything on the page to be completely loaded.
Onload time is the time it takes for the essential things on the page to be loaded for the user to be able to start interacting with the page.
So the onload time is always faster than the fully loaded time. The difference comes because there are things on a page that are not required for the user to be able to use it: read it, scroll, push things etc. Things like a Facebook Like button for example will load after 'onload' since it is no essential to the page. Analytics and advertising scripts are often loaded after onload too.
The fully loaded time can often show an alarmingly large number like 10 seconds+ since all of these non-essential things are loaded later by the browser. What is most important to conversion and SEO is the time it takes for the user to be able to begin to interact with the page.
What it isn't
What the loading time in seconds doesn't tell us is if there are opportunities to optimise speed and what those opportunities might be. Use PageSpeed for that.
The loading time is often the time it takes a fast server located in North America to load your shop. It may not take account of where your users are located and the speed experienced by them.
Since you are sampling a single point in time it doesn't capture differences in how fast your shop is during busy and quiet periods: if your shop slows down when lots of people are using it.
How and when to use loading time in seconds as your goal
All things considered, the onload loading time in seconds is a good measure of how fast your shop feels to real users. I strongly recommend focussing on this above all else when you're working with a Shopify speed expert.
The global mean is a loading time of around 5 seconds. As an absolute number to aim for, target your speed expert to achieve this or under.
We performed a broad study of the improvements speed experts were able to achieve and found that 40-60% is the typical improvement you should aim for. That's a good goal but may also require you to make some sacrifices like uninstalling apps.
Write a brief
This isn't as cumbersome as it sounds. A good brief should be clear and to the point. Here's an example you can copy-and-paste:
We're looking for an expert in Shopify speed optimisation to speed up our store at www.pluginuseful.com.
You will have worked on speeding up Shopify stores before. Please send a couple of examples of shops you have sped up.
Our requirement is for you to improve our onload loading time in seconds as measured by GTMetrix to under 5 seconds. Our onload loading time is currently 8 seconds.
A goal is to reduce our onload loading time by 40%+ and improve our PageSpeed desktop and mobile scores. These are nice-to-haves, the under 5 seconds onload time is a requirement.
Ideally you will work on a copy of the theme, test and then check with us before making it live. However please let us know if that isn't possible.
Above all else please test your work thoroughly so that nothing is broken on the shop. Take a backup before starting.
We would like you to work on this as a fixed price quote with a full refund and reversal if you cannot achieve the under 5 seconds onload time.
We're ready to start right away and looking forward to hearing from you.
I've added in the ways of working that we've found best for this type of job. Of course feel free to tweak for what you're looking for.