3: Notre Dame’s Web Speed Strategy w/ Erik Runyon

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Erik Runyon, Technical Director at the University of Notre Dame discusses tools and strategies to minimize web page weight and load times in order to maximize prospective student behavior.

Attracting today's new post traditional learners meansadopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollmentgrowth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, andHelix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percentbrand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges.Downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom. Slash playbook. You're listening to enrollmentgrowth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaderslooking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for freshenrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the rightplace. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university.I'm Eric Oleson, AVP of marketing at Helix Education, and we're here todaywith Eric Running, technical director at the University of Notre Dame. Eric,how you doing today? Doing Great. Thanks for having me. Thanks somuch for being here. Eric and I first met at, I believe,a high ad web conference five years ago at the time he was about oneof the only ones in higher read doing responsive web design really well. Iremember he and Peter Angel Form Leaf from Bob Jones University were comparing home pageload times and brainstorming how a limit the amount of serve request to shave offfractions of seconds and maximized site speed, and I thought, wow, thisis a performance based view of Web Development that I want to be a partof. Fast forward five years. Peter Angels now our head developer a helix, and Eric's one of the first people I call when I have a webdevelopment question. He's absolutely one of the leading technical minds and higher education andI'm ecstatic to chat with him today about how Notre Dame thinks of website performanceas an enrollment growth strategy. But before we get deep into that air,can you get the listeners a little bit better understanding of both the University ofNotre Dame and your role? They're right. So the University Notre Dame is asmall private Catholic University in North Northwestern...

Indiana. Had as being for amoment there and it we're primarily known for our football. I suppose we're onlytrying to make much more of a name for ourselves for research. We wantto become the pre eminent research Catholic University in the world. So I workfor the marketing communications departments. We have the web team there. We workedon the main university home page as and we're also responsible for a number oftop level pages, including I want to see. We have five hundred somewebsites in our cms that we built and maintain internally as well. Love it. Let's jump right into there. For the pages that you manage. Let'stalk high level about webs cite performance, it's effect on perspective, student WebBehavior and what your team does to maximize performance in general. So we've beenpretty focused on web performance for quite a while. I think I started givingpresentations on performance probably starting around two thousand and eight or two thousand and nine, because you know, the iphone had recently come out. Mobile was obviouslygoing to keep growing and it seemed like at the time that websites were justgrowing and growing in size and you know, with cellular connections, that that neededto back down. Now that obviously hasn't happened. Websites have continued togrow and growing, grow exponentially, even in higher ed it's just been climbinglike crazy. For instance, I track higher it responsive website and I havea list of them out of my website. Will have a link in the shownotes. But when I first started doing this I had like maybe sixteenhired websites that were responsive and at the time the average paid size, Iwant to say, was around one point two megs. And now, withmy most recent numbers, it's I have about three hundred and nineteen hired websitesand the average size is two point six...

...megabytes. And that's for the mobileversion. Yeah, not that, not the desktop version. And now theproblem that I see here is a core responding number, that is, therender start time for these sites is around eight seconds, so that from whenthe person you know hit your you are out in their phone, it startsrendering after eight seconds, which is a long time and is not visually complete. The average right now is twenty one seconds. And the problem with thatis there was a report by Sony Erks and last year where they did astudy on stress and mobile delays with streaming and websites, and some interesting statsthey came out with was a found at heart rate increases thirty percent with thirtyeight percent with mobile content delays, and one of the things that they corethey like have this graph where they show certain things that can raise people's stress, and experiencing mobile delays is slightly higher than watching a horror movie. Now, I don't know about you, but I can remember the first horror moviethat I saw. I was in the fourth grade. I know whose houseI was at. I remember the layout of the living room. Yeah,who's babysitting, the name of the movie, I remember everything about that because itwas so stressful that it was sort of seared into me. And personally, the last thing I want to do is cause users, who are,you know, these these potential students who are coming to our websites, tobe stressed because our websites are so slow and then associate that with our brand. You know that's not something you really want. So the faster that youcan make your sites it's going to create a much more positive experience and amuch more positive view of your university or college from the user standpoint. Loveit, yeah, and stresses one thing, but them giving up is incredibly likelywhen you're making them weight eight seconds to you famously publicize Notre Dame's webstatseach month, with which I just love.

What are you and your team lookingfor in these analytics to determine side effectiveness, site speed issues, andthen what kind of next steps do you take after analysis to make sure youare continually improving each month? So those stats post, I think, areprimarily with those I'm looking for trends with browsers and mobile traffic and whatnot.I'm not really using those is as a performance for most performance standpoint. Forthat I usually rely on webpage test at ORG, which is a fantastic tool. You can put in your website. You can even put in your urland like some other website that you consider something you want to benchmark against,and you can have sidebyside video of how quickly your site loads compared to thisother site. And another great thing about it is it will help you catchregressions. For instance, this is actually a very timely thing to note.We just recently updated the architecture for our main dubsite. We have been onAmazon for I want to say seven or eight years now. It's been awhile at least, and so it was finally time to upgrade the architecture forour primary website. And so last night I ran a test against the siteagain just as see how things were going, and I noticed that our score dropto dramatically and upon digging in it really we realized that in the movefrom the old architecture to the new architecture, Geez it wasn't turned on, whichis the server technology that will compress your files before sending it down tothe user, which is a major performance hit. Like I can't believe weactually alive with with that happening, but we were able to fix it withinI probably say thirty minutes, but if you don't monitor things like that,then it could have gone for, you know, weeks and weeks with usersgetting a subpart experience from a performance standpoint from our website. So yeah,so the stats are more to watch for trends and see which a browsers weneed to support and how mobile is improving,...

...and then use other tools for actualpage performance. I love it. Let's talk a little bit more aboutsite speed, because it seems like that is just a primary focus of bothyou and your team. I know Google historically has been famous for talking aboutthe benefits of site speed and how you will rank higher. Google would trustyour site more from an authority standpoint, if you have a fast loading page. You were mentioning to me offline that that facebook is kind of a teasinga similar algorithm here and in your future. Can you speak more about that?Yeah, so they just released an article on it would have been totwo days ago now, on their news room to Facebookcom and they are sayingthat an update that they are doing to the way that they load show storiesis that they are going to start taking page speed into account. there.We can put a link in the show notes for this as well. It'san interesting read. But what they will do is, though, look atestimated load time of Web page when someone clicks on it and start factoring thatinto the person's network and you know which stories are actually going to be promotedmore than others. So, yeah, you mentioned Google has been doing thatfor quite a while. Another thing to take into account is https. Googleis also going to start prioritizing secure connections or not secure, and I rana stat against my list of websites a while back and it was well underhalf of higher a universities that are forcing their sites t to be https.Wow, which is another important thing that you should start doing, because therewas a researcher from Stanford a couple years ago who's at the at an airportand load up stand for its home page and there were banner ads being injectedby ATT's Wi fi because their website wasn't secure. Well, so not justfrom a you know, general security standpoint, but Google is going to be prioritizinghttps. Plus, going back to brand, it's it's an important thingto have so that way nefarious networks aren't...

...going to mess with your with yoursits content. Speak a little bit more about that because I think for mostof us when we think https, we think, Oh yeah, our burststars office has that. When on the pages where students are paying for thetuition or paying fees, and maybe we're nervous about pages that have inquiry forms? Well, who would be important on pages where folks aren't transmitting personal information? Well, for one would be the you know Google prioritizing sites that aresecure, but also just making sure that the networks in between your site andyour user aren't injecting things that you wouldn't want as part of your site.So like the that that example with Stanford would be an important one and thething is that in the past a lot of people said, well, httpsis going to be slower. Is really not anymore. In some instances it'sactually a little bit faster. And plus, https is free. Now there's websiteswhere you can get free certificates. If you're on aws, you canget a free certificate for any of your websites that you're hosting there, whichis saved us a bunch of money. And so, in light of allof that, we have actually start did any new site that we build atat Notre Dame is https by default for the past I want to say yearand a half, almost two years. We won't launch a site that's nothttps anymore. You know, is should just be the way that we're doingbusiness now, kind of like responsive web design. You know, talk aboutwell, do you want responsive? Of course it's going to be part ofthe build build. https should also be just absolutely it's just how we buildsites now. Love it, love it. Let's talk about launching new sites.I feel like college and universities, every three years they talked about asite redesign and I think often what is the priority in their mind is looksoutdated, maybe some navigation issues. We want to improve or we have anew brand that we want to leverage. How much should colleges and universities focuson visual esthetic when they are entering a...

...redesign, and how much should theybalance that with any performance issues that some of these modern designs may cause?I think performance should be one of the top priorities of any redesign. Forinstance, our main website, Dodd A, need ID to you. It's it'sover five years old now. We launch that in April of two thousandand twelve. But one of the things that we had discussed is if yougo and look at it now, you'll see a large image in the background. But what one of the first things that we discussed about doing in thatarea was, rather than than a large image, it would be a verysubtle background video that takes up the entire space. The thing was is nobodywas really doing this at that time. So in one respect I regret usnot doing it, because we would have been one of the first sites outthere doing this, you know, the subtle background video. But ultimately alost out to performance. We were trying to find that balance between, youknow, something big and beautiful versus something that loads extremely quickly so, Imean we do a lot of lazyloading on the site, you know, anyimages that aren't displayed when when the site first pops up, we don't evenload until these are scrolls, because is pretty as you want it to be. If it's slow for the user to connect and actually see it, thenthen you're you're kind of like breaking out some of that positive experience by bymaking things so for your users. So you really got to find that balancingact between the visuals and the performance, and performance should absolutely be part ofthe conversation from day one. I know you keep track of, like youmentioned, more than three hundred higherd websites, specifically those that are responsive. Canyou provide us with some benchmarks? Maybe not the average of the higherad aggregate, but just in general things that are our web teams should keepin mind in terms of basic pageload bench marks that we should keep in mindin terms of let's try to keep our...

...home page under this and our subpages under this. Any just just quick high level tips you can provide?So that's often referred to as a performance budget, where you try to decidemove on it, to load this fast on this browser. In this connection, and you really shoot for that goal. And now, oftentimes the home pagebudget will be difference from some pages because you know the home page willoften have like the more, the larger, prettier pictures, right, so thatwill often drive up the page size because you know, images are theprimary bloat for most hied websites, right, and websites in general. So I'dsay for the average subpage, I don't like to see them over threeor four hundred K and you know, try to load have the load timeof less than two seconds, easy, like preferably one. For the homepages, you can go a little bit larger, but I still don't liketo see a home page of a site over, let's say, five orsix hundred K. and you know, it really makes you focus on notjust the design but when you are creating the imagery, to make sure thatyou are compressing it correctly and you know you have the corrective image formats,because a lot of times people will take like an image and just dump itfrom their phone onto the website. So it's important to train people in howto proper compress images and, as well as your cms, make sure thatyou have some way of building building in so it will compress images even furtherwhile not degrading the visuals, obviously. But one nice thing that's coming alongis have you're heard of service workers? Sure, yeah, yeah, soservice workers. For the listeners that don't know, it's a newer technology.It's replacing an older technology called APP cache, and it allows for the developers tobe very fine grained with how assets are stored on the device. Soyou can take essentially take an entire website stored on the device, so thatway if the user doesn't have a connection...

...or has a slow connection, itcan load from the device and still be fast. And the Nice thing thatjust happened is the Webkit team just it came out yesterday that they are startingtheir initial plans to build service workers into Fari. So right now it's supportedby chrome and Firefox and hopefully within the next six months or so it'll beavailable in Safari, which is going to cover a vast majority of most people'suser base at that point, which means that you would be able to usethese service workers to vastly increase the page speed, and maybe not on initialload. You would still have to make sure that you focus on initial loadperformance, but for repeat visits service workers are going to be great for improvingperformance and offline viewing. And I know you earlier mentioned that the average higherreed home pages is over to meg two points consideration. That's for the mobile. It sets for the mobile. If, if folks are able to utilize thesetools to compress their sites effectively and then get to those benchmarks you talkedabout, you know, K or under page, maybe six hundred k Maxfor a home page, would that arguably put them in the top one tofive percent of highed pages out there? Oh, absolutely. Yeah, Ijust looked at desktop. That's three pointing us and like and like we talkedabout, if you focus on the right tools you can make some staggering performanceleaps quickly without sacrificing esthetic experience. and Google will favor you. facebook willnow favor you. Yeah, much more than your peers. So it's it'ssuper exciting world to start digging into. Yeah, but it's a very importantto make it part of the overall culture of the team and anybody who's involved. So I mean your designers and the product owners. Everybody has to beall in on understanding and believing that performance is important. Otherwise it's going tostart slipping and esthetics are going to,...

...you know, win out over performance. Terrific tip, Eric. Anything else knew that you're excited about, eitherfrom a responsive web development standpoint or just a DEV standpoint in general? Youwant to make sure is on our listeners. Radar Service workers is I've been excitedabout that since, you know, it first came out. It's avery cool technology. It's a little complicated initially, but a lot of toolingis coming out to really help improve the building and maintaining of service workers,and now that safari is getting on board that means that we're really really goingto be able to start using it in a much more across the board because, you know, IOS is a big chunk of our mobile traffic, andNotre Dame some. Once service workers is available, there will really be ableto start utilizing it to its full of potential. Awesome, Eric. Thankyou so much for joining us today and sharing all the good stuff you inyour team and Notre Dame we're doing. What's the best place for listeners toconnect with you if they have any follow up questions? Probably twitter. It'sIranian er UNYO in and I linked to my website from there, so youcan get to every everywhere else. If you want to contact you can doso either from twitter from my site. Awesome, Eric, thanks so muchfor joining us today. Thank you so much for having me. You've beenlistening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss anepisode, subscribe to the show in Itunes or your favorite podcast player.Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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