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Driving User Growth With Performance Improvements

link to original storyMar 04, 2017
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In early 2015 Pinterest engineers ran an experiment that improved mobile web home landing page performance by 60 percent and mobile signup conversion rate by 40 percent. However, the experiment was a hacky solution that used a lot of shortcuts like serving pre-rendered HTML pages without using any internal template rendering engines or common resources (JS, CSS). To productionize learnings from this experiment, the entire front end engine, all page templates and common elements had to be rewritten. It was a huge effort, and to achieve it, we needed to start from building robust metrics to track our progress for all parts of the serving system. In this post, we’ll cover how we improved performance on Pinterest pages, and how it led to the biggest increase in user acquisition of 2016.

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Maximizing growth gains with performance improvements

When rewriting web pages for performance, it’s important to not try out a new design. If a faster, different design page is compared to the original page, it’s impossible to know if conversion changes are due to performance improvements or design improvements. Build the same exact page. Also, in order to fully understand the impact of performance on a web app, the experiment should be set up with the ability to segment metrics by page type as well as web vs. mobile web. Different pages receive different conversions and traffic gains from performance increases. For us, aggregating all the pages showed that overall conversions were slightly up, but looking into the segments showed that desktop web conversions was up a lot while mobile web was actually down, lowering the average. We investigated why mobile web conversion metrics were down and discovered a few issues in feature parity.

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Another important thing to do with a performance rewrite is run an SEO experiment on every page type. For more information about the basics of SEO experiments, check out our previous post, Demystifying SEO with experiments. SEO experiments show if page load time improvements actually result in more traffic from search engines, and in our case, it showed that it did. If your page is a highly trafficked page, chances are you also have implemented a bunch of features that improve search engine ranking. An SEO experiment will also show if some features weren’t properly reimplemented. Even small details like image sizes or the HTML tags used can matter, so it’s important to monitor this for all page types. For us, it took a few weeks of identifying and fixing discrepancies to get our SEO traffic on par.

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