Published in Code -

Why poor website performance destroys digital advocacy campaigns.

If you’ve ever run an advocacy campaign, you know there’s a huge amount of time, effort, and emotion involved.

Like most organisations, you spend time determining the focus of your campaign. Once that’s sorted, you carefully develop creative and messaging to resonate with your target audience. You might even test that messaging with a focus group to gauge how well it lands.

Then, there are the nuts and bolts of actually running the campaign. There’s advertising placement, campaign and ad configuration, monitoring, and more.

It takes a significant amount of effort to generate a groundswell. Once you have that—and huge amounts of enthusiastic support for your cause—the hard work’s done, right?

Well, only if your website is ready to capitalise on that influx of traffic. If it’s not, you’re sabotaging the success of the campaign before you even start.

What’s a digital advocacy campaign?

Advocacy campaigns are designed to raise awareness or elicit community support for proposed legislation. If you’re a charity or non-profit, you likely know this simply as a campaign.

What does this look like?

Animals Australia’s recent ‘You didn’t know, did you?’ is an example of a great campaign. This is designed to raise awareness of the suffering of mother pigs in factory farms around Australia, and the utter lack of legal protections in place to improve the situation.

There’s also ‘Thrive by Five’, The Minderoo Foundation‘s campaign to ensure every child has a bright future.

Or, Guide Dogs’ campaign for International Guide Dog Day 2023—‘Talk to the Handler’—calling on the community to better understand and support Guide Dog Handlers.

The goals of these campaigns are typically three-fold:

1. Educate people so they’re aware of what’s happening and why it’s important.

2. Rally support over multiple touchpoints like eDM campaigns, social media ads, paid search ads, or any other tactics.

3. Empower the community to contribute to the cause, whether by donating, signing a petition, sending a letter to an MP, sharing material with their network, or any other mechanism that may be meaningful.

These campaigns are critical for charities and non-profits.

Firstly, they show you’re active and engaged in relation to your mission. Secondly, they help you connect with new supporters based on interest, without an immediate upfront financial ask. They’re also a powerful way to capitalise on growing general interest and awareness of issues relating to public health, economic conditions, and the environment.

You need a performant website to capitalise on any advocacy campaign. Here’s why:

In most cases, many of your campaign touchpoints (and there are likely many) will point back to your website. This is where you empower your supporters to contribute to the cause.

According to research from Google, if a website takes more than 3 seconds to load on a mobile or smartphone device, the probability of a person abandoning the page is 32%.

The probability of someone abandoning your website increases to a staggering 90% if the page takes longer than 5 seconds to load.

You probably already know this yourself: poor website performance is frustrating. Slow-loading sites typically see:

  • lower engagement (people spending time interacting with your site)
  • lower conversion (people achieving the goals you want them to), and
  • lower success overall.

You’re also less likely to see people return: 79% of people are less likely to revisit a site that loads slowly on their first visit.

There’s no point spending huge amounts of time and money to develop campaigns if you send the traffic to a slow and sluggish website.

So, what’s the solution? Here’s what Animals Australia has done to build a highly performant website that’s perfectly optimised for digital advocacy campaigns.

1. Use HTTP/2’s multiplexing feature to load multiple small assets.

The HTTP/2 multiplexing feature facilitates multiple HTTP requests and responses being sent and received over a single connection. As a result, it eliminates the need to open multiple connections between a client and a server, which reduces latency and improves website performance.

With the above in mind, by loading smaller files—even though there are more of them in total—Animals Australia enjoys a performance boost.

Instead of compiling one large JavaScript file and one large CSS file to cover the whole website, Animals Australia only load the elements they need for each individual page.

2. Auto re-size images and use lazy-loading.

WordPress’s add_image_size function allows Animals Australia to populate commonly used image sizes that multiple components of the website make use of.

The team created landscape, portrait and square aspect ratios, with ‘small’, ‘medium’, and ‘large’ resolutions for each.

The content management system automatically uses these predefined image dimensions to resize and compress newly uploaded images when it populates them throughout the website. As a result, every image file is optimised before it appears anywhere.

With this feature, Animals Australia’s content creators can rely on the auto-resize function to optimise images so that appropriate images are loaded in every instance.

This prevents the need to load large, ultra-high-resolution images in unnecessary scenarios, which is a common cause of sluggish performance.

With all images automatically resized and optimised, Animals Australia creates an additional performance boost by using lazy loading. This defers the loading of any imagery until the person is able to view it on their screen.

Using a lazy-loading approach, the site detects when an image is near the viewport—or about to show up on the screen, based on where someone has scrolled to on the page—and only loads it at that specific moment.

This avoids the need to wait for all images to load throughout the site before you can move through the pages.

3. Use a CDN and Gzip assets.

A content delivery network (CDN) is a network of servers located across the globe that stores and serves website content—including images and videos—to people on your site.

By delivering content from the server that is geographically closest to the person’s location, CDNs can significantly reduce loading times and improve performance. CDNs also offer other benefits like:

  • Reducing bandwidth usage.
  • Protecting against DDoS attacks.
  • Improving SEO.

Animals Australia has configured its site so that any media item uploaded to the CMS—including the auto-resized images outlined above—is automatically sent to an S3 bucket to store. These images are then served to the person from the server that is nearest to their location; the shorter distance makes for a faster load time.

To push optimisation even further, Animals Australia have enabled Gzipping on their servers. Gzipping compresses text-based files, like HTML, JavaScript, and CSS, by a generous 70%. This technique works by requesting the server to Gzip text-based assets so that site visitors only download a compressed file instead of the full-sized file. The file is then uncompressed and used on the site, saving both time and bandwidth.

4. Use server-side caching.

Server-side website caching involves storing frequently accessed data or pages on a server’s memory or disk. The crucial landing page associated with your advocacy campaign, for example. This allows things to be served quickly for site visitors without having to regenerate every time they’re requested.

This approach can significantly improve website performance by reducing the time it takes for the server to respond to requests.

Let’s consider loading a webpage that requires different ‘bits’ of data from the database. A simplified example involves the retrieval of the:

  • Navigation or menu of the site.
  • The content that’s on a specific page.
  • The sidebar content: another way for people to navigate through the site.
  • The content sits universally in the footer or base plate of every page.

Without server-side caching, each of these database queries is performed on every single page a person visits. This puts a heavy load on the server and takes more time to complete.

When server-side caching is enabled, the ‘bits’ are retrieved one time and stored as cached data. For any subsequent visits to the page, the version in the cache is loaded, rather than triggering these queries to the database. Removing the need to query the database significantly improves webpage load times.

Multiple CMSs—including WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla—offer caching plugins that are easy to install and use.

Plus, many reputable caching plugins are available for free, making them an affordable and accessible solution when you need to improve performance.

Website performance is crucial to the success of any digital advocacy campaign.

These are four of many techniques that Animals Australia uses to run highly impactful advocacy campaigns while lobbying for kindness for all living beings. There are many other techniques you can use to promote high performance in everything you build.

Remember, website performance is typically an accumulative proposition; it’s best achieved through many techniques working in combination. It’s worth noting that it can be a difficult quality to retrofit too.

The ‘right’ techniques will depend on many factors, like:

  • The website and hosting infrastructure you have in place.
  • How your site has been built and configured.
  • What you’re trying to achieve from a performance perspective.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to website performance, one thing’s abundantly clear: when it comes to digital advocacy campaigns, speed and success go hand-in-hand.