We sat down with RE/MAX Austria to speak about their website rivalling Google for website loading speed 

How can you get a website which not only keeps up with, but sometimes surpasses the absolute best in the business in terms of loading speed? How can you defy customer expectations, especially with younger audiences, by having a site which is ready on all devices when they are? In a recent interview with RE/MAX Austria's Head of IT - Wolfgang Spitz, RE/MAX Europe's Digital Strategy Manager - Alexander Längauer looked under the hood of one of the fastest websites around.

Alex: Optimizing website performance is harder than people might think. There are many technical and implementational factors that must be considered. Can you tell us about your approach and how you got to where you are today?

Wolfgang: Yes, optimization is hard work and expensive. Before I came to RE/MAX, I was working for a digital agency where I managed lots of different website projects. And what I saw very often was, website performance is not very easy to “sell”. So as a customer you “buy” a good looking website, but under the surface it is often just rubbish. The reason might be: you can’t see performance at first sight or on a design prototype.

The most important thing a developer has to figure out is, what is the minimum amount of content the user must see first, and which parts can be loaded later. The hardest part is to separate the whole structure of each page into different parts and load one after the other, and only then if the user needs it. 

We started to re-invent our whole website two years ago. We canceled all external SEO tools and concentrated only on Google and their recommendations on the test-systems Google already provided for free. SEO and especially website performance is an ongoing process. 

Alex: What technology do you use today?

Wolfgang: Our website backend is based on PHP and MySQL running on nginx in a Unix web server environment. The frontend is, of course, html5. We use the templating engine twig for rendering our content and write our stylesheets with less. 

Alex: Technology changes so quickly, how do you keep up?

Wolfgang: That’s another hard part. Of course I’m not on my own here. We have a team of very smart developers with different responsibilities and skills. Each of us reads a lot using resources such as www.t3n.de, www.heise.de and of course Google. 

 

Alex: Do you have any recommendations where and how to start when it comes to performance optimization? 

Wolfgang: Yes, test your website on https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights and let your developer work on the recommendations Google provides. Often two thirds of them can be done in less than one day. To get a passing grade from Google is hard work, but definitely worth the result.

Alex: What measures do you take to maintain such a high performing website? 

Wolfgang: Most of the measures we take are no secret - Google lets you know what you have to do. We check and recheck all our pages constantly. We use Google Search Console and Google Analytics, and collect findings from their reports, on a daily basis. Beyond that we have developed “watchdogs”, which keep us informed if something is not working as it should. 

Alex: Are you involved a lot in the website side of things or do you fully rely on your partner(s)?

Wolfgang: We do almost all of our own IT at RE/MAX Austria. We have some partners as well, but for special areas around our website, like the server environment or 360° tours for the property presentations and so on. An example of when we needed the help of one of our partners was when we needed to decrease the time a user has to wait before they can interact with our website. To be honest, we had no clue what was going wrong, and we did everything we could. It turns out we were losing time because the SSL handshake on the server side took too long. For such special cases we have partners for our server environment who support us.

Alex: Your website currently has a page load time of 0,9 seconds on mobile devices. This is on par with Google’s performance. Is there anything left to optimize? Where do you go from here? 

Wolfgang: You have to check and re-check your whole website - permanently. That means, as a developer you have to optimize all the time. If we publish a new page on our website, or we are publishing a new blog article, the first thing is to test that new page with our 4 standardized test platforms. If all tests are green, the page can go live.

Alex: Which websites do you look to for inspiration in terms of optimization and user experience?

Wolfgang: For website performance, we keep on testing our website and follow a lot of Google’s recommendations. In the case of user experience and usability I personally recommend www.awwwards.com or the blog from www.invisionapp.com. Of course there are tonnes of other decent information sources, but this would be a good start.

Alex: How do you think people’s expectations have changed in the last 5 years, when it comes to searching and communicating with brokers/agents online?

Wolfgang: On the one hand the user has become lazier over the last 5 years and on the other hand the broker has to be as fast as possible to answer. What do I mean by lazier? The user does not enter the whole address of your website on any device. He or she googles you, your properties or your services. They may ask “Alexa”, “Siri” or another voice search solution. For that reason, if all of your pages entire are not under the first 8 search results on a mobile device (we have 75% mobile users) and therefore on the first page, you will lose the race.

In the next 5 years, we will have 30% less website communications on the devices which people use today. Our website has to be open for any channel people might use. This includes channels such as WhatsApp or devices like “Alexa” or “Siri”. A so-called multi conversational user interface is what we will develop in the next year to allow users to interact with our agents or to provide the website content over any interface they might use. 

Alex: If you’re someone who doesn’t have a lot of time or resources, what are three things you can do to considerably increase the speed of your website?

Wolfgang: 

  1. Test your website with Google’s mobile page speed: https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/feature/testmysite/ and talk about the recommendations to a developer and ask them how many hours/days it probably takes to solve the problems.

  1. Test your website with Google’s page speed insights: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights and talk about the recommendations to a developer and ask them how many hours/days it probably takes to solve the problems.

  1. Talk with developers about a consistent monitoring of your website with Google Search Console and Google Analytics, how much a permanent optimization on the recommendations of Google costs and budget the costs on a yearly basis, because this is the most important thing: optimizing permanently!

 

 

 

Alex: Optimizing website performance is harder than people might think. There are many technical and implementational factors that must be considered. Can you tell us about your approach and how you got to where you are today?


Wolfgang: Yes, optimization is hard work and expensive. Before I came to RE/MAX, I was working for a digital agency where I managed lots of different website projects. And what I saw very often was, website performance is not very easy to “sell”. So as a customer you “buy” a good looking website, but under the surface it is often just rubbish. The reason might be: you can’t see performance at first sight or on a design prototype.

 

The most important thing a developer has to figure out is, what is the minimum amount of content the user must see first, and which parts can be loaded later. The hardest part is to separate the whole structure of each page into different parts and load one after the other, and only then if the user needs it. 


We started to re-invent our whole website two years ago. We canceled all external SEO tools and concentrated only on Google and their recommendations on the test-systems Google already provided for free. SEO and especially website performance is an ongoing process. 


Alex: What technology do you use today?


Wolfgang: Our website backend is based on PHP and MySQL running on nginx in a Unix web server environment. The frontend is, of course, html5. We use the templating engine twig for rendering our content and write our stylesheets with less. 


Alex: Technology changes so quickly, how do you keep up?


Wolfgang: That’s another hard part. Of course I’m not on my own here. We have a team of very smart developers with different responsibilities and skills. Each of us reads a lot using resources such as www.t3n.de, www.heise.de and of course Google. 


Alex: Do you have any recommendations where and how to start when it comes to performance optimization? 


Wolfgang: Yes, test your website on https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights and let your developer work on the recommendations Google provides. Often two thirds of them can be done in less than one day. To get a passing grade from Google is hard work, but definitely worth the result.

 

Alex: What measures do you take to maintain such a high performing website? 


Wolfgang: Most of the measures we take are no secret - Google lets you know what you have to do. We check and recheck all our pages constantly. We use Google Search Console and Google Analytics, and collect findings from their reports, on a daily basis. Beyond that we have developed “watchdogs”, which keep us informed if something is not working as it should. 

 

Alex: Are you involved a lot in the website side of things or do you fully rely on your partner(s)?


Wolfgang: We do almost all of our own IT at RE/MAX Austria. We have some partners as well, but for special areas around our website, like the server environment or 360° tours for the property presentations and so on. An example of when we needed the help of one of our partners was when we needed to decrease the time a user has to wait before they can interact with our website. To be honest, we had no clue what was going wrong, and we did everything we could. It turns out we were losing time because the SSL handshake on the server side took too long. For such special cases we have partners for our server environment who support us.



Alex: Your website currently has a page load time of 0,9 seconds on mobile devices. This is on par with Google’s performance. Is there anything left to optimize? Where do you go from here? 


Wolfgang: You have to check and re-check your whole website - permanently. That means, as developer you have to optimize all the time. If we publish a new page on our website, or we are publishing a new blog article, the first thing is to test that new page with our 4 standardized test platforms. If all tests are green, the page can go live.


Alex: Which websites do you look to for inspiration in terms of optimization and user experience?


Wolfgang: For website performance, we keep on testing our website and follow a lot of Google’s recommendations. In the case of user experience and usability I personally recommend www.awwwards.com or the blog from www.invisionapp.com. Of course there are tonnes of other decent information sources, but this would be a good start.



Alex: How do you think people’s expectations have changed in the last 5 years, when it comes to searching and communicating with brokers/agents online?


Wolfgang: On the one hand “the user” has gotten lazier over the last 5 years and on the other hand the broker has to be as fast as possible to answer nowadays. What do I mean with “lazier”? The user is too lazy to enter the whole address of your website on any device. He/She “googles” after you, your properties or your services. Maybe by asking “Alexa”, “Siri” or “someone” else. For that reason, if all of your pages of your entire website are not under the first 8 search results on a mobile device (we have 75% mobile users) and so on the first page, you will lose the race. That is, in my point of view, exactly what has changed. 


In the next 5 years, we will have 30% less website communications on a device like people use today. Our website has to be open for any channel people might use, e.g. WhatsApp or devices like “Alexa” or “Siri”. A so-called multi conversational user interface is what we will develop in the next year to allow users to interact with our agents or to provide the website content over any interface they might use. 


Alex: If you’re someone who doesn’t have a lot of time or resources, what are three things you can do to considerably increase the speed of your website?


Wolfgang: 

  1. Test your website with Google’s mobile page speed: https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/feature/testmysite/ and talk about the recommendations to a developer and ask them how many hours/days it probably takes to solve the problems.


  1. Test your website with Google’ page speed insights: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights and talk about the recommendations to a developer and ask them how many hours/days it probably takes to solve the problems.


  1. Talk with developers about a consistent monitoring of your website with Google Search Console and Google Analytics, how much a permanent optimization on the recommendations of Google costs and budget the costs on a yearly basis, because this is the most important thing: optimizing permanently!


PS: We will support you in hypercritical cases ;-)

 

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