By Graeme Caldwell, Writer and Content Marketer at Nexcess

The loading speed of pages on an eCommerce store is strongly correlated with customer satisfaction, and therefore with spending. Sluggish stores generate fewer sales than stores that load pages quickly. Retail giants devote millions of dollars to shaving fractions of a second from load times. The investment is worthwhile because, in a year, a company like Amazon stands to lose $1.6 billion for every additional second of load time.

Performance optimization is all about reducing the time it takes for requests to get from shoppers’ browsers to the store and how long the response takes to make the return journey. Three fundamental factors affect the duration of this journey: the amount of data sent, the number of requests made, and the distance between the shopper and the server.

Network Distance

I’d like to focus on the last of these: the distance from shopper to server. Here, distance means network distance — the shortest route between two points on the internet. Data travels through air or fiber so quickly  that the straight-line distance between any two points is negligible. In theory, signals reach the moon in just over a second and light in fiber travels around the world in fractions of a second.

Chatting to someone on the moon should not incur lower latencies than browsing an eCommerce store, so what slows data moving through the web?

Data rarely travels in straight lines on the internet: it takes a roundabout route across many networks, via routers, amplifiers, and switches. Each hop adds a little latency as data is accepted, processed, and sent on its way. The more hops between servers and networks, the longer the journey takes. Over greater geographical distances, the number of hops accumulates, increasing latency.

Geographic distance is one component of network distance, but an eCommerce store hosted next to your office might be slower than a store hosted on the other side of the country. The quality and quantity of networking infrastructure between two points also affects the network distance. That’s why data center connectivity to large international bandwidth providers is important. These “backbone” providers get data where it needs to be more quickly, with fewer hops. Less well-connected data centers may have to transmit data through multiple local, regional, and national networks first — some of which could send data a long way in the wrong direction.

The Ideal eCommerce Data Center

For eCommerce retailers, the ideal data center is the one that provides the lowest latency connectivity to the largest number of shoppers. If lots of your customers are clustered in a region, choosing a data center close-by can make a big difference to their experience on your store.

In closing, a word about content distribution networks. A CDN distributes static assets to servers around the world. The goal is to reduce the geographic distance between those assets and customers, decreasing latency. However, eCommerce stores are dynamic applications: they need low-latency connections to the store’s database, which can’t be distributed over a CDN. For online retail, a CDN can help with latency, but the location of web and database servers is more important.

When choosing a data center to host your eCommerce store, look for a facility close to your customers with high-quality connectivity to major bandwidth providers.

About the Author:

Graeme Caldwell  is a writer and content marketer at Nexcess, a global provider of hosting services, who has a knack for making tech-heavy topics interesting and engaging to all readers. His articles have been featured on top publications across the net, from TechCrunch to TemplateMonster. For more content, visit the Nexcess blog and give them a follow at @nexcess.