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Speed Up Your Site With AJAX

Does your site need a little sprucing up? See what AJAX can do.

Want to increase the interactivity, speed and usability of your web pages? AJAX could be the answer. Short for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, AJAX is a web development technique for creating interactive web applications. In general, it makes web pages feel more responsive by exchanging small amounts of data with a server behind the scenes so an entire web page does not have to be reloaded each time the user makes a change.

The benefits are obvious to Fairytale Brownies in Chandler, Arizona, which recently implemented AJAX to speed up the checkout process on its site. Founded in 1992 by childhood friends Eileen Joy Spitalny and David Kravetz, both 40, Fairytale Brownies is the nation's leading purveyor of mail-order gourmet brownies, with 2007 sales projections of $8.9 million. When the company recently redesigned its website to make its brownies look more appealing, it used AJAX to speed up the gift list checkout section.

"This gift list shows our customers who received gifts from them before," explains Spitalny. "It's a very popular feature, but we wanted to make it as quick and easy to use as possible."

Before AJAX, any change to addresses, ship dates, quantities or gift messages meant waiting for entire web pages to reload. But AJAX loads pages only once; changes need only small data updates. This translates into a smoother process that benefits not only customers, but also employees, who spend less time on the phone with customers.

Fairytale employed an outside consultant to implement AJAX. Spitalny suggests finding a programmer who is familiar with JavaScripting and XML. She also suggests a visit to http://ajax.asp.net, a Microsoft site that provides free tutorials and starter kits to help programmers understand the technology.

Before implementing an AJAX redesign, consider the following tips from David Fry, founder, president and CEO of Fry Inc., an e-commerce design, development and managed services provider in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

1. Perform a usability test. Determine your goal in using AJAX and then select a small audience to try it on. If they like it, expand its use.

2. Make sure AJAX doesn't affect your search rankings. AJAX can distort search rankings because web crawlers have to parse the information differently. To get around it, you'll have to work with someone experienced with the issue.

3. AJAX performs differently with different browsers. Internet Explorer 7 is AJAX-friendly, but if you code your site to be compatible with IE7, it might not be compatible with IE6.

 

Melissa Campanelli is a marketing and technology writer in New York City.

Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at mcampanelli@earthlink.net.

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This article was originally published in the March 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Spic and Span.

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