Website Optimization Techniques: Simple Steps to Improve Site Speed
Life is fast-paced. People expect things to happen immediately, and they have a distinct lack of patience for anything that takes too long.
We live in a world of binge-watching, fast food, instant messages, and lightning-fast answers to nearly any problem.
Think about that for a second...
As kids, we would be watching TV and someone would say “That guy looks familiar, where have I seen him before?” Then everyone would throw out random ideas, or just stare at each other and shrug.
Today, someone will pull out their phone and within seconds they can tell you all of the popular films your mystery character has starred in and even show you pictures.
This type of expectation has transformed the way your website works for your business.
People come to your website expecting to see a user experience that allows them to effortlessly find the information they are seeking without waiting. Are you delivering on that expectation or falling short and missing out on revenue?
Website Optimization: The Need for Speed
Reducing friction in your buying process increases sales. That’s a no-brainer. If you make it easier and less frustrating to buy from you, more people are willing to make that leap.
Slow website load times = increased friction.
In a study by Google:
- 53% of mobile site visits will leave a page if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.
- Despite that, the average site still takes 15 seconds to load.
- More than one-half of all website traffic comes from mobile devices, but mobile conversion rates are still lower than desktop — meaning that slow load times are hurting conversions.
In July of 2018, Google rolled out a new page speed update to their algorithm. For those of you that aren’t sure what that means, I’ll explain.
Google’s search algorithm kicks in when someone does a search. It looks at their query and chooses which web pages to display based on a myriad of different factors. Google has disclosed what some of those factors are and leaves us to guess at others.
With the announcement of the page speed update, they have let us know that page load times will start impacting your ability to show up in a search result — especially on mobile devices. So if you haven’t thought about load times before, it’s time to start before your rank suffers.
Let me show you some simple steps you can take to start boosting your site speed.
Minimize HTTP Requests
HTTP is a short way of saying Hypertext Transfer Protocol. HTTP Requests are fired off every time you visit a website and your browser has to start grabbing files and pictures from the server that hosts the site.
According to Yahoo, HTTP requests can account for up to 80% of a website’s load time.
Your browser typically limits the number of requests that can happen at the same time — only allowing between 4 and 8 at once.
This means that your browser has to wait on some items to load before it will even start loading other items.
All of this is a fairly complex way of saying that more HTTP requests = longer load times.
Ways to Decrease HTTP Requests
Obviously, you can put fewer things on the page and decrease the requests. Don’t overload your page with images, videos, and other elements that have to be loaded separately.
This doesn’t mean that you have to serve up barebones and boring pages.
There are several tactics you can employ to allow you to reduce your number of HTTP requests while still delivering stunning pages full of vital information and compelling graphics.
- Combine files. You can merge files like CSS and JS files into a single file instead of multiple files.
- Minimize files. After your files are merged, you can streamline them a step further by minimizing files. Simply removing white space reduces the file size and read time. This means that those files will be read and loaded by your browser faster and it can move to the next item to load sooner.
- Selective loading. If you only need certain items on certain pages or in certain situations — like on mobile only — then use conditional statements to remove the unnecessary items.
- Reduce the number of images. Restrain yourself and only include images that correspond with your written content and provide additional value to the reader.
- Reduce image file sizes. Minimize the file size of the images that you do use with tools like
Images take up over half of the bytes loaded per page. We already talked about removing images that you don’t need. Now, you need to optimize the images that you have left.
Check the size of the images first. Many of the images that you download from a stock photo site will be significantly larger than what you need.
When you’re optimizing your images, consider the following:
- Images should be under 1920px wide.
- Images should be an average of 72dpi.
- Images should be less than 150kb.
- SVG files are vector files and can be used for images with a high amount of detail.
- PNG files are great for images that need a transparent background.
- JPG files are useful for images that don’t need as much fine detail like photographs.
- Icon fonts like FontAwesome can be used to replace smaller icon graphics around your site.
Images will still be a major part of your total HTTP requests, but reducing their size and compressing them using a tool like Optimizilla will help your load time drastically.
Leverage Browser Caching
Browser caching allows your website assets to be downloaded to your computer and stored in a temporary storage space called a cache. As you browse a site, those files are stored on your computer in a temporary location. This helps you load them faster instead of having to pull them down off the website’s hosting server.
Static items like CSS, JS, images, and media files should expire after a week. Third-party items like widgets or ads should only last for 1 day.You can learn more about turning on browser caching here.
Eliminate Unnecessary Plugins
Plugins can be an easy and versatile way to expand your website’s functionality. As your site’s goals grow and change, you may find yourself frequently adding new ones to test things out.
Plugins can negatively affect your site performance and even lead to security issues.
It is important to frequently assess the plugins that you are using. Deactivate and uninstall any plugins that are not being used.
Resolve 404 Errors
404 errors happen when someone tries to access a page, but it can’t be found. This could be because the page has been deleted, removed, or moved to a new URL.
These simple errors can influence your average website speed because servers have to process each of them.
I would recommend that you do not use third-party plugins to take care of these 404 errors. Like we discussed previously, plugins can reduce your load time and increase your security risks.
Instead, you can use web-based performance optimization tools such as Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider. It can identify 404 errors, discover duplicate content, analyze page titles and meta data, audit redirects, and more.
Optimize Your Database
Most websites today are built on CMS template-based systems. This means that a majority of the actual information that you see on a page — such as the text — is actually stored in a database. A template file determines how that information will be pulled from the database and presented.
We’ll use WordPress as an example. Over time, as you interact with and grow your site, your database will become cluttered. This can start to cause memory and performance issues.
Think of this like process like storing items in your garage. You start off with a plan and shelves and everything having a home. Over time, things start to get messier and messier.
You can do this process manually if you have the technical aptitude, or you can use a plugin to help with this process. If you have WordPress, Breeze is a lightweight, free, high-performance plugin that can help.
Switch to AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages)
AMP is a way to build pages that will render quickly for static content. It consists of HTML, the AMP JS library, and the Google AMP Cache.
When a page is optimized using AMP the end result is a website that appears to load nearly instantly on mobile devices. It’s not using new technology but instead uses existing technology to solve an existing dilemma.
AMP JS focuses on making sure that the most important content is loaded quickly and clearly. Third party content is loaded after text and essential components are loaded. Content that loads quickly leads to lower bounce rates and greater visitor engagement.
Use a CDN (Content Delivery Network)
Most of the websites that you visit are typically hosted on a single server in a single location. They may store backups off-site, but the offsite locations are not serving the web page when it’s requested. The hosting server has that responsibility.
Imagine if you were standing outside of a building with a bullhorn. You shout “I need to see BOB on here right now!”
All of a sudden, 3 men come rushing towards the door and they all try to run through the front door at the same time to reach you. They are bumping into each other and slowing all of them down.
When a single hosting server has the responsibility for getting all of the content, it sends it all out the same “door” at relatively the same time — just like the Bobs. CDNs help to share this responsibility.
Definition: A CDN is a group of services distributed throughout different locations to provide content to your website visitors as quickly as possible.
They spread out the resources by housing text, images, and videos on different servers. When someone requests one of your pages, your browser sends requests to the main site server as well as to the CDN.
Your website server can focus on delivering the main site content while the CDN gets to work. It identifies which of its servers is in the closest physical proximity to the user that requested the content. That server then delivers the content across the shortest possible distance.
The end result is that your content is delivered through multiple “doors” and across the shortest possible distance. This helps your site load much faster.
Test Your Speed & Get Help
My final advice to you is to test your site. Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool is a great starting point to get some fantastic insights into your site’s overall speed performance.
Run your site through PageSpeed and see what your overall score is. If you don’t like what you see, then it’s time to consider getting help.
Page speed is important to improve your overall search ranking and performance, but it’s more than that. Fast load times impact your visitor’s overall experience. Plus, if you are running ads, your organic pagerank is a factor in the cost that you pay for your ads. Slower loading pages hurt your rank and increase your ad costs.
On top of that, if you are running any other marketing campaigns, your lowered page rank and slower load times could be sabotaging your other investments. Imagine running a TV, billboard, or radio ad that sends people to your website.
If most of those people come over on a mobile device, and 40% of those leave within the first 3 or 4 seconds, you are flushing away a significant marketing investment simply because your page is loading slowly.
An experienced professional can help guide you through this process and help avoid technical roadblocks. So consider reaching out.
Go tackle your day!
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