In 2010, Google released a report stating that it takes site load speed into consideration when ranking search results. And, although it’s not clear how exactly they do this, it is clear it’s something online businesses should factor in to their SEO strategy.
Slower page load speed is also directly correlated with cart abandonment and bounce rates. Two metrics many companies keep a pretty keen eye on.
But, it’s one thing to know that it matters and another to understand how to do something about it.
Reading many of the posts online about reducing page loading speed is enough to give a non-techy some serious nightmares. It can feel like you need a masters in engineering just to pick up the jargon.
Since most of us didn’t go to MIT, what can we actually do to speed up our sites and hold on to those valuable hits?
In this post, we’ll look at some of the simplest ways to relieve your website of a little weight and to stop it creaking like an ageing Tour-de-France.
The best part is, you won’t need to drop thousands on a professional web developer or pay through the nose for expensive software to put these tips into practice.
What even is your page speed?
The first thing you need to do before considering altering your site is to find out how fast it is at the moment. You can do this using Pingdom or Google’s PageSpeed Insights. Both are simple and intuitive. Just enter your website URL and click ‘analyse’. That’s it!
Both applications look at your website’s load speed, which isn’t going to be exactly the same as the load speed for each individual page (because different pages have varying amounts of data), but getting an overall view is good enough.
If your site’s load speed is more than 2 second, you’ve got some work to do, especially if it’s affecting your bounce rate (which it almost certainly is).
Don’t skimp on your web host
The absolute easiest win in page speed optimisation is to reassess your web host.
The quality of your web host has a big impact on your page loading times because it determines the response time of your server, or how quickly your website’s data can be fetched for rendering (appearing on a screen).
If you’re getting a message like “improve server response time” when you run a page speed test, you can be 100% sure you need to upgrade. Your server response time depends on your level of traffic, the resources used by each page and your web hosting service.
Most people don’t consider what type of host or what features of hosting they need when they choose a provider. A lot will choose a free web host to save on costs.
Free hosting is only viable for the smallest of websites. We’re talking low-traffic blogs and simple, static web pages, e.g. ones that temporarily exist to advertise an event.
Everyone else should be using a paid host and choosing a plan based on how much disk space and bandwidth they need. If your plan and your needs don’t match, upgrade for a quick speed boost.
Avoid data overloading
The amount of data your site uses determines how must disc space you need. If you’ve outgrown the amount available in your hosting plan, your website will slow down. But if you don’t want to pay for more, what are your other options?
There are a lot of ways you can trim the fat from a website. Most pages will contain around 1-2MB of data. None should have more than 2MB. If any of them do, there are a few things you can do to take them down a notch or two.
Compress to impress
Large, high-resolution images are the nemesis of a speedy page. In fact, they take up 70% of the bandwidth of all websites worldwide. Get into the habit of doing the following to keep them in check:
- Compress large images using image optimisation software like kraken.io (not free) or smush.it (free). You can reduce the size of your image library by up to 80% this way.
- Always use PNGs for graphics and JPEGs for photographs.
- Use CSS sprites – used to combine separate image elements into one that loads at once, rather than having many trying to load at the same time (this saves on requiring multiple HTTP requests).
De-clutter your design
Complex, design features like parallax scrollers and image galleries stretch a site’s bandwidth and slow down page loading. Although it’s tempting, try not to add every impressive new design feature you like to your website. Instead, pick the minimum you need to make an impact.
Users don’t like overly feature-packed sites because they find them confusing, so it can be counterproductive in more ways than one. To really streamline your design you should:
- Use lower resolution images and simpler design features for mobile and tablet versions of your site, rather than just scaling down your desktop version.
- Set different elements of complex web pages to defer during rendering, e.g. make sure page features below the fold (the scroll-line) don’t load until a user actually needs them, i.e. they scroll down the page.
- Consider professionally renewing your website if it was created a while ago and you’ve been adding lots of new technologies to it since. You wouldn’t expect an old iPhone 4 to keep running with tens of new apps stuffed onto it, so you can’t expect it from your website.
Trim your code
Don’t panic! I’m not suggesting you go into the back-end of your website and start tampering with code. But, it is one thing that does build up and slow down your pages.
It’s not always practical to remove old elements that are no longer functional. Instead of getting into the thick of it yourself, use DevTools to produce a report on what code is doing what and only delete the parts that are not functional. If this makes you uncomfortable, you could try these tips instead:
- Minify your code using minifycode.com. It essentially streamlines your website’s code by removing unnecessary elements that don’t do anything useful anyway.
- Enable Gzip to compress your code when files are larger than 150 bytes.
Swap to a speed optimised theme
If all of this talk of compressing images, removing design features and tampering with code is bringing you out in a cold sweat, you could just cheap and swap your web theme for one that is optimised for speed. Speed-optimised themes come with:
- Already minified and compressed code
- No overblown design features (they favour simplicity)
- Built-in features that remove the need to add some of the most common plugins
- Simplified mobile responsiveness elements
Website speed optimisation is becoming more and more important for online success. People don’t want to wait around to see what you have to offer, especially when there are so many other options out there. So even if you’re one step away from Amish when it comes to your engagement with tech, putting some or even one of these tips into action will boost your hits and keep you on the road to success.