Since May 2012 the average webpage size has nearly doubled from 828KB to 1246KB. Although the advent of super-fast broadband has helped speed things up (if you’re lucky enough to live in an area of Lincolnshire with optical cable) things on the web are still too slow!
Many websites these days have a lot of information on them. Most have media, like images and videos. It’s even becoming common place to see high-res images on websites, that look great on high definition displays. Along with a bunch of other more geeky stuff, the typical website is getting larger, and that means slower loading speeds for users. Which is bad news.
If you own a business and you want users to find your website in Google, visit your site and then perform some sort of action, like purchase a product or complete an enquiry form, you need to make sure your website is as fast as Road Runner, not Wile E Coyote (anyone old enough to get that reference will understand what happened to the coyote).
I hope that many of you reading this will have looked at your Google Analytics once in a while. It will show you things like page views, user frequency, bounce rate, search ranking, conversion rates and everything else under the sun. If you care about any of these stats then page speed should be one of your biggest concerns, as it affects them all.
Website users are implicant and fickle. If your site keeps them waiting, they’ll be out of there and onto the next search result in Google.
Here are some interesting facts:
- 47% of customers expect a web page to load in less then 2 seconds
- 40% abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load
- 52% of online shoppers said that a quick page loading is important to their site loyalty
- A one second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions
Here’s a real world example: If an e-commerce site is making £1,000 per day, a one-second page delay could potentially cost £25,000 in lost sales every year.
Even Amazon have felt the pain of slow page speeds and their negative effects. Their study showed a 1% decrease in sales for every 0.1s decrease in response times (Kohavi and Longbotham 2007). Amazon made over £2.9 billion in the UK last year. 1% decrease in sales is a big deal!
Speed can affect your search ranking
It’s not only your website stats that suffer as a result of slow speeds. Google is also obsessed with speed. They even said it themselves.
“You may have heard that here at Google we’re obsessed with speed.”
Google even conducted their own experiment. They asked users if they’d like to see 10 or 30 search results per page. Obviously everyone wanted more results. But the shock came when the pages with 30 results lost 20% of their users. The difference was a 0.5 second delay in loading the extra 20 results. Users didn’t want to wait. They probably tried to Ask Jeeves why Google was so slow.
This is why page speed is such an important factor in search engine optimisation. Google knows it has a large effect on users and their preference to browse and find information quickly. They’re not going to recommend slow bloated websites to users who can’t wait an extra half a second.
The aims of most websites is to gain more traffic and increase the number of conversions. By increasing your site speed you can kill two birds with one, fast, stone.
Page speed is a factor in Google’s algorithm so better load times will improve your ranking which means you get more organic traffic.
Secondly, increased page speed will give your users a better user experience, making them more prone to stay on your site and finish what they came for, giving you improved conversion rates. Most important, you make more money.
What’s slowing down your website
A quick way to test your site is to use Google’s PageSpeed Insights. This will give you some insight into how Google views your website speed. They even give you a rating out of 100.
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If your website is powered by a database it’s important to ensure the database is optimised regularly (think of it as a spring clean, only more frequently). Reading from a database isn’t as impact-heavy as writing, your website should only write to the database if and when required. If your website is running lots of queries to the database on every page request, it’s going to have some impact on speed. Consider caching the database and optimising queries using best practices.
Poorly developed website
The code that powers you website greatly impacts on how your website performs, the performance of the ‘back-end’ isn’t something that can be easily monitored, compared to front-end tests such as image sizes. If your website takes a few seconds to generate a page, before even attempting to load any content, then it’s usually a issue with the database and/or server side code.
Some other online speed testing and evaluation websites you might want to check out are;
Web Page Test – http://www.webpagetest.org/
Gtmetrix – http://gtmetrix.com/
Load Impact – http://loadimpact.com
How to increase your site speed
Okay, we’re going to get a little technical now, but don’t worry this is only requires a 20% level of geek to understand.
Optimise your images
Don’t use extremely large images that you’ve uploaded directly from your digital camera. The images need to be resized and exported using image optimisation to make sure they’re the smallest file size possible before adding them to your website.
A first-time visitor to your page may have to make several requests for files from the server for graphics, styles, images, videos etc. But by using some fancy coding you make those components cacheable. Which means they are stored temporally on your machine for your quick and easy use the next time you want to load the website.
GZIP compression is one of the best ways to increase site speed with minimal effort. Your web host will need to support this service but all the good ones do. It can significantly speed up a site, reducing file size by as much as 70% without degrading the quality of the images, video or the site at all. To see if your site is already using compression, use this simple gzip checking tool.
Move your stylesheets to the top
Make sure all your stylesheets are in external files and not embedded in the page. Also move your stylesheets links to the <head> of the website will make the pages appear to load faster as this allows the page to render progressively. Basically this means that your content will load first. Most websites do this already, but it’s still worth checking.
Don’t use confusing redirects
A 301 Redirect is the preferred way to change your site structure without losing any of that valuable search engine juice, but lots of 301 redirects piled together just confuse the browser and slow it down as it wades through the old destinations to get to the new one.
Every website has a hosting account. The server that yours is on could be something from the 90s still running a version of Windows Server 98. If thats the case no amount of on site optimisation will speed things up. Having a fast and reliable hosting provider will do wonders for your website speed.
The bottom line
Making sure you have a fast website comes down to these simple principles. Remove what you don’t need. Keep what you do. Test any new features through a cost/benefit analysis.
The most efficient way to kickstart this process is to make sure your using the right hosting company who can provide the correct hardware and software for your website.
Liam O'Leary is the Creative Director at Laser Red, a Lincolnshire based creative agency specialising in website design, development and online marketing. Liam grew up with the internet and started creating websites from the age of 14. He's now in charge of the team at Laser Red, helping businesses around the world to be more effective online.