Patience may be a virtue, but it’s not one valued in the world of the web. Whatsoever. Your website needs to load fast. And if it doesn’t, you need to improve your website speed – fast, or your users will click away – lightning fast. Don’t believe us? Take a look at these Kissmetrics website speed stats, which tell a tale of impatience of the first order:
- 47% of consumers expect a webpage to load in 2 seconds or less;
- 40% of people will abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load; and
- A 1-second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions.
- If an e-commerce site is making $100,000 per day, a 1 second page delay could potentially cost you $2.5 million in lost sales every year.
Patience. Pffft. The online world has no place for it. And you can’t expect it of your users. You need to check yourself – and your website speed – before you wreck yourself.
Where to even begin? Start by assessing your website speed. We’ve already outlined everything you need to do just that in our blog ‘Page Speed: Everything You Need to Check if Your Website Can Keep Up’ – what it is, how to measure it, why it matters, and if you measure up to industry, and Google, standards:
- What is Website Speed / Page Speed?
- Why Does Page Speed Matter?
- How to Run a Website Page Speed Test
- Top 5 Free Tools to Check Website Page Speed
- Top Sources to Measure Website Page Speed Against
Once you’ve got the measure of your own website speed, you can, and should, change gears and rev it up a notch or three. Make sure you’re up to speed on all the speed-related SEO best practices; find the issues that could be slowing your website down; fix them. Sound daunting? As always, we’ve got your back and will walk you through it all from start to finish! (Or you can just contact us and we’ll do it all for you. Super fast.)
SEO & Website Speed
When Google announced back in 2010 that site speed was one of the signals used by its algorithm to rank pages, SEO professionals and web developers around the world took notice. Until then speed had been talked about, and encouraged, but it was never officially a thing. But now, not only was it a thing, it was a sure thing in terms of helping SEO efforts. And a fairly easy one to take advantage of.
How does site speed factor in as a ranking signal? Google (and other search engine) bots only have certain amounts of time budgeted to crawl each site. The slower your site, the less crawling they can do, and the lower your ranking will be. The faster your site, and page speeds, the more crawling bots and can do, the more content they can find, and the higher your ranking will be. The higher your ranking, the more users can find you, the better your business prospects.
With all this in mind, not so slowly, but surely, websites around the world (wide web) began to load faster. The good ones anyway. In so doing, they began to set a standard which users came to expect more and more from every single site they visited. And therein lies the real reason you want to improve your website speed: even if Google announced tomorrow that site speed was no longer a thing, you’d want to make it one because your users will still expect it. And user experience is everything.
What’s more, the standard users have come to expect from the sites they browse has only gotten faster. And faster. And faster. Taking the Kissmetrics user expectations we mentioned earlier into account, you can use the following guidelines to set your own site speed goals:
- Below 1 second? Excellent! Bravo.
- 1-3 seconds? Very good. Well done.
- 3-7 seconds? Meh. Average.
- 7+ seconds? Oh dear.
Fortunately, improving your website speed is well within your grasp – and some of it is quite easily done.
Top 7 Ways to Improve Your Website Speed… Quickly
Of course, before you can fix any slow-load issues your site might be having, you need to find the causes. Some of the most common culprits, their issues, and their fixes, are listed below:
Culprit #1: Images
The Issue: Too big! Unoptimized issues are far and away the most common culprit of slow-loading website pages. In one study, it was found that resizing 22MB of images down to 300KB resulted in a 70% reduction in the amount of time a user needs to wait before they can interact with a site.
- Check the file size of your images – anything above 1MB is really unacceptable. More than that, make sure you resize images specifically for web before loading them up to your site rather than just scaling them once they’re uploaded. For eg., an image that is 1800 x 1800 pixels but is only displayed at 180 x 180 pixels needs to load 10x more than necessary, which impacts load times. Resize that image to 180 x 180 before putting it up there. The web is not like print, you don’t need high-resolution perfection for visual impact.
- Format also matters. Wherever possible, use JPEG/JPG instead of PNG, especially for larger images. JPG uses ‘lossy compression’ i.e., some image data is lost. This data loss is, however, undetectable to viewers in most online photos, but the resultant smaller file size than other image file types is site speed-friendly. PNGs, on the other hand, use ‘lossless compression’, which means that you don’t lose any data but have a larger, slower-loading file. For some of your images you do need crisp lines and crystal clear detail – like with your logos for example, and in this case PNG is unavoidable. For the rest though, JPG is perfectly acceptable for the web.
- Use CSS sprites to combine your frequently used images, like buttons or icons, into one large image that loads all at once (which means fewer HTTP requests – see ‘HTTP Requests’ below). You can then display only the sections of that image that you want to show.
Culprit #2: Theme/Design
The Issue: Too flashy! Too much flashy (and Flash) content and design elements not only slows your website down, it can make navigation of your site confusing and frustrating.
The Fix: Keep your website design or WordPress theme simple = reduce the number of HTTP requests your website needs to make to load pages = increased site speed = happy users.
- Don’t include too many fancy widgets, plugins, third party scripts and the like in your design.
- Pick a WordPress theme that adheres to the above principle.
- Keep the flash – and the Flash – to a minimum. Yes, Flash is (or used to be) a great tool for adding interactivity to your website, but it is often a major contributor slow page load speed thanks to bulky files. You can reduce file sizes or just ditch the Flash altogether for modern HTML5 alternatives.
Culprit #3: Caching
The Issue: Lack thereof! Not making use of caching techniques or systems means you’re missing out on a major opportunity to improve the performance of your website.
The Fix: Leverage browser caching by:
- Installing a caching plugin – if you’re using WordPress, plugins WP Total Cache and WP Super Cache are both well-respected. (Note: if you are using WP Engine, they have caching built-in.)
- Enable browser caching manually by editing your HTTP headers to set expiry times for certain types of files. Find, then edit, your .htaccess file in the root of your domain to set your caching parameters to tell the browser what types of files to cache. You can learn more about enabling browser caching manually here.
By implementing browser/HTTP caching on your site, frequently used or viewed data and elements on your site are temporarily stored in the ‘cached memory’ on a visitor’s hard drive. The next time they visit your site, their browser can then load the page without needing to send all those HTTP requests to the server – their browser will just quickly pull the data up from the ‘stored memory’ or cache. Notice we said ‘quickly’. Caching equals quicker loading of data. Boom.
Culprit #4: Compression
The Issue: Lack thereof! The larger your files, the slower your pages will load. Compressing files is one of the easiest ways to speed up your website.
- Check if your site already has Gzip enabled by using a ‘Check Gzip Compression’ tool like this one from SmallSEOTools. Simply type your URL into the box provided and click on the blue ‘Check Compression’ button below.
- Or run a full compression audit by typing your full URL into the GIDNetwork tool then clicking ‘Check’. This tells you whether or not your web page is compressed, the uncompressed size, the compressed size, and the compression percentage.
- If your site is already enabled, hurray! If not:
- If your site runs on WordPress, both WP Rocket and W3 Total Cache plugins support enabling Gzip. In W3 Total Cache, just check the box next to “Enable HTTP (gzip) compression.”
- If you have a static HTML site, you’ll need to enable Gzip in your .htaccess file.
- Tip: Don’t use Gzip on images. Rather optimize images manually using Photoshop to retain control over quality and exact size specifications.
Culprit #5: Redirects
The Issue: Too many! Redirects are certainly necessary (for example, when migrating to a new site, moved or deleted pages, fixing broken links) and have their star place in your SEO arsenal. But use them wisely. Why? Because too much of a good thing is, well, too much of a good thing. Redirections are a time-suck. Tick tock, tick tock. Each time a page redirects to another page, the longer your site visitor waits for the HTTP request-response cycle to serve up the content they are looking for.
The Fix: Reduce unnecessary redirects.
- Run a redirect audit, using a tool like Screaming Frog to quickly find all redirects currently on your site.
- Once you’ve run the Screaming Frog site scan, sort by the “Status Code” column to see all of the 301 redirects on your site.
- Make sure every single redirect on your site is actually serving a worthwhile, relevant purpose.
- Identify redirect chains and fix them.
Culprit #6: HTTP Requests
The Fix: Minify. Aside from being one of those wonderful words in the English language that just makes you want to say it over and over again – bubblegum, aurora, serendipity, minify – minifying and combining your files can perform wonders for your website speed. By optimizing and cleaning up your HTML code in this way you can dramatically increase your page speed. This includes removing things like unnecessary:
- Line breaks
- Unused code
- Code comments
- Formatting etc.
Minifying is particularly important if you use a templated website builder – these are wonderful tools but have been known to create messy code which, in turn, creates slow site speed.
- To minify HTML, try HTMLMinifier
- To minify CSS, try CSSNano and csso.
- Alternatively, the PageSpeed Module, integrates with an Apache or Nginx web server to automatically optimize your site, including resource minification.”
Culprit #7: CDN
The Issue: Lack thereof! (And no, CDN does not stand for Canadian – although having a savvy, and polite, Canadian SEO on your team would, indeed, be a smart fix!) While the use of a Content Delivery Network (CDN) isn’t a deal breaker when it comes to site speed, the use of one can certainly help serve up your content to visitors much more efficiently. Especially if your site speaks to a worldwide audience.
The Fix: “A content delivery network (CDN) is a system of distributed servers (network) that deliver pages and other web content to a user, based on the geographic locations of the user, the origin of the webpage and the content delivery server. This service is effective in speeding the delivery of content of websites with high traffic and websites that have global reach. The closer the CDN server is to the user geographically, the faster the content will be delivered to the user. CDNs also provide protection from large surges in traffic.” (Webopedia.com)
- By using a CDN, you are essentially storing, or caching, copies of your website at a range of geographically diverse data centers, giving users dotted around the world faster and more reliable access to your site.
- For example, if a user visits your site from Australia, they are actually downloading your files from the server that is closest to them. This can reduce load lag which can occur when visitors access your site from a distant location.
- By spreading the bandwidth across multiple different servers, you are also significantly reducing the load on any single server, which means your site will handle traffic faster.
- Just a few examples of reliable CDNs you could explore are:
- Bonus Tip: On a related note, in addition to hosting your site’s files on a CDN, you can also use external hosting platforms for some of your larger files. And by larger files, we mean video. Video is a space – and speed – hog, with some taking up easily over 100MB. You don’t have to be a web developer to know what that kind of file size is going to do to your site speed. (If your server even allows it!) You’ve all heard of YouTube. Use it. Load your video to a third-party service like YouTube or Vimeo, then embed the video on your site for a space-saving, speedy-loading answer to your video needs.
Of course, there are some things you cannot control. Even if you’ve implemented all our suggestions and got your website up to top speed, there’s very little you can do about, say, a slow Internet connection. (Yes, we’ve all been there. And banged our heads against a wall there.) That said, at least if you’ve optimized and compressed your site with speed in mind, no matter what the circumstance at least you’ve given yourself a fighting chance.