January 28, 2015

How to improve your website’s speed

Webpage speed can often be overlooked when designing or maintaining your site.  Initial design and coding is focused on making your site look good and fit your branding, but sometimes this leads to a bloated and bulky site.  Let's talk a bit about why this is so important and how it translates into money (or money lost) for you.

Reasons to Improve

User Patience

User PatienceWe live in a fast paced world and users don't like to be kept waiting for content.  To put it simply, if users wait too long for content, they're going to leave your site.  The sweet spot seems to be around 4 seconds or less.  While improving speeds beyond this won't hurt, anything above will most likely result in fewer leads or sales on your site.

A study found that at 4 seconds or less, nearly 100% of users were retained.  At 5 seconds, nearly half of the visitors left the page.  And once the page load time hit 10 seconds, there were only about 10% of the original users who hadn't left the page.  If your site is taking that long to load, obviously your going to take a beating in sales.  Imagine if the difference in 1 second could increase your sales by up to 50%.

The below graph was a study done after marginally increasing the site speed.  In case it's not clear, the site speed increase drastically increased sales.  

Google Rankings

Search engines actually do rank your site based on the page load time and a number of other factors.  While it's not the biggest determining factor in your page speed, it's definitely one worth noting.  This doesn't mean that you should go and make your pages as small as possible.  Google is very explicit about content being king and sacrificing content for page load time is not the answer.  Instead you should make sure that the content is appropriate for that page and optimized for better load times.

Mobile Devices

Mobile websiteIt's also pretty easy to forget that a large percentage of your visitors may be using mobile phones to visit your site.  If the page load is 4 seconds on a desktop, there's a pretty high chance that it's higher on a mobile.  As you can see, mobile browser share has taken a huge share of the market in the past few years.  It's certainly still not the majority but represents nearly 30% of your total visitors.  

Why Your Site's Slow

There can be a lot of reasons what your site is slower than it could be.  We're just going to cover the usual ones we see, but keep in mind that there may be other hidden reasons depending on the site.

Server Speed

I put this first because it can easily be the largest factor in page speed and without a good server, no amount of optimization will improve your speed.  You'll usually see this referred to as "Server Response Time" on speed reports.  It's referring to the time it takes for your server to receive a request from the visitor browser and render the output.

I get a lot of clients who are using terrible hosts and suffering because of it.  It's not their fault since these tend to be the biggest companies, but my first course of action is usually to move them to a better host.  Speed isn't everything here either.  You're looking for some level of server flexibility so your developer can actually make your site run well.  You also want a decent cPanel and a good customer support in case anything goes wrong.

I don't want to list out the hosts I recommend here to avoid a "who is best" competition, but if you need a recommendation, shoot me an email.

Heavy Use of Images

This is an issue with most of today's websites and it looks like it's here to stay.  People like image rich sites so removing them isn't really an option.  Instead you can optimize and compress images to reduce the size of all your images.  This can be done without losing any image quality.  Doing so can reduce the total file size by up to 90% sometimes.  That's a huge amount and will not only help your site load faster, but also save your server from excessive bandwidth.

Application or CMS Load

CMS WordPressWhether you have a custom built application or you're using a CMS like WordPress or Drupal, there's actually a lot going on behind the scenes before it reaches your site.  Sites are rarely flat file anymore, which means every time a page loads, it has to contact your database and pull the information.  Depending on how many times your database is being called, it could severely impact your site performance. A good programmer will make sure these calls are kept to a minimal.  If a database call was improperly put in a loop, there's a chance you could have hundreds or even thousands of calls on a single page.  Even if attention was given to this area during coding, it's a good idea to go back and refractor and optimize, especially if you're getting a lot of traffic.

Code Bloat

This term gets tossed around a lot, but to an end user, what does it really mean?  Well unless you really know server-side programming, it's pretty unlikely you'll be able to tell yourself by just looking at your site.  Code bloat generally means that the code on your page is excessively long and possibly full of unnecessary code. This tends to be a big problem in WordPress.  WordPress themes are written to be highly functional and server many end-users.  Unfortunately this might mean that you have tons of code on your page for functionality you never plan on using.  

What You Can Do

Okay- so if you already have a bloated site, what are your options?  Starting from ground zero is an option for some people and if you're due for a redesign then this may be the perfect opportunity.  Just make sure and make your goals clear to your developer beforehand.  But if you want to increase performance on your current site, then here's what I recommend.

Testing

In order to know whether or not you're making improvement and where you currently stand, you need to evaluate your site.  There are many tools out there, but I really like to use Pingdom.  Just enter your URL and it will give you a quick glimpse at how your site is performing.  If you're over 4 seconds, then you should definitely be taking action.

Optimize Images

This is a great and easy way to reduce the page load time if you have a lot of images on your site.  There are various online tools and software that you can download to take care of this for you.  I recommend using some kind of bulk optimizer tool if you have a lot of images.  If you're on WordPress then you can use a plugin like EWWW Optimizer.  It will automatically pick out all the images in your library and optimize/compress them.  But before you do this, please make a backup or have a developer do so.  I've heard horror stories of people using plugins like this and corrupting their entire image library.

Caching and Minifying

Probably the best thing you can do for your site.  I'm not going to spend too much time covering it because it would involve a lot of technical jargon.  Using the right tools, you can combine your sites scripts and make them smaller.  If you're on WordPress, W3 Total Cache is my favorite for this.  But beware, as user friendly as it is, there are still many many options to choose from.  It can be a bit daunting and in my opinion a developer should be taking care of this to make sure it's not breaking any front-end functionality on your site.

Change Servers

Most people that I've helped switch to a new server are pretty happy with their move.  If you're on a bad server, none of the above options will help.  Additionally, there are even more server settings that can be fine-tuned to improve your site performance.  However, lesser hosts usually don't give you access to these features.  People have a tendency to jump on a cheap plan to save money.  But if your site speed is losing you customers, then you're really shooting yourself in the foot.  For an extra $10 a month you could be netting $1000's.  Kind of seems like a no-brainer to me.  

Final Thoughts

I hope this article has shown you how site speed impacts your business.  In terms of investment in your site, it's one of the fastest ways to see a good ROI.  If you have any questions or would like our help in optimizing your site, drop us a line.