Need for Speed: Simple Ways to Make Your Website Faster / Technology / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

If you want to attract and retain customers and score ranking points with Google, then you need to focus on your site speed today.

When it’s time to redesign your website, try not to get overly caught up in the aesthetics.

Of course, you want your brand to have personality and your site to be clean and visually appealing, and it goes without saying that you need to communicate a professional, capable and trustworthy image.

But even though all these aspects are important, if you have problems with your site speed, then not even an award-winning design will keep your customers coming back.

Ideally, your site will be both nice to look at and fast as lightning. But seeing as we don’t live in an ideal world, if you’re working within the constraints of a budget or timeline and you have to prioritize, then focus on your site’s speed and functionality.

Think more silver bullet and less steam train. You may prefer how the latter one looks, but if you want to get to your meeting faster, which one are you going to choose?

While we’re at it, right up there with speed as far as important metrics go, are functionality and user experience. You need your online forms to be working correctly and to make sure that none of your customers are getting error messages when they’re trying to make a purchase or request further information.

Getting all your forms, shopping carts, online chat, and any other point of contact with your customers working right is paramount.

Related Article: Move It or Lose It: Tricks for Increasing Your Website’s Speed

Why Is Site Speed So Important?

If you’ve ever sat in a line of heavy traffic or taken a crowded subway to work, then you’ve probably noticed how time is something of a commodity these days. You’re probably not the only one wishing you had a couple of extra hours in the day to get everything done. Waiting in lines and sitting in traffic makes people impatient.

Increasing pressures at work and home have made us a society that wants everything now. Right now. We’re so used to getting all the information we want instantly in the palm of our hands that we don’t want to wait for two or three, or any more seconds for a slow site splutter into life; we’ll just click away to one of many alternatives available.

Customers today are looking for instant gratification, and if your site doesn’t give it to them, then you’re starting your relationship with them off on the wrong foot. Site speed is also one of Google’s multiple ranking factors and Bing and Yahoo also consider velocity as a key factor, so increasing your site’s speed will also increase your SERP.

How Do I Measure Site Speed?

There's an abundance of free tools online available to measure your site speed. Try starting off with Pingdom or GTMetrix, as both of these sites will provide you with a quick, free test of how fast your homepage and other pages load. There are also further (paid-for) tools on offer to help you speed it up if you need them.

GTMetrix site screenshotSo here comes the million dollar question; how fast should your site be?

Well, pretty damn fast. In fact, the faster the better; preferably under one second, two seconds at most. Incredibly, research has shown that around 40 percent of online browsers will abandon a website if its pages take longer than three seconds to load. 

Related Article:Lowering Load Time: 4 Pillars to Site Speed Optimization with WordPress

Clean Up Your Act

The first thing you need to if you want to speed your site up on your own is to try cleaning up your act. I’m not talking about the clothes you wear or the state of your office, cleaning up your act means getting rid of all the unnecessary clutter on your site.

This involves minifying your HTML, JavaScript and CSS. If I’ve already lost you here, then don’t worry; it’s not quite as technical as it sounds. All you’ll need to do is remove things that are unnecessary from your site, including broken links, white space, old comments, or superfluous code. This will reduce the overall file size of your site and reflect in its speed. You can try using these free tools to do this:

PageSpeed Insights allows you to make ongoing checks and gives a fairly in-depth look at how and where you’re going wrong, as well as providing solutions to fix it. There’s even a neat extension for Chrome that you can download to help create optimized HTML code.

Optimize Your Site’s Images

While we’re still on the subject of optimization, you need to ensure that all the images on your website are optimized, as this will help increase your site speed. What does that mean? Well, images typically account for most of the downloaded bytes on any given web page and they also take up a significant amount of space.

Optimizing your images will allow you to cut down on the number of bytes, and therefore the size, of each page. The fewer bytes for a browser to download, the faster the page will be. Try running your images through programs like Image Optimizer and Optimizilla.

Beware of Videos

The jury is still out on whether it’s better to host your video yourself, or to host it at an external site, but one main thing everybody agrees on is that it’s best to limit the number of videos you have on your site. If your site is made in WordPress, then you’ll definitely need to avoid uploading videos directly to your site, as they are heavy and use up a lot of bandwidth. What’s the result? Your site will take forever to load and more than likely will crash after a few seconds.

Uploading your video to an external site like Vimeo or YouTube and embedding the code into your site will remove that problem, but you’ll need to bear in mind that when you embed external material into your site, your pages will only run as fast as the hosting site. So, if the external site is having a bad day, then your site will struggle along with it. Here’s the best rule of thumb to apply to videos: cut them down or cut them out.

Use Expires Headers

When a visitor lands on your site, their browser will store certain files onto their hard drive to speed things up when they visit next time, by reducing the number of HTTP requests and files that have to be downloaded. These files have a built-in expiration date in the header (otherwise known as Expires Headers) and should be used for all types of scripts, images, flash and stylesheets.

Static files that are cachable and help to avoid unnecessary HTTP requests, need to be set to “no expire”, or can be set with a date very far into the future, as optimizing your cache control by making correct use of Expires Headers will speed load time.

Related Article: Focus on the Details: Web Traffic Hacks That Work

Try a CDN (Content Delivery Network)

A content delivery network (CDN) is a compilation of servers in different worldwide locations. As loading time often depends on the customer’s location and strength of their Internet connection, CDNs remove that issue and make use of local servers near them to ensure that they get an equally quick version of your site. If you're also getting your site translated and localized into multiple languages, your translation services provider can often take care of this for you.

Don’t worry if you’re not technically minded as you can easily find someone who can help you with this important task. You can find out what packages your hosting provider offers and whether they have support for site speed. And just remember every time you want to add a new feature to your site, to check that it won’t affect your speed first.

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