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Understanding and optimizing your website speed

You are ready to release your new-and-improved website to the public. It’s time to get your online profits in order. You’ve created a new background. Maybe you’ve uploaded a new set of images and logos. Your pages have been rewritten. Your e-commerce products are finally displaying the way you want them to. You’re trying to do everything you can to avoid an ugly website.

But there’s one tip from “ugly websites” that you keep forgetting to do. It’s time to conquer this: Make sure your page speed is not pushing away customers.

What Is Page Speed?

Page speed is the amount of time it takes for the content on a website’s page to fully load. In a world where people have come to expect instantaneous results, faster is better.

In fact, decreasing mobile site load times by just one tenth of a second resulted in major performance gains, according to Think With Google. And digital performance measurement firm Dynatrace report (via BBC) confirms that just a half second difference in page load times can make a 10 percent difference in sales for an online retailer.

But how long do most websites take to load? And how can you determine how your website stacks up?

How to Determine Your Page Speed and Score

Here’s how to measure how your website stacks up:

  1. Visit your website’s Google Analytics Site Speed reports. This will give you an idea of how your site has performed over various time periods and the load speed of each of your pages.
  2. Enter your site’s URL into Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tool. This will give you a report card on your website’s speed performance on mobile devices and desktop. The report comes with some recommended actions you can take to improve your site’s speed.
  3. Check Pingdom’s website speed test to find out the speed, rank and percent faster than the average of Pingdom’s tested websites
  4. GTMetrix will provide a comprehensive look at your site’s speed optimization status.

For the latter two, keep in mind that Pingdom shows your load time (time it takes to show the first result of your website—that’s what Google looks at) and GTmetrix shows you the full load time (time it takes to show the full page with its full functionality running).

Why Does Page Speed Matter?

Bridging the gap between user expectations and average website load time is the goal of page speed optimization. But why exactly does page speed matter? It comes down to three main interconnected reasons:

1. Speed Kills UX

User experience is probably the most important reason you should care about website speed.

People don’t have the patience for slow loading websites anymore. We’ve long passed the days of AOL dial-up modems and waiting an eternity to get on the Internet, then getting disconnected every time someone needed to use the phone.

Today, people are constantly online whether it’s on their laptops or mobile devices. You’ve got 3 seconds maximum to display your page or they’re gone. More than 3 seconds creates a poor user experience, and the bar is only going to get higher in the future.

2. Speed Kills Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

User experience is actually the driving force behind the SEO implications of site speed. Google Search Search team announced speed would be a ranking signal for desktop searches in 2010 and, as of July 2018, page speed became a ranking factor for mobile searches too.

3. Speed Kills Conversions

Your site speed’s effect on conversions is what should really catch your attention. How can you move people through your funnel if each step takes forever? Loyal consumers may give you the benefit of the doubt and wait, or click the trusty CTRL + R in hopes that may make the site load faster, but new customers will bounce—literally. So you need to find ways to make your site speed quicker.

8 Tactics to Make Your Website Load Faster

Whether you have a large site with a lot of coding or a smaller and less complicated website, here’s where to start to improve website speed loading time:

1. Leverage browser caching

When you visit sites, your browser often caches pages on the site to speed up load time.

Browser caching stores web page resource files on a local computer when a user visits a web page, so leveraging browser caching is when you instruct browsers to execute how their resources should be dealt with.

Things can slow down when the response from your server does not include caching headers or if resources are specified to be cached for only a short time.

Leveraging caching will load your pages much faster for repeat visitors and so will other pages that share those same resources.

2. Optimize images

If images load faster, your site loads faster. Google notes that images often account for most of the downloaded bytes on a page. For this reason, optimizing images can often yield some of the largest byte savings and performance improvements.

This means that you can get some big improvements when the images on your pages can be optimized to reduce their file size without significantly impacting their visual quality.

3. Minify HTML, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and JavaScript

Minifying removes any unnecessary characters that are not required for the code to execute.

Sources of redundant data that you can remove include code comments and formatting, and unused code. Also, use shorter variable and function names.

4. Enable gzip compression

Gzip compression drastically reduces the size of files sent from your server when someone visits your website. This will speed things up considerably.

According to GTMetrix,

“The reason gzip works so well in a web environment is because CSS files and HTML files use a lot of repeated text and have loads of whitespace. Since gzip compresses common strings, this can reduce the size of pages and style sheets by up to 70%!”

5. Reduce server response time

Server response time is the amount of time it takes for a web server to respond to a request from a browser. If your server response time is slow, your pages will display slow, no matter how optimized your pages are for speed.

Google says you should reduce your server response time under 200 milliseconds. So how do you make this happen?

6. Avoid landing page redirects

Your site can really slow down when you have more than one redirect from the given URL to the final landing page. This sets off a redirect loop that takes time to process.

Here is an example from Google of redirects that can slow things down:

example.com → m.example.com/home (multi-roundtrip penalty for mobile users)
example.com → www.example.com → m.example.com (very slow mobile experience)

To find out the fundamentals of responsive web design, click here.

7. Prioritize visible content

This is the exact message you’ll get from Google’s PageSpeed tool when additional network round trips are required to render the above-the-fold (ATF) content of the page.

ATF content is what you see on a desktop or device when you visit a page. So prioritizing visible content is the recommendation that you prioritize things so that essential elements on your page load first (and quickly) for users and that you defer secondary page elements like social sharing plugins, analytics javascript, etc.

8. Eliminate render-blocking JavaScript and CSS in ATF content

JavaScript and CSS resources often prevent your page from displaying until they’re fully loaded. Why? The premature display of your ATF content can be unappealing.

However, this is a common message you’ll get from Google about site speed, and addressing it can really take your page speed up a few notches.

Do you want lightning-fast, Google Cloud-hosted, WordPress sites? Contact us today!

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