Best Practices to Optimize Your Website Speed
Companies used to occupy a physical space to make an impression and get the attention of potential customers. During that time, advertising helped businesses impress people with full-page color spreads and catchy jingles.
Today, however, your storefront is your website — it’s most likely the main way your customers interact with you, and it will undoubtedly be critical in forming their first impression. That’s why you need to make sure your website is the best it can be.
Design for First Impressions
First impressions matter, and as a consequence, website optimization does, too. There are several things you need to think about to create the best site possible.
Your website’s design should be appealing and reflect who you are as a company. You’ll want excellent, engaging content that delivers value to your visitors. You’ll want to consider user experience (UX) to make sure the navigation is intuitive, and you’ll need to maintain the site on a consistent basis to prevent broken links and out-of-date information.
Perhaps one of the most crucial considerations is figuring out how to bring potential customers to your site. That’s where website optimization comes in — it can influence your search engine results page (SERP) ranking, pushing you up to the top, which makes it more likely that people will choose your site to browse. Then, once they’ve found you, you’ll want to keep them interested and coming back for more.
Speed and Competition
When your website is optimized to be fast, it’ll encourage visitors to stay and complete the actions that brought them there in the first place. Whether they’re looking for information, want to check out some products, or make a purchase, a site that loads quickly will make them more inclined to look around and come back the next time they need something.
Speed is like any other web performance metric. On its own, the number doesn’t mean a lot. Once it’s connected to your success measures, such as conversion and visibility, you can understand how it can help you achieve your objectives.
The key point about website loading times is that you need your site to be fast enough to prevent visitors from leaving and finding the information elsewhere.
The internet is a vast resource. Although you might have something unique to offer, if visitors have to wait three or four seconds, they’ll likely head somewhere else to find what they want. A little time and attention when it comes to website speed optimization can prevent this issue from happening.
In this best practice guide, you’ll learn about the benefits of optimization, the key terms and tools to help you understand these measurements, and the top tips to make changes to your site.
How a Fast Website Benefits Your Company
A fantastic-looking website can feel like a brilliant achievement. However, what you really want is for your website to be used and for that to lead to business and revenue for your company, whether that’s through advertising, product sales, or service subscriptions.
Using a website speed optimization service can bring you several benefits that mean your website will get used and lead to conversions. Here are two essential ways your site performance can influence traffic and sales.
Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization (SEO) covers the ways you can improve your content to ensure your website is listed high in a search when someone types in a particular phrase or term. SEO is much more than keywords that describe what you offer — it’s really about how your site performs overall.
Search engines like Google review a number of aspects to determine how relevant your site is, and that affects your position on their results pages. The closer to the top you are, the more likely it is that you’ll receive more visitors.
One of the key elements Google takes into consideration when determining your website relevance is site speed. Their algorithm sees a fast-loading page as a sign that it’s relevant and user-friendly. The search engine crawls your pages with bots that read these signals, and if the site loads quickly, it’ll have more time to capture the information to determine whether you’re an appropriate listing for that search.
Having a website that loads quickly shows Google that you’re relevant, which will help your ranking. The algorithm for SERPs changes regularly, but the trend is often towards more user-friendly sites, which is why speed should be a priority.
Thinking about what Google is looking for in terms of SEO should also align with designing and optimizing your website with your customers and users in mind. Users are more likely to keep browsing a site and complete the desired actions if they have a good experience. Generally, the better the experience, the more engagement you can expect from your users.
Engagement happens when users feel that your product or service, and your site, provide value. While a lot of that comes from the quality of your content and what you have to offer, it also depends on the delivery. If the load time of a page is barely perceptible to the visitor, they’ll feel better about their experience.
Site speed is one crucial aspect of designing a smooth user experience (UX). Intuitive navigation, a clear layout, and limited obstacles between the visitor and the information they want are all vital pieces of the puzzle.
Optimization means you’re not neglecting the speed it takes to load a site with those attributes, whether it’s on a mobile device or a desktop. The result is a better user experience, which will encourage longer and repeated visits, and it’ll impress the search engine bots, too.
Website Optimization Terminology
Before you decide to bring in some outside page speed optimization services, it’s best to understand the basics of what you are measuring.
Overall Site Speed
As the name suggests, website speed optimization services want to help you improve your site speed. That means looking at it as a whole. Typically, there will be some expected pathways for your visitors to follow. Site optimization will look at the points of the journey that take the longest and see if there are any particular points where more users leave the site.
Some slow points or departures are to be expected. However, once you have the overall picture, you can check the loading times for the whole journey and determine whether this is a factor when it comes to abandoned carts or decreased traffic.
Overall, the site should load, render, and launch new pages with minimal delay. Once you understand those timings, you can look at specific pages to get a better picture and continue optimizing.
Individual Page Speed
This refers to the particular parts of your site. You might not want to optimize every single page; instead, it could be important to you to speed up the site in general and to have your essential SEO or key product pages running at their best.
Instead of including the time it takes to move from one part of the site to another, page speed looks at the specific amount of time it takes for that page to start and finish loading. Some algorithms look at how long it takes for everything to appear, while other metrics focus on the amount of time before the first byte of data is received.
Through the optimization process, you can look at the pages that have the most SEO and revenue value. Those could be the most common landing pages and the points of conversion. Once you’ve identified those, improving their speed could make a significant difference to user experience and, in turn, your business.
When 1 Second is Too Slow
Now that you understand the different options for speed optimization, it’s essential to comprehend what speeds you should aim for.
Optimization is a compromise, so you don’t want to strip back everything just to have a very fast site. On the other hand, too many elements on a page could make it extremely slow to load, meaning the user won’t stick around to see your content. That’s why knowing what you’re aiming for can help you get the balance right.
Through their research, engineers have found that 0.4 seconds could be all the time it takes for a user to decide to stay on your site or not. Others recommend trying to improve your speed in increments of 0.25 seconds to see results. These are small amounts of time that are equivalent to the blink of an eye, and while it might sound tough to achieve, it’s something you can impact with a few tweaks.
Successful sites aim for a page load time that is less than 4.0 seconds. Ideally, it should be under 3.0 seconds to prevent visitors from going elsewhere. Your first steps are to establish your current site and page load times. After that, you can use some of our tips below to decrease that time.
Why Optimization Matters
You’ve read how improving site optimization will help your SEO and UX. However, the other side of that is the consequence you might face if you don’t take action: What’s the cost of ignoring your site speed?
The answer is that it can make or break you, especially if you’re heavily reliant on your site for sales. If you don’t know what your overall site speed or individual page speeds are, it could easily be close to the limit that most visitors are willing to wait. Some users could already be leaving because of the delay, and it may take just a small tweak to your code or content to improve things by a few milliseconds.
Websites usually have just 3-5 seconds to make an impression. Mobile pages that take 5 seconds or longer cause users to abandon them, either giving up completely or seeking out a competitor. Even if you have quality content, website visitors prioritize speed, and there will be businesses out there that take advantage of that fact.
If you don’t pay attention to speed and only look at the quality of your content, you’ll likely lose customers if your site is slow to load. High-performing, user-friendly websites are where you’ll find most users.
A decrease in users will impact sales. However, it’s not only the immediate effect of visitors abandoning your site. After a bad experience, most customers are left dissatisfied, making it unlikely that they’ll revisit your website. The quality of your service or product is paramount, but taking care of site speed gives you a better chance to convert customers to experience that for themselves.
Focus on Both Mobile and Desktop
It’s vital to understand where your users access your site and what their expectations are. Ecommerce website traffic from mobile devices is on the rise, which means you can’t afford to ignore this segment. Unless you focus on them, mobile sites could be slower to load, and visitors using mobile devices often have higher expectations for page load times than those using desktops.
If your site hasn’t been properly optimized for mobile devices or if your users are being misdirected to the desktop site, you’re going to face some headaches. If a redirect fails, you could see even longer load times. This issue occurs when mobile versions of sites don’t accurately match the desktop one, causing users to get lost when moving between pages.
In this case, a website speed optimization service can help. However, you’ll need to consider whether the optimized version of your site meant for mobile users has been developed in a way that meets their needs.
Tools for Measuring Speed
Page speed optimization services can provide helpful advice, information, and solutions to your problems with load time. Before you contact them, though, you want to know what your site and page speeds are so you can decide whether you need help and what you’re willing to change.
Tools such as Google Pagespeed Insights, Pingdom, GTMetrix, and YSlow can give you insights into how your website is performing. They work by loading your site in different browsers, mimicking the conditions in different locations to build an accurate picture of the user experience. They check for bottlenecks and their causes, such as file size and load time associated with components like images or CSS files.
You’ll receive a score based on the performance and priorities inputs, along with suggestions for improvements. You might still need some support implementing the recommendations, but being informed about those issues is a beneficial step towards enhancing your site.
How To Optimize Your Site Speed
By this point, you’ve probably realized that it isn’t a question of if you need website speed optimization but how to go about it.
Each website will require a different approach depending on your content, user journey, and the components of your site. Professional page speed optimization services can tailor these solutions to meet your needs. Read on to find out how you can get support improving your site and page speed, and what kinds of things you might need to look at to see a positive change.
Experts can help you to identify the problems, make adjustments, and bring you better results. A website optimization service will help you determine your current speed, detect the causes for abandoned carts or a high bounce rate, and provide you with a plan to improve the speeds and user experience.
The results usually involve faster load times, decreased bounce rates, more time spent on pages, and increased conversions. They’re a useful way to identify and address the problem from start to finish with minimal time and effort on your part.
Whether you choose to hire experts or have the capacity to deal with the issue in-house, it’s critical that you understand the different solutions that could be employed to improve site and page speed.
Having a lot of those files means more HTTP requests; when those are dealt with individually, it can significantly slow down your website. There’s a process called minifying, which removes spaces, commas, comments, unused code and characters, and adjusts formatting to increase speed. Fortunately, you can ask your optimization service to carry out this task, or you can even find a tool yourself to make quick work of it.
Images are next on the list, as they often require a different approach. You’ll want to stay in control of quality, particularly when it comes to images, which is why there are other ways to optimize them.
This solution is best applied across the whole site, as it won’t compromise your content. The files are compressed before being sent, and then get unzipped by the browser when received. Plus, it can be as simple as adding a few lines of code to your website.
Visual content can make your site stand out and will certainly appeal to your customers. You won’t want to strip pages of all that eye-catching media, as they add value and improve engagement. However, there’s no escaping the fact that images mean large file sizes, which means longer load times.
Instead of using software applications that reduce files before the content is sent, which could compromise the appearance, you can deal with each image individually. Although it’s a time-consuming process, it gives you control over the quality. You can use software specifically designed for photos to reduce the size but maintain picture clarity.
Other options include making the images responsive using HTML attributes so that they adjust to each user’s display. You can also use CSS sprites with a template for frequently used images. It combines them so that they all load at once, and you can choose which sections to show. This means fewer HTTP requests, which can slow a site down.
Content Delivery Networks
Known as content delivery networks or content distribution networks, CDNs are used to distribute the load when it comes to sharing content. A network is a number of web servers that are in several locations. They provide content to users based on location, which can speed up load times.
This model works better than a single server, which has to process all of the requests, taking a considerable amount of time. Also, proximity to a server can decrease load times, which is why it makes sense to use servers in different locations. A CDN redirects requests to the nearest server, meaning your content will load faster for the users. There’s a cost attached to this option, so it’s best to weigh it against your overall needs and other possibilities.
There are times when a redirect is critical to the structure of your site. However, if you end up with too many and they aren’t necessary, you’ll want to get rid of them to improve your website speed.
Redirects create extra HTTP requests, which is what adds to the overall load time. The best way to tackle this is to get your website optimization service to scan your site for redirects. You could also find software to perform the task. Once you’ve identified them, you’ll want to remove as many as possible, leaving only the ones that are absolutely necessary.
Just like images, plugins aren’t a bad thing; they add features that make your website more interesting and functional. They’re a demand on resources, though, and too many can slow down your website.
It’s best to do a site audit to see how many plugins you’re currently using and which ones are slowing down your pages the most. From there, you can remove any that are no longer necessary. Plugins that have lots of scripts generate many database queries, which can make them add to the load times. If it’s essential to the function of your site, it might be worth looking for a more streamlined version.
A different kind of consideration for improving your site speed is looking at the server that hosts your website. Many sites get set up through shared hosting. It’s cost-effective and fast, but, as the name suggests, you’re sharing resources, which can impact your speed.
Your other options include a dedicated server or virtual private servers (VPS). They come at a price, and dedicated servers typically cost more. But you would have your own physical server, which you need to rent and pay for an administrator. VPS is still a shared option; however, there are multiple servers in different locations, your configurations aren’t impacted by other users, and they can usually handle average amounts of traffic.
Best Practice Makes Perfect
Now that you know the benefits of optimizing your website speed and the perils of ignoring it, you’re ready to make some changes. With the information in this guide, you’ll be able to improve user experience and achieve a better SERP ranking. Fortunately, with expert help or a few steps taken by your developer team with the right software, you can implement several practices that will lead to dramatic changes to your load times.
Whether it’s cutting back on unnecessary elements such as redirects and plugins or adding some code to compress large files, you can reduce the pages’ load times and stop users from abandoning your site because it’s too slow. Improve your chances of getting conversions and repeat customers by taking care of these small but significant matters.
Article by Kristaps Brencans
I started as a project manager at On The Map Marketing in 2015 and now run the day-to-day operations as the company’s chief executive officer. In the last few years, I have overseen thousands of successful SEO campaigns in numerous industries, including lawyers, contractors, E-commerce, and other markets. I am also a proud dad of three divas and take a keen interest in running and calisthenics.
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