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Understanding and Optimizing Your Website Speed
Website Maintenance

Understanding and Optimizing Your Website Speed

March 22, 2024

What is Page Speed?

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

In fact, about half of internet users expect a website to load in 2 seconds or less, and they tend to leave a website that isn't loaded within 3 seconds, according to surveys done by Akamai and Gomez.com.

But how long do most sites take to load?

The standards many have been using for page load time come from a study performed by Geoff Kenyon where he compares site speed against the rest of the internet:

  • if your site loads in 5 seconds, it is faster than about 25% of the internet
  • if your website loads in 2.9 seconds, it is faster than approximately 50% of the web
  • if your site loads in 1.7 seconds, it is faster than approximately 75% of the internet
  • if your site loads in 0.8 seconds, it is faster than about 94% of the web

So how can you determine how your website stacks up?

How to Calculate Your Page Speed and Score

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

  • Jump into your website's Google Analytics Site Speed reports. This will give you an idea of how your website has performed over different time periods and the load speed of each of your pages.
  • 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 as well as desktops. The report comes with some recommended steps you can take to improve your site's speed.
  • Check Pingdom's site speed test to find out the speed, rank and percent faster than the average of Pingdom's tested sites
  • GTMetrix will give a comprehensive look at your website's speed optimization status.

Keep in mind: Do not confuse yourself when you see different speed timing in Pingdom and Gtmetrix. Pingdom will show you load time (The time it takes to show the first result of your website-- that's what Google counts and you should also) and GTmetrix will show you full load time (The time it takes to show a full page with its complete functionality running).

For more understanding, it's always good to see the speed waterfall from both tools.

Why Does Page Speed Matter?

Bridging the gap between user expectations (2 seconds) and average website load time (5 seconds) is the goal of page speed optimization and the strategies we'll lay out later. But why exactly does page speed matter? It comes down to 3 main interconnected factors:

1. Speed Kills UX

User experience is probably the most important reason you should care about site speed, so we'll start here.

Users don't have the patience for slow loading sites anymore. In the beginning, simply connecting to the internet required a tolerance that simply does not exist anymore.

Today, people are always online and you've got 3 seconds at most to present your page or they're gone. More than 3 seconds creates a poor user experience and the bar is only going to get higher down the road.

2. Speed Kills SEO

User experience is actually the driving force behind the SEO implications of website speed. While Google has been slow to officially reveal whether slow sites would receive ranking demotions, it appears that those days are coming. You need to make sure your site is ready.

3. Speed Kills Conversions

Your site speed's impact on conversions is what should really capture your attention. How can you navigate users through your funnel if each step takes a long time? Your super-fans will do it, but those new, hesitant users who are prone to buyers-remorse will leave.

8 Techniques to Make Your Website Load Faster

Speeding up your website is not necessarily going to be a piece of cake. If you have a small, light website you might only need to try a couple of strategies on this list.

However, large, older sites with a lot of code and content might require some persistence and the implementation of multiple tactics on the following list.

Here's where to begin:

1. Leverage browser caching:

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

Browser caching stores webpage resource files on a local computer when a user goes to a website, so leveraging browser caching is when you instruct browsers how their resources should be handled.

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 a lot faster for repeat visitors and so will other pages that share those same resources.

Here's how to do it

2. Optimize photos:

If images load faster, your website loads quicker, period. Google states that "... photos commonly represent the majority of the downloaded bytes on a page. Therefore, optimizing photos can often generate some of the most significant byte savings and performance improvements."

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

Here's how to do it

3. Minify HTML, CSS & JavaScript:

Minifying gets rid of any unnecessary characters that are not required for the code to perform.

Sources of redundant data that you can remove includes code comments and format, getting rid of unused code, using shorter variable and function names, and more.

Here's how to do it

4. Enable gzip compression:

Gzip compression significantly reduces the size of files sent from your server when somebody visits your site. This will speed things up considerably.

According to GTMetrix, "The reason gzip works so well in an internet 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 decrease the size of pages and style sheets by up to 70%!".

Here's how to do it

5. Reduce server response time:

Server response time is the amount of time it takes for an internet server to respond to a request from a browser. This is a vital problem to address because if your server response time is slow your pages will display slow, regardless of how optimized your pages are for speed.

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

Here's how to do it

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 triggers a redirect loop that takes time to process.

Here are a few examples of redirects that can slow things down:

example.comm.example.com/home-- multi-roundtrip penalty for mobile users.

example.comwww.example.comm.example.com-- very slow mobile experience.

Here's how to do it

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 content of the page.

This "above the fold" content is what you see on a desktop or mobile device when you visit a page. So focusing on visible content is the suggestion that you prioritize things so that essential elements on your page load first (and quickly) for users and that you defer secondary page aspects like social sharing plugins, analytics javascript, etc.

Here's how to do it

8. Eliminate render-blocking JavaScript and CSS in above-the-fold content:

JavaScript and CSS resources often prevent your page from displaying until they're fully loaded. This is sometimes a good idea, since the premature display of your above the fold content can look quite grotesque.

However, this is a typical message you'll receive from Google regarding website speed, and addressing it can really take your page speed up a few notches.

Here's how to do it

Note: This is the hardest thing to fix for most people. There are WordPress plugins that just do it but they can make your site resemble Frankenstein on every load.

Want lightning-fast, Google Cloud-hosted WordPress, WebFlow or Wix sites? Contact us today.

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