The Need for Speed – How to Make your Webpages Load Faster

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Speed! We all crave it – faster cars, faster phones, faster
broadband, faster everything. Ain’t nobody got time for sluggishness, and
nowhere is this more apparent than online with page speed.

Our collective page speed addiction is a serious one, and
the withdrawal symptoms are almost instant – I’m talking seconds. The internet
changes people. In a real-life situation nobody would have any qualms about
waiting ten seconds for something; online, however, 10 seconds is nine seconds
too long.

You might think I’m exaggerating here, I’m not. And I come
armed with stats to prove it.

A one second delay in page load time results in:

  • 11% percent fewer page views. [Source]
  • 7% reduction in conversions. [Source]
  • 16% drop in customer satisfaction. [Source]

 

Just take those in. Look at the difference one measly second
can make to your bottom line. Right, compose yourself, there’s more:

  • 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or
    less. [
    Source]
  • 40% of people will abandon a web page if it takes more than
    three seconds to load. [
    Source]
  • 73% of mobile internet users say that they’ve encountered a
    website that was too slow to load. [
    Source]
  • 64% of smartphone users expect pages to load in less than 4
    seconds. [
    Source]
  • A 2-second delay in load time during a transaction results
    in abandonment rates of up to 87%. This is significantly higher than the
    average abandonment rate of 70%. [
    Source]
  • 46% of online shoppers cite checkout speed as the number one
    factor that determines whether or not they will return to a site. [
    Source]
  • If a page takes 8+ seconds to load, visitors will spend only
    1% of their time on page looking at primary banner content. [
    Source]

 

Right, that’s enough; this post isn’t intended to totally
depress you. The message is clear: society has a speed addiction problem and it
manifests online, in the pages of your website.

Around 1
out of every 4 web pages in the EU takes more than 10-seconds to load
and
the average load time for leading ecommerce sites across the continent is 7.04
seconds. If you run a website, the chances are it’s loading slower than it
could be, and the fact you’re reading this tells me that it is.

Why you need to pick up the speed

We’ve already covered the biggest reason for improved site
loading times – to feed the habit of spoiled page speed junkies. As the stats
show, the longer it takes for a page to load, the twitchier fingers get and the
greater the likelihood of hitting the back button becomes. But, while user
experience should top be top of your agenda, it’s not the only reason
fast-loading matters.

Every time someone bounces on out of your site, guess who
benefits?

Yep, the competition.

More than three-quarters
of consumers
would rather click the left arrow during peak shopping times
than wait for your lump of a landing page to boot up, and your competitors rake
it in every time they do. They won’t be just pinching all of your customers
either – they’ll also be getting a hop in the search engine rankings.

Site speed plays
an important role in Google’s ranking algorithm and goes some way to
determining where your site features in results pages. Fast loading times alone
won’t get you to the top in rankings, but they’ll certainly help Google decide
between two websites of equal relevance and authority – i.e. you and your
bitter rival.

Finally, as speed is so influential in user experience,
bringing down loading times will make a big difference to your Adwords Quality Score. Make your
website faster and your Quality Score will improve, and when it does you’ll
notice the difference in cost-per-click (CPC) campaigns.

Just how slow is your site?

So, you’re pretty confident your webpages are slow and now
you’re panicking that the competition is profiting from your dial-up-like
performance? Don’t worry, soon we’re going to look at what you can do to speed
things up; but first I want you to take the plunge and find out just how bad
your loading times are.

You can do this by entering your URL into Google’s PageSpeed
Insights
tool. The results should look something like this:

Look, even the
government could be doing better… no surprise there then.

How to make your site quicker

PageSpeed Insights will flag up the areas of your site that
aren’t cutting the mustard; here are a few things you can do to boost speed.

Database optimisation

If you run an e-commerce or content-driven website, you’re
probably using a database; the way this is set up could be depriving users of
their speed fix. The best way to sort this is to add an index to your database.
This helps streamline data and makes scanning more efficient so that
information gets to users quicker.

Clean up your code

CSS and JavaScript strike fear into most people, and I
really didn’t want to have to drag you down this path, but here goes…your code
might be causing you problems. If you’re not familiar with coding then it’s
unlikely you’ll be able to tell your XML from your HTML, and you probably won’t
notice anything wrong from the front end. However, a poorly coded page is going
to affect performance massively and you’ll need to have something done about
it. Clean, minimalistic code is the way to go and, if you’re using a content
management system, get rid of any unused plugins.

Cache where you can

The first time a person visits your website, their browser
has to request all the data (scripts, images, data, etc.) from your server.
Caching the most recent versions of your pages allows you to display content to
the user without their browser having to generate pages every single time.

Optimise images

Images are brilliant – users love them and they’ll be more
engaged with your content if your site has them…most of the time. If images are
causing your pages to load slowly, users won’t be hanging around long enough to
see any pretty pictures. Image files are heavy and a nightmare to render.
Here’s what you need to do with them:

  • Crop images to reduce size – 325 × 550 pixels is the optimum
    size.
  • Format images in JPEG, PNG or GIF. Stay away from BMP or
    TIFF.

 

Compress your mess

Quality content comes at a price – large pages that exceed optimum page load cut off time is an issue for over a third of the internet. This problem can be
solved by compressing files, the most popular method of doing so being Gzip.

Gzip is the industry standard for compression – about 90% of
the traffic travels through browsers that support it according to
Yahoo
, who also say that using the tool to compress files can slash page
response times by as much as 70%.

Cut down on redirects

Redirects aren’t good for rendering and relying on them too
much will bog down your site. Redirecting users means more HTTP requests, which
means downloading each element of a page, every time. While a few here and
there won’t cause too much disruption, you definitely don’t want to be using
them willy-nilly.

Make everything local

The closer a user is to your physical server, the quicker
webpages will load for them. So, if you’re based in London, your fellow
Londoners shouldn’t have too many complaints about speed. But what about those
poor folk in New York? You don’t want to damage that “special relationship”
with your brothers and sisters from across the Atlantic. What you need is a copy of
your page on a server in New York, Paris, the Amazon rainforest – anywhere you
have customers. The way to do this is to use a Content Delivery
Network (CDN)
.

CDNs have servers worldwide in all the right places and,
once set up, are fully automated so that your content is always local.

Some of these page speed tips are pretty easy to put into
practice (caching, compression); others, however (coding), aren’t. If you
aren’t up on some of the methods required to keep users happy, you should
probably get some help – you don’t want a twitchy fingers pandemic on your
hands.

Glean whatever you can from this article, and for everything
else, Pea Soup has got your back.

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