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Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

How to Check and Improve Website Load Times

 

A few years ago Google publicly announced that site speed was now a factor in their ranking algorithm. Many had suspected this to be true for years, but back in 2010 Matt cuts made the official announcement.

A fast loading site does not help you so much as a very slow site can actually hurt you. Exactly how fast your site needs to load before you start risking organic rankings and conversion losses is debatable, but generally, if you can get your average load times to less than 2 seconds you should not have much to worry about. If your site takes longer than 10 seconds to load not only is this going to negatively impact your conversions, your rankings may suffer slightly as well.

An infographic produced a few years ago by KISSmetrics, http://blog.kissmetrics.com/loading-time/ based on studies from Gomez.com and Akamai.com showed that 47% of consumers expect a page to load in 2 seconds or less and a 1 second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions. If that isn’t enough reason to speed up your site, I’m not sure what is! So where do we start to solve this problem?

How to Check Your Site Load Times

The first place to start is to find out if your site load times even require attention. There are many tools available to help you determine your actual site load speeds. Here is a breakdown of a few easy to use methods to give you an idea where you stand.

Tools.Pingdom.com
Pingdom Tools is free and incredibly easy to use. Simply enter in your domain name and click “Test Now”. Their spider will check your website and give you a rundown on which files took the longest to load. (Be sure to click on “Settings” and select the “Test from” location which is nearest to your target market).

Pingdom will show your total load time, page size, total requests, and performance grade. The Performance Grade page will give you some indication of the areas your site could benefit most from improving.

If you choose the check box “save test and make it public” it will also keep track of your test history so you can see how your performance has changed over time.

http://tools.pingdom.com

Google Analytics
If you want to get insight on how fast Google sees your site, what better way than to use data provided by Google.

If you have Google Analytics installed on your site, simply navigate to the site speed results to see how long your pages take to load for your actual visitors. This will give you a great impression of overall load times, and you can check load times for specific pages. Knowing specifically which pages are causing bottlenecks is great for troubleshooting and speeding up performance. Sometimes a sites home page will load very quickly, but then a specific page in the checkout process may be incredibly slow leading to cart abandonment. Without checking these important pages you may never know you have a problem.

To find this data, log into Analytics, click on “Behavior”, then Site Speed and Overview.

Google Page Speed Insights
While Page Speed Insights will not display actual load times, it will grade your sites performance for desktop and mobile devices. If you have a low or failing grade, Google will provide you with a number of recommendations to consider implementing to improve performance.

Yahoo YSlow
YSlow is a browser add-on created by Yahoo that works with the Firebug add-on to analyze and suggest ways to improve site performance. After installing both Firebug and YSlow, click on the “bug” icon in your task tray, and then the YSlow tab. Clicking Analyze will then bring up a number of suggestions on how to improve the page’s load times.

Tips for Improving Site Load Times

There are many different factors that can hinder a websites performance ranging from server and hosting specifications, content management systems, bloated or incorrect code, or just poor practices. It would be nearly impossible to discuss all situations here, but here are some common problems that many webmasters experience and some advice on how to correct them.

Image Compression
Proper image optimization is one of the biggest culprits causing a slow site. Often images are posted to websites with resolutions far higher than needed resulting in bloated file sizes. In most cases consider compressing images to a jpeg set at around 70%. This will drastically reduce file size. Depending on the image, you may be able to compress it even more. Play with different percentages and go with the lowest one that still maintains image integrity.

Image Scaling
If you upload high resolution images to your server, then resize them by declaring smaller dimensions you can often achieve the look you are going for – however, the file sizes are exponentially larger. Resizing images prior to posting on your site will save significant transfer times.

Image Dimensions
When image dimensions are not specified, web browsers will redraw the page once all image files are loaded. By specifying image dimensions (using the height and width tags within the <IMG> elements) you can avoid this extra rendering and save additional time.

Combine multiple CSS and JavaScript Files
For sites that use multiple CSS and JavaScript files this can cause an extra delay in loading your site. For every individual file your site needs to load, that is one extra call to the server. By combining multiple CSS files into a single file (and the same for JavaScript files) this reduces server pings and speeds up your site.

Minify CSS, JavaScript, and HTML files
Every space, every line break, every indentation in your source code adds additional unnecessary bytes of data that browsers (and search engines) need to parse. While it looks like nothing to you, this can add up significantly, and minifying these files in some cases will significantly improve load times. There are many tools and plugins that can help you minify your code. Some great examples can be found by our friends at Google. https://developers.google.com/speed/docs/insights/MinifyResources

HTTP Compression
Most web hosts automatically use some form of HTTP compression. This essentially compressions your site while sending it to the browser to reduce load times by as much as 70% without impacting quality. Check to see if your site uses compression and if it doesn’t contact your host. You can easily check for this using Microsoft’s tool.

Reduce Server Response Time
This is something that needs to be done at the hosting level, but having your site hosted on a faster server (more memory and faster CPU) with fewer websites can have a significant impact on your site load times. This is exceptionally true if your website has high traffic volume. Hosting with a dedicated IP on a dedicated server can make a big difference, but this is not always cost effective for smaller businesses.

Faster Site Means Higher ROI (Return on Investment)

The above tips barely scratch the surface when it comes to how you can improve your sites performance, but they can make a big difference. Consider running Page Speed Insights, YSlow, or another tool to find more recommendations that are specific to your site. The end results can mean a faster site, better organic rankings, and higher conversions – all of which translate to money in your pocket!

 


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