With smartphones becoming more like a 5th limb, content has never been more accessible, with information literally at the tip of your fingers.
Search engines like Google, and social media networks like Twitter and Facebook give us access to all the information we could dream of, whilst Google Earth and Apple Maps allow us to go anywhere in the world, wherever we are, as long as we have a connection to the web.
However, we live in a time where people are increasingly impatient. Users don’t want to have to wait any length of time for their content to arrive, and any delay can result in users completely giving up on your website.
On average, a new user to your site will spend 10-20 seconds browsing, of which the load times are included in that time frame. So every millisecond being wasted on load times, is time being taken away from your ability to capture this first time user as a regular visitor. Yahoo estimate that as little as 400ms increase in load time can result in a drop of traffic between 5-9%. It goes without saying that by losing traffic due to an avoidable issue, is going to cost you a lot of money in the long run.
It should be stated at this point, that the load times can be measured based on a decent broadband connection. If someone is on a dial-up connection, there isn’t really a huge amount you can do to improve their experience, and it can be considered unreasonable to dumb down the user experience to cater for anomalies.
Now would be a good time for you to test the general loading speed of your own website. It should be noted that in order for you to conduct a true test, you should clear any browser cache, so that you are essentially experiencing the same as a new user to your site. Try doing this on both a desktop machine connected to wifi, and a mobile device connected to a mobile network. Now ask yourself whether both experiences were acceptable?
Ways to speed up your website
Speeding up your website can come in many costs and sizes. The best place to start is the fundamentals, ensuring that the basic things that could be done, are done. It still amazes me the number of client websites that I come across that have absolutely no optimisation whatsoever, so even the simplest of things will all add up to make an overall difference. I’ll look at a few aspects of your site and how they can be improved:
Content should always be the first thing created for a site, before any designs are put in place (as my previous blog discusses). So by that reckoning, you should never be changing your content for optimisation purposes. It is the job of your web developer to make what you provide, work.
The content will really be broken down into text and media. Raw text will add very little time onto the loading of a page, so the difference between 5 paragraphs and 50 paragraphs are relatively minimal. The only time this wouldn’t apply, is if the text is made up of a lot of server side queries, where the code itself is pulling through content from a database somewhere.
Media on the other hand will add to load times. It’s therefore important that every image is optimised and no bigger than they need to be. Using a CMS like WordPress, you can create multiple sizes of a single image, so that for example, you can have a thumbnail in your blog that is a small file size, that when clicked will bring up the full size image. The full size image is only loaded when clicked and it’s one of the few exceptions where a user is aware that they may need to wait a bit of time for the file to download. This is a far better practice than loading in massive file sized media, and then scaling it down to a small size. Images are great for engagement though, so you shouldn’t be afraid to use them, and it shouldn’t be an issue if your site is built properly.
Videos are another great form of engagement but always let the user decide if they want to play them or not. If you’re embedding something from Youtube or Vimeo, don’t set them to autoplay as it’s just another resource that’s being used up while the user tries to navigate around your site. Not to mention, it can be horrible frustrating when you’re on a website trying to figure out where the audio is coming from!
It may seem like pointing out the obvious, but having the right hosting for your site can make a huge difference. If the site is planned out correctly from the beginning, you should have an idea of web traffic and the amount of queries your site will be sending between the host and any databases. As previously mentioned, database queries can potentially be a huge load on any sever, so ensure that your hosting is capable of handling these. In particular, if you have a search functionality on your site, you may need to look at a more expensive hosting package to make sure that your user is receiving results in an appropriate amount of time.
A dedicated server will always yield the best results (albeit the most expensive option), as you won’t be sharing any resources with other websites. There are usually various options in-between a shared and dedicated option, so it’s really the case of getting the best balance to suit your website.
What is web caching? It’s a mechanism for the temporary storage of web documents to increase performance. Almost all modern web browsers perform this by downloading temporary documents to your local machine, so that when you access a site again, it loads quicker.
Caching is a very general term, as this is an incredibly in-depth element of web optimisation that has any arms and legs related to improving your site. You can specify the levels of caching, by ensuring that elements that seldom change are cached, but regularly changing content isn’t. This ensures that a user is always seeing the latest content, as a blanket distribution of caching could save some old content for a user, which is ultimately a very poor experience.
I would strongly recommend consulting an expert regarding caching for your website, as doing this incorrectly could have disastrous consequences.
Compression is another simple way to improve your site performance. Really, it’s no different to taking a folder of files on your computer and creating a .zip file to reduce the file size, which you can then send to another person for them to unzip. Essentially compression for your site works in the same way, where the files are zipped on the host, send over the internet to your browser, which then decompresses them and displays them on your screen. By doing the decompression locally, speeds are considerably improved.
Content Distribution Networks
Any user that accesses a website is having to connect their machine to another machine somewhere in the world that has the website sitting on it. Using that theory, if you’re in the UK and the site your visting is hosted in the USA, then based purely on geographical distance, the site will take a bit of time to cross the Atlantic and then onto your screen. A CDN alleviates this problem.
A CDN works by distributing a copy of your site to servers throughout the world, so that when people are accessing your content, they’re going to the closest server to them. A CDN is a more costly method than some of the above mentioned, as in most cases you would require a subscription with someone like Amazon, Cloudflare or MaxCDN to distribute your site. A setup like this would be more appropriate for a global company, who will undoubtedly have users accessing their site from multiple continents.
When creating a site, people put a lot of emphasis on the design and content. This is ultimately fruitless though if people aren’t seeing your site. If you knew there was a way you could increase the number of visitors by between 5-9%, then you would jump at it. Optimisation can do that. When you also consider Google are putting a stronger emphasis on performance when related to google rankings, so optimising your site could also see you climb a place or two ahead of your competitors. If you wish to discuss your existing site and how it could be improved, please get in touch.