Speeding up your site is one of the simplest ways to improve your online business and conversion rates.
Research by Microsoft, Google, Amazon and many others has consistently proved that slow loading web sites and web pages (ie: takes more than two seconds to load) costs billions of dollars in lost revenue. 1 Second Delay Costs $1.68 Billion a Year
Below are some of the things you can do right now to improve you site performance.
1: KISS (Keep It Simple Silly)
If you have a complicated looking website, you know you’re in trouble. All that complexity means your site is going to take forever to load, especially on mobile devices such as tablets and smart phones. So the first step is to simplify your design.
2: Reduce Your Page Size
The bigger your page size the slower your site will be. It’s simple. Your web page is made up of your base html code, images and any scripts and third party plugins. All of these can be managed and optimised for faster performance.
i) Compress and Resize Images
Images are usually the largest sized items on your web page. Always resize them to the actual display dimensions and compress them. Your own image editing software will have a compression setting so play with it to find the best balance between quality and size. There are also online tools, such as Smushit, that will compress images for you for free with very little loss of quality.
ii) Reduce the Number of Images
Again, a simple concept. Reducing the number of images will reduce your page size. However, you may have lots of images that you don’t know about. All those little design elements on your menus, tabs, panels and elsewhere all count. And it’s the number of them that’s a killer.
iii) Use Sprites
There is however a simple way around that, and that is to use CSS Sprites. This essentially combines all the key design images as one single image, and then uses some clever coding to pull the small piece of the image it actually needs and place it in the right place.
Essentially you are replacing several dozen design images with just one image. Apart from reducing the overall file size, it also reduces the number of calls to your server, which I’ll cover futther down.
iv) Clean and Minify Your Base Code and CSS
3: Use a Content Distribution Network
Another easy thing you can do is to use a Content Delivery Network. This simply takes your content and hosts it on thousands of locations around the world. This reduces the load on your own server and speeds up the delivery to the end user. They access your content from a server close to them rather than your own, which could be thousands or even tens of thousands of kilometres away.
Again there are a number of solutions available from $40/ month from MaxCDN to the premium offerings of Akamai. Even Amazon offers a CDN service so there is really no excuse not to use one.
4: Reduce the Number of Elements on Your Page
Everything you put on your page is something that your user’s browser has to request from your server. Unfortunately they can only make two requests at a time, and they have to wait for each request to finish before the next pair can begin. As most websites now have over 100 elements, this can take some time. Plus, if there is any problem getting any one of the elements, it can greatly slow the page performance even further.
Therefore reducing the number of elements on your page can greatly improve your website’s performance. Images can be combined into sprites, style sheets can be combined into one and scripts can also be combined into one file.
Anything you can do to reduce the number of elements on your page will give you substantial speed improvement.
5: Pay for a Good Hosting Provider
While there are numerous hosting providers out there who will offer you $4 a month hosting, in the end you get what you pay for. Professional hosting doesn’t cost that much more, and if your website generates substantial business, then it is a small cost to pay for performance and reliability.
6: Use A Good CMS/Ecommerce/Blogging Program
Related to the above, there are an abundance of economical content mamangment, blogging and shopping cart solutions available, however not all perform the same.
Make sure you choose one that can deliver under pressure. Many of the more popular solutions are known to have performance issues, so speak to your web developer or an independent consultant before committing to anything.
The recent Click Frenzy problems could all have been avoided if they'd used a decent platform and hosting provider. Other Australian retailers are unfortunately using similar inferior platforms as Click Frenzy. Click here to read a technical perspective of how to avoid a Click Frenzy type failure.
7: Avoid Third Party Plugins and Scripts
These days there is an abundance of third party plugins, scripts, apps and tools that you can add to your website to give it extra functionality. EG: Social sharing buttons, web forms, hello bars, commenting options, analytics scripts, advertising tags etc etc.
Unfortunately all of these add-ons will slow your site down. Some of them add enormous amounts of code to your site, and of course they have to call their content form a third party site, which means you’re relying on somebody else’s infrastructure and programs.
If you can, avoid using them completely and have your developer write your own solution.
8: Use a Tag Manager
Use of some third party scripts may be unavoidable, after all analytics is critically important. To overcome the problems with third party scripts there are now a range of Tag management tools you can use. These range in price from premium options to Google’s free Tag manager.
Again, even the premium options aren’t that expensive for any medium sized business
9: Add an Expires or a Cache-Control Header
This is another simple thing you can do to increase your site speed. To be honest this should have been done when your web developer built your site, but often it gets overlooked.
In layman’s terms any elements and content on your web site that doesn’t change very often can be set to be stored on other servers and even in your users’ browser.
That way when they revisit the site they are retrieving much of the static information from their own PC rather than calling it from your server.
Ask your web developer about this. Again it should be simple to do.
10: Make Your Site Accessible and W3C Compliant
If your site works the way it’s supposed to, it will perform better: Another simple concept.
There are all sorts of reasons for making your website comply with industry standards and the law, but the over-riding one is that it will get you more business because the maximum number of people will be able to find and use your site.
11: Use Gzip
This simply compresses (reduces the file size) the information being sent from your server to your users browser. Smaller file sizes equals faster load times. It’s easy to set up and should only take your developer 5-10 minutes.
12: Use the Free Tools
There are numerous free tools available to help you measure the speed of your site. The most obvious ones are Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools. Both provide information on how fast (or slow) your site is.
Google Analytics allows you to view results page by page so you can easily identify any problem pages.
There are also many free Web Developer Toolbars available for most browsers (Firefox, Explorer and Chrome) which allow you to see exactly what’s going on with your pages and identify any problem areas.
Conclusion – Speed Equals Money
This is not a definitive list and I have glossed over some of the technical details in order to give you a beginner’s guide to what you can do to speed up your site.
There is a lot more that can be done, and if your website generates reasonable business either in revenue or leads, then continually working on increasing your site’s speed is a legitimate and profitable marketing tactic.
In fact, it’s probably much more effective than spending money on online advertising.
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