Even if there’s nothing else that I’m certain about, one thing is for sure – you’ve encountered at least one painfully slow website in your life before. If that sounds familiar to you, let me pass on some tips which I’ve acquired over the past few years that can help you speed up your website.
If you’re not sure that your website speed matters to you, then think back on those time during which you’ve also closed off a browser window while waiting for a site to load. The fact is that 53% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load.
The performance of your website matters and it plays a part in influencing your search engine rankings. For example, Google prefers fast websites and gives those higher rankings in search results.
Test Your Website Speed
There is a broad scope of tweaks you can make to your site to improve performance. Some may be as simple as toggling options, while others are more involved. Still, if you were to consider them all the process might take some time.
It is best if you take a slow, progressive approach to performance improvement instead of making all your changes at once. As with anything tech-based, there is a chance something will go wrong.
If you implement changes over time and document along with tests, it will be easier to identify any changes you made which may cause your site to become unavailable or crash. Believe me – it will eventually happen.
To get started, test how fast your site is loading first. Some recommended tools are:
WebPageTest: Collect web page performance from real browsers running common operating systems.
Pingdom: Helps analyze and find bottlenecks in a website performance.
GTmetrix: Analyze and offer actionable insights about the best way to optimize a webpage speed.
In my experience, web hosting is perhaps one of the most singularly important choices you’ll have to make when hosting a website. There are web hosts and then there are excellent web hosts. Each web host will have different features, so look out for key items such as proprietary caching technologies, solid state drives or control over critical areas such as NGINX.
I cannot stress this enough. Your choice of web host is critically important. If you’re not familiar with them, take a look at our comprehensive reviews of top web hosts to help guide you to a well-informed decision.
This isn’t something that is normally taught by most web gurus, but I’ve found it extraordinarily useful in so many ways. KISS is an acronym for “Keep it simple, stupid”. It was coined by some smart chap in the 1960s that stressed on the efficiency of simple systems.
As a rule of thumb, I find this applies to almost everything in life – even in setting up websites. By avoiding overly complex implementations and designs, you will benefit from a site that is fast and more importantly, easy to manage and maintain.
Design & Visuals
By keeping your design and visual simple, what I mean is mainly in the form of reducing overhead. A site heavy in massive, breath-taking images and stunning videos is likely to load as quickly as a sloth on a bad day. Keep it neat and tidy and try to split your video and image loading across various pages.
Code & Plugins
WordPress is such a wonderful thing because it’s highly modular and yet so simple to use. No matter what you want done, it’s likely that someone has already designed a plugin for that.
As exciting as that sounds, beware of overloading your site with plugins. Remember that each plugin is designed by different people (and probably different companies). Their purpose is to achieve a specific objective, not to streamline your site performance.
If you can, avoid plugins for things you can manage yourself. Take for example a plugin that will help you inset tables into your text. You can easily learn some basic HTML code to draw tables instead of having to use a plugin for that, right?
Some individual plugins may slow down your site significantly, so make sure you do a speed test each time you install a new plugin!
4. Leverage on Content Delivery Networks
To me, Content Delivery Networks are a gift from the gods. Companies such as Cloudflare and LimeLight Networks make a living by helping other peoples enjoy stable and fast content delivery through networks of servers located around the world.
Using a CDN will help you serve your web pages much faster and improve loading speeds no matter where in the world your visitors come from.
If you’re the owner of a small website, then Cloudflare has a free option you can use that works just fine. Corporates and larger sites will have to pay to get on a better plan, but given the befits of a CND, it’s worth the price!
5. Make Use of Caching
Caching is exactly as it sounds – storing static files so that when your visitors come along, your site can share from previously built up pages so that processing time is cut down. In most cases, what you need to be interested in is server-side caching.
The most efficient way of implementing server-side caching is through the settings in your Apache or NGINX server. You’ll need to go through those documents and find the right settings that will help you set your server caching.
The rule of thumbs is that anything that needs a lot of server support work (processing) should be cached if possible.
If it gets too weird for you, Plugins are another option but again, I don’t recommend you resort to that in this case.
6. Images Hog Bandwidth, Optimize Yours!
This is a little bit of an extension to my earlier rant against massive images and videos under the KISS principle. Given that, I do understand that visuals are key to making a site look pretty. Since we can’t totally avoid their use, let’s make sure that the images you use are as streamlined as possible,
Web content is for the most part basic, even when it comes to images. The majority of websites I’ve encountered that load like dying pigs are often dragged down by massive images that serve no real purpose.
I’m not saying you can’t have larger images, but make sure they are properly optimized before uploading them.
There are two ways you can do this. Again, the first is via a plugin like WP Smush. The alternative, or for those who aren’t using WordPress, is a third-party image optimization tool such as Image Compressor or JPEG Optimizer.
Most image optimization tools will let you finetune the resolution details on your images so that you can gradually tone it down. They’ll look pretty much the same to the untrained eye, but much smaller in size.
7. Use gzip Compression
If you’ve heard of image compression, or perhaps archiving (ZIP or RAR) then you’ll probably be familiar with the theory behind gzip compression. This compresses your website code, resulting in speed boosts of up to 300% (results vary).
Even for something as technical as this, you can go right ahead and use a plugin like PageSpeed Ninja. However, there is a much more efficient method which only involves editing your .htaccess file once.
Add the code below to your .htaccess file and you’ll be set:
* Note: Make sure that you add this code BELOW the stuff you currently have in your .htaccess file.
8. Reducing redirects
Normally, browsers accept various forms of addresses which are in turn translated into recognized official ones by your server. Take for example www.example.com and example.com. Both can go to the same site, but one requires your server to redirect it to the officially recognized address.
That redirection takes up some time and resources, so your objective is to ensure your site can be reachable through no more than one redirection. Use this redirect mapper to see if you’re doing it right.
Given the complexity of doing this right and the time involved on an ongoing basis, this is one time I’d recommend using a plugin like Redirection.
How Fast is Fast Enough?
Aside from visitor experience, your website performance also affects your visibility in search rankings. Since the king of search is Google, that’s the bar you want to be aiming for. According to them, sites should ideally load within three seconds.
Unfortunately many sites still don’t meet this benchmark. In fact, I have measured some sites that shockingly take as long as 5 or 6 minutes to load. That being said, if your site is taking anything over 7 seconds to load, that’s already far too long for Google.
Faster Websites Keep Visitors (and Google) Happy
Broadband speeds today, even on mobile, have increased by so much and will be increasing even more. That means that there is very little excuse left for website owners to have their visitors put up with slow loading sites.
Believe me, you’ll keep losing visitors and at one point, gain such a bad reputation that you’ll be known as “Oh, THAT website”. If you’re in an online business, that makes it even worse since you’ll be killing your own golden goose.
While the above 8 tips I’ve provided are by no means the be all and end all, it should give you a start and some ideas of how to manage things a little better. Speed up your website today and retain your customers or visitors.
Don’t end up as THAT website.
About Timothy Shim
Timothy Shim is a writer, editor, and tech geek. Starting his career in the field of Information Technology, he rapidly found his way into print and has since worked with International, regional and domestic media titles including ComputerWorld, PC.com, Business Today, and The Asian Banker. His expertise lies in the field of technology from both consumer as well as enterprise points of view.