Patience is a Virtue … But Not When it comes to Slow Loading Websites!
Page speed or page loading time is important for two primary reasons:
- User Experience
- Google’s Algorithm
The most important reason for a fast-loading website: user experience. With increasingly fast Internet speeds, users are not willing stick around for slow loading websites.
In fact, according to Google, 53% of mobile site visits are abandoned if the page takes longer than 3 seconds to load.
Even if users will deal with your slow loading website, Google announced in 2010 that site speed is a signal in their ranking algorithm.
Additionally, when your website has a high response-time for requests made to the site, it severely limits the number of URLs Google will crawl and index from your website. Disrupting the crawling ability therefore disrupts the ranking ability.
How to Improve Page Speed
We can all agree page speed is important; so how do you improve it?
First, it’s helpful to understand a few definitions.
Page Speed Definitions
- Page Speed or Page Load Time: The time it takes to fully display all content on a webpage.
- Time to First Byte (TTFB): The time it takes for the browser to receive the first byte of information from the web server.
- Start Render Time: The time it takes for something to visually appear on the screen for the user. The moment it goes from a blank screen to display a logo, text, colored background, etc.
When analyzing page speed, it is helpful to look at these scores or load times separately in order to see the full picture. Next, you will want to analyze the page speed.
How to Check Page Speed
One of the most well-known page speed tools is Google’s PageSpeed Insights. Many people use this tool to get an idea of the page speed “score” for their website. Many times they also get a shock value when seeing their scores.
It’s not common to see a perfect 100/100. In fact, some of Google’s own websites do not get a 100/100 score.
But wait, when you go to https://webmasters.googleblog.com/, it loads pretty quickly!
Here are a few important considerations when using the PageSpeed Insights tool:
- It is only measuring the homepage (or page entered in the tool), not the entire website.
- It is not measuring the true page load or start render time, but rather scoring the site on best practices.
- Oftentimes it is unavoidable to follow the recommendations to improve the score without severely impacting the functionality of the website. Certain elements just need to be there.
- It takes web development experience to read the results and understand what can and cannot be realistically improved upon.
Ultimately, the Google PageSpeed Insights tool does not measure speed in its true sense. Rather, it serves as a guide to give ideas on items detected that play a role in the page speed of the site. It helps you explore whether those items can be improved upon or whether they simply need to be there for the site to function.
So, how should you check page speed?
There are several helpful tools online to see the breakdown of the Page Load Time, Time to First Byte, and Start Render Time. A few favorites include: WebPagetest and Pingdom.
If you are non-technical when comes to reading the results, we recommend asking your web developer to check the page speed and outline specific action items that can be addressed to improve the speed if there is a concern.
Once understanding the culprits, you can then begin to optimize the page speed.
5 Common Ways to Improve Page Speed
1. Optimize Images
One of the biggest culprits for a slow loading website: HUGE images on the homepage. Any time an image is added to a website, it should be compressed (or resized). The image should never be larger than it needs to be in terms of file size or dimensions. Many times, you can compress an image by upwards of 200% and it will still look exactly the same in terms of dimensions and image quality.
Tips: Use ‘Save for Web’ in Photoshop, use JPGS for photographs, and GIFS for images with large blocks of flat color.
Note: Some websites have built-in image compression; others do not. If you are not sure, ask your web developer to check and/or assist you in compressing images before uploading to the website.
2. Minimize HTTP Requests
A large portion of the page load time is spent downloading the various elements on the page, for example: stylesheets, Flash, scripts, images, etc. The more on-page elements on the site, the longer it will take for the page to render. Eliminate unnecessary HTTP requests by reducing the number of elements on the page, using CSS instead of images, combining style sheets, and reducing scripts in the header.
Note: This item is best left for your web developer. As previously mentioned, often is it unfeasible to remove certain elements, or improving page speed via this method is inefficient due to the age of the website.
3. Enable Browser Caching
The first time you visit a web page, your browser has to request all of the elements: text, images, scripts, etc. from the server. When you enable browser caching, it stores those elements in the cache, so that when you visit other pages on the site or return, you only need to download the new elements on that page. Many times, enabling browser caching can be very helpful to improve page loading.
4. Use a CDN
A content delivery network (CDN) is a way to improve server response time for image-heavy websites. It uses a network of servers distributed across many locations to help deliver the content more efficiently based on proximity. Ask your hosting provider or web developer for a recommendation on a CDN provider.
5. Improve Server Response Time
“Server response time measures how long it takes to load the necessary HTML to begin rendering the page from your server, subtracting out the network latency between Google and your server.” Google recommends reducing your server response time to under 200ms. If you’re over that response time, we recommend consulting with your hosting provider to improve.
Ultimately, there are many additional factors that play into the page speed equation. Each website is a case-by-case basis depending on the type of website, age of website, size of the site, and more.
To truly understand and improve upon page speed, it is crucial to dedicate a reasonable amount of time and qualified resources to troubleshoot and provide a feasible solution.
Does your website take more than a few seconds to load visually?
If so, it is worthwhile to explore options to improve!