Maddening, isn’t it?
You’re waiting for a slow website to load, and an eternity later …
It’s as awful as being in line at your local discount big-box store on the Saturday before Christmas.
When the site finally appears bit by painstaking bit, you’re ready to give up and leave.
Don’t be that site!
You could lose potential customers and sales (money) as people get what they need from your competitors.
You’ll also face the risk of Google “punishing” your search rankings because of sluggish performance. Page load time is an important ranking factor for search engines. A low ranking means less exposure for your content.
How fast does it need to be?
High-performing websites load in three seconds or less. They provide a good experience, so people like to visit and read them. If they’re hanging around, they’re engaged with you.
The more they interact with you, the better it is for your bottom line.
A bare-bones website with white space and text will load fast, but will likely get zero traffic. In contrast, a beautifully designed site that has large images, graphics and videos will load slowly, frustrating visitors.
The solution is to build a site that balances visual appeal, usability and performance. Here are tips on how to do that:
Tip #1: Know your audience
Who visits your site and why? What are they looking for? Tailor your design and content to their needs.
For example, a commercial printer that produces high-end marketing collateral for Fortune 500 companies would probably want an image-heavy website to show examples of its work. It’s more important for people to see the company’s capabilities than it is for the site to load at warp speed.
In contrast, a financial services firm would likely favor content over awe-inspiring imagery because people primarily want information about the firm’s services. In this case, the business would want a minimalist, fast-loading site.
Tip #2: Don’t cheap out on web hosting
Your web hosting company and the server it uses can have a significant effect on how fast your site loads.
Shared hosting, in which many sites live on one server, is the most popular option because it’s cost-effective, but tread cautiously. Mediocre web hosts that sell budget packages may host thousands of websites on an overloaded server. No matter what else you do to optimize your slow website, it can slow to a crawl with a cut-rate web host.
Make sure your host has sufficient resources, especially if you have a high-traffic website. The most expensive hosting option is to use a dedicated server, which means you don’t have to share a server with other sites. Dedicated hosting plans pave the way for fast load times.
Tip #3: Avoid bloated templates
Website templates that have many design bells and whistles may turn heads, but they can also affect load times. Large images, videos, animation and other graphic-heavy content may never reach impatient visitors’ eyes.
Predesigned templates are often bloated because they’re geared toward the greatest common denominator. If you’re going to use a template, be sure it features only what you need.
Tip #4: Minimize plug-ins
Plug-ins add features to your website, but the more you install, the more they can increase load times leading to a slow website. There’s no magic number for a maximum number of plug-ins, but a safe rule of thumb is to limit it to five or six, if possible. Use only those that are necessary and keep them up to date.
Tip #5: Optimize images
Poorly optimized images degrade page speed and frustrate visitors who are eager for your site to load. Compressing images will reduce size without compromising quality. Good WordPress solutions are the free WP Smush plug-in and the EWWW Image Optimizer.
In addition, limit slider images – even those that you’ve compressed. One slider image will need about 200 kilobytes of space, depending on pixel width and height. If you have six slider images, you’re adding nearly 1 megabyte of space-hogging assets to your site leading you down the road to a slow website. Generally, three slider images will be the right compromise between design aesthetics and performance.
How to test website speed
Free testing services provide insights into bottlenecks and suggestions for improvements in terms most people can understand. No single tool identifies every performance issue. Stick with using one tool as you make improvements so you can monitor your progress.
One caveat: Implement one recommendation at a time and test it on a page-by-page basis to be sure it’s working as expected. The solution to one problem can sometimes negatively affect other aspects of your site. If you go through each recommendation systematically, you’ll know which change caused any problems. You can then undo the change that created a conflict.
Here are three key tools:
1. Pingdom Tools
Pingdom Tools is one of the easiest options for beginners. It tracks your website’s performance history, makes data-driven recommendations on how to improve speed and generates easy-to-understand reports.
GTmetrix is also simple to use. It analyzes page load speeds and recommends solutions based on a proprietary grading system.
3. Google PageSpeed Insights
Google PageSpeed Insights measures load times and provides the steps you can take to improve performance.
The need for speed
A lightning-fast website makes a good impression and reassures visitors that your content is worth sticking around for. Provide a good experience and your business will get the attention it deserves. The sooner you can make improvements, the better for your customers and your bottom line.
Have you optimized your site? What tools helped? Let us know in the comments below.