When it comes to building a website, a lot of thought usually goes into the design, navigation, content, and overall monetization strategy. Unfortunately, these elements tend to command focus at the expense of another all-important aspect: website speed.
A fast website delivers a powerful user experience that benefits every aspect of your business. A slow website, on the other hand, holds your website back from realizing its full potential.
The good news is that you’re in control. And though it might seem highly technical, many of the required tweaks are simple and straightforward. (As an old insurance ad campaign used to say, “It’s so easy a caveman can do it.”)
In this article, we’re going to show you some of the specific techniques you can use to speed up your site and maximize your web presence in search engines.
The Hidden Costs of Slow-Loading Websites
We live in a fast-paced culture where we expect things on-demand. Fast food, meal delivery services, on-demand content, live streaming, same-day delivery…these are what we prioritize and focus on.
A slow-loading website is not just frustrating for visitors – it’s a turnoff. People will actually hit the back button and visit another website. (And many will never return to your site again.)
A slow -loading website might seem like a minor issue, but it costs your business in more ways than one. To get better idea of the cost, let’s explore some of the data behind this issue:
- Customer experience. Roughly half of all customers (47 percent) expect a webpage to load in two seconds or less. Anything longer leads to an uptick in bounce rates.
- Revenue. For a website that makes $100,000 per day, a one-second improvement in page speed can bring in an additional $7,000 per day (or $2.55 million per year).
- SEO. Did you know that a one-second delay in page loading speed leads to an 11 percent decline in pageviews? Site speed is critical for SEO.
- Conversions. Just a one-second delay in page load time leads to a seven percent decline in conversions.
- Mobile users. Approximately 64 percent of smartphone users expect a page to load in less than four seconds. Anything longer will lead to inflated bounce rates and lower conversion rates.
- Help desk support. A slow website also leads to increased overhead costs. The higher bounce rates, customer service issues, ordering problems, and friction mean you’ll have to hire more help desk professionals to sort through these problems. This increases your expense sheet and consumes hours of time that could otherwise be allocated to more profitable areas of your business.
- Brand damage. It won’t happen overnight, but if your website is slow for months or years, it could eventually damage your brand. Whether consciously or subconsciously, people will associate your business with being slow and clunky. These obviously aren’t descriptors you want to be used in reference to your brand.
The moral of the story is simple: Slow page loading speeds are a website killer. You need a fast website to be successful.
First, run a site speed test or site scan to understand your deficiencies and then start to knock them out sequentially. Some of the page speed fixes we outline below represent the low-hanging fruit available from web hosting providers. There are dozens more that could be further dragging down your loading speed.
11 Ways to Speed Up Your Website
A fast website doesn’t happen by accident. It requires a purposeful plan that prioritizes efficiency at every level of your website.
Want to give your website a boost? Try a combination of the following:
1. Minimize All HTTP Requests
Did you know that roughly 80 percent of a website’s page load time is spent downloading the various components that make up the page (like images, scripts, fonts, etc.)? In fact, there’s a separate HTTP request for each of these elements. Thus the more on-page components you have, the longer it takes for the page to populate a visitor’s web browser.
So while we’re going to discuss plenty of strategies you can use to reduce page loading speed, minimizing HTTP requests is by far the most important step you can take. If you do nothing else, follow this section and you’ll see a noticeable difference.
Here are some suggestions:
- Use the Google Chrome Network Panel to identify how many requests your webpage requires. This helps you develop a baseline figure to measure your results against.
- Remove any images that are no longer needed on your website. (Particularly large image files that don’t serve a specific purpose.) Reduce the file size for any remaining images. For best results, each image should be less than 100KB. (If an image is in MB territory, it’s probably affecting your page loading speed.) Make sure to lazy load images on any of the WordPress sites you want to optimize.
- With each CSS file your website hosts, you’re adding to the number of HTTP/HTTPS requests. Consider combining JS and CSS files together whenever possible.
There are plenty of other steps you can take to reduce requests, but these are the logical first steps. A web developer can help you execute if you’re uncomfortable optimizing the inner workings of your WordPress website.
2. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
Looking for a simple way to speed up your website and shift some of the burden to a more reliable source? Use a content delivery network, also known as a CDN.
A CDN works by hosting files across a network of highly efficient and secure servers around the world. This allows your site to load faster and more efficiently for users all over the globe, regardless of where they’re accessing your site from. If a visitor accesses your website in Los Angeles, they’ll download files from a server on the west coast. If a visitor accesses your website from India, the files will be downloaded from a server that’s much closer to them.
By spreading bandwidth out across a variety of servers, there’s less pressure on any one server. Not only does this save up to 60 percent bandwidth and speed up your site, but it also protects against DDoS attacks and unforeseen traffic spikes.
3. Be Smart About Your Web Hosting Provider
Most people look at price when determining which website host to go with. But cost is just one element. In reality, you should be looking at the technical aspects driving the price.
The cheapest website host isn’t always the best. More expensive options tend to justify their price with better response times. In addition, cheap hosts typically use shared hosting plans on the same server, which can mean you have little control if another shared site on your plan is having their server throttled because of traffic spikes that have nothing to do with you.
Take WP Engine as an example. While we’re not in the business of recommending any specific host, it’s worth noting that their server response time hovers around 293ms (the industry average is somewhere in the 600ms to 1300ms range).
4. Enable Browser Caching or Use a Caching Plugin
For WordPress developers, one of the fastest ways to cut into web page loading speed and reduce the time it takes for web pages to be served is to install a browser caching plugin like WP Super Cache or WP Total Cache. (Another pro of using WP Engine is that they have caching built into their platform.)
If you aren’t using a WordPress site or you’d prefer not to install another plugin, you can always use something called Expires headers to tell the browser whether it should request a file from the web server or grab a version from the browser’s cache. (This only works when someone has already visited your site, but can be an efficient way of speeding up loading times for return visitors.)
5. Choose Themes Wisely
A theme does more than look good. It also impacts the functionality of your site. So choose your theme wisely. And if you’re working with a website designer or developer to get something beyond the basic default WordPress themes, your discussions should go beyond colors and layouts. Inform them that site speed is one of your top priorities. Ask them to make all design choices with page loading time as a major consideration.
6. Fix All Broken Links on Your Website
Broken links are URLs or web pages that no longer function properly. They can show up in a variety of ways, but are typically rendered as 404 “not found” errors. (Broken links can also show up as 301 “moved permanently” errors. These links technically redirect to another page, but can increase the time it takes for a user’s browser to reach the final destination.)
Thankfully it’s pretty easy to search for and find broken links and update them in your .htaccess file. The trickier aspect is knowing what to do with them. They either need to be deleted or fixed.
It’s not uncommon for large websites to have dozens or even hundreds of broken links. Fixing them can reduce bounce rates and increase the average number of pages per visit.
7. GZIP Compression
If you have unzipped text files, you’re making browsers do a lot of unnecessary work to serve your web pages. You can make things easier on them by compressing files prior to the fact.
There are numerous ways to compress files, but many swear by GZIP. All you have to do is install a free WordPress plugin (W3 Total Cache) and run through a few simple steps:
- Go to the Settings page in the w3 Total Cache interface.
- Click on Browser Cache.
- Select Enable HTTP (GZIP) compression.
That’s all you have to do. It’s as easy as 1-2-3. And according to one study, compression in this manner can reduce load time by as much as 70 percent. That’s not bad for a simple plugin and quick tweak to the settings.
8. Get Rid of Unused Plugins
We’ve discussed a few techniques that require you to install plugins, but there’s actually more value in removing unused plugins.
With every plugin you add to your site, you increase the number of requests (and the page load times). Too many plugins mean more queries, which ultimately means a clunkier website. (Not to mention higher security risks).
If you have unused plugins or bulky WordPress themes on your website, go ahead and delete them – no questions asked.
Furthermore, be critical of the plugins and plugin settings you are using. Consider the value that each provides and whether these benefits outweigh the negatives.
9. Use Proper Placement for CSS and JS
10. Minimize RTTs
The term “round trip time,” or RTT, refers to the amount of time it takes for a client to send a request to the server and for the server to respond. An RTT is impacted by numerous factors (some of which you control and others that are outside of your sphere of influence). However, it’s primarily impacted by the requests being sent.
One way to reduce your RTTs is to use CSS sprites that call fewer images. You can also combine and/or minify CSS and JS files. These might seem like small details, but they really do make a difference.
11. Streamline Your Website’s Design
Sleek, minimalistic websites are popular right now. This is good news for you. You no longer need a ton of features and hundreds of pages to impress visitors. A more focused approach that prioritizes negative space helps build trust with users.
The more you streamline your website design, the fewer HTTP requests are sent out. As we’ve already discussed extensively in this article, this results in faster load times and enhanced website performance.
Partner With Dev.co
At Dev.co, we understand the importance of website design and functionality. We don’t just build gorgeous websites. We develop sites that are sleek, efficient, and fast. This leads to unrivaled digital experiences that drive conversions and cultivate brand loyalty.
Want to learn more about how we can help you develop a website with incredible site speed that elevates your brand to the top of your industry?
Contact us today and we’ll be happy to discuss our custom website development process, including how we can drastically improve your site’s performance.