How To Lose Wait On Your Website By Increasing Page Load Speeds

by  and originally posted on Search Engine Land

Almost three years ago, Google announced that it had begun factoring site speed into their ranking algorithm. Since then, SEOs have debated how significant an effect page speed has on actual search engine rankings. While Google may be using it as a signal, it’s clearly not an overwhelming signal.

Still, regardless of the algorithmic weight page speed has on rankings, we do know that it has a significant impact on site conversions. Every second visitors have to wait for a page to load is a proven loss in sales!

In a recent post titled, Why You Won’t Crush It This Year, Bryan Eisenberg wrote: ”It seems clear that trying to increase sales by driving more traffic to a site with a terrible customer conversion rate is like trying to keep a leaky bucket (your sales funnel) full by adding more water instead of plugging the holes.” It’s a good point, and one that I’ve made more than once before.

Bottom line: optimizing your website for rankings is great, optimizing your website for conversions is better, and optimizing for rankings, traffic and conversions is best! I wish all our clients realized this.

Let’s get back to the topic at hand — losing wait. Below, I’ve outlined a few tips and strategies you can use to increase your page load speeds and decrease the wait your visitors have when navigating from page to page on your site. I’m just a SEO – not a programmer, developer or designer – so forgive my lack of technical expertise in this post.  However, I hope to provide some good (if incomplete) tips on what you can do to make your site run faster.

Get Yourself A Fast Web Server

It all starts here. If your web server is slow, your site will be slow. It doesn’t matter how much you try to speed things up — you’re being blocked by the powers above.

The more traffic your site receives, the greater the need for increased server bandwidth to your site. This is especially true if you have peak seasons or sales where a sudden rush of traffic might end up taking you offline. When you don’t have enough bandwidth for your rush loads, your visitors experience slowdowns, hangups or even an inability to access your site at all. Be sure your allowable bandwidth increases with your traffic rates, allowing enough room for any sudden spikes that may occur.

Talk to your Web host about moving to a faster server or even getting a dedicated server. If you have to, find a new Web hosting company that can meet your requirements. A faster server will definitely cost you more, but then again, being on a slow server is already costing you a great deal.

Streamline Your Code

Most developers will tell you, should you ask, that there are many ways to code Web elements to get the same result. Websites can use “good” or “bad” code and still look the same to the average visitor. However, the performance differences between efficient vs. inefficient coding can be incredible.

Ensuring your website uses clean, minimalist code is a great way to reduce page file size and, therefore, load speed for each page. Many content management systems use bloated code that makes managing a site easy, but doesn’t do you any favors when it comes to code streamlining. And, the more added features or tools you add to your site, the more potential you have at bloating your own code.

Keeping your site code clean and tidy can go a long way toward improving your site’s speed and performance. I offer some specific tasks below that you can do along these lines.

Optimize Your Images

Code is relatively quick to download, provided it’s not overly bloated. Images, on the other hand, are much larger and take more time to load in the browser. Image-heavy sites are some of the slowest loading sites there are, so it’s a good idea to use images only as needed or appropriate.

When using images, be sure to use the correct format for the image type. Different image file types (.gif, .jpg, .png) have different purposes depending on if you are displaying a photo, a graphic, an image with few colors, or an image consisting of many colors. Using the right file type for the right kind of image allows the image to be created in the most optimized format possible, using the lowest amount of megabytes.

You also don’t want to scale images using HTML. If your image displays at 325×550 pixels, then create an image that is exactly 325×550 — no bigger and no smaller. Don’t use a 650×1000 pixel image and display it at 325×500. That forces the full, large image to be downloaded before it can be displayed when a smaller image would load much faster and achieve the same effect.

Move CSS & JavaScript Off The Page To External Files

Using CSS (cascading style sheets) is much more common today than even just a few years ago. Initially, your styling elements were written in HTML and had to be coded in for every styled element on a page. CSS allows you to code all similar elements with a single batch of code, streamlining your HTML significantly.

However, CSS (along with all JavaScript code) should be moved out of the HTML and placed in one or more separate documents. This allows all CSS and JavaScript code to be downloaded a single time and applied to every page of the site, rather than having to duplicate that same code on each and every page.

While there are reasons to keep some CSS and JavaScript on the page, moving it off the page whenever possible makes the most sense when trying to streamline your code and reduce bloat across the board.

It’s also a good idea to place CSS at the top of your code and JavaScript at the bottom.

Image courtesy Shutterstock

Image via Shutterstock

Use “Include” Files For Duplicate Sections Of Content

Both CSS and include files can significantly help reduce wait times. On top of that, they also speed up the amount of time invested in making site edits. The time spent developing a CSS-based website with include files alone is worth the time saved on the development end later on. Heck, losing wait isn’t just about your visitors, it’s about using your own time more productively!

Implement CSS Sprites

When you use multiple images together, you can use CSS sprites to combine them into a single image download. By reducing the number of downloads, you reduce the strain on the server and make the downloading process much quicker.

Use Page Speed Optimizer

Google offers a PageSpeed Insights tool that will give you suggestions on things you can do to increase your page speed. Many of the suggestions will cover things mentioned above, plus a whole lot more I haven’t touched on. It’s a good resource if you have a developer who can work on these issues for you.

I’ve offered only a few ways you can increase page speed, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. It should be enough to get you started, though. Depending on how slow your site currently runs, it’s entirely possible that you may see a rankings boosts once you begin curing the slow disease. But even if you don’t, losing wait means increasing conversions, which is always good for the bottom line.

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