Since about 2008 – 2009, site speed has been an increasingly important issue. In 2010, Google stopped all the questions with a single post, Using site speed in web ranking. Does Google use site speed as a ranking factor? The answer is most assuredly.
Site speed isn’t just about the search engines, though. Surveys, polls and user studies have consistently showed a lack of sympathy for slow-loading sites. In 2009, a 2-second load for an e-commerce site was too long. The citing New York Times article, For Impatient Web Users, an Eye Blink Is Just Too Long to Wait, stated that even an eye blink was too long – and that was just three years later. Imagine what it is now?
In a world of instant gratification and 5 millisecond load, how does your site measure up?
This is a problem near and dear to my heart. We recently switched to a new server because our previous server as extremely slow. It took us awhile to pinpoint the biggest issue, however, and we found a few more along the way. -Which just goes to show you that even the experts have problems.
The Need for Speed: What’s Slowing Down Your Site?
First, understand that there’s a difference between page speed and site speed. You can have a fast website and a slow page. While there are programs that test your entire site and give you the page load information, online tests only look at the URL you put in. If you test example.com, they aren’t going to look at example.com/how-fast-is-my-website.
So how do you find out if that slow page is a website thing or a page thing?
Google Analytics: Your analytics has a site speed section. While it only shows a sampling of your pages, it can tell you whether you have an overall speed problem or something specific to a page, browser, country, etc.
Google Search Console: Your search console, formerly Webmaster Tools, also gives you information through a handy chart that shows you the time it took to download a page in milliseconds. Why should you check both Google Search Console and Google Analytics? Because GSC will show you if there are patterns; patterns, in turn, can help you diagnose speed problems.
Speed Testing Sites: There are a number of sites online that allow you to test your web pages. Google’s PageSpeed Insights is one of them. However, remember that they only test one page at a time, so make sure to do several tests.
Speed testing sites include:
- PageSpeed Insights
- Pingdom Tools
- DotCom Tools – DotCom Tools allows you to check in several locations around the world at once.
Finding the Bottlenecks in Your Site Performance
There’s one simple test you can do to see if you need to switch servers or upgrade your hosting plans. Run Google Page Speed Insights on several pages and look for one line: Reduce server response time. If you consistently see this report under “consider fixing, “ you need to look at a faster server or hosting package.
But what if the bottleneck isn’t something so straightforward? Here are some common issues you might uncover:
Images need optimizing.
The subject of image optimization could be at least a small blog post itself, simply because there’s more to a completely optimized image than speed. However, we’ll stick with speed related tips
- When saving an image to go on your site, save it at the lowest quality you can without degrading the way it looks. For example, a lot of client graphics come to us in 300 dpi, which is excellent for printing, but can make a huge file to load on a page. While there are exceptions to this rule, they are rare.
- When uploading an image, don’t upload upload a bigger size than you need. We often go to WordPress sites and see images uploaded at 3000×2000, for example. Again, there are very few reasons for images to be that big on your site unless you’re selling desktop backgrounds, perhaps, or plan on letting people print those images.
- Save your images as jpg, unless png provides a smaller file size or you need part of the image to be transparent . Experience has taught us that jpg is generally the smallest file size, but it doesn’t hurt to check.
Bulky Code Issues
Over time, your site builds up excess dirt in the form of broken pages, orphaned pages (nothing links to them, no one visits them, and you’ve forgotten them) and lost or bulky code. For example, your webmaster might have changed something, not knowing whether they were going to keep the change or not. They may comment out the old code, which allows the code to stay without it affecting the site. Later, they forget to remove the commented code, or leave it there for future reference.
The files that go together to build your web page can also become filled with large white spaces, which can slow down the render (build) of the page. The fix for this is often simple, but can cause momentary problems with your site. You can choose to hire an site optimization expert, or attempt to reduce the file sizes yourself. However, if you choose to clean your own website files up, we strongly encourage you to keep back ups.
Compress Your Files
Fortunately, there’s a quick fix for this. It’s called a number of things, HTTP compression, browser compression, or gzip compression, but they all do the same thing. Gzip compression reduces the size of the files needed to render the page, which reduces the overall load time.
There are several ways to enable gzip compression, but most do take a little knowledge. Plenty of articles will tell you how to do it, but you may want to talk to a professional if you aren’t comfortable with code and need to keep your site running.
You may often see “leverage browser caching” during your speed tests. While it sounds complicated, this simply means “keep the stuff you’ve already downloaded.”
It actually takes quite a lot to build a page – a lot of traffic black and forth between the server and the browser. Sometimes the browser downloads the same piece of the page severe times before the page finishes building.
If browser caching is set up, the browser goes.to the server. It says, “I need that file again.” the server say, “use the one you had before.” the browser does, which means that one less download happens. The more files the browser holds on to, the faster it can build the page.
There are several little things you can do to speed your site up. Many are page specific; Google PageSpeed is good for that. However, the four tips above deal with some of the top reasons why a site may be crawling at a snail’s pace.
You need a fast site. The competitive nature of the Internet, as well as the impatient nature of humankind, demands it. You can’t ignore something that could possible jump your site forward.
For you DIYers, there is lent of information available on how to do the tips above. For those of you that aren’t code savvy and would rather look to the professionals, give us a call. We’ll get your site racing in no time.