In this post we want to share with you some thoughts on why website speed should be on your mind. We try to make the case for why a busy person like you should make time and then give you some easy to implement pointers on how you yourself can start to improve things.
Why should you bother?
You’ve got a lot of things to do, and it’s quite understandable that the speed of your website is not the highest priority on your long to-do list. It looks fine, loads okay (eventually) and you’re getting enquiries through it. So why the fuss?
Even if your site is a success, a slow website will not be reaching the potential that it has compared to one that has been optimised for speed. In order to understand why, you need to acknowledge that as well as being a website owner you are also a user of websites and that your customers will have the same expectations as you.
Different devices and platforms
It’s a fair bet that you will have grumbled more than a few times about a website you’re trying to access not loading fast enough. If you’re anything like me then it’s always when you’re in a rush, right? Sometimes websites don’t load at all and sometimes – the worst of all worlds – the content jumps around the screen while it is loading. All symptoms of a badly optimised website.
Having that experience on your office PC or your laptop at home on wi-fi is bad enough but spare a thought for the person on a weak mobile phone signal trying to get your contact details. Their experience will be significantly more painful.
If that’s the experience when viewing your own website then you’d want to improve it, right? Of course. Now’s your chance.
Why else is it important?
If the experience of your customer or prospect isn’t enough to spur you into action (but I believe it should be) then keep in mind that Google uses site speed as a positive ranking signal. This means that, generally speaking, if your website is fast then it will appear higher in the search engine results than other websites.
To help you, Google provide a nice easy to use portal where you can enter your existing website and see what recommendations they make. It only takes a minute – and I mean that literally – and can provide you with some good pointers on what to improve, along with how to do it.
It didn’t take us long to plunge into jargon did it? But don’t be put off: This little acronym stands for Time To First Byte and is important for your website’s response time. There are a number of reasons for this and some research based on your hosting setup is probably required. Don’t get TTFB confused with page load time, which we mention a little further down the page.
If you take the time to run the Google speed test you’ll notice that they split the results that they give you between mobile and desktop browsers. This is an acceptance of the fact that more and more searches and website views take place on mobile devices rather than desktop based machines.
As such, your browser needs to respond well on both platforms. While it’s possible – although not desirable – to have a seperate website for each, it’s better to filter or limit the content served to a mobile device. Where you might serve higher resolution images to a desktop, for example, and a small image – if any at all – to mobile.
This is a problem you can throw at your website designer but if you want to investigate it yourself start by looking at your website stylesheets and ensure that they are responsive to the platform screen size that the content is being presented on.
While we’re passing, a quick word on images: Make sure that they are optimised too. This means getting the correct format and ensuring that format is both sized and compressed as appropriate. There really is no point trying to load a 7MB TIFF file on your home page when you can get equally good results with a 200KB JPG file.
Overall page download size
It was quite an eye-opener when various news sources including Wired reported in 2016 that the average website is now larger in terms of data than some games. As connection speed have increased and the amount of expected interaction and graphical content in a page has increased so too has the amount of content a user needs to download.
The overall page download time is hugely important and can be the difference between a pleasant visit by one of your site users or a nightmare of waiting and refreshing, followed by the inevitable visit to a different website.
It’s worth having a passing understanding of what caching is so you can use it to full advantage on your own site. Put simply, the caching allows files previously downloaded by the website visitor from your website to be re-used without the need for them to be downloaded again.
If I visit your website and there is an image that takes a while to load then – inconvenient though that is – it won’t take as long next time I visit. The key to harnessing this in your site is to ensure image names remain constant and you reuse the same content throughout the site wherever possible.
You should not rely on caching to offset slow page load times for the first visitor, however.
Services that optimise your website speed
If all this sounds like a bit of a headache then you’ll be pleased to know that there are some services available that may be able to ease the pain.
Cloudflare is a great service that sits between your web server and the internet. It speeds up the delivery of your site as well as a host of other things like preventing attacks and providing a secure interface.
Commercial services such as WPFaster provide services that target users with WordPress platforms and want them to be optimised. If you are using a framework of another type (Joomla, Drupal) then there’s commercial services based around optimisation for that too.
Lastly of course you can always engage a designer or developer to take a look at your site and make the necessary changes. Make sure that they are familiar with the framework you are running and have a focus on increasing website speed. It’s also useful if they understand the server environment in which it’s running.
If you are going to bother having a website that you see as part of your marketing mix then these are the kinds of issues that you need to be aware of. Make sure that you monitor the important metrics and keep an eye to them as your website evolves over time,