Speed Up Your Website

Website development

12 Ways to Speed Up Your Website

Learning how to speed up your website is a skill any website operator has to know.

Why? Because unlike the real world, fast speed doesn’t kill.

In fact, slow speed does.

A slow loading speed influences everything from traffic to bounce rate to conversions, user satisfaction. When these metrics starts going through the roof, it’s going to kill your business.

A slow loading speed influences everything from traffic to bounce rate to conversions, user satisfaction. When these metrics starts going through the roof, it’s going to kill your business.

Without regular optimisation, any website becomes slower eventually. Sites accumulate data, gets more pages, becomes more complicated and thus starts slowing down.

This is quite normal, but there are measures you can take to prevent your site from slowing down to a crawl.

We are going to talk about why page loading speed matters, which factors influence the speed of your website and how to know if you’re too slow.

After that, you learn the best ways to boost your site’s speed, which includes basic tweaks as well as advanced strategies that anyone can perform.

Why Site Speed Matters?

It may feel like a difference of a couple of seconds, but to the average web user, it feels like a long time. There are 2 big reasons why your site should be running at full speed.

Internet Users are Extremely Impatient

Web users nowadays just don’t have the time or the attention to stick around to wait for slow websites to load.

And these are just some of the statistics that prove such user behaviour:

  • The average human attention span has fallen by 50% from 12 to 8 seconds from 200 to 2016.
  • 47% of web consumers want a web page to load in 2 seconds or less
  • 40% leave a website that takes 3 seconds or more to load
  • Nearly 80% of shoppers who are unhappy with a website’s performance are unlikely to return
  • A single second of delay cuts conversions by 7%, page views by 11% and customer satisfaction by 16%

Although this doesn’t look like a big difference on paper, the results can be tremendous. When Mozilla shaved 2 seconds off their page loading speed, their browser saw a whopping 60 million more downloads every year.

In another example, Amazon estimated that a single second of slowdown on their homepage would cost them $1.6 billion in yearly sales.

Yes, not everyone operates an online business the size of Amazon, but the message is clear – Every second counts when it comes to web visitor conversion and retention.

Google Loves Fast Websites

Google rewards websites that are fast with a higher rank on their search results. Their primary aim is to serve users the best search results possible.

When your website loads quickly, it signals to Google that you are providing a good user experience for visitors.

On the other hand, a slow-loading website increases your bounce rate. Bounce rate refers to the percentage of visitors who leave immediately after landing on it.

Most of the time, bounce happens when web users don’t have the patience to wait for a slow website to finish loading.

When that happens, Google actually downvotes your website since it considers this user behaviour as a sign of low quality.

The problem is more widespread with mobile traffic, whereby users tend to have slower Internet connections than desktop computers.

In addition, Google has gone on record and say that for their mobile website indexing, page loading speed is a ranking factor.

Considering the fact that most web users nowadays are on their phone than at their desks, you need to make sure your website moves fasts for mobile device users.

How to Test Site Speed

The problem with website speed is that it can be difficult for you to determine, especially when you are the administrator.

Just because it runs fast on your computer, it works the same way for everybody else.

The chief reason why your website loads quickly for you is that you spend a lot of time on it and your browser has already stored all the images and elements in the cache.

But for other users, their experience will vary, especially when every user is in different locations, with various devices and different network bandwidth.

Therefore, it is crucial that you gather objective measures on your website speed.

There are a couple of website loading speed measuring tools such as GTmetrix and Pingdom. For Pingdom, you can even choose the location of the server to test your site with.

How Fast Should Your Website Run?

How fast should you aim for?

The short answer: under 2 seconds.

To realise how we derive this number, we need to look back at what we’ve discussed earlier regarding consumer expectations.

Additionally, according to Pingdom, if your site loads within 1.7 seconds, it is already faster than 75% of most sites on the internet.

Staying in the top 25% is a great way to get noticed.

That’s why 2 seconds is a great goal to aim for. After all, the faster, the better. And no one is going to complain that your site loads too fast.

Now let’s look at how we are going to get closer to 2 seconds.

Ways to Speed up Your Website

  1. Invest in Quality Hosting

One of the most straightforward ways to increase site performance is to find a server that is fast enough to host your website.

While there’s no shortage of cheap offers out there, bear in mind that hosting is one of those things where you get what you pay for.

The web host that you choose usually has the most significant impact on your overall speed. This means it’s not the right place to cut savings.

Here are a few quick tips to help you choose. First, stay away from shared hosting if you can afford to. A private server eliminates the risk of having to share with bad neighbours who can slow down your site.

Unless you own an extensive website and have the coin to spend, you shouldn’t need anything more expensive than a dedicated server.

Therefore, a VPS is probably your best option as it provides a great balance of speed and cost.

If you’re using Wordpress for your website, another option would be to go for managed WordPress hosting.

This is a service that is gaining traction in the last few years, where the company hosts your site on a server that is specifically optimised for WordPress.

Not only they are affordable, but you also won’t have to take care of any of the technical stuff of running a website either.

  1. Keep Your Backend Updated

Having updated versions of HTML, Wordpress, PHP and other web technologies is also another easy win to improve your site speed.

These updates contain improvements, new features and often these tweaks help to improve speed. For that reason, it’s essential to stay updated.

While a reputable web host will do the updating for you, you should also check that everything is updated too.

Whenever you log into your hosting backend, make sure to look for PHP configuration or a similar menu item. Under this option, you can usually control which version of PHP you are using.

Also, take note that some of the older versions of WordPress have compatibility issues with newer scripts, for example, the latest version of PHP.

It’s crucial to note that when you are doing any backend changes, such as updating, make sure you have a way to roll back to the previous version in case anything goes wrong.

Depending on the type of CMS (content management system) that are using, updates bring along new features, bugfixes and more.

They make your website operate more smoothly and prevent things from slowing down too severely.

There’s also a security issue involved if you fail to keep things up to date. When your website is hijacked by malicious hackers, it will bring your site to a crawl.

When you have the latest version of your themes and plugins installed, you are making sure that all known vulnerability loopholes are plugged.

  1. Use a Lightweight Theme

The choice of website theme can be the decisive factor for your site speed.

That’s because some themes out there are highly unoptimised for speed and are bloated with unnecessary features.

All these bloat plays a part in slowing down your website. And or that reason, try to find a theme that has just what you need and nothing more.

Or better yet, get a barebones theme and add functionality via individual plugins. That way you can keep your website lean and light, shortening your loading time.

  1. Perform Regular Database Maintenance

Your database gets bogged down as time goes by. Over time, it accumulates temporary disk space and unused data from uninstalled plugins, post revisions, and other useless junk.

Perform regular database maintenance to keep your database lightweight.

There are many tools available which can help you achieve this. If you are using Wordpress, you can try using  WP-Optimize or WP-Sweep.  

Also, while you are at it, you should reduce the number of your post revisions.

  1. Enable Site Monitoring

Sometimes, you need to find out where the problem is before you can take any corrective action. This is also true for website speed.

We’ve already looked at how to measure your site speed. To collect even more data on your site performance, you can go another step further an implement Google Analytics on your site.

Leave it on for a few days and check back on your dashboard. If you notice specific pages are taking too long to load, it’s time to fix them (or get rid of them).

  1. Keep Server Requests Low

A server request happens whenever your browser asks some type of resource from your web server.

For example, whenever someone opens a new page, the browser asks for a style sheet, a script and an image to display the page correctly for the visitor.

The more server requests needed to load your site, the longer it will take to load up.

Therefore, server requests should be kept to a minimum. Here are some ways you can achieve that:

  • Reduce the post count displayed on a page
  • Only show post excerpts, and get rid of full posts in your
  • When your post is very long, split them into multiple pages
  • Same thing for comments. If there are too many comments, break them into pages.
  • Reduce the use of images and other graphical elements
  • Don’t install unnecessary plugins that are slow to load.
  • Deactivate plugins that you are currently not using
  • Enable lazy loading  - This delays the loading of images until they are actually visible on screen for the user
  • Get rid of unnecessary external resources such as fonts
 
  1. Optimise Images and Don’t Host Videos.

Images help to make your website more attractive, and they often make up the bulk of the site.

As a result, images tend to take up the most bandwidth. That’s normal since they need more file space than plain text or CSS.

For that reason, to speed up your website, it is crucial that you learn how to compress them into tiny file sizes, without losing picture quality.

The best way to compress your images is to do so before you even upload them.

For example, in Paint, you can use the Quality slider to choose the ideal level of detail to preserve.

Some CMS like Wordpress helps you create smaller several copies of the image in various sizes. It’s recommended that you don’t rely on this feature.

Uploading a full-size image and then shrinking it wastes unnecessary bandwidth and slows your site down. 

Like images, videos are great for engagement, but they are bad news for site speed.

Videos costs you even more bandwidth than images. This is an especially vital consideration if you have a limited hosting account.

Also, videos make your website bloated and slow to backup or transfer.

The good news is, if you wish to use videos on your site, there are several super fast video hosting options that you can use.

You can always use the embed code to place videos in your content. They only contain a single line of code, making it a much more lightweight choice. Nearly all major video sites like YouTube, Vimeo or DailyMotion allow this feature.

  1. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

Now things start to get a bit more advanced. If you haven’t noticed, the further your server is located, the longer the page is going to take to load completely.

So ideally, you’ll want the server to be located as close to your visitors as possible to shorten load times for them.

A content delivery network or CDN solves this problem by hosting your assets on several servers located across the world.

That way, whenever someone visits your site, they can receive website assets from the closest possible location, shaving off your loading time.

There are several options for CDNs. For example, Cloudflare even has a free plan for personal websites. There are also partial CDNs that only host images for you, such as Sirv or Cloudinary.

  1. Concatenate and Minify Your Files

Here’s another way to optimise your server even further. You can reduce the files that need to be downloaded by joining them into larger chunks of files. In programming terms, this is called concatenation (or concat).

The rationale behind this is that a singular large file will load faster than multiple smaller ones, especially since you can’t download them all at the same time.

Use plugins such as Autoptimize to combine all your HTML, CSS and JavaScript files into one file. There are also more advanced developer tools such as Gulp to take your concat to the next level.

As for minifying your files, it could be something you haven’t heard of before.

If you’ve seen a code file such as a CSS style sheet, you might have noticed that it is usually arranged neatly to make it readable.

Comments and formatting help make code easier to read for developers.

While these are helpful to humans, for programs such as web browsers they don’t serve any purpose. You can get rid of all these and still have your code run properly.

Also, all the formatting makes file sizes larger than they need to be. As we have already learned, larger files mean longer download times.

Using plugins such as Autoptimize can minify all these code files for you. For developers, there is the aforementioned Gulp to get the job done.

  1. Gzip Compression

If you are familiar with zip files on your computer, then you already know how Gzip compression works.

After all, a website is made up of a bunch of files. Compression works best with code that is very repetitive. Therefore website files are ideally suited for compression.

Compression makes your files smaller and faster for visitors to download. In addition, all modern web browsers can interpret compressed data, making this measure an excellent option to speed up your site.

It’s not hard to implement Gzip compression. You can either use a caching plugin that does this automatically for your, or you can just paste this code to the .htaccess file in your root directory.

Just remember to test it out to see if it works.

# Compress HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Text, XML and fonts

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/javascript

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/rss+xml

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/vnd.ms-fontobject

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/x-font

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/x-font-opentype

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/x-font-otf

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/x-font-truetype

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/x-font-ttf

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/x-javascript

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/xhtml+xml

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/xml

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE font/opentype

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE font/otf

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE font/ttf

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE image/svg+xml

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE image/x-icon

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/css

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/html

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/javascript

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/plain

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/xml

# Remove browser bugs (only needed for really old browsers)

BrowserMatch ^Mozilla/4 gzip-only-text/html

BrowserMatch ^Mozilla/4\.0[678] no-gzip

BrowserMatch \bMSIE !no-gzip !gzip-only-text/html

Header append Vary User-Agent

  1. Disable Hotlinking

Hotlinking means to use images in your website that are not hosted by you, but by another 3rd party website.

So to display that image, you simply use a link to another site where the image will be loaded.

Hotlinking chews up bandwidth for the 3rd party. This means if your content becomes popular and goes viral, this problem is going to affect you.

To stop hotlinking from happening to your website, add the following code to your .htaccess file.

Replace example.com with your own domain URL.

RewriteEngine on

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(www\.)example.com/.*$ [NC]

RewriteRule \.(gif|jpg|jpeg|bmp|zip|rar|mp3|flv|swf|xml|php|png|css|pdf)$ – [F]

Time to Speed Things Up

Your site speed is a crucial factor for the success of your online business.

A high speed reduces bounce rate, improves conversions, pulls up your Google rankings and much more. Even shaving off mere seconds from your loading time can make a significant impact.

Luckily, most factors are within your control, and you can optimise your site speed on your own.

The best way is to start with whatever is within your means and control. Even slight changes can make add up to major differences in the future.

Ultimately, the goal is always to create a high-quality website for your business that serves prospective customers in the best way possible. Your page loading speed is just one of the crucial element among other factors.

Want to increase your website traffic?

Speak to a marketing consultant who can make a big difference to your business.

About Murray Dare

A digital marketing consultant and entrepreneur, Murray runs his marketing agency Murraydare.co.uk and several online startups.

Murray has helped startups and businesses achieve online success through a considered approach to marketing.

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