The non-developer’s guide to optimising page speed
I’ve been a Full Stack Web Developer at Orange Digital for almost 2 years now. So what exactly does a web developer do?
Well basically, I have a passion for making websites look and behave cool. Essentially I translate the amazing work our designers create, into operating web pages.
While design and UX are SUPER important, a website’s page speed can make or break any current and future interactions with your brand.
I’m going to step you through the importance of page speed, what affects it and how you can improve yours. I’ll also give some pointers for you to speak in technical terms with your web team.
So what is page speed?
One of the most frustrating encounters you can have while browsing online is the ‘page loading’ sign/page/screen. This relates to a website’s page speed (or terrible internet connection).
Page speed can be described as
- “Page load time”– the time it takes to fully display the content on a specific page,
- “Time to first byte” — how long it takes for your browser to receive the first byte of information from the web server.
Page speed has an effect on:
- User experience
- Lead generation and conversion
- SEO and keywords rankings
- Brand reputation and credibility
Who cares about page speed?
In a nutshell — your current and future clients or customer base.
We live in an age where consumers expect instant gratification. This isn’t surprising due to our dependence on technology and the immense amount of accessible information at our fingertips.
Shockingly, 47% of customers expect a page to load in 2 seconds or less. This has a direct impact upon whether or not a user will convert i.e. signing up to a mailing list, registering an account and so forth. Even 1 second speed delay can have a 7% reduction in conversions.
While we’re talking stats, 79% of customers who were dissatisfied with a website’s performance reported they were less likely to buy from the same site as a result. There are also users who will drop their browsing session entirely after the first-page visit due to slow loading speeds. This is bad for both customer retention and your website’s bounce rate.
In today’s society, it is not enough to just have a well-designed website, it also needs to meet the ‘instant’ expectations of users.
How does mobile website speed come into this?
We all rely heavily on our mobiles and the ability to access anything from anywhere. If you’re anything like me I can’t go anywhere without my phone.
On average, people spend up to five hours a day on their smart devices; a significant portion of this time is spent browsing the web.
Recent studies have found 52% of worldwide traffic comes through mobile phones. It is also true that most smartphone users make purchases or complete conversions via a desktop or laptop device. Additionally, 77% of users will complete research on their phone before making a transaction. This just reinforces the importance of a good mobile experience.
Yes, even Google cares about your page speed
Search engines have become so smart that they can recognise when users have had a bad experience when navigating to or around your site. This bad experience can have a negative effect on your search ranking and preferences.
Having a slower page can also result in a higher bounce rate. This rate is the percentage of visitors who will navigate away from your site after one page visit. A higher bounce rate equals a poorer ranking.
There is also the issue of your site not being found. If you are adding new content to your site while maintaining a slow page speed, search engine crawlers are less likely to observe new content as they may run out of time before getting there.
In July 2018, Google altered their algorithm designed for mobile search (AKA the “speed update”), to hold sites accountable for speed. While the search query and user interest still have a strong influence on your site ranking, your page speed can affect your search placement by at least two rankings.
Three key things that affect page speed
So now you know why page speed is important, we can cover what actually affects your page speed. There are 3 main culprits at play:
- Website Assets,
- Third Party Dependencies, and
If you have an image heavy page and these files aren’t optimised, your site speed is going to suffer. This isn’t limited just to images — if you have large files or other website assets compounded on the page, there will be a strain on your site’s speed.
Caching is an extremely important tool for page speed. A cache is essentially storage of your web documents (your images, HTML pages, and scripts), which is useful in reducing server lag. For a super simple and easy to understand explanation of caching, check out this page by 10 Degrees (a UK development company).
Essentially, the reliance and use of third-party software is a major cause of slow speeds due to the use of too many resources.
Web hosting is an online service which enables their client’s sites to be published and accessed on the internet. Many experts in the field describe hosting as renting land on the internet. You have a permanent space (as long as you continue to pay rent) to store all your files and data necessary for your website to function.
Whenever someone types your domain name into an address bar or clicks on a link to your site, your host transfers all the files necessary to serve the request.
There are a number of different forms of web hosting:
- Shared Hosting
- VPS Hosting
- Cloud Hosting
- WordPress Hosting
- Dedicated Server Hosting
Shared hosting is one of the more common forms of hosting chosen by small businesses and blogs. Shared hosting uses the same server for multiple sites, therefore sharing all its resources such as memory, computing power, disk space.
Some perks of shared hosting include a lower price, a pre-configured server, user-friendly control panels, and often maintenance and server administration are taken care of by the host.
On the downside, using a shared hosting server results in little or no control over configuration and traffic surges on other websites can reduce your webpage speed.
When searching for a server, remember to look for scalability, space, and insight into how well the host performs globally. While starting out on a shared hosting server is great for small business and beginner sites, once your traffic increases, be prepared to move on or upgrade your site’s host.
How you can optimise your page speed with online tools
Now you know what could be causing the problems, you can start pinpointing what might be affecting your site’s page speed and work to fix them.
Thankfully, this isn’t hard to find out as Google provides a handy tool which showcases your page’s performance and can run a website load test. This tool tells you what you do well, what improvements you can make, and provides solutions on how you can unlock your site’s potential.
Optimise, Minify, Cache
The way in which you go about this will vary, depending on what features your site’s backend provides regarding content management. For most providers, there are often many user-friendly tools available.
When it comes to optimising images, there are many services you can choose from. For example, Optimizilla is great for batch minifying image file sizes, as well as drastically reducing file size which makes a significant difference on your page speed.
There’s also a service call pdfcompressor.com. This service minifies your sit’s files and caches them. Depending on your site, you may already have this as an easy option to implement. For example, WP Super Cache is super easy to use a plugin that can cache your website’s files.
Talk to your technical team
Discussing your sites insights, your current page speed, and site performance with your technical team is a great starting point for optimising and improving your website. It is likely your team will already have ideas and suggestions on how this can be improved or may even discover other issues which need to be tackled.
What is a good load time?
I have discussed the importance of having a quick and responsive load time and how to fix it when it lags. However, what should your ideal load time be? Is there a magic number you should aim for?
Well as I mentioned above, today’s users are now expecting page speeds of under 3 seconds. However, back in 2010, Maile Ohye, former Developer Programs Tech Lead at Google commented;
“2 seconds is the threshold for e-commerce website acceptability. At Google, we aim for under a half second.”
Ideally you are wanting to aim for the lowest speed possible for your page — best to aim for under 3 seconds according to studies and consumer behaviour.
Originally published at www.orangedigital.com.au.