Why Website Speed Matters - And How To Supercharge it (6-Points Checklist)
At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old-timer, kids these days ain’t got no patience. Thanks to high-speed WiFi, 4G data plans across the globe and Amazon’s ubiquitizing of next day delivery, in 2020 one thing is clear: people don’t want to wait. With superfast broadband at home and data in our pockets, the web is becoming faster and more dynamic than ever.
In a world where everything is speeding up, the challenge becomes keeping up - and as attention spans drop and patience thins, website loading speeds can become a huge barrier to reaching your customers. Websites need to be fast - let’s see why that’s so important and how you can find your need for speed.
Why Website Speed Is So Important
There are two main reasons why website speed can have a huge impact on your reach across the web and, ultimately, your revenue. The first is user experience, or UX, which is to do with how users directly experience your site. The second is search engine optimization (SEO), or how users find your site in the first place. We’ll see how the speed of your site can have a huge impact on important website metrics, and then we’ll get you up to speed on website speed.
Speed Will Boost Your User Experience
If anyone knows what web users want, it’s Google - and their research has shown that website speed has a direct impact on user’s happiness, productivity and the time they spend on your site. Elsewhere, research has shown that one in ten internet users will abandon your site within two seconds, which gives you an incredibly narrow window to wow your visitors.
And the way mobile technology has changed browsing habits means more people are visiting your site from phones and tablets - over half of mobile browsers won’t wait three seconds for a site to load. You can’t afford to ignore the growing mobile market, so speeds need to be optimized for mobile browsers as well as desktop.
Speed Will Aid Your SEO Website Metrics
SEO is essential for businesses invested in any way in the online world. Getting your page higher on the search engine ranking means more people finding your site, visiting your store or purchasing your products and services. Because most web users ditch after just a few seconds, a laggy site will impact a number of important website metrics such as bounce rate and dwell time - impacting your SEO.
What’s more, since 2018 Google has been using mobile page speed as a ranking factor - meaning slow loading pages get buried under snappy sites. Google incorporates page speed as a website metric because they know how important loading times are to user experience. UX drives SEO metrics, and SEO metrics drive traffic to your site. Website speed thus plays a critical role in this process at every step of the way.
How To Check Your Website’s Speed
If you’re still not sure your website needs a speed injection then there are plenty of tools you can use to diagnose every aspect of page loading times. As part of their broader analytics package, Google offers PageSpeed Insights which gives you a clear summary of how your site performs. Further down the page, opportunities and diagnostics are identified to help you solve site speed issues.
Another online tool to check out is Pingdom. Pingdom is easy to use for anyone without a background in data or analytics and by tracking historical performance you can see how your site is improving through the measures you’ve taken.
“No site is operating at a perfect speed,” says Dorothy Schneider, a content writer at Writinity. “As a website metric speed is more important than ever so optimizing your site to operate faster should be a huge goal from both a UX, SEO and revenue perspective.” Let’s find out how to speed your site up.
Six Ways To Speed Your Website Up Fast
1. Update Your Server
Before you go to any crazy lengths to speed up your site, you need to check your server is up to scratch. This is one of the simplest solutions to a slow website. Site speed can vary dramatically depending on how it’s hosted and often we start out taking cheap options - ending up sharing bandwidth and choking out speed.
Web hosting can be shared, dedicated, or VPS and it’s important to understand the difference. Shared hosting means that you’re not the only site on your server - the cost is spread amongst a number of sites, so it’s cheaper. Dedicated hosting gives you your own server - a real, physical thing that’s dedicated to you. This gives you maximum speed, but it’s extremely expensive and probably overkills. Moving your hosting plan from shared to VPS (a virtual private server) can have a huge difference, however - your hosting is distributed over a multitude of servers, giving you upgraded speeds.
2. Rethink Your Images
On average, around 60% of a website’s bulk is made up of images so if you can trim the fat off your images you’ll be downsizing your website and speeding it up in the process. Of course, stripping your site back to a wall of text isn’t going to do user experience or website metrics any favors - images are an important part of the vitality of your site - so cropping and compression are the name of the game here.
You can use PhotoShop or a free tool like GIMP to resize your images before you upload them. To make life even easier, if you’re running a WordPress site there are a variety of plugins that will remove any unnecessary information in your pics - Smush, for example, automatically does this as you upload them, ensuring your website is lean and speedy.
Source: University of Michigan Library
3. Taking Requests
One of the reasons that sites can be slow to load is because of the number of requests being made each time it loads. These requests are made by HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) and each request represents a journey to the server and back, each time returning with a piece of your site. Identifying how many HTTP requests your site makes will enable you to identify issues with loading time - you can use Pingdom to analyze requests and sort them by the time they took. Reducing requests any way you can speed up your site so any slow request you can eliminate will speed your site up.
4. Leveraging The Cache
Caching is a mechanism that allows web users to bypass a proportion of the requests a browser makes by HTTP when it visits a site - it does so by saving elements of the site from previous visits, so repeat requests are eliminated. “Caching only works for users who have visited your site before, and been able to cache its elements,” warns Andrew Merkson, a marketing blogger at Draft beyond, “but for returning visitors, it can speed up loading time significantly.”
For all caches there’s an expiry date that can be adjusted so they remain for longer - jor jpg files the default is one week. Adjusting the “expires header” will ensure caches will remain for longer and people get increased loading speeds on your site. WordPress plugins such as W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache can optimize the caching process for WordPress sites, and for non-WordPress sites, you can explore intelligent content caching as a way of bringing your site up to speed.
5. WordPress Plugins And External Scripts
If you’re running a WordPress site - and over a third of website owners are - then you’ll likely be packing your site with plugins to provide analytics, manage email lists or track website metrics. However, a multitude of plugins will slow your loading times down, and old plugins that aren’t kept up to date will have the biggest impact.
Outdated plugins are a security risk to your site as well as a drain on your loading speeds. Spring clean your plugins two to three times a year to make sure your plugins aren’t holding you back.
Minification - for which there are a few great WordPress Plugins - will shrink your code by removing semicolons, comments, and whitespace giving your streamlined CSS. Gzipping compresses your files on the server level.
Up To Speed to Improve Webiste Metrics
A slow website suppresses important website metrics, chokes your SEO, and puts up a barrier between you and your users. Use these tips to get your website up to speed and run diagnostics on a regular basis. Website speed isn’t a one-time fix - you’ll need to keep on top of external scripts, image size, and plugins. Now you have the tools to do so.