Site Speed: Why It Matters and What You Should Know

« Go Back | Posted in: Website Traffic - on June 16, 2014


From a personal enjoyment standpoint, you know how frustrating it can be to wait around for a slow-loading website.  You’ve clicked through a new page because you’re interested in the content posted there – so every second spent waiting makes you less and less interested in what the site has to offer.  If it’s your site that’s slow, you could be losing tons of impatient visitors who aren’t willing to stick around and wait for your content to load!

But interestingly enough, slow loading sites don’t just irritate their readers – they annoy the search engines as well.  Google in particular has made it quite clear that site speed plays a role in their ranking algorithm.

“Faster sites create happy users and we've seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there.  Like us, our users place a lot of value in speed — that's why we've decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings.”

Of course, while increased site speeds may benefit both readers and the search engines, the thought of modifying site code to enhance load times can sound overwhelming to beginning webmasters.  To combat this, we’ll first break down the process of identifying site speed issues and then show you how to implement recommended fixes to ensure you aren’t missing out on the benefits that come from speeding up your site.

Step #1 – Evaluate your site’s current loading speed

Before you worry too much about needing to invest hours upon hours improving your website’s load times, take a few minutes to evaluate how your site is currently performing.  Depending on the website building platform you’ve used, you might be surprised to find that your site is already performing well enough to meet Google’s strict criteria!

There are a few different ways you can go about testing your site loading speed:

  1. Google’s Page Speed Online Tool – This free tool analyzes your site’s load time and reports back both a score that compares your website to other web properties and recommendations on how to improve your overall site speed.  Some of the recommendations can be a bit technical, but otherwise, this tool is a great way to get an inner glimpse into how Google views your site and its load times.
  2. Google’s Webmaster Tools – Another feature that Google provides for measuring site load speeds can be found within its Webmaster Tools section.  To use this tool, you’ll first need to register and verify ownership of your site.  Once this is done, log in to your account, click on “Labs” in the left-hand sidebar and then on “Site Performance” to get more information about your site’s existing load times.
  3. Third Party Site Speed Tests – Plenty of other websites, including WebPageTest and WebsiteOptimization, offer other free tools that allow you to measure your website’s speed.  Be sure to try a few of these alongside Google’s site speed tools.  Since all of these programs measure different variables, getting your score from different services may help you to uncover even more potential areas for improvement.

 

Step #2 – Implement recommended changes

The results of your site speed analysis from Step #1 should have given you a few potential places to start with in order to reduce your load times.  However, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of highly technical solutions presented, consider starting with the following five “top priority” items:

  1. Resize images – Whenever you publish an image to your website, it should be resized in advance to the exact size you want it to display on your pages.  Taking the time to do this in advance will reduce the size of the image file that must be displayed, as well as eliminate the extra work your website platform and browser must undertake in order to resize your graphic on the fly.
  2. Minify HTML, Javascript and CSS code – “Minify” sounds complicated, but really, all it means is to remove extra white space from your code files before they’re published.  Although these spaces make it easier for human eyes to read complex computer languages, they only slow down digital processors.  Get rid of them, and see if your site speeds decrease correspondingly.
  3. Serve content from a Content Delivery Network (CDN) – If you have an exceptionally large amount of content on your site, serving it from a Content Delivery Network can make a significant difference in your load times versus storing it on your own web hosting account. 
  4. Structure supplemental code separately – When working with CSS and Javascript files, be sure that stylesheets are added to the top of your files and scripts to the end.  This ensures that unstyled content is never served to visitors (which could increase load processing times) and that content features are served before the added functionality of scripts.

Depending on the website platform you’re using, these steps may be done automatically for you.  Or, if you’re using a blogging platform like Wordpress, you may be able to take care of these needs all at once using a plugin like the W3 Total Cache add-on.  However, even if you need to hire a web developer to take care of these issues for you, you’ll likely find it worth the extra expense in terms of your site’s user experience and search engine rankings.

Step #3 – Follow up on your site speed efforts

Once you’ve implemented the above recommendations (as well as any others you uncovered during the site speed analysis process), wait a few weeks for your website code changes to be indexed and recognized by the search engines.  Then, run the analysis tools listed in Step #1 to see if you’ve made a significant enough difference in your overall load times.

If you find that your site speed has improved considerably and that the analysis tools listed above rank your site speed as “Good” check your search engine results page rankings for your target keywords as well.  You may be surprised to find that you’ve risen in the rankings by several places!

On the other hand, if you haven’t seen a dramatic enough improvement in your site load times to be satisfied, consider implementing some of the more complicated recommendations uncovered through the Google Page Speed Online tool.  Continue this process until you’re confident you’ve made enough changes to result in a load time that satisfies both your users and the search engines.

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