Optimising your website speed: be a cheetah, not a snail.

The prominence of smartphones has allowed people access to content on-the-go like never before, with information literally at the tip of their fingers.

Search engines and social networks have opened up a plethora of information to us, whilst Google Earth and Apple Maps allow us to go anywhere in the world from the comfort of our own homes.

However, we live in an ever increasingly impatient era. People want all of this information yesterday and don’t want to wait around for a page to load. Although I reference Google, Apple and social media platforms, these issues still apply to your website.

The average user will spend 10-20 seconds on a new website, and included in that 10-20 seconds is the time waiting for the page to load. So if a page takes, say 5 seconds to load, you’re really only being left with 5-15 seconds to capture their attention. Double that load time and you’re undoubtedly reducing the likelihood of a user engaging with your content. Yahoo estimate that as little as 400ms increase in load time can result in a drop of traffic between 5-9%.

At this point, a few things should be cleared up. If a user has an abnormally slow or outdated internet connection, there is not an awful lot you can do to compensate for that. If somebody is still on a dial up connection, it’s not your responsibility to cater for someone using vastly outdated technology. It wouldn’t make business sense to reduce the impact of your site content for the sake of a tiny section of the market.

Secondly, if you’re about to test the load times of your own website, then remember to clear your cache on your web browser, otherwise components will already have been pre-loaded, which will give you a false reading.

Ways to speed up your website
There are many different options when it comes to decreasing the load times of your site, some of which are inexpensive (and sometimes free), others which can be costly depending on how far you wish to go in improving speeds. I’ll start with the least expensive.

The main building blocks for your site is what a visiting user will read and interact with. Generally speaking, text will impact on load times very little. Whether it’s a paragraph or 50, the load times will be rarely noticeable.

What can impact on load times is the inclusion of images and how your site is styled. Images are great and it’s a fact that inclusion of images improves engagement. However, there’s no need to have a super hi-resolution picture in your blog post or pages (unless of course it’s relevant to your industry) and using tools such as Photoshop (paid) or the GIMP (free) you can reduce the file size of an image while trying to maintain an acceptable quality. It should be noted, in almost all cases there’s no way of reducing file size yet improving quality!

Videos are again, good for engagement, but always let the user decide if they want to play them or not. If you’re embedding something from Youtube or Vimeo, don’t set them to autoplay as it’s just another resource that’s being used up while the user tries to navigate around your site.

This may seem obvious, but make sure that your existing hosting can support everything that your site requires. If you have a lot of concurrent activity and processes going on (i.e a booking system, a complex search facility, an online store, a live chat system), make sure that you’re meeting the minimal requirements for any system.

Remember that all of your web traffic are sharing these resources, so it’s always best to overcompensate in this department in the event that you get a large number of visitors at the same time.

Caching Software
What is caching? In a web sense, it’s a mechanism for the temporary storage of web documents to increase performance. Almost all web browsers perform this by downloading images and styles to your local machine, so that when you access a site again, it loads quicker.

At fatBuzz, we look to add server side caching wherever possible. What this means is the caching is shared between the browser and the server, increasing performance on the machine itself and balancing the load on both sides. This can mean less requests from the user to the server, as some of the content isn’t being downloaded, which will improve load times.

This is not something that I intend to go into in great detail, as it can be quite a complex system that if setup incorrectly, can cause more problems than it will solve, but if you do wish to discuss this with any of the web team at fatBuzz, give us a call on 0141 427 0727.

Content Distribution Networks
When a user is accessing your website, they’re connecting directly to the server that your site is hosted on. If that user is in the UK and your server is in the USA, then the load time will be increased compared to a US user, purely due to physical distance between the two points. A CDN alleviates this problem.

A copy of your site is distributed to various servers throughout the world, so that when people are accessing your content, they’re not having to cross several continents and then back again to read what you have to say. This can be a more costly method, as in all likelihood it will require a subscription with a CDN provider such as Amazon, Cloudflare or MaxCDN. I’d advise this setup for anyone that is providing a service that goes beyond your local area.

Finding ways to improve the speed of your site is something that should always be pursued, and when teamed up with quality content and stunning design, it completes the package to help pull people into your website. Google have also started ranking sites based on speed of delivery, so it can also make a difference in that push up the google rankings.

I’ve only touched on a few of the issues here, so If you have any questions about your site and what we can do to help improve it, or any other related issues, please get in touch by e-mailing jon@fatbuzz.com