It’s a simple fact. The slower your website, the less people will stick around to wait for your website to load. It isn’t just you and I that are impatient either; in this 2018 study, Pingdom found that pages that load within two seconds have an average bounce rate of 9%, while pages that take longer than five seconds to load have a bounce rate of 38%!
This has always been a concern of website owners, however in the last few years, with the increase of mobile browsing, particularly on 3G and slower speeds, website speed really has become a large focus.
Then the big news came when Google announced last year that their “speed update” would penalise slow websites. This means for every second your website takes to load, expect it to appear later in search results. This can seriously inhibit your reach for new audience.
How to measure your website speed
Here are two methods that can give you a great insight into your website speed.
Google’s own PageSpeed Insights is a great place to start.
They give you all the basic details, with a simple score out of 100% to judge yourself. For example, the screen grab above shows a fantastic score for the Australian Software Guide.
Under the Opportunities and Diagnostics is where the detail lies; look at improving what they recommend, either on your own, or by engaging your website designers to help.
For a more detailed understanding, then I recommend Pingdom’s Website Speed Test tool. This tool will give you insightful details that really help you find where the speed bumps are.
They even have a table showing how the website loads, in seconds, as this example shows.
Using a combination of learnings from both of these free tools is recommended, and that you regularly run the reports again using both tools, to see how your website speed is faring. This isn’t something you should just be doing once a year, but more frequently.
How to improve your website speed
So what can you do about your website speed, particularly if you are not technical? Here are five factors that impact your website speed, for you to consider.
Where you host your website
The biggest impact for most website speed is where you host your website. Both geography and the company itself have a big impact. For example, if your audience is mostly in Western Australia, it is far smarter to host either in WA, or at least in Australia, than it is to host in Europe or the USA.
Besides just hosting your website locally, consider the server your website is on, and if there’s anything your hosting company can do to improve the server speed generally. A number of cheap website hosts have very poor performing servers, so cheap hosting is definitely a sign of low overheads which impact quality and speed.
What size are your images?
The next big impact here is often the content on your website, and more specifically, the images. Many website rely on dozens of images per page, and if you don’t keep their file size in check, your website can quickly become very large in file size and therefore, slow.
The Australia Post website for example, has 15 images on their homepage, which equates to 1.2mb in size. The whole page is 2mb, so 60% of this is in those 15 images.
The first thing you should be doing with any images you upload, is consider the actual screen size. If you don’t envision a scenario of the image being displayed larger than 1,000 pixels wide, let’s say, then don’t upload a 5,000 pixel wide image. Resize the file to the largest you require, first.
Next step is to either use your photo editing software to ‘Save for web’ or use a free service such as Optimizilla, where you upload an image and they compress it in seconds for you.
This example shows a 650Kb JPG which was compressed by 90% without any visible change to the quality of the image. Doing that dozens of times throughout your website can make a massive difference to your website speed.
Reduce and update plugins
Most plugins add code to every page. The more plugins, the more lines of code, and often code that adds no real value.
If your website is using a content management system such as Wordpress, you should watch how many plugins you have installed, and turn off any that are not absolutely required.
Many plugin developers are regularly releasing updates, both for website speed and security, so it is imperative that you keep on top of these as well. Either have your website team keep an eye on these at least every month, or set a reminder yourself to update these plugins as required.
Ensure great code quality
This is less for the website owner, and more for your website developer, however your code quality has a large impact on website speed as well. For example, elements such as the following should be evaluated and considered for improvement;
- Use server website caching
- Minimise JS and CSS files
- Reduce third party calls
- Implement Gzip compression
- Reduce dependencies
- Reduce font and icon library usage
These, along with the many other elements that technical people know what to look at, can have a significant impact on your website speed.
Consider a content distribution network (CDN)
If you have done all of the above, and still can’t seem to improve your website speed, it may be time to look at using a content distribution network. This is a fancy way of saying a service that hosts your website in dozens of locations around the globe, and serves the closest version to each visitor.
Think of it as hosting on steroids. CDN platforms such as Cloudflare, are always looking at ways of optimising speed for their customers. Typically all it takes is a few domain name configuration adjustments to start using them, however if you don’t know what you are doing with DNS, please consult an expert!
The faster your website loads, the more likely it will rank well on Google and the better the likelihood that potential visitors will stay on your website, and not leave frustrated by the slow experience.
Set a target to look at regularly improving your website speed, and using the tools above, compare your website against some of your competitors – make it a challenge to be faster than any of them.