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July 19, 2016

5 easy ways to improve your page speed

Slow pages don't just frustrate users - they could hurt your search ranking too. Try these tweaks to get them loading faster

In 2010, Google announced that page speed will play a role in determining how it ranks a domain, its rationale being that slow sites offer a bad user experience and should be downgraded in ranking ability accordingly.

The ideal page speed is purported to be around three seconds. Studies show that nearly half of consumers expect a web page to load in two seconds or less; 40% abandon a website that takes over three seconds to load and as many as 79% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with website performance are unlikely to return. At time of writing the average webpage weighs over 2.2mb, which would take roughly half a second to load on a 5mb connection. But start factoring on-the-go GPRS speeds of significantly less than 1mb and you’ll see how heavy sites can choke off users.

Slow sites often have high bounce rates, which has a knock-on effect on traffic and sales. While it’s not at the top of Google’s list of ranking criteria, a high speed can give you an edge over competitors and keep your customers happy. It’s therefore important to analyse page speeds and address any glitches where you can.

The best place to start is Google’s Page Speed Tool. This free tool will uncover which pages on your site are slow and identify the underlying causes. In addition, it’s still worth looking at the desktop-based IIS web optimization toolkit and Yahoo’s older YSlow, which is still available as a browser plugin. All three offer great tips for reducing page weights. Armed with this knowledge, you can get to work on making your pages load faster.

Here are five areas worth looking at:

1.Optimise Your Images

Full-size, high quality images can eat into your bandwidth, and this is one of the most common causes for slow page speeds. Optimise them by scaling down their size or compressing them before you upload them onto your site. There are several free online tools you can use for image compression, such as tingpng. These can dramatically decrease the size of your images without losing too much of their quality.

If you have PNG images for logos and tiling effects, use PNG Gauntlet. It can even shave 10-20% off pre-optimized versions from photoshop. It’s a bit old now, but still works well for large quantities of files, with easy batch processing.

2.Enabling Browser Caching

Browser caching enables you to temporarily store some data on a visitor’s computer, so they don’t have to wait for the same things to download every time they visit a page. The length of time you store data depends on the visitor’s browser configuration and your own server-side cache settings. The easiest way to set up browser caching on your server is to contact your hosting company and ask them to enable it for you.

3.Simplify Your Design

The majority of a web page’s load time is spent downloading different components on the page, such as images and scripts. An HTTP request is made for each one of these, so the more there are, the longer the page takes to load. This means simplifying your design is key to better page speed. Ditch any unnecessary elements on your page and use text over images whenever you can.

You can see a full list of http requests a few different ways:

  • Open the developer tools view in Chrome (Ctrl + Shift + I), then click network. Be sure to clear your cache before you do this so that you get a clean view of things:
  • Live HTTP headers for Chrome and Firefox acts as a recording device for all HTTP responses. It’s better for tracking each request, but lacks the easy-to-read layout of the Google Chrome UI.

4.Compress Your Site

Compressing your website’s files is rather like zipping a document. It will dramatically reduce file size and therefore lead to better page speed. According to GTmetrix, compression can reduce page sizes by as much as 70%.

GZip is one of the most common methods. It’s widely accepted across browsers, and is easy to implement, with a particularly handy WordPress plugin. For cpanel based hosting, you can also administer this through the “optimize website” option.

You can test to see if you’ve got GZip working on your files by using GIDNetwork’s GIDZipTest tool.

5.Reduce Plugins

Having too many plugins and add-ons will slow your site down. Even worse, they can often cause crashes. Go through all of your plugins and delete or deactivate any that you don’t use.

This is an especially common problem with WordPress and off-the-shelf CMSs. Work through your plug-ins systematically and question what each one is doing. You’ll probably find a collection that have gone out of date, or predate your site’s most current design. This is also a good opportunity to remove those plug-ins you’re deactivated and then forgotten about – it’ll simplify the list and make it easier to manage in future.

Every site is different, but here are some ideas of what to look for:

  • Plug-ins whose functionality has been updated into WordPress core
  • Outdated plug-ins that are preventing WordPress from updating
  • Several massive multifunctional plug-ins. They can be useful (e.g. Yoast is a great way of handling your basic SEO needs in WordPress) but keep them to a minimum.
  • Old plug-ins you’ve replaced with better alternatives.

Be careful though – if you don’t know what a plug-in is doing, check with your developer first or test it in an inconspicuous spot.

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