A Faster Website – It’s not a need. It’s a must!

 

By Danny Kulas

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More people than ever before are getting online and weaving the world wide web into their daily lives.  From delivering the news to selling that thing on Amazon that your customer will surely only use once, having a reliable website is critical when trying to convert users to loyal customers.  A reliable website is one that provides a great user experience and a fast exchange of information when someone is interacting with your website.  If you click a link, you expect to be taken to that new page in little-to-no-time flat.  In this article I will detail areas of improvement that will bring your website ‘up to speed’ and help you convert those window-shoppers to loyal customers.

Why Does It Matter?

Three seconds.  That is all the time it takes for someone to lose interest in your site and go elsewhere to find what they’re looking for.  You have three seconds to show the user what they want to see, otherwise, you can forget about converting them to a loyal customer.  “A faster website means a better visitor experience.  A slow website will lead to a poor user experience.  Your bounce rate will grow.  Page views will drop.  Most important, you will lost money (Demian Farnworth).”  “If an e-commerce site is making $100,000 per day, a 1 second page delay could potentially cost you $2.5 million in lost sales every year (Sean Work).”  That should resonate with anyone who runs an on-line business.  No one talks about a great experience they had on some website, but they will tell their friends and family about a poor experience they had so that they know to avoid it in the future.  This will only compound the trouble because now, even though Mrs. Smith was the one who had the poor experience, she will tell anyone who will listen and now you have a whole bunch of Mrs. Smiths who never came to your website in the first-place nor will they moving forward.  You’ve lost a customer before they even had a chance to check out your site.  Another reason why you should care about the speed of your website “is that Google now uses site speed data to help determine where to list your website in its search engine results (Fred Meyer).”  For companies who have small advertising budgets, the search results page of Google might very well be your best bet for getting your business and services noticed.  I can speak from experience, in that I rarely venture to the 2nd or 3rd page of Google search results.  So, if you want to get noticed, make sure you’re showing up on the first page of results (if possible).

What Can Be Done?

There are several technologies and techniques to consider when looking to improve the speed of your website.  A simple Google search of ‘Make my website faster’ will yield several dozen results.  Some questions you might want to consider are: Do you use a lot of images?  Are you loading several script files?  Is there dynamic content?  Are you compressing your assets?  Answering these questions (and others not mentioned above) will help assist you on what to do regarding the improvement of your website performance.  Being able to identify areas of improvement is a skill that takes a trained eye, so if you’re not sure what you’re looking for, grab someone from your development team, sit down with them and do a website audit to get a better sense of what you’ll be dealing with.

Fake It (Above the Fold)

A website loads from top-to-bottom, so, by placing the specific CSS rules that govern the look-and-feel of the top-half of your website in the head of your HTML document, it will seem as though the website is loading fast and without pause.  The content we’re targeting is often referred to as ‘Above the Fold’ content and it’s what shows up first when a website begins to display it’s page.  What this does is give the user something to look at while the rest of the site is busy loading.  It’s not the most elegant solution and may even feel a bit ‘hacky’  but when used properly it can be of tremendous help.  Perception isn’t always linked with reality and sometimes, especially in this case, that gives you an advantage when trying to deliver an optimal website experience to your users.

Minimize HTTP Requests

You’ve built a website.  It’s very likely you’ve accomplished that by employing the use of several static resources, such as images, CSS files, etc.  Whenever someone visits your website, these files need to be loaded into the browser so that the user can view what they came to see.  The more files your site requires in order to load, the longer time it will take to do so.  This is the scenario we want to avoid and it’s pretty easy to do so.  After you’ve built your website, you might realize that you have three different CSS files, for example.  Each file counts as an HTTP request, which adds time to the page-load speed.  By combining those three files into one, you will increase the speed at which your website loads.  This is called concatenation and can be one of your best friends for increasing site performance.

Pictures and Pixels

If your website requires images, make sure you’re using the best image for the job.  What that means is don’t use a high-resolution, 1200 x 1200 pixel image for a site icon which would be better served using a scaled-down version.  “On top of the extra download time, precious processing power and memory are used to resize high-resolution images (Johan Johansson).”  Whatever you do, make sure to avoid “use of scaling, especially from larger to smaller images.  The image result might look fine on screen but the file size will be the same.  To truly take advantage of the smaller dimensions, use an image editing program and scale the image accordingly (Nathan Segal).”

Cache! Cache! Cache!

“Browser-caching stores cached versions of static resources (such as images or CSS files, for example), a process that quickens page speed tremendously and reduces server lag.  When a user visits a page on your website, the cached version will usually be served unless it has changed since it was last cached; this saves a lot of [HTTP] requests to your server and as a result makes it [your website] faster (Morgan Davis).”  Caching is a great technique for improving your page-load speed, but keep in mind that “the thing with caching, though, is that in most cases it only works for repeat visitors.  First-time site visitors won’t have the site cached yet, since the page needs to load files at least once before it stores them (Laurence Bradford).”  There are two types of caching to be aware of and those are Broswer Caching and Server Caching.  “Browser caching allows your browser to store static files for a while, so it doesn’t need to retrieve them every time you visit the site (Daniel Pataki).”  In terms of server caching, “instead of processing every request, the server takes the results of the these requests and stores them.  It then serves these saved results instead – making everything much faster (Daniel Pataki).”  Learn the art of caching and let your website benefit from that knowledge!

Consider Using a CDN

CDN stands for Content Delivery Network.  “A CDN takes a website’s static files – such as CSS, images and JavaScript – and delivers them on servers that are close to the user’s physical location.  Because servers are closer to the user, they load more quickly.  Larger websites implement CDNs to make sure their visitors from around the world have as fast an experience as possible (Morgan Davis).”  While using a CDN is a great option, it’s also an expensive one.  Make sure your company needs a CDN before handing over the cash to implement one.

Conclusion

Website speed matters, tremendously, to your customers and your bottom line.  Don’t be foolish by ignoring it, otherwise you may be left scratching your head wondering why your monthly revenue keeps falling.  Take the time to audit your website, identify areas of improvement and employ the use of any of the options I detailed above.  Your customers will thank you.

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