6 tips to turn your slow loading website into a brisk browsing experience

Internet users want a speedy experience and they’re not getting it, a fact that leaves them frustrated and website owners with less revenue. Don’t believe it? Numbers don’t lie. A full 53 percent of surfers want any site they visit load in three seconds or less. The largest ecommerce sites in the world recognize this necessity – they load incredibly fast. Most of the rest of the internet leaves a time gap that makes for a lot of gritted teeth and nervous toes tapping the floor. The good news is that speeding up a slow website is not difficult or time-consuming. The bad news is you might not choose to do it.

Are You Flirting with the Performance Poverty Line?

The performance poverty line is a term that represents the point at which being slow doesn’t matter because you’ve already lost most of your traffic. That number sits at around 8 seconds. The more pertinent question is, do you know your website’s speed. REALLY know your website’s speed?

No guessing because this is important stuff.

There’s an easy way to find out. Pay a visit to a website called Pingdom — it’ll probably load fast because it’s sort of their business — and enter your URL in the box. Select a location from the dropdown menu and hit “start.” Unless they’re exceptionally busy (it happens sometimes) you should get a performance summary in less than a minute.

Screen capture of Pingdom report

There’s a good chance what you see won’t impress anyone, but that’s okay. Few websites do. We’re here to provide you with a road map to get those numbers headed down, down, down and your visitors to start getting happy, happy, happy. Let’s call this…

A 6-Part Roadmap to Fast Websites and Happy Customers

Part 1: Magically Shrink Your Website

Actually, as far as we know, there’s no way to magically shrink your website but you can get the same effect by applying a sweet little bit of technology called Gzip compression. When implemented, some site owners have seen overall file size reduction of as much as 70 percent. That’s huge. Actually it’s tiny and that’s the point. It works like this. When a request hits the server to view the website, it automatically zips all the files before sending them onto the requester’s browser, where it is unzipped and displayed.

Part 2: Fix Bad Design and Too Many HTTP Requests

Every element on your website — we’re talking about images, videos, scripts, and even text — generates an individual request to the server. The more “stuff” your website has, the more requests there are and the longer it takes to load. If ever there was an argument for using a minimalistic approach when designing your website, this is it. Fewer requests mean a faster website. The tricky part is to not get distracted by all things you could do and stick to only what is needed to accomplish the site’s mission.

Overview of http requests and responses

Part 3: Put Hefty Images on a Diet

Images are huge. Incorrectly (or not at all) optimized, they put a terrible strain on bandwidth and leave the server and browser gasping from the strain. While we could write a book on the topic, there is one thing you can do that will fix a lot of the issues and that is choose the correct format — png, gif, and jpeg are good — and make the things as small as you can stand BEFORE uploading to your website. If you upload a full size image, even if you reduce it later, the server still has the original version and that’s the one that clogs the pipeline.

Part 4: Upgrade Your Hosting

We love cheap stuff as much as the next person but when it comes to choosing a web hosting plan, you need to understand the different types of plans and know when it’s time to upgrade. Inexpensive shared plans can be as low as a few dollars a month and that’s okay for a hobby or site that doesn’t have much traffic yet. Once you reach a certain level, though, the shared resource approach of this kind of plan will almost certainly mean slow-loading and downtime. While a dedicated server might not be worth the expense, a virtual private server or VPS hosting can be a great compromise.

Schematic depicting VPS

Part 5: Turn on Browser Caching

Browser caching is an easy-to-implement, tactic that most fast-loading websites use. The idea is simple. Rather than force the server to send over all the website files every time someone visits, static files (those that don’t change) are stored in the browser’s temporary memory and only dynamic files have to be retrieved. Obviously, this doesn’t help on a first visit but, with browser caching enabled, subsequent visits will be quicker. For WordPress websites, W3 Total Cache is a free plugin to look for. Others just require a simple code addition.

Part 6: Resolve Plugin Conflicts

This WordPress-specific advice is based on the reality that a lot of site owners install plugins that they never update or even use. Considering the third-party nature of these bits of software, it should be no surprise that they don’t always play nice together — they weren’t intended to. If your WordPress website is slow or buggy, one of the first actions to take is to uninstall any plugins you aren’t using. After that, turn what’s left off one at a time and check site speed. There’s a good chance you’ll find one of the culprits to slow loading.

Final Thoughts

The state of technology today is such that people expect (even if it’s not a reasonable standard) a website to load in three seconds or less. A clean, fast-loading experience will go a long ways towards creating loyal customers and more revenue, which are both good things to shoot for as an online entrepreneur. Keep in mind that the process is iterative. There’s no magic wand that will turn your site into a speed burner. Small actions taken methodically, such as the ones described, should, over time, move you incrementally closer to that three second target. Good luck and thanks for reading.

Photo of Gary Stevens

Member author Gary Stevens is a front end developer. He’s a full time blockchain geek and a volunteer working for the Ethereum foundation as well as an active Github contributor.

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