Back2Basics: 5 Tips For Optimizing Site Load Time

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This post is part of an ongoing series on the Search Marketing Standard website. The series is aimed primarily at those just beginning to learn about marketing online, but also will serve as a refresher course for others and an introduction to some aspects that even experienced marketers may not have delved into. Sit back and prepare to go “Back 2 Basics” …

Why Is It Vital To Optimize Site Load Time?

Website loading time is an important factor in creating the optimal user experience, but one that often gets pushed to the back burner in the web building process. The time in which it takes your website to load can play a significant role in the success of your online marketing efforts. If it takes too long, most people won’t have the patience to wait, let alone come back to your website in the future.

Since people, nowadays, are obsessed with speed when it comes to being online, it is important to increase site speed, which will also increase the amount of time visitors spend on your site. And, not only is site loading time crucial for retaining online visitors, it is a major factor in search engine rankings. Google has included site speed into its ranking algorithms and a slow uploading website can suffer dramatically. To ensure your website is operating to its full potential, there are a number of sources to determine its loading speed.

Tools To Test Your Website Loading Time

Diagnosing and increasing the speed of page loading times can greatly improve the performance of your website. In order to measure your site’s current speed, there are many online tools to choose from, including:

  • Page Speed — a Firefox add-on that not only evaluates web page performance but offers suggestions for improvement. Also works in Chrome.
  • YSlow — a free Yahoo! tool that provides speed improvement tips.
  • Pingdom Tools — a full page test that mimics the way a complete page is loaded in a web browser to determine speed and provide loading time stats.
  • Link Vendor — a website speed tester that also determines if it’s better to fix a slow loading web page or change the ISP. Shows load times over different connections.
  • Uptrends — a full page test that measures the speed of a complete HTML page, including all objects (images, RSS feeds, CSS and Javascript files). Has a free trial.

Tricks To Decrease The Time It Takes A Website To Load

Once you have determined the loading time of your web pages, you need to take action in improving the speed. There are some necessary basic steps to optimize site loading times:

1.  Minimize The Number of HTTP Requests

In order to view your website, all of a page’s files, including CSS, Javascript and images, need to be sent to and openable in a visitor’s browser. Eliminate the files and plugins that are unnecessary and keep them to a minimum; a simplified web design will help your website run faster by reducing response time when downloading.

2.  Gzip And Compress Components

Another way to reduce the time it takes to transfer an HTTP request and response is through Gzipping or compressing files at the server level before they are sent to browsers. Compression greatly reduces response times by reducing the size of the HTTP response. Gzip is the most popular and effective compression method, with a response decreasing rate of up to 70%.

3.  Optimize Images By Reducing Their Size

While you may hire a web designer who creates a beautiful site, an inexperienced webmaster will no doubt fail when it comes to performance. Often, a designer won’t compress the images before uploading them and large, uncompressed images can really slow down loading times. Before you FTP any images to your web server, you’ll want to make them as small as possible to reduce the amount of unneeded and hindering metadata.

4.  Include Stylesheets At The Top

Putting stylesheets in the HEAD of the document forces the page to render progressively, meaning the browser loads the files responsible for the appearance of the website first to display stylized content. The visual feedback will give the impression that the page has loaded quickly, thus improving the overall user experience.

5.  Include Scripts At The Bottom

Since the main goal is to get content to site visitors as fast as possible, loading script files last makes a lot of sense. Put CSS in the HEAD and all functionality-related files at the bottom of the document; this will ensure the files required for interaction, like widgets and external API calls, load after the content. Site visitors can’t interact with the content before they see it anyway. Plus, as we already mentioned, loading content first gives the impression of a faster website.

Concluding Thoughts

While there are many more tricks and techniques to increase your website’s loading time, these are the most basic and necessary first steps. The tools above are a perfect starting point to get your site running faster and showing up in more search results. Which only goes to show that sometimes it makes sense to go “Back2Basics”!

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