According to Google, speed is of the essence. The search engine’s tech team believe that the speedier a site, the happier the visitor. For quite a while now, page load time has been an AdWords quality score factor but it’s only recently made the leap to organic search with confirmation that it will be used as an official ranking signal.
It makes sense that the quicker a page loads the better the user experience – no one likes sitting around ages waiting for a web page to load in after all. In most cases, if a page is slow to load, the visitor will lose patience, hit the back button and find another website to check out (research shows 31% of web users will hit the X button in 1-5 seconds if a page is slow to load). This alone makes speed an important business consideration as slower pages and higher bounce rates have a direct correlation with declining conversions.
Before rushing out to upgrade the hosting package or set a web developer on the case, there are a few easy ways to speed up sluggish pages. Along with its announcement that page load time will now impact rankings, Google debuted Page Speed Online, an analysis tool for webmasters that will suggest speed optimization improvements.
The tool, found within Google Labs, analyzes the content of any given web page and then makes a series of easy to implement suggestions to make the page run faster. The app works for both desktop and mobile. Try making the suggested changes and then running the app again to see where speed is still being lost. Other quick things to try to speed up slow loading pages include:
1. Resize images: Large images are a common cause of sluggish pages as there’s so much data to download before the image can be displayed correctly. For users with slower internet connections, this is unnecessarily frustrating. If your site is image rich (or even if you just have a few images for impact) there are ways to streamline their appearance and speed up the page load time. Some photo editing packages such as Photoshop offer a special ‘Save for Web’ tool which does all of the hard work for you. It will compress the image for web display and save as a quick loading GIF or JPEG file extension.
Remember to always resize your image in an appropriate photo editing package rather than importing the full size image into your page maker and then resizing it using the img attributes tag – the user will still have to download the bigger image before it appears smaller on the screen so no time will have been saved.
2. Reduce the number of HTTP requests: Complicated pages with lots of behind the scenes code require a long time to load so, you can speed up the process by simplifying the code. Even something as quick and combining various CSS sheets into a single, definitive CSS sheet will make a difference.
Yahoo researchers suggest placing style sheets in the HEAD of the page as this appears to make pages load quicker – possibly because the pages can be rendered progressively.
If you routinely copy and paste from Word and don’t use the special ‘paste from Word’ button on your CMS, you’ll be dragging lots of surplus code into the source code of your site. Word is great for making sure your spelling and grammar is correct, but isn’t so great for copying and pasting directly onto a website page. Try copying and pasting into Notebook first and then copying and pasting this plain text onto your CMS. Or remember to hit the ‘paste from Word’ button first to clean the code.
4. Use GZip Compression: Gzip compression is a HTML compression tool that can help pages to speed up, particularly pages with lots of white space and big long tracts of content or complicated coding. Gzip doesn’t help with images but can make the HTML portion of your page smaller for speedier loading.