What are we talking about, exactly?
Speed, when used in relation to web technologies or the internet in general, usually refers to the speed at which pages or content is downloaded from a website's hosting servers and displayed on your screen. The pipeline that data and content follows is from receiving a request from a browser, through to the server on which the page in question is hosted, and back to the requesting browser.
Website speed and performance has a direct effect on search rankings, so it is important to think of speed optimization as something that needs to be done from the ground up. From image optimization and the use of special fonts to the use of cutting-edge hosting hardware and using a host who has servers located in data centres that are spread across geographically strategic locations all play into the final speed figure that your website will have.
How slow is slow?
According to one study, anything slower than even less than half a second is enough to make users search less. One expert has said that a quarter of a second faster or slower is what will put your website at a considerable advantage or disadvantage against your competition. A quarter of visitors drop off from websites that take too long to load, and about half never visit sites that have recurring issues with loading. Three-quarters of mobile users abandon pages that don't load within five seconds, and every second of delay on the sites of large retailers can translate to millions in lost revenue.
How can you speed your page up?
There are lots of different things you can do to improve the speed and load time of your web page. Some of these things are outlined below.
- Optimize your images. More than half the weight of the average web page is made up of images, so if your website has images that are optimized and are well-suited to being displayed in web browsers, your page will load more quickly.
- You can run a basic speed test to find out how many requests your page processes to load a particular page, and then focus on removing bottlenecks and improving things one at a time.
- Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN). If you or your host can have your page assets around the globe in a CDN, your page will load more quickly and more directly to visitors who may be accessing your page from locations that are otherwise extremely far from your core hosting site.
- Avoid redirects. One redirect generates additional roundtrip times that double the time required to load the HTML of your site before the requesting browser even begins to load other assets.
- Caching. Caching assets that do not frequently change is a useful way to speed things up; caching means the requesting browser will not have to re-load those assets time and again, and only new content will have to be downloaded for display, saving valuable time.
- Font optimization. Web fonts add extra requests to external resources, and they are also heavier to load than standard fonts in some cases. If you only choose font styles that you need, host the fonts locally, reduce character counts, and prioritize things based on what is and isn't supported by different browsers, you'll be able to improve your web speed considerably.
- Protecting from hotlinking. Hotlinking refers to HTTP calls by others who have embedded your assets on to their websites. If you are not protected from hotlinks, you'll burn up lots of bandwidth while other web pages display your images.
- Modern infrastructure. Choosing a web host that is fast is about as important as going through speed performance optimization steps yourself. Avoid shared hosting, and choose a VPS plan or a managed host if possible.
- Use scaled images. Instead of having your images compressed or scaled down by CSS or third parties, take care of them yourself. Upload scaled images, and include multiple resolutions as well so that your page can be made responsive, depending on the device or screen size that it is being served to.
Faster is always better
If you are online with a goal and purpose in mind, having a fast and performant page is something you cannot do without. Avoid the traps of slow plans and sub-optimal pages by cutting off page load times wherever you can, and make sure you run online speed tests and use other tools freely available to improve, even incrementally, the speed at which your page loads.
Every microsecond counts and could be the difference between a lost sale or a customer won, so a little emphasis on speed will take the performance of your page and your website a long way.