Do you own or manage a website? If so, has your site’s overall speed and responsiveness been tested lately? First and most importantly, how long does your site take to load? By load, this means First Load Time after the browser’s cache has been cleared. If that time is any longer than 3 or 4 seconds, you may be running the risk of losing valuable visitors. If initial load time takes longer than 5 or 6 seconds (an eternity when staring at a monitor or phone screen), the so-called visitor bounce rate tends to increase dramatically. Speed is a big deal. Without a fast website, all the hard work you have put into developing great design and content may never reach an intended visitor’s eye.
The best first step in optimizing site speed is understanding where the bottlenecks are. This is a simple matter of testing your site against a few well-known performance reporting sites. The tests will not fix performance, but they will provide valuable intelligence on where to start your optimization efforts. In many cases, the fixes can be quick and straightforward if you understand how to interpret the test results. To get you started, check out these popular and highly regarded testing services:
Google Page Speed Insights: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/
All three sites will analyze your website performance and return a report with identified issues and suggested improvements. You will have your test results in as little as one or two minutes. Be aware that none of the tests measure all the same metrics, and some metrics are measured differently by different engines. Some reports are more detailed, others less so. Confused? Don’t be. Look for common trends among all the reports. Those are the findings to focus on first.
You’ll likely be provided with more information than you’ll know what to do with. Before digging in, ask yourself how fast your site is actually loading right now. If it’s, say 5 seconds or more then, by all means, pay close attention to every suggestion. If you’re loading around 3 seconds or less, it probably makes more sense to decide which findings to tackle first – and which ones to possibly not bother with at all. The reports are all sorted in order of suggested importance, but keep in mind it’s an algorithm that has done that sorting. One size does not fit all. Different solutions may or may not make sense for different sites depending on individual circumstance.
For example, you may see a suggestion to move your content to a CDN (Content Delivery Network). While this is a great idea in principle (many servers globally caching copies of your pages for faster delivery), it can sometimes cause more trouble than it’s worth. CDN providers use their own servers requiring you to switch out the servers provided by your web hosting company. And although site performance typically improves on a CDN, that bump in performance may not be worth an extra layer of complexity. If your audience is mostly local rather than global, there is usually little value in utilizing a global delivery network. A report algorithm cannot know where your audience is, all it knows is technical opportunities for increasing speed.
On the other hand, some suggestions are worth paying immediate attention to. One such example is image optimization, meaning file size reduction without losing image quality. Even a handful of sub-optimized images can bloat site size such that load times jump noticeably. Compared to other improvements, image optimization efforts tend to produce big results in a small amount of time. By optimizing images before they are even imported to your web development environment, you can dramatically reduce your site’s image size footprint. Optimizing images again once they are imported will produce even more dramatic improvements. Image optimization tools are widely available on the internet and most are intuitive to use. Image optimization is one of the easiest and biggest bang-for-the-buck optimizations possible.
Finally, it’s important to recall that different performance measurement sites use different testing algorithms to report results. Some suggestions are impractical or too difficult to implement, others cannot be acted upon at all. While a “100% Performance Score” may sound like a logical goal, it’s not performance on a test report that counts so much. In the end, what really matters is your visitors’ experience.
With a little effort, the testing tools along with some judgment calls should improve your speed in fairly short order. If you don’t have the time or inclination to test and improve, contact me for a no-obligation quote to help. In most cases, I can turn results around in a day or two.
If you have any comments or questions, please leave them below. Thanks for reading!