How to Improve Page Load Speed

I was trolling the interwebs answering some questions and just taking a look at the issues website owners are facing. I noticed a really big issue seems to be page load speed. Many websites face problems with how fast they load. This is a critical issue since the average visitor will not wait very long for a page to load. The longer it takes to load a page, the higher the abandonment rate. In this article we cover the main reasons for slow page load speeds and way to fix them.

Why Is Page Load Speed So Important?

Let’s start with a few stats to illustrate why page load time is so important.

  • Nearly 50% of users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less, and will abandon the page if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.
  • 75% of users will never visit a website again if it takes longer than 4 seconds to load.
  • A 1 second delay in loading time can cause a 7% loss in customer conversions.
  • Yahoo.com reported that a 400ms slower page would cause a 5-9% of users to abandon the page before the page finished loading.
  • Amazon.com found that a 100ms increase in load time resulted in a 1% decrease in sales.
  • Google discovered that an extra 500ms in loading time on Google.com resulted in 20% drop in traffic!
  • Google uses website load speed as signal in their page ranking, so page speed impacts your page rank.
  • 88% of online consumers are less likely to return to a website after a bad experience

I could continue to list study after study, but I think it’s pretty clear that fast page load speed increases conversions, improves visitor retention and results in greater user engagement across your website.

Find Out Your Page Load Speed

Before you can start optimizing your page load speed, you need to know what is contributing to your load speed. There are a lot of tools to help you with this, though there are few in particular that offer a lot of valuable information.

Google PageSpeed Insights. Google provides a great tool to analyze what is slowing down your page load time and suggestions on how to improve it. Generally a score of 80 or higher is considered good. Of course, the higher you get it the better your load speed.

YSlow by Yahoo! YSlow is a browser plugin offered by Yahoo! to analyze page speed based on a variety of criteria. The information is highly detailed and provides valuable insights into what is impacting your page load times.

WebPageTest. WebPageTest provides a very thorough test of your website along with a lot of details on how your website performs. You’re able to choose a target browser when you run the test to see how your website performs across different browsers.

GTmetrix. For those that find WebPageTest a bit intimidating, GTmetrix provides similar results with a nice user interface. Click on each result to find out how you can improve your page speed.

You may find some discrepancies between each of the tools and what they report. That’s to be expected and also why it’s a good idea to run your website through several of them to get a good idea of how it performs overall.

Top Ways to Improve Your Page Load Speed

Now that you’ve run your website through a few tests, you have a lot of information about what factors are slowing it down. Some of these may seem rather daunting. You’re probably wondering what half of them mean and how to deal with the them. Fortunately, there are a few simple things you can do that will resolve most of your page speed problems.

Before getting started, it’s worth having a basic understanding of what your speed test results mean. Google has a great overview of performance best practices. I suggest taking a look at them so you have a better idea of areas to focus on. Some of these might seem a bit technical to non-developers, but it’s still a good idea to give it a read.

  1. Use Caching, Content Compression & Minification
  2. Modern websites make use of a lot of resources, from HTML and JavaScript to images and plugins. Since many aspects of your website don’t change very often (certain design elements, logo, JavaScript resources, etc.) it makes sense to cache them instead of making a new request each time a page is loaded. CGZip compression, supported on most web servers, greatly improves load times. Minification removes unnecessary code comments, white space, line breaks, and other extraneous information that can slow down load times.

    The easiest way to do all of these improvements is to use a caching plugin. W3 Total Cache for websites self-hosted on WordPress is a perfect solution. W3 Total Cache is a powerful plugin that makes it easy to cache, compress and minify your website with just a few clicks. Configuring W3 Total Cache can feel a little intimidating. Fortunately, there are some great guides here and here that walk you through a standard configuration of the plugin.

  3. Compress Your Images
  4. Images are one of the top reasons websites load slowly. There are few ways to improve image load times.

    Specify image dimensions. If your image is 600 pixels wide and 400 pixel tall, then make sure your image tags indicate that by declaring it like <img src=”../sample-image.png” width=”600″ height=”400″ />. This helps the browser render the image and makes it appear as if the page is loading faster.

    Avoid using huge images. That is, use images that are the same size as the dimensions specified in the HTML. Even if you change the dimensions in the HTML but use a large image, the browser still loads the full image which will slow down your website load times. The good news is that WordPress automatically creates several versions of an uploaded image in sizes your theme uses, so this is usually not an issue. We still recommend using a photo editing tool to scale your image to the correct size before loading them to your website.

    Use Yahoo!’s Smush.it tool. You can process images on their website or use the WordPress plugin to compress images on the fly as you add them to your WordPress media library. This tool compresses images to make them load faster. The plugin is great, though keep in mind the service itself seems to crap itself regularly (probably because of heavy use and Yahoo! doesn’t seem too interested in increasing resources for it). Periodically take a look at your media files and make sure they were compressed. If not, compress them individually or try the Bulk Smush.it feature.

  5. Use Properly Formatted Code
  6. Poorly coded websites will load slow. The browser has to try and figure out what was really intended and try to render the page. That can take time. Unless you are technically savvy, you should have a web developer take a look at your website to ensure it’s properly coded and doesn’t have any errors. If you use WordPress, buy your themes from reputable vendors. This will ensure the theme was developed correctly and will load quickly.

    The structure of the webpage matters as well. A properly formatted page will load the primary content first, then the sidebar content and finally the footer content. That order ensures the page not only loads faster, but appears to load faster to the user (they will see primary content more quickly and can view it while secondary content continues to load).

    Additionally, CSS should be placed in a separate style sheet and combined into one style sheet, then placed in the header of the page. JavaScript should also be separated and in one file, and be placed in footer so it loads after the primary content. Properly formatted JavaScript will reuse code and make use of Google public APIs to avoid unnecessary round trips to the server.

  7. Ensure Your Website Doesn’t Host Malware
  8. Malware is a serious problem for a lot of websites. You’re website can be infected without you even knowing it. In many instances this does more than just slow down your website, it makes it unavailable to your users. Often you might see what you expect, but a user (or Google) might be redirected to something else entirely.

    Use Better WP Security to safeguard your website. This WordPress plugin makes it easy for you to protect your website. The settings are easy to understand and configuring the plugin is a breeze. It will also monitor your website for changes so you’ll know immediately if someone has hacked into your website and changed the code.

    Scan your website for malware. There are a lot of WordPress plugins that will scan your website for threats. Exploit Scanner will find issues, but doesn’t remove anything; that’s up to you. Other plugins will remove threats, though none of them is foolproof. If you suspect your website has malware, have a developer do a review.

    Google scans websites for malware and will remove websites from search engine results if it finds any. You can check your website using Google Webmaster Tools. There is also a feature to see your website as Google sees it. This is a great way to detect if a page is redirecting without your knowledge. If you find this, resolve the issue and request that Google re-index you.

Speed Matters

While there are many factors that can contribute to a slow page load speed, we’ve reviewed the top culprits that slow down your website. Focus on those and you are likely to see a huge impact on the performance of your website. You also see an increase in search engine rankings, less user abandonment, and increased engagement across your website. Once you’ve tackled those, consider optimizing your website for SEO with our On-Page SEO Primer article.

Need help improving your page load speed? Reach out to us and we’ll help!

Comments (2)

  1. Pol

    August 23, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    More tools to test your website for speed
    http://siteloadtest.com

    • Jason Stearns

      August 24, 2013 at 7:21 am

      That is another option. Thanks for sharing.

The comments are now closed.