How can I Speed Up my website?
The question of website speed is often discussed in the world of web development. Some developers will tell you that certain software is slow. There is a local developer who tells anyone who will listen that WordPress is slow and you should avoid using it but is this true? Any website software can make a website slow. Are there some systems which are innately faster? Yes, there are. But as with all things in life, there are downsides to using a platform which is faster “out of the box”. The items that are removed to speed up the site are often the items that make the site easier to use for the average person. The website is fast and easy for the developer to use, but to your average user it’s a complicated mess in the backend and very confusing to understand. Rather diving too deeply into this discussion, I’d like to focus on the “why” and “how” of website speed.
Why is website speed important?
A fast loading website is a good user experience! If you’re looking for information about any topic at all, you do not want to sit and wait for a website to load. Our patience for slow loading websites is at an all time low and there is no reason why that patience wont continue to spiral downwards.
Another important consideration when determining whether the speed of your website is important, is the Google Search Engine and it’s ranking algorithm. Google has stated that it considers the download speed of a website when determining ranking.
What has speed got to do with Google ranking?
Google is so successful for one main reason. Google cares about user experience. Google wants to give you the correct answers to your questions and lead you to the best answers in the shortest amount of time. Imagine for a moment that you asked Google a question, clicked on the result at the top of the page only to find that you have landed on a website which just sells diet pills and the answer to your question can’t be found. Imagine you waited ten seconds for that site to load only to find that it doesn’t have the information you’re looking for. Do you think that after this happened a few times you might go looking for a different Search Engine? You might decide that Google just doesn’t get it and find a Search Engine which gives you the results you need.
At the end of the day, Google’s survival depends upon it giving you the search results you want and at a speed which fits within your acceptable limits. Google is way too smart to let anything stand in the way of giving you what you’re looking for at speed!
Let’s take a look at how we achieve fast website speed.
How do we speed up a website?
The first step in speeding up any site is to do some research. The best tools to use for research are:
Both of these tools will provide information about your website and the way it is downloading onto the users computer. They are both free to use and the information they provide is invaluable to web developers in helping to identify why a site is slow. Please note that Google Pagespeed is not a speed score per se, it is a tool to help you identify some of the areas that are slowing down your site.
The biggest problem with these tools is that for the average person, most of the contents of the report make no sense. They offer scores and different coloured graphs, which all look important but in reality some of the items they identify as requiring your attention, are very minor and won’t make much of a difference to your site speed.
1. Understand the speed results
This is undoubtedly one of the trickiest steps. The results use lots of technical terms and many website owners and even some website designers give up at this point. However, there is also usually some “low hanging fruit” in these results. By that we mean, changes that you can make to your site which will make a huge difference and you don’t need to be a web developer to understand them.
2. Reduce the size of your images
Image sizes are one of the biggest causes of slow websites. Images which are too big in size will unnecessarily increase the download weight of the page, worsening the page load time.
There are three main strategies you could be using to reduce the size of your images:
- Choose the right image format. Not all image formats were created equal. They were designed to do different things, and as such have different strengths and weaknesses. For example: PNG is a lossless format that allows for transparency in images. It’s great for line drawings, text and illustrations. However, JPG is a lossy format that is better at displaying photographs, but doesn’t allow for transparency.
- Create scaled images. This means scaling your image to the size they are going to appear on your website. E.g. having a 4000px x 3000px image on your site displaying at 800px x 600px is wasting a whole heap of data. Changing the image size to 800px x 600px in photoshop or a similar program removes this unnecessary data, reducing the size of your image.
- Compressing images. Not all images are automatically created using the most efficient algorithm. Services like Tinyjpg provide lossless image compression for free, meaning you won’t notice a difference in image quality, but you will notice a difference in image size.
Displaying your images in the most optimised format, serving them at a scaled size and compressing them provides the lowest download size and will speed up your site.
3. Install a caching plugin
Installing a caching plugin is probably one of the most effective things you can do for your website. When your website is loaded, your website software dynamically creates a set of files from the information in your database. Dynamically created files take time and resources to be created by the server, slowing down the time it takes for your page to load.
A caching plugin allows your website to store these dynamically created files as static files, meaning they don’t have to be created every single time someone requests a page from your website. Your website can just take the cached static file, and send it to the user. It’s like buying a ready made store cake, instead of creating one from scratch.
A caching plugin also allows for files to be saved onto the users computer. This means that in future requests, instead of downloading the same file again, the user’s browser can take the already stored files. This effectively takes the load time of a resource down to none, speeding up your website for the user.
Setting up a caching plugin can be difficult, so we recommend a user friendly plugin such as WP Fastest Cache for WordPress. If you would like professional help installing and optimising caching for your website, feel free to contact us.
4. Minify Resources
However, minifying resources can sometimes cause your website to stop working. Minification can sometimes removes necessary information from your files and can cause your website to look wrong or serve up an error message.
5. Combine Resources
Combining resources means stitching together files. This might not sound like it would improve load times, due to the fact that you’re downloading the same amount of data, just put together. But minimising the number of requests means that your web server doesn’t have to go looking for another file to send you, increasing your pagespeed.
6. Use a Content Delivery Network
A content delivery network, such as Cloudflare, utilises a network of data centers located in different parts of the world. Your website is cached onto a server in one of these data centers and sent from the server closest to the user. This means that the distance your website is required to travel from server to user is minimised, improving page speed.
Content delivery networks usually have a host of other tools available such as advanced caching and security options. However, explanations and guides for these tools may require a blog of their own!
Speeding up your website is a great way to increase your Google search rankings and improve user experience. Once you know where to start, it is easy to see where your website speed could be improved.