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How to speed up your website

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You have a well-designed website, full of engaging and interesting content, and effective SEO attracts lots of visitors. But if your website is slow to load, all that hard work could be wasted. According to research from Google, if a web page takes longer than 3 seconds to load, over 50% of your potential clients will have gone.

Why is website speed important?

A site that takes a long time to load will give your visitors a poor user experience and a negative impression of your company. This crucial first impression could determine if they explore more of your website and become a customer, or not.

In addition to impacting user experience, site speed can also affect your SEO. Google ranks sites based on several factors, including how much time your visitor spends looking at your website. If visitors arrive and leave immediately – spending virtually no time on your website and looking at no other pages – this results in a high bounce rate. This is regarded negatively by Google, causing you to be ranked lower. One reason for a high bounce rate is that the website took so long to load, your visitor moved on.

So not only has the speed of your website resulted in a poor user experience that lost you a potential sale, but it has also negatively affected your Google ranking position.

How to check your website speed

But is site speed an issue you need to worry about? There are a few things you can check to find out:

  • Visit your website paying particular attention to how long it takes for the website to load. What experience do you get? What content and pages loaded quickly and what didn’t? Was your experience disrupted by slow loading content? Did your experience differ on mobile and desktop devices? Ask others to do the same.
  • Visit your competitor sites – how do their download speeds compare to yours?
  • Check your website speed – there are several free tools available including ones from Google, Pingdom and GTmetrix.

If you find that your site speed is slower than average, decide how much it matters to your business. Is your online customer experience important to you? Would a slower website affect your sales? Is ranking highly important to you – do you rely on search engines like Google for business? If the answer is yes, then there are a few things you can do.

What is slowing your website down?

The first thing you need to do is work out what is slowing your website down. There are a few reasons for this that can be split into front end and back end factors. Front end issues relate to anything you can see on the front of your website – such as images. Back end factors relate to the website code and hosting.

Front end factors

Below are a few issues that often negatively affect your website speed, but could be fairly easily fixed.

  • Compress files. The bigger your page, the longer it takes to download. Images and film are usually the culprits and will slow your site down if they are too big. 
  • Quality over quantity. Do you need 6 images on your homepage, or will 3 do the job? Only include images that add value. Reducing the number of images will speed up your website.
  • Optimise images. Before uploading images to your website, reduce the size of them by using a photo-editing application such as Photoshop or online tools such as Smushit. Compress files using an optimiser plugin on the website. But keep use to a minimum – if they’re too small they will look fuzzy on some screens.
  • Design wisely. When designing the web page layout, consider how your content loads on the page. ‘Above the fold’ content (i.e. content you can see before you have to scroll down the page) should load first, followed by everything else. This creates the impression of a fast loading web page, as long as the rest loads quickly.
  • Web fonts. Avoid using lots of different fonts across the site and choose wisely. The wrong font can affect the download speed, for example, Google Fonts download faster than Adobe Typekit.
  • Avoid redirects. This is when you type in a URL and are directed to a page with a different URL. But each new request takes time and too many could affect your download speed.  You can check for redirects on your pages by using the redirect mapper tool. It detects 301 (pages that have moved permanently) and 302 (pages that have moved temporarily). When a redirect is needed, 301 permanent redirects are better than 302 temporary ones, because they can be cached for next time you visit the website.
  • Regularly audit content. Keep your website clean and full of engaging relevant content. Regularly declutter your website, removing any unwanted content, images and functionality that is no longer required. Having less content to load will help minimise load times.

Back end factors

After updating all the front end factors, test your web speed again – has it improved? If you are still not happy with it, you may want to look into any back end factors. Contact your developer and hosting provider to find out what they can do to help. Some things to consider include:

  • Plugin overload. Content management plugins can add additional functionality and features to your website. But adding too many plugins can slow down your website’s download speed as they take time to load. Speak to your developer to see if you can reduce the number of plugins you have – remove any that duplicate functionality, are out of date or no longer used. Ask them to see if any are affecting your speed by deactivating them then measuring performance.
  • Hosting provision. Check your hosting provision to find out what is included – does it still meet your requirements? If your business has grown and you are now getting more visitors, the amount of content has increased and you have added new functionality, it may no longer be enough and you need more CPU, RAM or bandwidth. Ask your hosting provider if your current package is still fit for purpose or if it needs updating to meet your current requirements. Also, find out how many websites are hosted on the server – an overcrowded server could negatively affect your site speed. A good hosting provider will limit the number of websites per server to minimise the impact on site speed, or even provide you with your own virtual server. Alberon provides secure hosting and support services which aim to keep your website safe.
  • Code optimisation. Code can usually be optimised to improve site speed. The first step is to review the code to find any points that may be slowing the website down and determine what needs improving. Then the slow parts can be revised and updated. For example, it may take some time for the system to fetch information from a database. Rewriting queries to be more efficient can often speed up this process. In the browser, JavaScript and CSS code can be broken up so only the necessary code is downloaded on each page, and “minified” to make it download faster. It may be worth speaking to your developer to get your web code reviewed to see if any improvements could be made.
  • Enable caching. Where the code can’t be sped up, we can often use “caching” to reduce the average load time of a website. The first time someone visits your website they download static information that rarely changes, including HTML documents, stylesheets, JavaScript files and images. These dictate how the web page will look – the images, fonts and layout etc. Caching means the first time anyone visits a web page, that version is stored or cached on the server. By storing these static parts of your website means visitor’s don’t have to wait for these parts of the site to load every time they visit the page. It is especially useful for return visitors and those who visit multiple pages on your website. Speak to your hosting provider to include a caching plugin on your website.

Next Steps

This is an ongoing process, and it is important to test the website regularly, keeping an eye on your website speed to ensure it remains as fast as possible. Prioritise the most important pages and ensure the above factors are addressed. Check what is included in your hosting and packages and speak to your developer and hosting provider to see what they can do to help.

Get in touch

Alberon provides hosting and support packages that are tailored to the individual needs of our customers. We will regularly check your website to ensure it continues to provide the best possible user experience and help protect your investment. Get in touch to find out how we can help your business.

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