The importance of site speed

SEO Executive Andrew Morton discusses the increased demands for site speed from web users, and what can be done to reduce your website's loading time.

If you’re reading this blog post it’s likely you can remember the astronomical levels of patience that were required in the early days of web browsing. You’d be sitting opposite your massive, off-white CRT monitor, transfixed by the little blue loading bar at the bottom of the screen, watching it plod along towards its goal like an 8-bit caterpillar.

“Is this even loading?” you’d think, puzzled by the glacial nature of what everyone described as The Next Big Thing. You might have employed the old ‘place-the-cursor-one-pixel-away-from-the-end-of-the-loading-bar’ trick to make sure Windows 95 hadn’t frozen on you (again). Then, when you’re within spitting distance of the official website for Space Jam, someone picks up the phone in the other room and you’re back to square 1. Ah, the good old days!

As archaic as this may seem compared to 2016, this was lightyears ahead of the loading times associated with the genesis of the internet. Back in 1969, researchers at UCLA, California spent hours attempting to send a message across the ARPANET, an early version of the internet. Although the command “login” only got as far as “lo” before the system crashed, history was made and arguably, the Information Age began. Since then, the internet has become a universal resource, and as such, what we expect of it has increased exponentially.

As internet users, we now insist on faster loading times than ever before. The impact being businesses are expected to ensure their websites load quicker than ever before. Research by Akamai.com and Gomez.com found that almost half of us expect a webpage to load within 2 seconds or less, and if it hasn’t loaded within 3 seconds, many of us will abandon a page and browse elsewhere.

The implications of having a fast loading website are huge and should be considered, whether you’re the world’s largest technology firm, or an independent retailer of cheese. There are a number of handy tools available online that allow you to test site speed, giving you a clearer idea of your page load time;

  • Pingdom.com has a clear interface that allows you to see all of the requests that have to be made prior to your page loading. It then breaks down the individual elements required to make each request along with a loading time. This is a useful way of identifying parts of your page which might be affecting page speed.
  • GTmetrix, like pingdom, provides feedback data relating to the overall time taken, the size of various page elements and the number of requests required to make your page load. As well as this, it also provides and prioritises a number of recommendations that can be followed to improve site performance.
  • Google, arguably the global authority on what makes a good website, have their own resource called PageSpeed Tools. Enter your URL into the engine and users will be given metrics on your website from both a mobile device and desktop computer. PageSpeed Tools automatically gives your load time a score out of 100, combined with a list of variables impacting site speed and recommendations on how to solve them.

So, you’ve used the tools mentioned above and found that your website could load a little (or a lot) faster. What can be done to get your webpage up to speed? Popular SEO resource Moz identifies 15 tips that can help to decrease the loading time of your website. Here are some of the main points:

Leverage browser caching

This is a handy tip that allows for speed increases for those who use your website on a regular basis. The technique of browser caching saves parts of your site that are not likely to change frequently, such as the page logo, and saves them within the browser’s cache. When you next click on the page, every single bit of information within the page doesn’t have to be requested from the source, thereby reducing site loading times.

Use a content delivery network

A content delivery network, or CDN, is the name given to a group of internet servers spread over a number or geographical locations designed to increase the speed at which content is delivered to web users. When a request is made for content, a server will be chosen to deliver it based on its network proximity. Moz identifies Amazon CloudFront, MAXCDN and W3 Total Cache as the best providers of CDN’s.

Minify your codes

Cutting down on the code language within your page is a great way of reducing load times. Changes to HTML comments, CDATA sections, whitespaces and empty elements will reduce the size of your page, reduce network latency and improve page load speed.

Optimise images

If you run a website that is heavily dependent on images, it might be worth investigating image optimisation. This involves removing code around the image that contains unnecessary extra comments and useless colours. It can also involve reducing the size of images, particularly helpful for web users with slow connections. Other image optimisation tips include saving images in the JPEG format.

As you can see, the problems relating to slow loading times are easy to identify and in many cases, solvable. However, effecting these changes can be difficult. Luckily, Equator offer extensive services designed to make your business website load as quickly as possible. Why not run your own domains through one of the aforementioned online tools? You’ll learn a thing or two about where your website might have problems, and you can check that it isn’t loading like it’s 1995!

By Andrew Morton, SEO Executive