Page Speed: Patience is a Virtue that You Shouldn’t Count On

By Andreanna Mazereeuw

Have you ever visited a website only to have it take what feels like ages to load? I certainly have. While I’d love to say that patience is among my many virtues, it’s not. The longer a page takes to load, the more likely I am to abandon it. And I’m not alone. According to a DoubleClick report, 53% of mobile site visits are abandoned if pages take longer than 3 seconds to load.

A young boy taps his fingers because of slow page speed.

Slow page load speeds can affect not only user experience, and consequently metrics such as bounce rate and conversions, but they can also impact a website’s organic search rankings. Google has included site speed (the page speed for a sample of page views on a site) as a ranking factor in its search algorithms since 2010. A slow page load speed can also affect AdWords performance, as sub-optimal landing page experience impacts quality score, and consequently ad rank and advertising costs.

But not to worry, it’s not all doom and gloom! In this blog, I’ll explain the concept of page speed and highlight 6 different ways to improve page load (and site) speed. However, I should mention that some of the techniques mentioned below are fairly technical. I’d advise working with an expert that can manage these features on your behalf.

Page Load Speed 101

When an individual clicks on a website link or enters a url manually, their browser makes a request to the server hosting the website to download the necessary files (HTML, stylesheets, images etc.). The server locates these files and then sends them back to the browser to be loaded and displayed. The duration of this process, from initial request to display, is the page load time.

There are a number of tools available for checking page load time. Google’s Page Speed tools are a great place to start.

Compress yourself (and your images) before your wreck yourself

Image compression is a great way to deal with this issue. With image compression, you can greatly decrease the file size of images without impacting their quality. These compressed images can in turn be sent from the server to the browser much faster.

There are a number of Plugins that can take care of this for you – for example, check out these WordPress Plugins – or you can also identify and compress the images yourself with a tool like Pixlr.

Zip it good with GZip Compression

Images are not the only thing that can be compressed to improve page load speed. Other types of files (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, for example) can also be compressed through a method called GZip compression. With GZip compression, the server compresses and zips the files before sending them to the browser. This reduces page load time as it takes far less time for the files to be sent from the server to the browser. Speak to your developer for more information about this.

Get your priorities straight: Defer Parsing JavaScript

When loading a web page browsers parse (or process) and load all of the files sent to them from the server. However, despite the fact that not all of these files are required to render the page, the time associated with each contributes to the total page load time.

To reduce the page load time you can defer the parsing of non-essential JavaScript. This means that files essential to rendering the page will load first while non-essential scripts wait until after page load to run. A common approach is to “minify” Java and CSS using a WordPress plugin such as Autoptimize.

“Cache” in on Server-Side Caching

As explained above, every time a browser loads a web page it needs to download all of the associated files. By setting up server-side caching, you can ensure this is a one time process. With server-side caching multiple users are served from the same cache. For those of you on WordPress, a plugin like WP Super Cache can help. In short, this plugin generates static HTML files from your website, delivers them to the majority of users (i.e those who have not logged in, left a comment etc.), and refreshes them at your desired interval. Don’t worry, we can help with this. You can also speak with your developer about setting this up via the .htaccess file.

Time to . . . Improve Server Response Time

Server response time refers to the amount of time that it takes for the server to respond to a request from the browser. The slower the response time, the longer it will take for the web page to display. You can test your server response time with Google’s Page Speed Tools. Ideally, the response time should be below 200ms.

Unfortunately, the associated action points are slightly less concrete. Because there are a wide variety of reasons that your server could be responding slowly (application logic, database queries, routing, CPU, memory etc.) it’s a good idea to bring this up with your web-hosting provider as the type of hosting you have (dedicated, shared, VPS etc.) plays an important role.

Around the world in 80 milliseconds: Use a Content Delivery Network

The time that it takes for data to be sent from a browser to a server, and vice-versa, can be affected by the geographical distance between the two. For example, a request originating in New York and being sent to a server in Beijing may take longer than the same request being sent to San Francisco.

A Content Delivery Network – or CDN – is a great way to address this issue. A CDN is a global network of servers that improves the rate of content delivery and consequently, page load speed. In short, it works by caching content around the globe on “edge servers.” This minimizes the distance between visitors and website servers and in turn offers users a faster experience.

Striking a Balance: Page Load Speed vs Engagement

I want to point out that there is a balance to be struck between pagespeed and engagement. More specifically, increasing engagement and tactility with design elements such as high resolution photos and videos can slow page speeds, by increasing the size of the files to be downloaded by the browser. Conversely, the more streamlined and simple a website is, the less there is to download and the faster the page speed.

Given this relationship, it’s important to determine early on what you want out of our website (i.e engagement vs. website speed). Think about your business goals and how your website can support them. Is your website transactional, like that of Polaroid Originals. Or is it more informative and aimed at conveying a story, like Bang & Olufson’s E8 website. Also consider your audience – what devices do they use and what kind of bandwidth do they have access to?

Patience? Who Needs It!

Implementing the above recommendations is a great way to reduce your page load time and keep your impatient users (i.e. me) happy! Moreover, they are an important part of your SEO efforts that should not be overlooked.

A note of caution – while you may be able to ensure that your images are properly compressed, some of the above recommendations are quite technical. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you need guidance with these. We’re always happy to help!