Four Off-the-Walls Ways To Reduce Your Site’s Load Time

Did you know that 3 out of 4 potential users will never visit your site again if it does not load within 4 seconds? Did you know that the major search engines will down-rank you if your page speed is too low? Did you know that for every second’s worth of delay, you lose about 7% of your prospective customers? You can have solid content and your site’s product and design may be phenomenal, but your work online is not done until you focus on reducing load time.

Your Goal Is…

Failing to take the important step of focusing on reducing load time means that you will lose prospective readers, clients, or customers to competitors with faster sites – assuming that Google ranks you highly enough for people to find you in the first place. You can increase your conversion rates and improve your rankings by following some basic steps to reduce your website’s load time. In considering these steps, you should keep one basic thing in mind: the larger the size of individual files and images, the higher the demand on the server, so the longer it will take to load the website. Your goal should be to reduce the number of HTTP requests made to the server and the size of individual files and images.

Images: Scaling, Compressing, and Combining

It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of optimizing your images – loading images is probably one of the biggest drags on any website’s load time. Properly resizing and optimizing your images will allow you to easily decrease the size of your web pages and improve your load times. If you’re using images that are larger than they will actually be displayed on your web pages, you’re asking for a server lag while those images are resized.

You can avoid making your website take extra time to transfer unnecessary data by simply using Photoshop or another tool to scale images to the same pixel dimensions found in your HTML code. After resizing your images, you should compress them for web-based quality to further reduce sizes and optimize the use of colors. Tools like, TinyPNG, and the image compressor built into Google’s Page Speed Plugin are all great options.  Finally, you should create a CSS sprite to combine all background images on a page into a single image. The easiest way to do this is to use a service like SpriteMe and then make the proper changes to your CSS file.

Code: Combining and Minifying

Obviously, you should clean up your code to only use the code lines and tags that are absolutely necessary. Loading multiple Javascript and CSS files definitely slows load times, so you should considering combing these Scripts and Style Sheets into one large file each. Even with these two steps, you can still reduce your load time significantly by removing unneeded whitespace using web apps like CSS Compressor, JavaScript Compressor, and minifier. Of course, this makes it nearly impossible for humans to read so you should keep a developer friendly copy handy and consider minifying only when you are ready to launch a page or site.

Browser Caching: Setting Expires Headers

Your website uses visitor’s browsers to store a variety of elements like images, Scripts, and Stylesheets onto their hard drives. This is a godsend that speeds up and reduces the number of HTTP requests on their next visit to your website. You can modify the “expires headers” in your .htaccess file to extend the expiration date of the files that are cached – be default, the cache files expire within a day of the original visit, but this is hardly useful enough. You may consider setting an expiration date a week in the future, a year in the future, or even a “never expire” policy to significantly reduce load times for you returning visitors.

Last Thing: Performance Testing Tools

There is probably no such thing as an exhaustive list of website performance enhancing tricks, but you should now have a basic understanding of some powerful but easy-to-implement ways to improve your website’s performance speed. As you experiment with these and other techniques, you should definitely be using one or more of the many impressive tools freely available to you for testing the performance of your websites.

Google’s PageSpeed analyzes your web pages lists and prioritizes actions you can take to improve your website performance. The PageSpeed Score is a comprehensive evaluation of your performance and it should never fall below 80. Yahoo’s YSlow tool is very similar to Page Speed. Google’s Speed Tracer will provide you a wealth of data on the performance of your web pages. Finally, you can use Pingdom to test the speed of your website through real web browsers to show how real users experience every page on the site. Of course, you can always consult an online marketing company, and let them do all the heavy-lifting!

Ricardo Casas has over 12 years of experience in online marketing and is the CEO of Austin-based Fahrenheit Marketing.

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