Optimize Your Load Speeds or Lose Visitors (and Revenue)

You need to optimize your website for the fastest loading speeds possible as soon as you can.

No, actually you need to do it NOW.

Failing to to grease the cogs on your website’s back end to improve loading speeds is costing you visitors, which in turn is costing you money. Web administrators spend so much time trying to impress (and trick) the Google algorithm that they forget about their real ROI - their users.

Speed is a ranking factor for Google, plain and simple.

Why would Google build a tool called Page Speed Insights if they didn't want you to improve your site's speed? Beats me.

Bounce rate is certainly associated with speed. But even if you have relevant rankings, don’t forget that you may be repelling the majority of your organic traffic if your visitors are fed up with how long it takes your pages to load!

So, How Fast Is Your Website?

Let’s not put the cart before the horse, however, and start by taking an objective analyses of how fast (or slow) page load times really are, so you have a benchmark with which you can compare your own pages.

According to Google, the amount of time it takes for a mobile user to fully load a page is approximately 15 seconds. If your pages are loading at about that rate or even a little faster, don’t pat yourself on the back just yet. Google gathered the following data regarding page load times and the probability of a visitor bouncing as follows:

  • 1-3 seconds: probability of a bounce increases 32%
  • 1-5 seconds: probability of a bounce increases 90%
  • 1-6 seconds: probability of a bounce increases 106%
  • 1-10 seconds: probability of a bounce increases 123%

Don't forget, we're talking about mobile users.

Clearly, keeping page load times as short as possible is something to strive for if you have any hope of keeping your bounce rate under control.

However, I did want to take a moment to dig a little deeper. Be aware that some users may refrain from bouncing if the data they’re after, especially text, loads first. Maintaining a minimalist website design will help ensure content loads quickly but there are a lot of other tricks you can employ to boost page load times. This thinking is where Google's AMP Project and Facebook's Instant Articles grew from.

External CSS and Background Loading

Some of my favorite website designs simply have a white or an off-white background. These types of sites are easy on the eyes and just look so darn clean. But I do acknowledge that a clean minimalist background isn’t always appropriate for every business. If you do have a background image, make sure it is loaded last to give more pertinent content a chance to load first.

The disadvantage, however, is that you’ll need to type a bit of code (unless you’re using WordPress, which the majority of web administrators are familiar with). If you’re using WordPress, you can use a tool like Zedna WP Image Lazy Load, Lazy Load, BJ Lazy Load, or jQuery Image Lazy Load WP.

Be Succinct by Trimming the Fat

You’ll also want to trim the fat from your copy and make sure that your posts aren’t too long or overburdened with text. I know it may not sound like much, but some forms of content, especially long form content or purely informational and reference content (like extremely long reference guides) can become sluggish on account of their length, especially if a visitor has a weak or slow connection.

Remember, every textual character that you type adds up to one byte (this sentence is 103 bytes total). Imagine how quickly things could get out of hand if your posts are too long. Typically, with few exceptions, you don’t want a long form blog post to go over 5,000 words. If you have more information you need to convey to your audience, try chunking the content up and organizing it into different pages which are linked together.

Furthermore, you may also want to consider social interaction plugins which allow users to post comments. In some cases, oodles of comments can also contribute to grossly inflated character and word counts which cause a page to load more slowly, especially if each comment comes with an avatar or image of the user. I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal at first, but every little bit counts and will influence visitors’ choice to stay or bounce.

Prune Unnecessary Scripts

You may have site-wide scripts that simply don’t add value to the user experience on many of your pages. Javascript plugins and other forms of scripting not only eat up valuable bandwidth and page load time, but can also bog down a user’s browser. If you’re a pro and know how to that manually with code, great.

For the rest of us, there are tools that make the job exponentially easier, such as the LC Scripts Optimizer plugin. It will help any WordPress user speed up page load times by ensuring you are only running CSS and Javascript scripts that are necessary. Plus, the interface is pretty darn simple and easy to use.

Disclaimer: If you're on WordPress, I'm giving you some great plugins to use. Just remember, every plugin that you add to your site can ultimately slow down your site. Some of these can be turned on, used, then deactivated. It's really important that you not over-bloat your site with plugins that you think are helping.   My favorite plugin-testing plugin is P3 - and again, install it, use it, then deactivate it until a month or two from now when you want to test again.

Store Stuff Like a Squirrel

Most website platforms nowadays use two parts - their files, and a database. When you visit any page on a website, it's very likely that multiple calls are made to the database.

And by multiple I mean it could twenty, thirty, or more.

And each of these 'calls' for data take time - milliseconds. But those all add up.

Enter caching - a godsend for websites that are slow to load. Caching can greatly reduce the "computational and resource burdens" placed on the server.

Basically, caching makes a carbon copy of your pages, so all of your content is pre-loaded all at once, and can be served to a visitor with minimal effort. And yes, yet again, WordPress users can turn to easy to install (and easy to use) plugins that do all the heavy lifting.

If you host with us, LiteSpeed Cache is incredible. If not, Comet Cache is a good option as well. Your hosting company may also have a particular favorite that they recommend.

Employ a Secret Weapon

Distance can affect your page load time.

Here's an interesting thought - what if your biggest and bestest customer you ever had lives in Oregon, and your server is in Florida?

That distance, believe it or not, can affect how fast your page loads because all those tiny bits and bytes have to travel that far to get information about your site, and then report that information back to your browser.

Yeah, again, this happens really quickly, but what if there was a local copyof your site right there in, say, Seattle?

Can you see how that'd help?

This is where a service like CloudFlare can be very helpful. CloudFlare basically takes your website and spreads 'copies' of it all across the country (or world, if need be) so that visitors are downloading it from a server very close to them.

And the best part - for most small businesses it's free! So get it going now (or pay us to set it up for you)!

Don't Wait to Optimize

With Google's new mobile first index and their push for faster websites, it's time to make sure your site is not only easily readable on mobile devices, but that it loads quickly.

If you need help getting your site optimized for both, contact us - we'd love the opportunity to help you serve your visitors better!

Other Reading

Is Your Website Slow? Remember These Website Speed Tips!

About the Author:

Will Hanke owns Saint Louis' top independent Internet Marketing firm, Red Canoe Media. In addition to helping some of St Louis' most recognizable brands with their online marketing strategy, Will also is an Amazon bestselling author, speaker and teacher.

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