For every second it takes for your website to load you are leaving money on the table.
The most recent studies show the average person using the web had an attention span of a measly 8 seconds in 2013 (and I doubt it has gotten any longer in 2014). This means that if your website is not optimized for speed most people will leave before ever making any sort of meaningful interaction (i.e. buying your stuff!).
And keep in mind, 8 seconds is an average. That means that there is a huge percentage of your visitors that have attention spans that are even less than 8 seconds.
If this isn’t reason enough to put a little time into website speed optimization then consider the fact that Matt Cutts (Google) has blatantly said that the speed of your website affects your search engine rankings.
But knowing this, it amazes me how often I see people investing tons of time and resources into SEO, writing content and building backlinks… to a painfully slow website.
So in this in this post I want to share some powerful cheap/free website speed optimization tools you can use to immediately improve the speed of your website, but before I do that you should take a moment to determine how your website performs using Google Page Speed Insights.
This powerful tool is dead simple to use. Just enter your URL and they will give your website a speed rating out of 100 for both desktop and mobile browsers.
Here is the report generated from my blog:
Here is a report generated for CNN.com (Sweet… I’m faster that CNN ;):
The reason I am showing you these two websites is I want to you understand that the results that Google gives you are simply a guide. You are never going to get a perfect score. When I type in “Google.com” they only got a 92/100 and it offered suggestions for ways they could improve their OWN website.
So the point is this: You are never going to get a perfect score and if you are above 75 you are probably in pretty good shape. If you are above 90 give yourself a pat on the back.
So now that you’ve run this report on your website and you have an idea of how your website is performing along with Google’s suggestions on how to optimize your website for speed (many of which you may not be able to make) it is time to dive into the specific website speed optimization tools and strategies you can use to accelerate the speed of your website.
10 Tips For Maximum Website Speed Optimization
Tip #1: Choose a Fast Web Host & Hosting Package
The first step in optimizing your website for speed is choosing the right web host. Most of the big US based web hosts are very fast and do a good job of managing their loads and bandwidth to ensure fast ping and load times. For a list of the fastest web hosts click here.
That said, if you choose a fast web host but sign up for the budget hosting package there’s still a good chance that your website is going to be stuck on a server with hundreds of other websites all competing for server resources and bandwidth. So if you are serious about running a business on the Internet, bargain shopping your hosting package is typically a bad idea.
Tip #2: Maximize Your Image Compression
If your website is loaded with uncompressed and unoptimized images then you can have the fastest web host in the world and it won’t make a lick of a difference.
In fact, unoptimized images are the #1 cause of slow websites (this ‘fact’ is not based on anything but my gut feeling… but I figure I’m pretty smart so it must be right ;) and this is sooooo unnecessary since there are tons of tools out there to help you optimize your images for maximum performance.
Now in this post I am not going to get into which image format is best for which type of image (ie. PNG, JPG, GIF), nor do I want to get into reviewing all of the different image optimization tools out there but I will tell you that if you are a WordPress user it is hard to go wrong with a plugin called EWWW Image Optimizer which you can find here:
This handy little plugin can be configured to optimize and compress every image you upload to your website and will also optimize your entire existing image library. I was pretty impressed with the results achieved from this plugin. It was able to substantially reduce the size of tons of the images on my site with minimal impact on the image quality.
Tip #3: Minimize HTTP Requests (AKA Keep it simple!)
Every element on a webpage generates an HTTP Request (images, scripts, stylesheets, videos, etc) so the more stuff on your webpage the longer it takes to load. Here are a few strategies to minimize the HTTP requests and speed up load time:
- Eliminate unnecessary items on your web page. If it really isn’t necessary and offers no measurable value does it really need to be there?
- Use CSS instead of images when possible.
- Combine style sheets into one whenever possible.
- Reduce unnecessary scripts on your page.
Tip #4: Simple Themes
WordPress developers are constantly trying to build the holy grail of WordPress theme, a theme that is everything to everyone; this has led to themes that sound great on paper but are bloated and slow.
In fact, recently we moved a large website from Joomla to WordPress and we used one of the most popular themes from ThemeForest called the Avada Theme. This theme looked great on paper, built with a ton of useful features we knew we needed… along with even more that we did not need. After converting the site over using this theme, no matter what we did, the site felt sluggish and when we looked behind the scenes at the source code for each page it was bloated with unnecessary code.
So after a few weeks we bit the bullet and migrated the site to another theme called Headway which allowed us to achieve the same result with far less code bloat and immediately knocked a few seconds off the page load time.
Tip #5: Minimize Plugin Usage
If you are not using a plugin, deactivate and uninstall it. Need I say more?
Tip #6: Enable Caching
If you are using WordPress, this is one of the fastest website speed optimization strategies that will instantly speed up the load time of your website for repeat visitors using these two popular (and free) plugins to enable caching:
I’ve used both plugins with success and if I had to summarize the differences I would say WP Super Cache is easier to use whereas W3 Total Cache is more powerful with more features allowing you to really fine tune your website’s performance.
Tip #7: Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
Without getting into the technical details, if you have an image heavy website, distributing your images out over a CDN like Amazon’s Cloudfront can substantially increase the speed of your website, reduce load on your server and substantially reduce your bandwidth costs.
Again, if you are using WordPress there are numerous plugins that will streamline the process including W3 Total Cache which offers CDN support along with its caching features.
Tip #8: Minify Your Code
If you are using a WYSIWYG editor on your website I guarantee the code is going to be full of unnecessary and unoptimized code. Fortunately there are programs like W3 Total Cache that offer an option to clean up (aka Minify) your code, effectively pulling out all of the unnecessary crap and decreasing load time.
Tip #9: Optimize or Remove Redirects
I know redirects are a necessary evil but avoid them if you can. If you can’t avoid them try to set up redirects using your .htaccess file rather than page level redirects. I know plugins like Yoast – SEO For WordPress make it simple to do page and post lever redirects but these are much slower than .htaccess level redirects.
Tip #10: Put Scripts at the Bottom
Browsers read and load webpages from the top down so if you are running numerous different scripts placed at the top of your page (analytics, tracking, split testing, etc.) they will slow down the load time of any content below it on the page. This means that while scripts are loading in the background, the content that is going to keep your visitors on the page isn’t visible.
In summary, website speed optimization is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to improve both user engagement and search engine rankings. Seems like a no-brainer to me!
Have any additional tips or tools you would like to share?
Go ahead and leave a comment below.
Here’s to faster websites!