Slow Websites Suck
Studies have shown that the longer your website takes to load, the less traffic it will generate and the lower the conversion rates will be. You spent all this time and money designing and developing the perfect website for your business. Now you’re struggling to generate traffic and customers. Does this sound like you? Maybe you’re able to get some traffic but your bounce rates are through the roof and you can’t seem to convert that traffic into customers. In this article I’ll give you some simple steps you can do to test and fix your slow website.
Why Speed Is So Important
I’m going to cut right to the chase. Who just loves a slow website? Anybody? Anybody? Bueller? How about I just put it up on the chalkboard for you:
- Google said speed is part of their search algorithm. This means that all things being equal, a slow website will rank lower than a fast website.
- Multiple studies show that the longer a web page takes to load, the lower the conversion rate of said page.
- Studies have also clearly shown that the slower a web page, the higher the bounce rate.
The bottom line is that fast websites succeed and slow websites, gone unresolved, flounder and eventually die.
Performing Speed Tests
Before we jump ass deep into the world of speed optimization, let’s first identify if your website has a problem. In this section, I will cover the top 3 free services I recommend for testing your website and identifying the problems that are causing it to be slow:
This is one of my favorite websites for testing website performance. Simply go to their website, enter your URL and press the button. Depending on how busy their website is, you might have to wait for a minute or two in a queue. If you’re lucky, it will process immediately. GTmetrix will scan your website and then return the results of their test.
This is another great tool that is free to use. One advantage that Pingdom offers is the ability to select your “Test From” location from 7 worldwide locations, including both the east coast and west coast of the US. This will allow you to get a slightly more accurate reading if you’re more concerned about traffic coming from around your physical business location.
Uptrends Speed Test
This is an awesome tool that has a lot of features for free. These include being able to choose between desktop and a large selection of mobile devices. This can be valuable because you might uncover that your website performs well but the mobile version is very slow. With the Uptrends tool, you can also specify a browser type on the desktop version of the test. This is also a valuable option you won’t find with the free versions of the other tools.
Speed Test Final Notes
Each tool will return slightly different results. I recommend you test with all 3 and from multiple locations to get the clearest picture of performance. Also be sure to utilize the test options for mobile devices and different browsers. Consider exporting or downloading the results of each report to keep a history of your speed tests. Also don’t forget to test multiple pages/posts from within your website. There are times when I’ve found that a client’s website is performing well on their home page, but some of their content pages were very slow.
Optimizing Your Website For Speed
Once you’ve used the tools I listed above, I’m going to now show you how to understand this information and how to take action. All 3 of these speed test services provide the same core information. We’ve already identified that your load times are over 2 seconds and our goal is to get them under 1 second, or as close as possible to 1 second.
Excessive File Size
As a business owner (and possible web developer newb) the easiest factor to fix is your file size. What file size means is the total amount of bandwidth needed to load your entire page. This includes code, 3rd party scripts, images and any other media you have on the page. Image size is probably the biggest single mistake I see with websites. If you built your website yourself, don’t feel bad. I still see a lot of developers overlooking this critical step.
Here is what happens. When the website was designed, you or your developer may have used images that were larger and higher resolution than was necessary for modern web browsers. For example, you might see that there is a large, “featured” image at the top of your web page that is over 1MB in size. Every time a new visitor comes to your page, their browser must load this 1MB file from your hosting server to their computer. Now think if you have 6 or more images on your page, all not optimized. You can see that a major reason your page is taking 5+ seconds to load is that you have a combined total file size of over 3MB. Not only is this slowing down your website but it is also using up your web hosting resources.
Fixing Bloated Image Files
There are a ton of free image optimization tools and plugins available on the web today. Even the GTmetrix report will provide you with optimized versions of your images that you can save to your computer and use to replace the existing files. You just have to download them, rename them to the non-optimized version names and upload them to your images folder on your website, replacing the existing ones. If you’re running a WordPress website, I recommend using an image optimization plugin such as SMUSH, EWWW Image Optimizer or ShortPixel.
Once you’ve finished optimizing your website, go back to the speed testing services and re-run your tests. If your images were causing your file size to be too high, you should see a big jump in page performance. As a good rule of thumb, I try to keep all pages under 1MB in total size. This might not always possible and will depend on the purpose of the page, but it’s a great goal to have.
Compression & Caching
Adding Gzip compression and site caching are the next factors that don’t require much time to fix. Most shared hosting providers allow you to enable Gzip compression via your cpanel account. If they do not, they should be able to handle it for you. If you’re unsure, you might also try contacting your webmaster and have them enable Gzip compression for you.
Browser side caching is a method for instructing visitors’ browsers to cache the elements of your website and keep them for a longer period of time. This can speed up the load times and improve user experience by not needing the transfer the majority of files from your website each time a new page is visited.
If your website is running WordPress, there are several great caching and speed optimization plugins that I recommend you try, including WP Fastest Cache, Litespeed Cache and WP Super Cache. If you’re unsure about your framework, I recommend contacting your webmaster for help in adding browser side caching to your website.
Not all web hosting is equal. If you’re serious about running a successful website and achieving load times near 1 second, you’re going to need to avoid shared hosting plans. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to find a shared hosting provider that you can achieve fast load times. The size of your web pages and your on-site speed optimization can play a huge factor. But sometimes you will find that even though you have a 100% speed score and everything has been optimized to the maximum possible level, with a shared hosting plan, you just can’t get your times below 2 seconds.
I also want to take the time to tell you this. Unless you are managing a website that is getting thousands of visitors per day, you don’t need to pay more than $10 or $15 per month for hosting. All too often over the years I’ve seen clients that were on overpriced hosting plans because someone at some time convinced them that’s what they needed. Don’t purchase the cheapest hosting available hoping to save some money. In these cases, you will be sacrificing performance and constantly fighting slow load times. Cloud VPS (virtual private server) hosting has become an excellent option for small business owners. It many cases it can give you performance similar to what dedicated hosting provides but at a much more reasonable price.