The Need for Speed: How to assess site speed and decrease page load time

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In Part One of this two-part blog series, I highlighted the importance of site speed, not just for rankings but for traffic, revenue and user experience. Let’s now examine what we can do to improve the speed of a website.

Jose Capelo is an SEO account manager at Caliber.

There are a multitude of tools to evaluate and find out the speed of your site. There are also a variety of tools and strategies you can use to improve your page speed, or simply see how your website is working. Here are a few resources I can recommend:

Page speed Insight - This tool evaluates the performance of web pages, displaying a page speed score between 0 and 100 and listing suggestions for improvement. It provides analysis of both the desktop and mobile versions of your site and separates the recommendations into high, medium, or low-priority.

WebPageTest - This tool allows you to run a free website speed test, offering granular information that allows you to take targeted action. The tool provides a waterfall view of your page’s performance and makes clear suggestions for improvement.

Pingdom Website Speed Test - One of the highlights of this tool is that it can analyse page performance on browsers such as Chrome. It offers insight on how the page loading speed compares to the latest Google page specifications.

Webpage Analyzer Webpage Analyser - This tool provides calculations on page size, composition and download time. This tool also delivers an accurate summary of page components by calculating the size of individual elements.

How to decrease page load time

Along with using an industry rated tool, here are some smart steps that can be taken to reduce the time a page takes to load.

Use a CDN

A content delivery network (CDN) to serve static resources (such as images, javascript, stylesheets, media) can help deliver content to your browser faster, while alleviating the workload for your web server. CDNs are optimised for speed and have multiple locations around the world, meaning users are automatically routed to their closest server location. With the CDN serving static resources, your web server can focus on generating the dynamic pages that power your site.

Optimise your hosting environment

Web servers can only process a certain number of requests at a time. If you’re using shared hosting and another website on the server is popular, visitors to your website will need to wait in line for their request to be met. A dedicated or virtual dedicated server can prevent your neighbours slowing you down. Selecting a server located close to the majority of your visitors will reduce the time the data spends in transit. Modules like mod_pagespeed or SPDY (for HTTPS websites) can help optimise the web server for speed automatically.

Enable Compression

Compression and deflation of files can significantly speed up a site. Compression reduces the bandwidth of your pages, thereby reducing HTTP response reducing file size by as much as 70 per cent without degrading the quality of the images, video or the site at all.

JavaScript and Stylesheets

It is recommended for speed purposes to have your scripts and CSS loading in external files. If the CSS is included in external files a much cleaner coding will be achieved and the browser will only have to load the files once, rather than every time someone visits each page of your site.

Leverage browser caching

Storing commonly used files from your site on your user’s browser will reduce the load time of a page. Browser caching can be enabled by setting expiry dates on certain files by editing the HTTP headers.

Minimize HTTP Requests

The quickest way to improve site speed is to simplify your design. The more elements there are on-page the longer it takes to render a page.

To achieve a smooth-running site it is advisable to streamline the number of elements on your page. This can be achieved by:

- Ensuring the design and backend present little resistance to the loading of the page by reducing the number of scripts and locating them at the bottom of the page.

- Keeping redirects and HTTP requests to a minimum to avoid high load times.

- Using CSS instead of images when coding.

Optimise images

Optimising images can often yield some of the largest byte savings and performance improvements.

- Take time to re-size your images before uploading them. JPEG should be the preferred option. PNG is also suitable but some older browsers might not fully support it.

- Always include the SRC attribute with a valid URL.

Site speed optimisation should be an essential and fundamental part of your digital strategy. Fast loading pages can increase traffic, have a positive impact on user experience and reduce shopping cart abandonment rates, with a consequent impact on revenue. Special attention should be placed on mobile pages as a slow loading page can have a devastating impact on rankings and offer a poor user experience.

Jose Capelo is an SEO account manager at Caliber. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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