Most marketers will know that page load times are increasingly coming under the SEO spotlight.
In November 2010, Google patented the use of page loading time as a ranking factor in their search algorithm. Since then Google has set out on a campaign to make the web faster. They have even developed a free tool called PageSpeed Insights to enable us to test the speed of our sites, and help us find out where they’re falling short.
Google, the gatekeepers of the Internet, are effectively forcing us to optimise our sites for speed, lest we forfeit our rankings. But is it really for the greater good of the web?
As much as it pains me to admit, Google has got it right this time. Page load speed is of huge importance to the consumers of the Internet, so it should be important to marketers too.
According to TechCrunch, 60% of all Internet consumption happens on a mobile device, versus the remaining 40% that takes place on a desktop.
With more people than ever before now browsing on their phones, there is an increasing demand for speed from the general online populous. It’s this demand that Google is responding to with their campaign for speed.
But it’s not just the public that reaps the joys of a faster web. You can too. According to this study by Kissmetrics, it was discovered that by making your site 1% faster, you can get a 7% increase in conversion rates.
This increase in conversions is directly linked to a decrease in abandonment by users.
The same study found that 40% of people abandoned websites that took more than three seconds to load. And of the customers that did complete a transaction, 79% were far less likely to come back.
Since Google have now made page speed their algorithm, it’s not just a greater conversion rate that’s up for grabs. Now it’s your site’s Google rankings, and the resulting traffic, that’s at stake too.
So what exactly causes your site to be slow?
There are a plethora of different things, which we’ve listed below. Not all will apply to your site, but it’s worth fixing the ones that do. You can find out which ones apply to you by scanning your site with GTMetrics and Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to find out.
Without further ado, here’s a simple explanation of each of the potential issues that your site speed test might flag up:
80% of a site’s loading time can be attributed to server requests.
Minify & Compress
Leverage Browser Caching
When implemented properly, this function tells your website visitor’s browser to save all the bits of the website that never change, onto their computer.
The next time the user visits your site, your site will largely be loading all these saved bits directly from their own computer, instead of from the server, making it a lot faster.
In terms of choosing a type of hosting, you’ll probably find a variety of different types on offer. Below is the complete list.
- Shared Hosting
- Public Cloud
- Private Cloud
- Dedicated Server
If your on a mission for speed, then you’ll probably want either private cloud or a dedicated server as these are on par. VPS and public cloud would be next in the speed ranks, with shared hosting sitting in the bottom spot.
The hosting server specs can also play its part in page load speed. An overloaded, outdated server won’t do your site any favours. High spec and up-to-date kit with a fast internet connection is worth aiming for when choosing a hosting provider.
When web masters upload images to their site, often they are bigger than needed. The website’s CMS will use HTML to control how the image appears on the front end, making it appear the right size to the viewer.
Unfortunately, the users computer still has to download the image file at its full size causing slowness.
By optimising all the images on your site to ensure they are no bigger than the size they actually display at, it can significantly help in speeding up an image heavy web page.
In addition, lots of background images referenced in your site’s CSS files can all add up to a lot of different requests. A way around this is to put all your background images into a single image called a sprite.
From here, you simply need to replace all your different CSS background images with this single big image. In each case, you would just set the CSS to only display the specific part of the big image that you want to be visible, so the site maintains its appearance.
Enable keep-alive Headers
By default, servers will often open up a new connection for each individual request, slowing down the site speed in the process.
By configuring your server to keep headers alive, you’re effectively telling it to pull all server requests through a single connection. Doing this, will speed up your site.
The problem is that optimising your site’s speed manually can amount to a huge amount of work.
Sure, there are some tools you can use to help along the way but even maintaining an optimised site can be a real headache because you have to be prepared to stay on-top of it, as your site changes and grows over time.
For example, by stripping out white space from your site’s code, it makes the code difficult to read. And every time you make changes, you’ll now have the extra step of minifying the code again.
If you’re site uses third-party plugins, or pre-made themes, your effectively going to have to hack your site to get it up to speed.
Each time you update your plugins or theme, it will undo much of your work and you’ll need to re-hack it to make it fast again.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Every great problem also presents a great opportunity and this is no different.
The Easy Solution
Enter Mod_PageSpeed – Google’s new module that automatically optimises your site speed without you having to lift a finger.
With Mod_PageSpeed, what would be months of ongoing work suddenly becomes a quick, one off job.
The only caveat with Mod_Page Speed is that your web host needs to have the module installed. Unfortunately, right now most shared hosting services don’t support it – but some still do, so you only need to ask your host.
There is a slim chance that Mod_PageSpeed will not agree with your site. It’s because of this, that the module is not typically available on shared hosting environments.
If your host doesn’t support it, and you fancy higher conversion rates and more traffic, then consider getting a new host that does or upgrading your hosting account to VPS, private server or cloud. With these, you’ll be able to request your host installs the module on your server. Most hosts are happy to do this because, unlike with shared hosting, it won’t affect any other websites except yours.
I’d love to know how you get on with speeding up your site, so why not let us know in the comments below.