The speed with which your website loads matters for two reasons. Firstly a fast loading website results in a better user experience and secondly it is one of the factors that Google measures when determining search engine rankings.
There are many factors that can contribute to a slower loading website. One of the first things to do if you’re worried that your site may not be quite up-to-speed is to use the Goole PageSpeed Insights tool. This is an online tool which can measure your page load speed, provide an overall ranking for technical aspects and user experience, and provide help on how to improve the speed of your site. You can access this online tool by clicking here.
The first bottleneck of a site’s loading speed is the server itself. There isn’t necessarily a huge amount you can do here other than move to a different server. Shared hosting servers offered by the large hosting companies tend to be slower because the hosting companies put a lot of sites onto each server. On the other hand private servers (such as the server Webfuel use for their own clients) are usually faster.
The design and more importantly the HTML build of a site is the next factor to consider. There are many technical aspects to the setup of a site which can impact the page load speed. Below we look at a few of the more important aspects.
Top of the list is caching. Caching means that results from website requests are stored so that they can be served even faster the next time. This speeds up page load and reduces the overall demand on the server, again improving performance. There are two types of caching, client side and server side.
With client side caching the site tells visitors to not check back for updates to pages, images or documents for a certain length of time. As a visitor moves back and forth between pages their browser will not need to keep reloading content and so the overall experience will be much faster. Returning to a previously visited page should be more or less instant.
Server side caching happens, as you’d expect, on the server. With a content management system there is often a reasonable amount of work required to render a page. The CMS will use templates to generate pages, which combine aspects of the site design, the navigation and user input content. Once all this information is brought together into a finished page it’s important that the server stores the results so that the next time someone asks for the page it doesn’t have to be regenerated. Of course if you make changes to your site the cached results on the server are no longer valid so should be forgotten.
Another feature of the build that can impact performance is the way in which scripts are added to a page. This is quite a technical subject, but basically the order and location of scripts within a page can significantly delay a page load. If you commonly see your page start to load, freeze and then continue this may be due to the browser having to wait to load and run scripts which are too high up in the page content. Generally scripts should be loaded as late as possible as they always block any further processing of the page until they have loaded and run.
Finally the images of a page should always be optimised for the necessary resolution and quality. Far too often we see sites which are loading huge images only to then display them in a tiny size on the page. This slows down the page load dramatically. Images should whever possible be resized close to, if not exactly, the size they will be displayed on the site. Some content management systems (including our own) offer the feature to automatically resize the image on the server before delivering it to the client which can help reduce the burden on maintaining image sizes yourself.