How important is your website's speed? When it comes to internet traffic, it's critical - and that may be an understatement. Users expect their online experiences to move like lightning, and a slow-moving website can propel them to a different one in mere seconds. While many site owners know that speed matters, most don't realize how many different ways there are to improve it. Read on to learn more of its significance and what advanced - and often overlooked - steps you can take to increase website speed.

Why Site Speed?

Why is site speed so important? The following statistics illustrate how vital it is to ensure visitor website engagement:

Nearly half of users (47%) expect a website to load in 2 seconds or less.

40% of users will give up on a web page that takes 3+ seconds to load.

For every 1 second delay in page load time, you lose 11% of page views and 7% of conversions.

Amazon found that for every 100 milliseconds of improvement to their site speed, revenue increased by 1%.

52% of online shoppers state that fast load times are critical to brand loyalty.

Tips for Improving Site Speed

With the above numbers, it's clear that site speed is key to improving user experience and increasing conversions, while also increasing revenue. Here are eight ways to improve the speed of your website.

1. Use a CDN. One often-overlooked way to increase site speed is to use a CDN, or content delivery network. A CDN is a group of multiple web servers in various locations that are capable of efficiently distributing content online. The server with the fastest response time, or least network hops, will deliver content to each individual user. This is often based on the user's proximity to the server. By using a CDN, all your visitors receive content at a consistently fast rate, regardless of their location.

2. Minimize HTTP requests. When a user visits your website, the majority of the load time is spent making HTTP requests to download various pieces, such as Flash, scripts, images, style sheets, etc. Reduce load time by minimizing the number of HTTP requests, which involves decreasing the number of your site's on-page components. Do this by using CSS rather than images when possible, streamlining the number of page elements, combining style sheets, and reducing scripts and moving them to the bottom of your page.

3. Optimize images. Oversized images can drastically increase load time. To optimize your images for faster load times, use an image editing tool to crop image sizes, eliminate image comments, and reduce color depth as much as possible. JPEG is the best choice for image format, followed by PNG. GIF should be used for simple, small, and animated images, and BMP and TIFF should not be used.

4. Compress CSS & JavaScript files. Unnecessary CSS or JavaScript code can also slow load time. Before you deploy your website compress all CSS and JavaScript files. Place CSS at the top of the page and JavaScript at the bottom to further increase site speed. 

5. Enable browser caching. Another way to ensure a quicker load time is to enable browser caching using Apache. Browser caching allows the elements of each page to be stored on the user's hard drive, which means that the next time the user visits your page, it can be loaded without sending another HTTP request. This can eliminate a significant amount of load time for repeat visitors.

6. Reduce plugins. Does your website use a significant amount of plugins? For each one you use, speed decreases. First, reduce unnecessary plugins to decrease load times. Then, eliminate those that are poorly coded and slow down your website. You can determine which plugins to delete by selectively disabling each one and measuring the performance of your server. 

7. Utilize GZIP compression. According to Yahoo, GZIP is the most effective and widely used method for website compression. It can reduce HTTP response size by 70%. Ask your web host if GZIP compression is used for their servers.

8. Choose the right web hosting provider. The type of web hosting you choose also effects site speed. If you use shared web hosting, work only with a reputable provider that doesn't over-sell the server. If you can afford it, consider dedicated or VPS hosting instead. Alternatively, if your website is based on the Wordpress CMS (which I highly recommend), then consider Wordpress hosting. BlueHost currently offers this, and has been officially recommended by Wordpress.

April 22, 2014

Jayson DeMers is the founder & CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based content marketing & social media agency. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.


Tip numbers 4, 5, and 7 can be done by using a caching plugin. I recommend WP Fastest Cache because it works and is easy to setup (unlike W3 Total Cache which has 581,398 different options and breaks most sites).

As for CDN, CloudFlare is free and is almost always the top choice.

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