Not long ago my wife and I left the house for a nice dinner out. We are typically early eaters so we'll leave around 4:30 in order to avoid any the dinner rush and long waits to be seated. This time we didn't. As we pulled up to our (read: her) favorite restaurant she jumped out to find out how long of a wait there would be. She was told a good 45 minutes to an hour fifteen. About normal for this time of the evening, but she didn't want to wait it out so we left in search of another place to eat.

Yeah, you know where this is going. We ended up at another restaurant with another long wait. Again, not wanting to wait (her, not me, mind you) we ended up right back at the restaurant we started at. Funnily enough we ended up there roughly around the time we would have been seated has we stuck around. Go figure. Another dinner delayed.

Dinner delays are not that uncommon. Find a nice restaurant that is even mildly popular, get there during prime lunch or dinner hours and you can expect NOT to be seated immediately. We've come to expect that. But what about your favorite grocery store? Would you mind waiting 45 minutes to before you could start shopping? Would a 20 minute wait be acceptable at the mini-mart on the corner? Do you get upset (like me) having to wait seven minutes at the drive-thru at your local fast food joint? Undoubtedly, you also probably don't enjoy waiting an extra five seconds for a web page to load.

Hey, don't feel bad. You're not alone. Most people simple don't like having to wait (even a couple of extra seconds) for your website to load before they can start shopping. And they certainly don't like having to wait for each page as they navigate through your site.

While high-speed access is far more common today than it was just a couple of years ago, web technology has also gotten more advanced. With each new whistle and bell added to your website, with every new feature, wait time is added in your page downloads. So high-speed access or no, you still have to make sure you keep your download times in check and therefore reducing wait time for your site visitors.

A few quick tips to help you lose wait overnight:

Clean code
I'm often surprised by the nightmare code we often come across when working with new clients. Sometimes it's from poorly developed HTML or poorly constructed content management systems, or both. These sites might look pretty in the browser, but underneath the hood it's a mess. What these developers often don't realize that what's under the hood matters. Developing clean, minimalist code is a great way to reduce page file size and while creating less data that needs to be interpreted by the browser as your visitor loads the page.

Image optimization
I'm not referring to search engine optimization here, but graphic optimization. Most people (like me) are not experts in imagology (I just made that up) so whenever we create an image we don't think much about how to optimize it. But there is a lot you can do to an image to reduce the size of the image while maintaining every bit of its visual appearance, even enhancing it. This might not be an issue for sites with only a few images, but it's a must for sites that are very image heave, especially ecommerce sites that need to display row upon row of products to their shoppers.

There are a lot of advantages to designing sites using CSS. Just one of these is the fact that you can significantly reduce page file size (and therefore download times) by moving your font syles and page layout code off the page into an external CSS document. The best thing about using CSS is that once the browser pulls the file as it downloads the first page, the file is now cached and doesn't have to be downloaded each time the user moves from page to page. This leaves the only elements being downloaded as the user navigates the site is that which is unique to each page. This is a considerable time-saving tool.

External Javascripts
Like CSS, you can move your JavaScript code off the page and into an external file. Doing so gives you the same benefit of using an external CSS document; the JavaScript only has to be downloaded once as the visitor navigates through the site.

Increase bandwidth
Just like a city that builds new streets or widens roadways, sites that have increased in traffic may need to consider increasing their web hosting package to allow more bandwidth. The more traffic a site gets the more bandwidth is used as pages and images are downloaded more frequently. If you don't have enough allowable bandwidth your visitors may experience slowdowns, hangups or even just not being able to pull your pages up at all. Be sure your allowable bandwidth increases with your traffic rates, with enough room to allow for any sudden spikes that may occur.

Both CSS and include files can significantly help reduce wait times. On top of that, they also speed up the amount of time invested in making site edits. The time spent developing a CSS based website with include files alone is worth the time saved on the development end later on. Heck, losing wait isn't just about your visitors, it's about using your own time more productively.

But when it comes to meeting user expectations, you can't go wrong by speeding up your website. You can't impress your visitors with the quality of your information or products, if you're losing them due to slow download times. Help them out a bit, and help yourself out a lot by implementing a few wait loss measures on your website today.

September 11, 2007

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


"Include files
That file will be downloaded with the first page and then be saved in the browsers cache from then on."

You need to elaborate on this as the common forms of includes, be it PHP, Server Java, Server JS, Perl, SSI (Apache etc: server side includes) are all server side.

Here it seems you indicate a client side include, there is no standard for this, you could emulate it using Javascript or AJAX but backwards compatibility might be an issue.

So elaborate a bit more please.

Well, see there Roger, you just exposed my glaring weakness. I'm not a program or a server guy. I know there different kinds of includes but I don't know enough to know one from another. My understanding is the server side includes will still help speed up download times, but if I'm wrong on that, well, I guess that just blows the whole article. That's what I get for writing it in a hurry!

Roger is right on. There's nothing in the HTTP spec like an include instruction. Most every web-development framework offers some method of including data from external files, but this is invisible to the browser.

Using javascript to dynamically add more nodes to a page seems like a risky idea from an SEO standpoint, given how most crawlers don't evaluate javascript.

Using iframes to pull in other data seems like it would cause a lot of frustration if you wanted to interact with the parent frame. Yeah, you can do it, but it isn't going to be elegant.

However, Stoney's points on reducing image sizes and avoiding inline styling and javascript are all worth keeping in mind.

Finally, "clean code" can be subjective. I prefer to aim for valid HTML instead. There is no room for debate whether a page validates or not.

Well, I hate having shown my ignorance in such a way but you guys are absolutely right. I've edited the article accoridngly.

As for clean code, I agree with the need for valid HTML, but why not valid HTML without the code bloat? Heck, code bloat can validate. I think we can have both.

Great topic, And the first item is very important. If you've been following the news with search engines you know the big ones are in a bidding war of who going to supply se services to handheld devices. I think this is the new frontier. And if your code isn't up to specs You wont be there. Maybe your site in not a .mobi but when I go to a site handheld or not, is that information available and accessible. My view is most people go through web sites like OJ on the run through an airport, late for a plane of course. Givem that information fast. CSS also gives you the ability to design the same data-page for handhelds as for monitors. And by moving the design to css this gives the se robots a cleaner picture of your message.

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Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > Losing Wait: 5 Simple Steps to Reducing Web Page Download Times