With the speed of modern technology, consumers have become used to speed. They are not willing to waste time waiting for a slow website to load. In fact, it will frustrate them, and they will quickly exit your site in search of a faster alternative.
Whether you are a business trying to be found online, a photographer trying to showcase your work, or even a parent blogging about real-life experiences, blazing website speed is crucial to the success of any online business or website.
“How Can I Get my Website to Load Faster?” This is the question that we are going to answer in this complete guide to optimizing the speed of your website. We will spend time looking at various reasons why site speed is important, how you can check your website speed, and the best techniques that you can start using to optimize your own website.
What is Site Speed?
When we use phrases like “Site Speed” or “Page Speed” we are referring to the amount of time that it takes for your website to respond once a user interacts with it. While Site Speed and Page speed often get lumped together, they are totally separate and they each can be tracked separately. While they are both similar, page speed looks at the time it takes to load one specific page, instead of the entire website.
Here’s the difference between Site and Page Speed:
Site Speed – Site speed refers to the amount of time (in seconds) that it takes for your website to load as your users are going from one page to another page on your website. Site speed has a direct impact on the performance of your website, your conversion rate, and the number of page views you may (or may not) get from your audience.
Page Speed – You can describe page speed as “page load time”. This is the amount of time (in seconds) that it takes to completely display the content that is on a specific page of your website, also known as “Time to First Byte”.
While site speed and page speed are similar, you should never skip optimizing your inner web pages just because you have good site speed. If you have good site speed, then you will get an extra boost from optimizing each page as well.
Why is Site Speed Important?
You may feel like everyone is telling you that your website needs to be faster, but you’re not quite sure why your website’s speed optimization is so important.
If that quote isn’t enough to motivate you to begin optimizing your website for site speed, then here are some big reasons why your site should be faster.
Website Speed Is The First Impression
First Impressions are extremely important, especially on the internet. The moment that your audience loads your website, they are forming their opinions about your website and extrapolating these to your brand. Your user experience – including your site speed – will determine whether these first impressions are good or negative ones.
If your website loads fast, then you have made a positive first impression and you are providing a good experience for your user. On the other hand, if your website loads slowly, your poor user experience may lead to longer-term negative impressions about your website and company, at large.
Your Audience Expects You to Be Fast
The internet has set some pretty high standards when it comes to website speed. In fact, your viewers have gotten so used to fast loading times that they will expect your website to be fast as well.
47% of your customers expect your website to load within 2 seconds.
79% of your customers will not buy from you if your website doesn’t perform up to their satisfaction.
64% of all mobile users will expect that your website loads in under 4 seconds.
A delay of only 1 second will mean a 7% reduction in conversions.
Take a moment to think about how this could be affecting your own website. Seemingly insignificant decreases in your website speed could translate to a large loss in conversions or leads. Studies like these help us to realize that web users expect site speed to be quick and that if your users aren’t satisfied then they will simply abandon you.
Think about how you use the internet for just a moment. You likely want your questions answered as quickly as possible, and you’ve probably clicked off a website if it was too slow and sparked feelings of frustration. Your audience is no different, and it is up to you to make sure that your website users aren’t left with a similar negative or frustrated feeling.
Fast Websites Lead to Higher Engagement
When your website is fast, you will find that your audience engages with you at a much higher rate than if your website were slow. This is partially due to the fact that a slow website will frustrate your audience, while a faster website tends to give your audience an experience that is enjoyable, leading them to engage with more of your content.
This study by Google shows just how important your site speed is when it comes to keeping your audience from leaving your website.
As you can see, even a few seconds difference in load time can result in you losing large portions of your potential audience. The longer it takes for your website to load, the higher the chances are of your audience leaving.
Website Speed Has An Impact On Your SEO
Search engines such as Google have many factors that help them determine where a website should be placed in search rankings. These factors are diverse and help search engines determine where to place different websites in search results.
However, Google announced in 2010 that the speed of your website will now be a factor used to determine your search rankings. The importance of site speed for SEO purposes was later reaffirmed when Google’s Matt Cutts came out stating that websites that load slowly on mobile devices would soon be penalized.
Another ranking factor that is affected by slow site speed is your bounce rate. Your bounce rate is a measure of how many people exit your website after only briefly viewing one page. Its use as a ranking factor helps search engines to know which pages are relevant to a particular search query.
And as we saw with the statistics, a slow website will have an enormous amount of organic traffic bouncing off the website in a very short period of time. If your website is slow, your users will quickly exit your website, and this negatively affects your bounce rate. When your bounce rate gets too high, Google will take this into consideration and adjust your search rankings accordingly.
This is why the speed of your website is extremely important in not only providing your audience with great user experience, but site speed also helps your site to rank better, generating more organic traffic to your website.
Tools To Check Your Website Speed
Now that you understand just how important site speed is, it’s time to start learning how you can check your own website speed and begin optimizing your own site to become faster.
First off, we will start with the tools that you can use to check your website’s speed so you will know exactly how your site is performing. Here are some of the best tools available to help you check your web speed:
If you’re looking for a great tool that is completely free, then PageSpeed Insights by Google may be a tool that you will be interested in. It will help you diagnose any problems that you may be having and then tell you exactly what you’re not doing correctly and what you can do to improve your page speed.
Another cool feature with Google PageSpeed Insights is that you can get separate reports for both mobile and desktop versions of your website so you can really pinpoint where the real issues lie.
You can check your website speed in these simple steps:
Google Analytics is another free tool that you can use to test your website speed. To view your site speed with Google Analytics just open up your Google Analytics dashboard and look under the tab labeled ‘Behavior’.
It can be helpful to get a comparison between several tools, this tool has had reports of the site speed being off on accuracy. This is why we wouldn’t recommend that you use Google Analytics as your only method to test your website speed.
You can check your site speed with Google Analytics with these simple steps:
Open Google Analytics
Sign-in to your Google Analytics Account
Open your analytics dashboard
Click on ‘Behaviors’ and a drop-down menu will appear
Click on ‘Site Speed’ from this menu
Then click on the desired speed metrics you want to review
GTMetrix is another free tool that allows you to analyze your site speed. It gives you valuable insight into how your site is actually performing. They will also give you actionable tips on what you need to change and information on how you can properly optimize your website.
GTMetrix also provides an in-depth list of the specific features within your website, and then gives them each an individual grade so that you are able to see how each feature is performing and easily see where you can improve.
You can view your site speed with these easy steps:
Enter your URL into the search box
Review your performance report
I would highly recommend GTmetrix, as I regularly use it to perform speed optimization tests on both our own website and on client websites. While there are many other tools that you can use to check your site speed, I have personally found that these 3 tools will give you an accurate read on how your site is really performing.
Basic Off-Site Reasons For a Slow Website
Now that you understand why it’s important for your website to be fast and you have learned how you can check your own website to see how it is performing, it’s time to learn the main reasons why websites are slow and how to fix a slow website.
We are now going to look at some of the primary factors that can affect your site’s speed.
Content Management Systems
As a rule of thumb, websites that use a Content Management System (CMS) will generally be slower than a well-coded HTML website. However, a well-built Content Management System tends to have more upside than a website built with just plain code.
This is because a website using a Content Management System have features that make it easier for you to add new content to your website with almost zero hassle. Also, a website that is built on a CMS will give you the opportunity to install many features you wouldn’t have been able to get unless you knew multiple programming languages and had the experience to implement it.
While site speed is essential for an effective website, many of the popular “well-built” CMS platforms are optimized for speed. These CMS platforms include:
Some Content Management Systems are more prone to having issues with speed than others, but this is all dependant on how the themes were coded, the number of plugins being used, and other factors. However, oftentimes Content Management Systems have mechanisms in place that will help to speed up this entire process, and this is why using a CMS is a solid option for building a website.
Servers and Hosting Plans
Server speed and specifications are other major factors contributing to your website’s speed, especially during peak times when there are higher volumes of traffic trying to access your website. Your server and hosting can determine how fast your website is capable of performing once it is fully optimized and so it is smart to choose your providers wisely.
Let’s define exactly what servers are and what your hosting is.
Servers – The server that you are using is a computer that has CPU, memory, and many characteristics to a computer that you may have at home. It also has lots of storage space and the ability to store your website and then serve your website to the world wide web.
Hosting Plans – Your hosting plan is essentially the bundle of all the services that are tied to the server you are using such as Server Management, Website backups etc.
When it comes to speed and choosing a server/hosting plan, the most important attribute is the type of server that you are getting with your hosting plan. Web servers can generally be split up into 3 categories:
Shared Hosting –
Shared hosting is one of the most common plans for anyone that is starting out with their first website and may not have a heavy website with a lot of content. When you use shared hosting, your website will be put onto the same server as hundreds of other websites. You will then share the same hard drive space, resources, memory, CPU speed, and the bandwidth of this server along with everyone else.
However, not all the resources are distributed evenly, and so a poorly built website that uses more of the server’s resources to load their website could use up a larger portion of the total space available and your website could load slower as a result.
While shared hosting is by far the most economically priced, it is best suited for smaller websites that don’t reach large volumes of traffic at the same time.
Virtual Private Server (VPS) –
Virtual Private Servers are similar to shared hosting in the sense that you are still sharing a server with other people. However, with a Virtual Private Server, there are fewer people per server which means that there are more resources.
Virtual Private Servers will also evenly distribute server resources so that poorly built websites cannot use any of your data to load their websites. This means that as long as your website doesn’t exceed the data limits of your plan, your server will quickly load your website.
Virtual Private Servers are best suited for websites that have medium levels of traffic and do not yet demand the features offered by a dedicated server.
Dedicated Servers –
When you have a dedicated server, your website is stored on a single server that is dedicated to your own personal use. You do not share this server with anyone else and you are able to use all of the resources that it provides and configure the hosting server to meet your own specifications. Dedicated servers are more expensive, but it will give you higher performance, faster speeds, and better website security as well.
Dedicated servers are best suited for websites that have high volumes of traffic and have a lot of content. While they are expensive, they are worthwhile for larger websites and companies.
Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) –
If you own a website that attracts high levels of traffic from a variety of locations and you want an extra edge on your site speed, then a content delivery network may be the right option for you.
A Content Delivery Network is a network of strategically placed web servers that are able to store a cached version of your site and then provide your website to users based off of their geographical location. When a user tries to access your website, your website files and content will be delivered to the user from a server that is geographically closer to the viewer so that there’s less travel time for the files to reach the browser.
When a user tries to access these types of files on your website, they will be accessing a cached version of your website that is being stored by the servers within your Content Delivery Networks. This will reduce the amount of bandwidth that you are using and significantly improve load speed and your overall website speed. CDNs aren’t overly expensive, and in most cases, the faster speed is worth the money spent.
Optimize For The Device
While this category may not be under your control, it is a factor that could affect how some of your audience sees your website. If your audience has an outdated device then they may find that your website loads slowly, and they may not even see some features within your website. This is something that you should be careful of if you have viewers complaining that your website isn’t loading fast enough. You don’t want to rip your website apart when your client’s outdated computer is the culprit responsible for their slow load times.
Of course, if you test your website speed properly, you’ll be able to see just how fast your website actually is, and when these types of complaints occur you’ll know that the issue is something other than your website.
Best Website Speed Optimization Techniques
Now that you understand some of the reasons why your website speed can be inhibited, it’s time to learn about some of the techniques you can use to make your website faster.
1. Reduce Server Requests
One of the reasons that your website could be slow is because you have too many server requests. When a user accesses your website, your website will load your website for them. While loading the website, the browser will make multiple server requests for files, images, stylesheets, and more, in order to render the website properly. In general, the more server requests the browser has to make, the slower your website will be. This is why it’s so important to reduce the number of HTTP requests your website is making.
Here’s how you can do this:
Start using CSS instead of images (if possible)
Reduce the number of elements that you use
Reduce any redirects (redirects cause additional HTTP requests)
If you would like to learn more about how you can reduce your HTTP requests click here
2. Enable HTTP Keep-Alive
Whenever your web server receives an HTTP request from one of your viewers, their browser will ask permission from your server to access and download the designated files. However, this occurs one file at a time and this also uses up a lot of bandwidth as well as memory, eventually causing an overload on your server and slowing down your website.
You can help your website speed up by enabling HTTP Keep-Alive. This will create an open connection so that multiple requests can be processed at the same time. When you enable HTTP Keep-Alive, your server is telling the browser that it has permission to start downloading multiple requests simultaneously without overloading your server.
4. Enable Browser Caching
Caching makes it easier to access these types of files, and your database won’t have to serve each one of these files every time that there is a new request for them. Whenever one of your viewers tries to access your website, their browser will try to load and download the elements of your website into their computer’s temporary storage called a cache. The next time that this same user tries to load your website, it will load a preloaded version of your website without having to send an HTTP request to your server. But don’t worry, the cache is only valid for a certain period of time, so you’ll load a fresh version of the website after a while (or after you delete your browser’s cache).
If you would like to enable caching for your website, you can find out how.
If you are using WordPress as your Content Management Systems, then there are plugins that you can start using to enable caching for your website. Some of our favourites include:
These are some of the best WordPress plugins that you can start using today to enable caching for your WordPress Websites.
5. Optimize your Images
It’s no surprise that larger files would take longer to load than smaller files. Image files are usually quite bulky and are one of the main contributors to oversized websites and slow site speed. Here are some of the best methods that you can use to optimize your own images:
Use The Correct Image Format –
You will want to use PNG Files when you are working with images that will be used for icons, logos, illustrations, or signs (Image + text).
You will want to format your images into JPEG Files when the quality of the images is important, and you aren’t required to make modifications before uploading the images. Remember that JPEG images can only handle a limited amount of modification before the quality of the images is affected.
Use Proper Dimensions –
When you are putting images on your website, the size of the image files is extremely important. If you properly resize your images you will have a faster site and save a lot of bandwidth for your web server. The dimensions of your images (height x width) are measured in a unit called pixels. A pixel is a size unit that helps people understand just how much space an image is using on a digital screen.
Image File Size –
The file size of your images is stored in units called “bytes” and this helps us to determine just how much space a specific file is using. A file may be measured in Kilobytes (KB), Megabytes (MB) and even Gigabytes (GB).
Remember that the dimensions of your photos go hand in hand with the number of pixels an image is and how large the image file will be. If the image is large and high quality, then the image file size will also be large.
Use Image Compression –
When you compress your images, you are reducing the total file size without sacrificing the quality of the image to do so. Compressing your images is one of the best ways to optimize your images while keeping your images high quality.
You can optimize and compress your images with tools such as:
If you are using WordPress as your Content Management System, there are many plugins that you can install to help optimize the images on your website. Here are some WP plugins to optimize your images that you can get started with:
Imagify (A sister company to WP Rocket, and also w
When a web browser makes a request to your server and requests certain files, this can take up a lot of time especially if these files are quite large. However, GZIP compression can reduce your website size by as much as 70%.
GZIP Compression compresses the webpages and stylesheets within your website before it sends them back to the browser that requested them. This will make the files much smaller and these compressed files will travel much faster. It’s quite simple to enable GZIP compression on your own.
If you are working with a server other thanApache, you will need a different set of code to enable GZIP Compression. You can learn more about this here.
7. Reduce External Scripts
External Scripts could be something like social sharing buttons, embedded video or media, iFrames, analytics, external fonts, or even pop-up boxes. When you have features like these, they will be using an external script to display the features properly. While they may be visually attractive, they may be one of the reasons why your site is slow.
While you don’t want to eliminate all your website features, you do want to reduce the number of features that require an external script to load. If there are features that you don’t absolutely need on your website, but they still require an external script then consider removing these types of features. This will help reduce the workload on your server and ensure that your website can load faster.
When you allow hotlinking for your images, you are essentially allowing other websites to share and display your images on their own websites, but your own hosting is being used to display the images on the other peoples’ websites. This means that your server has a heavier load with no benefit to you or your website.
If your website doesn’t use a ton of videos or images, then disabling hotlinking may not give your website an enormous boost in site speed. However, if your website has a lot of media and you get a fair amount of traffic, then this is something that you will want to do.
If your website has been around for some time now, you can almost be sure that your database has acquired some deadweight content that you need to clean up. You should be cleaning up your database on a regular basis, especially if you’re using a Content Management System because these rely heavily on database usage.
A CMS such as WordPress will usually store content like unapproved comments, post revisions, trashed posts/pages, and trackbacks/pingbacks. When your website is storing unnecessary information such as this, it can cause your website to become heavier and load more slowly. This is why it’s important that you clean out your database on a regular basis.
If you are using WordPress, then there are plugins that you can use to make sure that your web site’s database is cleaned up and optimized. These are some of our favorite WordPress plugins for database optimization:
These plugins will help you make sure that your database is cleaned up and running smoothly.
9. Use Fewer Plugins (Applies To CMS Only)
Another reason that your site may not be as fast as you would like might be from the use of too many plugins on your website. Every plugin that you are using will take resources from your server in order to load and function properly.
If you have plugins that aren’t important (or even ones that you’re not using at all), you should deactivate or even delete these types of plugins. Remember that it isn’t the number of plugins that you are using that slows down your website, it is the quality of the plugins that you are using. You may have a faster website while using 30 plugins than someone who is using 10 plugins simply because the plugins you’re using are performing better.
You can check out how your plugins are performing by using plugins such as:
These plugins will help you monitor the performance on all of your plugins to help ensure that your website isn’t being slowed down by a handful of other poorly coded plugins.
Congratulations! You’ve finished our site speed optimization crash course!
In this guide, we explored the numerous factors that contribute to the speed of a website. We defined the difference between site speed and page speed and looked at the process that browsers perform to render a website. We then learned some of the reasons why site speed is so important to the overall user experience and how it affects your overall business goals.
Some of the benefits of faster site speeds include a positive first impression, higher engagement and improved user metrics, along with positive SEO benefits.
Our crash course continued on to learn about several tools that we like to use for testing site speed, including Google Pagespeed Insights, Google Analytics, and GTmetrix. After that, we discussed several off-site factors that contribute to site speed. These included the use of content management systems, server-specs and hosting plans, as well as the need to optimize the website for any device your audience may be using.
Finally, our site speed crash course delved into many of the site speed optimization techniques that webmasters will often use. These included reducing the number of HTTP requests your browser is forced to make, minifying HTML, CSS, and JS files, optimizing your images, enabling GZIP compression, reducing external scripts, and database optimization, among others.
This guide will set you well on your way to improving your website speed metrics as well as the overall user experience for your audience. We’re glad you could join us, as we explore the expansive topic of website speed optimization.
Leighton is the founder of ARTIISEO, a content marketing agency. With over 10 years of experience in digital marketing, Leighton has worked with some of the top agencies in North America and possesses a deep knowledge of the industry. He also writes extensively about marketing, entrepreneurialism, and business in general.