Written by Colin Grey on June 24, 2015
in Technology

In digital projects, many people want the most creative or feature-rich website out there, but more often than not the speed of your website can have as much impact on your conversion rates as its creative design and multi-media features. This issue not only affects small websites and landing pages – it also affects ecommerce giants such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft.

If Google were to slow down the loading of their search results screen by 4/10th’s of a second, Google would have 8,000,000 less searches each day.

If Amazon’s website was 1 second slower, they would lose close to $1.6 billion a year. That’s almost the equivalent to the GDP of Belize!

If Microsoft could speed up their websites by 1/10th of a second, they would recognize a revenue increase of 0.6%.

You may be thinking, “Ok, those are some pretty impressive numbers. But what does this mean for me?”

What these numbers mean for your digital project is that speed is a feature in itself. A person will abandon a website if it takes over four seconds to load, and for mobile users, 50% will abandon a page if it takes over 10 seconds. That is a lot of traffic lost for the sake of eye candy.

How can I determine how fast my website is currently?

You might think that just counting the seconds until a page loads on your computer will suffice for a proper speed test. But, it’s a little more complicated than that. There are many other variables that you need to consider when testing the speed of your website:

  1. Cookies: Have you already viewed this website before? If so, you have stored a lot of the content locally on your computer. So the next time you load the website, it will be faster, as it is not relying on the internet to access the content.
  2. Infrastructure: Are you testing on fiber-optic or dial-up (I feel sorry for you if you are)? Are you on LTE or 3G? The infrastructure plays a big role in how quickly a website can load. Imagine a swimming pool – it would be a lot quicker to fill it with a fire hose (fiber-optic) than a garden hose (dial-up).
  3. Location: Even though we may think of the internet as being “everywhere”, that isn’t technically true. When trying to access the content from the server, it needs to travel from that server to your location. For example, the content of my website may live on a server in Toronto, but someone from New Delhi may be trying to access it. The content now needs to travel from my server to the user’s computer. That is a long way to travel.
  4. Size: Don’t let them fool you, size does matter! And by that I mean data size. Websites that are loaded with images, videos, and other rich media formats requires that more data be downloaded for the website to fully load.

Testing your site for speed is quite simple, but actioning the results may take more effort. Here are some of the easiest (and cheapest) tools out there to assist you in determining if your website is blazing fast or slow as molasses:

  1. webpagetest.org: Though this is not a pretty website, this has been the cornerstone for my speed testing for years. On this site, you can test your website from multiple locations and in different browser types. It will then provide you with a report on how fast your website loads as a whole and how much time each element of your website takes to load.
  2. ySlow: A plugin that is available on a majority of web browsers. When activated, this plugin will grade the speed of your website and provide suggestions on how to improve the speed.
  3. Google Analytics (GA): As long as you have a GA account and your website has traffic on it, GA has the ability to tell you how long a webpage takes to load. If you just want a quick snapshot of what pages take the longest to load, this is a great tool.

I’ve discovered my website is slow. How can I make it faster?

There are many things you can do to make your website faster, and you do not need to do them all. Below is a select list of actions that can be completed to increase the speed of your website:

  1. Invest in a cloud based CDN: As mentioned above, if people all around the world are trying to access your website (which is stored on a server in Canada) they may experience slow load times. A way around that is to invest in a cloud based CDN (Content Delivery Network) such as Cloudflare or Amazon CloudFront CDN. What this will do is store the content and data of your website on multiple servers around the globe, instead of just one. So when the user from New Delhi is trying to access your website, a call is made to the closest server that the content and data may be stored on (Mumbai, for example). Now, the content and data have a lot less distance to travel to the end user.
  2. Reduce the calls your website makes on load: Every website makes calls when it starts to load. These can be calls to retrieve imagery, or to load JavaScript. All of these calls need to be sent and received, which does take time. The first thing to do is to determine how many calls your website is making. Then, determine which calls can be batched together and implement this fix (you will need a developer to do this). Your site will now make fewer calls and will load faster.
  3. Use CSS instead of images (whenever possible):  If your website can support it (creatively, that is), use CSS for the creative elements of a website instead of images. If your background is just a solid color, use CSS to fill in the background instead of using an image.
  4. Compression: Similar to how you zip your files to send them in an email, website elements can be compressed. Using tools such as Gzip, or native tools on web servers can reduce download times on your website by 70% if you compress the largest elements.
  5. Redirects: Though this may be an easy way to automatically direct traffic from old URLs or domains, it does impact the load time of the destination page. Every time you hit a redirect, the system must determine where the user needs to go next and then take them there. I would avoid redirects if you are trying to increase the speed of your website.

These are just a few things you can do to increase the speed of your website, but keep in mind that there are many more options beyond those I’ve listed to help increase your website’s speed. Always remember that improving speed is not a one-time activity. You should regularly monitor your website for how quickly it loads, as the latest update to your code may drastically effect your load time.

I hope these tips can help you build faster websites, and keep your customers where they belong – on your site, instead of your competitor’s.

Colin Grey is a Senior Digital Project Manager at Ariad Communications.

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