educational

Speedy Solutions for Faster Page Loading

Stephen Yagielowicz

This is but one way that a website’s loading speed impacts its traffic levels, however, and there are a wide range of on-site and off-site methods of boosting a website’s loading speed that can help mitigate these concerns. Here’s why, and what you can do about it.

In addition to social media cues, the volume of visitors that a website receives from search engines is also dependent in part upon the site’s loading time, with a site speed signal in Google’s search ranking algorithm, for example, which reflects how quickly a website responds to web requests, and compares with other websites across the Internet.

Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there. -Amit Singhal, Google Fellow

According to Google Fellow Amit Singhal, speeding up websites is important to both site owners and to all Internet users, making Google place a lot of value in speed and thus taking site speed into account in its search rankings.

“Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there,” Singhal stated. “But faster sites don’t just improve user experience; recent data shows that improving site speed also reduces operating costs.”

Singhal says that Google uses a variety of sources to determine the speed of a site relative to other sites and advises site owners and webmasters to evaluate the speed of their own site using methods such as the Site Performance metrics in Webmaster Tools, which shows the speed of your website as experienced by users located around the world.

Explaining that high performance websites lead to higher visitor engagement, retention and conversions, Google offers developers a diverse array of tools for testing and improving performance (developers.google.com/speed) that are free for you to use.

Google Search Quality Team Principal Engineer, Matt Cutts, notes that while site speed doesn’t carry as much weight as the relevance of a page, it can affect your site’s search rankings, making it a valuable consideration for developers today.

“We encourage you to start looking at your site’s speed,” Cutts stated, “not only to improve your ranking in search engines, but also to improve everyone’s experience on the Internet.”

This initiative is a digital analogy to the many real life examples of speed influencing the request process and resulting delivery times.

Imagine calling a local eatery to arrange for a pizza delivery: You dial the phone, wait in line for an answer (and on hold for service, as another order is placed ahead of yours), then finally being able to speak to someone to order your pizza. Your order is placed and you now await its delivery. Now imagine you want a bottle of soda to go with that pizza — you pick up the phone and repeat the call, wait, order and wait for delivery process all over again — and since your pizza is already on its way, an additional delivery is needed, along with its accompanying wait.

This exchange is similar to the client-server relationship employed by web browsers and the pages they are called to serve. Instead of ordering pizza, however, the browser is making HTTP Requests — and just as in the example above, if you had ordered the soda at the same time as the pizza, the amount of time needed to place the order would have been saved, as would have the extra delivery time it took to make multiple delivery trips.

Translate this analogy to the way your web pages are structured, reducing the number of HTTP Requests by combining assets such as scripts, CSS style sheets and graphics in to single files that are ordered at the same time and thus more readily delivered.

Consider the multiple scripts many sites use, for example, as single pages in a book. Rather than buy a book one page at a time, grab it all in one go. One way to do this is to make a master JavaScript file, such as “site_name.js” and then copy and paste the scripts from individual files into this one master script file, which also contains any JavaScript that may have been included inline within your page’s HTML coding.

The simple strategy here is that one big file is easier to handle than 10 smaller ones; just be sure to place comments in the appropriate places so that you can tell where one script begins and another ends, making maintenance and updates easier.

Likewise, multiple CSS files and any inline CSS coding should be combined into an external file that is linked to from every page, as this allows caching for quicker loading. CSS also allows designers to combine multiple graphics and other images into sprites. For example, a site that shows several flags to allow users to select the language of their choice might use a server slowing multitude of graphics or a single sprite to display them — with the sprite approach reducing the number of calls made to our virtual pizza parlor.

Regarding larger images, such as photographs, careful optimization that balances perceptual quality with file size is important. Having a “100 percent” JPEG file may look best, but an 80 percent save will slash file size while only slightly reducing visual quality.

Likewise for video clips, where factors such as size and bit-rate play an important role in their speed of accessibility and thus the ultimate load time of your web pages — but these factors also impact quality and customer satisfaction, so be careful in trimming the fat from these files.

Beyond the artistic and the structural, a number of technological remedies are at hand for webmasters seeking to speed up their sites.

Better web servers, content delivery networks (CDN) and hosting in the Cloud can all dramatically boost the speed at which your website is available, by delivering content to consumers from the server location closest to them and by enabling parallel requests that further increase a page’s loading speed. Other technical measures include the use of Gzip compression that can reduce file sizes by up to 70 percent, as well as server side caching that generates a static HTML page for a specified URL — preventing dynamic sites from having to build a web page containing seldom shifting content every time it is requested.

Speak to your web hosting company to learn what options they have for boosting the speed of your website, and make sure that you’re using all of the tools already available.

When going down this road, however, your budget will be the limiting factor.

Finally, ISPs can also influence the speed equation as well; with some blocking, degrading or otherwise negatively prioritizing certain types of Internet traffic on its way to the home user; and although this affects the user experience, it is beyond your control.

As you can see, there are many factors influencing the speed of your website, each of which presents an opportunity for improvement. Some take time, some take money, some take a combination of both — but it is a process you can start today for free — by simply combining your assets into more manageable stacks and limiting the number of requests that clients need to make in order to get them. Remember, order pizza and soda together and everything will be delivered together, easy and fast.

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