You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: Visitors hate slow-loading sites. If a page takes more than a few seconds to load, visitors tend to move on to something else. So anything you can do to speed things up will only help you retain visitors.
Some of the solutions you might find in a Google search on the subject get deep into server-level configurations and tweaks. Although these may be perfectly good solutions, the average website owner doesn’t have the time, know-how, or even the access to implement them. Asking for help from your web hosting provider is an option, but might involve service tickets and billable hours. And if it’s something unusual or perceived as risky, the hosting provider might say “no.”
So what can you, a website owner, do to improve loading speeds? It turns out there are several things you can do without engaging your web developer or some IT nerd at your web hosting provider. You may need to delve into the HTML a bit, but there’s nothing arcane here:
- Right-size your image content: A photo taken with a 16-megapixel camera (typical of the popular point-and-shoot cameras today) will be around 3 or 4 MB in size. It doesn’t make sense to include photos this size on your site, because they are going to be scaled down in the browser anyway. Use any photo editing software (or even Microsoft Paint) to resize your images down to a more reasonable size. Better yet, if you have a WordPress site, use one of the available plugins that automatically resize image files before serving them to browsers. Your mobile visitors, in particular, will thank you for not using up all their data for the month.
- Don’t auto-start video content: Not only is auto-starting video annoying, it can take bandwidth away from loading other content on your page.
- Use browser caching for static content: Another way to avoid the script/CSS bottleneck is to set them up so the browser caches them, that is, they aren’t reloaded every time. You can easily set cache expiration times for these and other infrequently changing elements, such as graphics and boilerplate text. Again, there are WordPress plugins that can help with this.
- “Minify”: Use the smallest number of CSS and script files possible (preferably one of each), and scrub these files to remove unused or redundant elements, comments, and code. This is called “minifying” these files.
- Consider a content distribution network (CDN): A CDN is a third-party service that replicates content across multiple servers so that visitors can get the content more quickly. In your site’s pages, you simply point to the appropriate location in the CDN instead of in your server. If you have a media-heavy site, you should consider subscribing to a CDN service and offloading as much content as possible to the CDN. There are several free or low-cost options to choose from.
- Minimize redirects: Redirects can seriously slow the process of loading a page. Avoid these as much as possible.
Of course, slow loading speeds could be a sign that your site is ripe for a redesign. But if you aren’t ready to go that route yet, give these tips a try. A few seconds shaved off the load time will go a long way towards keeping more eyeballs on your site, and keeping them there longer.