How well optimised is the performance and page speed of your website? Not many businesses take this into consideration and it’s not unusual for pretty design, aesthetics and nifty functionality to take priority over performance when launching a new website.
People like fast websites and, in fact, so does Google, which has indicated that page speed will influence search engine rankings in their mobile-first index. So not only is your page speed vital for a good user experience but should now also be a key part of your SEO strategy.
A recent study published by KissMetrics indicated that 40% of visitors will abandon your site completely and go elsewhere if your page fails to load within just three seconds or less.
Top reasons why page speed matters
- Google has indicated that website speed is a ranking signal used in their search algorithms
- Fast websites are more likely to increase your conversion rates
- Fast websites are proven to deliver a high-quality user experience
- Slow websites will increase your bounce rate by 50%
- Slow websites will increase your abandonment rate
- Websites optimised for performance will reduce operating costs
How to test your website performance
I like to use a range of different page speed tests and tools to gain insights and metrics into website performance.
I recommend using Google PageSpeed Insights, a system that grades your website from 1 to 100 on both desktop and mobile. A score above 85 is an indication that your website is well optimised. Google Page Insights will highlight the main issues that need fixing in order of priority. For example, you can view recommendations on how to optimise your images using lossless compression as well as how to minify CSS/JS assets to reduce the page size.
Another great performance tool is GT Metrix which takes into consideration page speed and YSLOW metrics, allowing you to assign your site a grade from F to A. Sign up for a free account to accurately test the load times of your website from a server local to your visitors.
Running a speed test on GT Metrix as a guest restricts you to Vancouver, so unless your visitors are in Canada you will not get accurate results from this location. It is therefore always necessary to select a server closest to your target audience, once you create an account:
I also find Pingdom load times to be the most accurate of all the tools I’ve tested. When testing with Pingdom it is important to always make sure you select a server local to your website visitors. In our case, the closest test server was London, but yours may vary depending on your location.
If you have caching enabled on your site then it isn’t unusual to see some variation in your load times when testing. I, therefore, recommend you run a few tests and take an average result. Remember you want that load time to be under 3 seconds!
Tips to improve website speed
The following optimisation techniques can be implemented by your web developer or internet marketing agency to improve website performance:
One of the biggest mistakes I see businesses make is their decision to use cheap shared hosting packages over a VPS (Virtual Private Server). A shared server has more than one website, with all of them sharing the same resources. This can result in a high server response time and slow down your website. Especially during peak hours. A VPS, meanwhile, has allocated resources just for your site. You can find a good VPS for less money than most shared hosting packages with SSD storage and advanced caching, such as Varnish included.
2. Avoid third party themes and plugins
I see plenty of businesses installing third-party themes and plugins that include every script and library under the sun. Despite not having much originality, third-party themes can also contain bloated scripts, libraries and assets that can slow your site down. Too many active plugins and you can be injecting more code with inline scripts or contributing to more requests on the server.
If you want a fast website then consider a bespoke WordPress theme with custom code. Assess your third-party plugins and keep them to an absolute minimum. If you plan on using a page builder then strip out the default modules and develop your own custom modules for what you need.
3. Resize and compress your images
This is probably the easiest way to quickly reduce page size to ensure your web page can be swiftly downloaded by visitors. I recommend you use a compression tool like TinyPNG to reduce the size of your images without affecting the quality. It’s also best practice to resize all images to their native display size on the website and make sure large images are not getting resized using CSS.
You can test your image compression and image sizes using the PageSpeed Insights tool from Google, which I mentioned above under how to test your website.
5. Configure caching on your server
Whether you have shared hosting or VPS hosting, adding cache control and expire headers will let the browser know whether to serve a cached version of the page. If configured correctly then caching will significantly reduce server load and decrease your page load times. If your server is using Apache then you can enable cache-control and set expire headers in htaccess. With Nginx you can add cache control to your servers config file too.