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Site Speed 101: Quick Overview

Site Speed Optimization

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The importance of site speed

The website’s speed is how quickly it responds to requests. It is essential because it creates satisfied visitors and affects the website conversion rate and even its rankings. There is growing evidence that slower sites rank lower in Google than faster sites.  Improving speed also slashes operating costs, and so is an important consideration when looking to see how you can the effectiveness of your site.

Benefits of site speed

Surveys show that users tend to abandon sites that do not load within three seconds. Seventy-nine percent of shoppers will not revisit a site if they experience speed issues.

Website conversion suffers with poor speed. Amazon loses one percent of its sales for every additional 100 milliseconds of delay. Shopzilla increased its income and increased pageviews when they reduced loading time. A 400-millisecond improvement in speed benefited Yahoo with a nine-percent pageview increase. When Mozilla increased speed by 2.2 seconds, download conversions increased by 15.4%.
A faster, well-optimized website also saves on server bills and bandwidth. Bandwidth costs can also be decreased by leveraging browsers’ ability to cache contents longer and by extending caching headers. This move allows returning customers to load the website’s resources directly from their browser’s local cache.

Measuring the speed of the website

Google has factored the speed of a website into its ranking algorithms. Site optimization depends on factors like the time to the first byte, the base download of a page, the loading progression of other elements, and the time to download the entire page, including all resources.

Google measures download time of the full page, including all resources across all pages. This includes every image, script, display ads by third parties, scripts by third parties – everything, even non-crawlable pages.

Google Webmaster Tools

Webmaster Tools measures site performance by providing an overview of aggregated speed numbers. Locations, difference in browser and user connection speed are also noted. It also pinpoints speed of specific pages.

Webmaster Tools also provides suggestions to improve page speed with regards to possible first steps for performance improvement. It recommends using Page Speed plugin or another similar tool to more fully recognize blocking issues and more easily see how server modifications can affect loading time.

In addition, Google analytics show which landing pages are the slowest, which campaigns correlate to faster overall page loads and how different browsers and locations affect loading time.

PageSpeed Online

This is a Google tool (https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights) which analyzes content and gives suggestions to increase speed, reduce bounce rate and increase your website conversion rate.

How to improve site speed

Three main target areas to work on include the hardware or server, scripting optimization, and the front-end performance. Images, JavaScript, CSS, and HTML are most easily manipulated and therefore provide the biggest opportunity for improvement. There is often no access for fixing the server, which can also be costly and require specialized knowledge and permission. If you have massive server problems, you can of course always thinking about upgrading the server your site is currently hosted on, or even moving server companies to get rid of this problem.

Profiling web pages

Profiling optimizes components and identifies unnecessary ones on your web pages that just slow the load time down. Tools such as Firebug (http://getfirebug.com/) determine component size and loading time. Page components should be kept as small as possible.

Optimizing images and structure

PNG, GIF and JPEG are the most common format for images. Use PNG and GIF for images with solid color, like logos and charts. JPEG is best for pictures which need realism, having smooth color tones and gradients. JavaScript, CSS documents and other unnecessary files should also be minified to reduce file size, and put on external files to the page, and called from within the page.

Optimizing the page’s structure may mean experimenting with different configurations.

Reducing HTTP requests

You can combine JavaScript and CSS files to reduce HTTP requests, using tools or simply copy and pasting. Using CSS sprites or combining smaller images into a single large image also helps.

Reducing file size through server-side compression

You can compress page components using popular tools like Gzip and Deflate. VPS or dedicated servers can install an application to handle file compression.

Caching files

Use the browser’s caching features and avoid lots of JavaScript and CSS in the HTML document. Avoiding inline JavaScript and CSS files also saves on downloading styles and scripts repeatedly.

Offloading site features and assets

Using third-party services to reduce the work of the server shares the burden of serving components. For instance, Feedburner can handle RSS feeds, Flickr can serve images and Google’s AJAX Libaries API can serve popular frameworks.

Monitoring and regularly creating benchmarks

Regularly check server performance with benchmarking tools or remote tools to monitor and analyze HTML traffic. If the server cannot handle traffic, think about upgrading or migrating to another server.

Conclusion: Speed Matters!

Simply speaking, speed is important because visitors tend to stay on the site longer and view more pages. This translates to greater business and a better visitor experience. All other things being equal, your site will earn a higher trust rating is gained and website conversion rate can increase with faster loading time.

About the Author: Bethany Wesch writes about blogging, branding and online marketing. She writes for SEOSydney.com.au – an online marketing agency which specializes in providing online marketing solutions for local businesses and sales people.

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