When it comes to web analytics, website speed is one of the key metrics you should be tracking. How quickly your website loads is the first impression that your visitors have of your company, and we all know the value of first impressions.
In this guide, we’ll look at why website speed is so important, how you can measure it, and then give you five ways to improve it.
The Importance of Speed
There is one main reason why website speed is so important: your users are impatient, and are going to leave your page if it takes too long to load. In addition, slow websites are often viewed as unprofessional and don’t give a favorable impression of your brand.
The data back this up. According to Hubspot research, a 1-second delay means a 7 percent reduction in conversions. A page slowdown of 1 second could cost Amazon $1.6 billion in sales each year.
In short, there is a direct correlation between site speed and conversion rates, and fast websites generate more profit. This is an insight, though, that not many companies have taken seriously. The recommended page load time in 2018 is to be under 3 seconds, but according to Google research on the average mobile speed across industry sectors, just a fraction of websites are close to this speed.
Measuring Your Website Speed
Measuring the speed of your website is, unfortunately, something of an art. There are plenty of tools available for measuring website speed, including Google Pagespeed Insights, Pingdom, and Yslow. These give you a raw measurement of your speed across several key metrics: DNS, page loading, and SSL response times.
These numbers should be carefully scrutinized, though. First, you should test your website speed at least ten times, at different times and in different locations, in order to get an average figure. Second, you should recognize that you can’t do much about the loading speed of content hosted on external servers (like YouTube videos). Third, remember that a sizeable minority of users access your site via a VPN, and that, although the best VPNs do not slow down website traffic, some poor-quality VPNs use types of VPN protocols that can impact on loading speeds.
All of these factors taken into account, taking a data-driven approach to your website loading speed requires that you check your website speed after each step you take to improve it. Here’s what a typical Pingdom results page looks like.
How To Improve Your Website Speed
Now for the important part: how you can improve your website loading speed. Below we’ll give you five methods for doing this, but you should also ensure that after you have implemented each one you check the actual effect it has had on your website speed. Not all of these tips are going to make a huge difference on every site, and (as with any data-driven approach) you need to check that what you have done has actually had a positive impact.
Use a CDN
A content delivery network (CDN) can be a very effective way of improving website loading speed. A CDN stores copies of your pages in multiple servers around the world, and deliver content to your visitors from the nearest server to them.
If you have a lot of international traffic, a CDN can be incredibly effective. Just make sure, as with all of the tips on this list, that you check that your CDN is actually improving your loading speed: you can use a VPN to hide your true location, and then load your site from different locations around the world.
Check Your Web Host
Whichever form of web hosting you are using – whether dedicated or shared hosting – your web hosts’ infrastructure can make a big impact on how fast your website is. Separating the contribution of your web host to your overall page speed can be a little difficult, but there is a trick: look at the DNS speed.
Because your DNS speed is completely under the control of your web host, this can be used as a proxy for their performance and is also one of the best ways to test DNS changes that you make. If your DNS response speed is under 300ms, it’s time to call your web host (or change who you pay for this service).
Optimize Your Images
Another pretty basic step in improving your website speed is to make sure that your images are the right size. That might sound obvious but is often overlooked in the US and Europe, where network speeds are high enough for this to not make that much difference.
Running plugins and add-ons can really slow down your site. There is a temptation, as your website grows, to continually add plugins to achieve particular ends, but without deleting those that are now obsolete.
Running unused plugins is a massive security risk, but it also slows down your site. A quick audit of which plugins you are running, and disabling those that are not totally necessary, is often enough to make a dramatic difference to the performance of your site.
Finally, use the minimum number of JS and CSS files necessary to run your site. You don’t necessarily need to reduce the JS functionality of your site: the important factor when it comes to website speed is the raw number of JS files that need to be loaded. Collect all of your JS code into one file, and you should see a speed improvement.
Whilst all of the above tips should improve your website speed, don’t take their efficacy for granted. The process of improving your website speed is one that benefits from a data-driven approach. If your website is already pretty quick, don’t waste valuable time improving it. Similarly, if you are tracking your website speed on a monthly (or weekly or hourly) basis, you are able to spot problems before they arise, and take steps to remedy them.
In short, knowledge is power. Incorporate web analytics into your workflow, and you’ll always know exactly how fast your website is.