edit Kristina Weis on September 7, 2011
edit Faster Websites Can Rank Better
Having a fast site - or at least a site that's not slower than the average - can help you gain or maintain good search engine rankings and traffic to your website.
Some chilling statistics:
- 47% of consumers expect a website to load in 2 seconds or less source
- 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load source
- A 1 second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions (sales, sign ups, etc.) source
- A 100 millisecond delay on Amazon.com caused a 1% drop in revenue. source
Site speed refers to how fast all the elements of a web page - its text, images, video clips, etc. - appear in a web browser window after someone clicks a link to that page, or types its URL into the browser navigation bar.
Early in 2010, Google added site speed to its website ranking algorithm. Now a website's loading speed is one of about 200 factors that help Google determine which websites to rank highest in results for a specific search term. That means site speed has to be considered when you're working on your website's search engine optimization (SEO).
Google added site speed because a faster site is better for people, and Google wants its results to be of high value to searchers.
edit First: Check How Fast Your Site Loads
Use any of these free tools to check how long it takes to load your website into a web browser window:
- Pingdom's site speed test is a popular tool for checking website load time. It's easy to use.
- Google Webmaster Tools has a section with information on the speed of your website, from the source that may matter the most. Once you've logged in to Webmaster Tools, click "Labs" on the left, and then "Site Performance."
- WebPageTest.org's website performance test lets you check the speed and performance of your website in different web browsers such as Internet Explorer 7 or Firefox. It also allows you to test how your site performs in different geographic locations.
- GTmetrix.com's website speed test combines info from Google Page Speed and Yahoo! YSlow in a nice presentation with a nice list of things you can do.
edit What's Considered a "Fast" Website?
To give you an idea, Alexa says that Facebook.com takes just over 2 seconds to load, and that 70 percent of sites are faster. (See image at right.) Alexa.com (visit) provides traffic statistics for most of the world's top million websites. If your site is in this group, you'll find some good information about your site on Alexa, and you'll be able to compare your site to others in the top million.
In general, a website that loads in 2 seconds or less is doing well. A website that loads in 2 to 5 seconds isn't fast, but it's probably good enough.
A website that takes more than 5 seconds to load is likely to annoy some of its visitors. The longer it takes a website to load, the more likely the site is to be hurting its standing with Google. The search giant considers site speed as a factor when ranking web pages in search results.
edit How Can I Make My Website Load Faster?
Here are some relatively simple and quick fixes to speed up your website.
Some of these things you may be able to do yourself. For the rest, your hosting company or the person or company that created your website for you should be able to make these changes pretty easily for you.
edit #1 Website Compression
Compressing your website's content - using gzip compression, for example - can help reduce the time it takes your webserver to send your website's content to site visitors.
Compression does not affect the images on your website though, so read on.
edit #2 Optimize Your Images
- a) Don't Use Images Any Bigger than Necessary
- Don't use a large image. Yes, you can set the width and height in HTML to 100 pixels by 100 pixels, if that's the size you want to display - but your site will still be carrying a large image that loads slowly. If you want to display an image that is 100 pixels by 100 pixels, use an image of that size, or scale down your large image before placing it on a web page.
- I asked AboutUs community members to share their experiences with compression tools. Ed Mus of Deals2Save.com recommended a tool he's used to optimize images for load speed: Smush.it, available at Yahoo.
- b) Choose the Best File Format
- The file format of your images can help you or hurt you. Don't use a JPG file unless you want to include a photograph with a huge range of colors. For most images, using a GIF or PNG file is usually fine, and these types of files load faster.
- GIF is great for images with few colors - for example, most company logos.
- PNG is a file format specifically for websites. PNG images have good quality, but sometimes they don't display in Internet Explorer 6.
- JPG is a traditional and common file format for photos. JPGs are good if you really want a highly detailed and possibly slow-loading photo for a specific reason.
- c) Don't Use Images If You Don't Need To
- Your logo or a photo must be included as images - there's no other way to convey them to your site visitors. But many websites put things like a phone number, address or other text into an image, even though it's not necessary. And really, it's not a good practice. Images are not only slow to load, they're also essentially invisible to search engines, unless they include descriptive alt text. Search engines can't "see" the information in an image, so use text to convey any information that can be rendered as text.
- d) Don't Half-Reference Images
- Having HTML code in your web page that includes an <img> tag that doesn't specify the image source is like telling someone "Hang this picture on the wall, please" and not giving them the picture. They will probably stand there confused for a minute, and that's what can happen to a web browser that's trying to load your web page.
- This is what the HTML code for an <img> tag without a source looks like:
- <img src="" />
- A properly formatted <img> tag should include the source of the image like this:
- <img src="NameOfImage.jpg" />
- The AboutUs Site Report will check your website's pages for any images that don't specify the source so you can easy fix or remove them.
- e) Include Width and Height Dimensions
- When a web browser loads the assets and code that make up the web page and it comes to display an image that doesn't specify the width and height size that it should be displayed in, the web browser has to stop loading the rest of the web page and wait until it finishes loading that image.
- If the <img> tag included a width and height attribute specifications in the image's HTML code, then it wouldn't have to wait and it could continue loading the rest of the web page at the same time.
- Want to know which pages on your website have images that don't specify width and height? You can look manually, or the Site Report can do that for you.
edit #3 Put Your Code in Optimum Order
When someone directs a web browser to a web page, the browser starts from the top of the code and works its way down. The style sheets are one of the more important pieces for human viewers, because they determine how the site will look. After that, your website's actual content will load pretty quickly. It's as if the style sheets set out a framework, and then the content loads into that framework.
Why does this matter? Because people are impatient. If a web page seems very slow, they're more likely to leave.
edit #4 Remove Unnecessary External Code
Many websites have some code whose purpose is to pull something from a service that's out of their control. For example, a website may use:
- A "share" button from a service such as AddThis
- An e-commerce shopping cart provided by another company
- A widget that displays the company's recent tweets on Twitter
The code for Google Analytics can also slow your site down a bit, though the insights you'll gain from using analytics usually outweigh this slight disadvantage. I recommend that you take advantage of other speed improvements, and keep the analytics.
It's wise to check the speed of any external features on your site. If you aren't using a feature, or if it is of minimal value to your business and website, you should remove it.
edit #5 Use ETags
An ETag is how browsers identify if a web page has changed since the user last visited the page. If someone visits a web page that has an ETag, the next time they visit that page the web browser will first check the the HTTP headers for a new ETag. If the web server returns a new ETag, this indicates that the page has changed and the browser needs to redownload it. If the ETag has not changed, the page can be loaded much faster because the browser can use the content that has been cached - or remembered and stored.
An ETag is a great way to make your site load faster for your repeat visitors, but it does not make your web pages load faster for people who have never been to your website before.
ETags are served by your web server, and configuring web servers to serve ETags is different for each server. To set up ETags for your web pages, you should talk to your webmaster or hosting company.
Don't know if your website uses ETags? The Site Report will tell you which pages on your website don't utilize ETags, plus much more to help your site speed and rank in search engines.
edit #6 Get Specific Recommendations for Increasing Site Speed
- If you use Google Webmaster Tools for your site, you can find out how fast your site loads for Google. (See image at right.) You'll also find some general technical suggestions for improving your site's performance, speed or both.
- If you browse the web using Firefox and already have the Firebug add-on, you might find Yahoo's YSlow and Google's Page Speed extensions quite helpful. While you're viewing a web page, you can click on these extensions to pull up information about why that web page is slow, and get ideas for improving its speed.
- Google introduced a new tool on March 31, 2011 called Page Speed Online. It analyzes the speed of web pages -- and the mobile version of pages -- and gives suggestions for improving their load time.
edit #7 Get a Better Website Host
—Karl Matthias, system administrator at AboutUs.org
For the majority of websites, many factors that can speed up a website - or slow it down - are in the control of the company that hosts the site. That's why it's important to have a competent host that responds quickly when you have a question or problem.
If your website is loading too slowly, you probably want to look at your hosting company's service first. You may want to consider upgrading to a better hosting package with your current hosting company, if the better package includes a promise of increased speed. Otherwise, shift your site to a hosting company with a better offering, reputation, or both.
Note: Depending on the type of website software you use, not every host or hosting plan will be able to accommodate your site. Before you switch, make sure the company and hosting package you're considering can handle everything on your website.
Some good hosting companies:
- DreamHost (visit)
- Polur.net (visit)
- GoDaddy (visit)
- BigWetFish.co.uk (visit)
- Network Solutions (visit)
- Dotster (visit)
edit How Do I Make These Changes?
You may be able to implement some of the suggestions above yourself through the system you use to edit your website's content.
If you use WordPress, the W3 Total Cache plug-in may be a good do-it-yourself solution.
For anything you can't do yourself, ask your website hosting company, or the person (or firm) who created your website for you.