Page load time - the online business killer
Page load time is one of the many factors that determine where in the SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages) Google places your site. What is your average page load time? If you don't know, then the chances are you are losing customers and revenue without even realizing it. By speeding up your site you will lower your "bounce rate" and increase conversions.
Page load times are such an important metric that Google webmaster tools records and graphs your times and gives you a reasonable indication of average load times over a period of about a year. If you want to make sure your site's SEO is in tip-top condition then you need to look at ways to make your blog or site as fast as possible.
Even if we disregard the importance of page load time to Google, it is obviously of critical importance that your site loads as quickly as possible anyway. Visitors to your blog or site will be far more inclined to make purchases or convert in some other way if they are able to get the information they want without having to hang around.
Most people these days simply do not have the patience to wait for slow loading sites... they'll simply go to a competitor for what they need. You're left wondering why your site's bounce rate is so high. A slow loading page can undo all the good work you put into your content, marketing, SEO and community. What's even worse is that, most likely, no one will bother report it to you - they'll simply leave.
There are a wide array of techniques that developers, programmers and webmasters use in order to speed up their webpages. Some of these can be quite technical. For example, many of the big sites use "sprites" to speed up page load times. A sprite is an amalgamated image of all the little icons used on a page - this means the server only needs to upload one image instead making repeated requests for each and every icon. You can then use CSS to display only the part you want. Pretty neat, huh?
Sprites, unfortunately, take a bit of image manipulation know-how as well as some good CSS skills (or at the very least a pretty hefty CSS rewrite, for most sites), so they are not something that the average business person or blogger will undertake themselves. You also only derive real advantage from these if you are using a lot of small images. The last time I checked, the Yahoo homepage made good use of sprites.
There are plenty of ways in which you can speed up your page load times, without having to be a programming whiz. Here are a few handy hints:
Caching a page, or any elements of a page, means that a "copy" of that element is creating once and served again and again until it needs to be refreshed. This helps your server because it doesn't have to rebuild each page from scratch on each request. The trade off is that any cached content is not updated until the cache refreshes.
Offhand, I can't think of a single instance in which a site does not require some form of caching. Every site should be caching whatever it can. Look at WSM4B. It caches almost all the blocks around the main content of the page. This information only needs to be updated when there is a new course, book or service available, so there's no need to make the server rebuild all this information on every request, reducing the load on the server and increasing page load time.
Images that go into the design of your site should absolutely be optimized. You can decolorize them, use neat CSS tricks to cause them to repeat instead of using a large image and so on. You'll often find that images make up the bulk of the page size, and therefore contribute most to the page load time.
I've uploaded images directly to a site during development without first reducing their size. Once it has come time to optimize, you can save massive amounts off the size of the page in images alone. Let's assume you save 50K by optimizing all your images. This is a huge saving if you consider that after 10 000 visits you have saved 500 Meg of transfer.
This is an important one. Most modern sites have a number of CSS files. Each file requires a server request, which slows down the page load time because there is always going to be some network latency.
By aggregating CSS files into one large file, you cut out all those return trips to the server and speed things up significantly.
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Everything else that appears in the HEAD section of your page, should be aggregated.
Throttling is a little more complex. Often different parts of a page, especially supporting data that appears in sidebars or blocks, require resource intensive processing. When the site is busy these non-core elements can slow your server down. When you throttle these, you are basically telling them, under certain conditions, to stop chewing resources. This means the data in these blocks may not be up-to-date, but at least the main content (which is the most important part) can be served in a timely manner.
If you are using a good website platform then you should be able to implement a fairly sound throttling policy. If not, time to look for a better platform, or speak to someone who can advise and develop this for you.
I am continually amazed at people who purchase hosting that is "the fastest in the world" for next to nothing, and wonder why their site is so slow. The trick that many hosting companies use is to have a very fast server with an incredibly quick connection, which they then use to advertise to customers. What they don't tell you is that in order to make it profitable they have to cram so many people onto that awesome server that you end up only getting a trickle of bandwidth anyway.
Make sure you find a solid hosting service and don't be afraid to pay a little for it. Chances are you will get better reliability as well as better performance, and support is always nice.
There are plenty of other things you can do to improve the speed of your site. Cutting out unnecessary or poorly coded CSS and HTML is a big one. Poorly designed websites, or websites that use automated builders often generate reams of useless and erroneous HTML.
By speeding up your site, you are giving it an SEO boost and giving your business a greater chance to convert and drive revenue.
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