UX

5 simple steps to make your website faster

June 20, 2024

In this post, we’ll explore the critical steps to boost your website's speed, enhancing both user experience and SEO. We’ll cover essential elements like image optimisation, server performance, limiting HTTP requests, and more. Dive into practical tips and modern techniques to keep your site running efficiently in an ever-evolving digital landscape.

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5 ways to make your website faster - an abstract blog post thumbnail with 3 website browser cards open, the front one being a page speed checker
Contents

Why speed matters for your website

In today's fast-paced digital world, website speed isn't just a luxury—it's a necessity. Imagine you're at a café, eagerly waiting for your morning coffee, but the barista takes ages to serve you. Frustrating, right? The same goes for websites. If your site takes too long to load, visitors are likely to leave before they even see your offer. This is why website speed is crucial, not just for user experience, but also for your site's search engine optimisation (SEO).

User Experience and Speed: A Delicate Dance

When we talk about user experience (UX), speed is often the unsung hero. No one notices when a site loads quickly, but everyone grumbles when it doesn't. Studies show that users expect a web page to load in two seconds or less; after three seconds, up to 40% of users will abandon the site entirely. This is akin to waiting for a bus that never arrives—eventually, you just walk away.

SEO and the need for speed

Google, the gatekeeper of the internet, has made it clear that website speed is a ranking factor. This means that faster websites are more likely to appear higher in search results. Google's algorithm considers user experience signals, and page speed is a significant part of that. A slow website can undermine your SEO efforts, making it harder for potential visitors to find you.

The proof is in the pudding

To highlight the importance of website speed, let’s delve into some research. Google Study on Page Load Time and Bounce Rate found that as page load time goes from one second to five seconds, the probability of a mobile site visitor bouncing increases by 90%. This illustrates how even small delays can have a significant impact on user behaviour and engagement.

Another study by Akamai on conversion rates and load time revealed that a 100-millisecond delay in website load time can hurt conversion rates by 7%. That’s a blink of an eye! If you're running an e-commerce site, this could translate to thousands of pounds in lost revenue. These statistics underscore the importance of keeping your site running smoothly and efficiently.

Your website is never fast enough

In the world of websites, speed is like a mythical creature: always pursued, never quite captured. No matter how fast your website is, there’s always room for improvement. This isn't just about shaving milliseconds off load times for the sake of it. It's about constantly enhancing the user experience and staying ahead of the competition. Google has made it clear that speed is a crucial ranking factor, so resting on your laurels is not an option.

Consider this: users expect pages to load in under two seconds, but as technology and expectations evolve, even that might seem slow. A lightning-fast website today could be tomorrow's sluggish performer. Users are getting more impatient, and with every passing year, the benchmark for what’s considered “fast” shifts.

Moreover, different devices and network conditions mean that a site performing well on a high-speed broadband connection might struggle on a mobile network. Constant testing and optimisation are essential. Employ tools like Google PageSpeed Insights and continually refine your site's performance. In the quest for speed, complacency is the enemy. Your website might never be fast enough, but striving for that elusive goal ensures it’s always getting better.

Performance score factors

As we dive deeper into the quest for speed, it's essential to understand the factors that influence your website's performance score. These scores are critical as they provide a quantifiable measure of how well your site performs and where it needs improvement. Performance scores are often provided by tools like Google PageSpeed Insights, GTmetrix, and Lighthouse. They evaluate several metrics to give a comprehensive overview of your site's speed and overall user experience.

The Importance of Performance Scores

Performance scores are more than just numbers; they reflect the health and efficiency of your website. A high score indicates that your site loads quickly, runs smoothly, and provides a positive user experience—all of which are crucial for retaining visitors and converting them into customers. Conversely, a low score can signal issues that frustrate users and drive them away. Since Google uses these scores as part of its ranking algorithm, a poor performance score can also negatively impact your SEO efforts, making it harder for potential visitors to find you.

Key Performance Factors

  1. First Contentful Paint (FCP): This measures how long it takes for the first piece of content to appear on the screen. A faster FCP means users see something quickly, reducing their perception of load time.
  2. Speed Index: This metric shows how quickly the contents of a page are visibly populated. A lower speed index indicates faster load times.
  3. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): LCP measures the time it takes for the largest piece of content (like an image or large text block) to appear. It's a crucial indicator of perceived load speed.
  4. Time to Interactive (TTI): This metric indicates how long it takes for the page to become fully interactive. Users should be able to interact with your site as soon as possible to avoid frustration.
  5. Total Blocking Time (TBT): TBT measures the total time during which the page is blocked from responding to user input. Minimising blocking time is vital for smooth interactivity.
  6. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): This measures visual stability, quantifying how much the content shifts during loading. A low CLS ensures that users don't experience unexpected movements, which can be particularly annoying.

How is it Measured?

Tools like Google PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse analyse your website by running a series of tests that simulate different network conditions and devices. These tools then provide scores for each metric, along with suggestions for improvement. For example, reducing server response times, compressing images, and leveraging browser caching are common recommendations.

The performance score is a weighted average of these individual metrics, each contributing differently based on its impact on user experience. Continuous monitoring and optimisation using these tools can help maintain and improve your performance score, ensuring your website remains fast and user-friendly.

By understanding and optimising these performance factors, you can ensure your website is not just fast enough for today but is also well-prepared for the evolving demands of tomorrow.

How to check your website’s speed?

Evaluating your website’s speed is crucial for maintaining optimal performance and ensuring a positive user experience. The simplest way to start is by visiting your website on various devices, such as a desktop, tablet, and mobile phone. This not only gives you a sense of the loading times but also allows you to experience your site as your users do. Observing how quickly pages load and how smoothly the site operates across different platforms is an essential step in understanding the user experience (UX).

For a more technical and detailed analysis, several tools can provide comprehensive insights into your website’s speed and performance. Google PageSpeed Insights is a popular choice, offering detailed reports on both mobile and desktop performance along with suggestions for improvement. GTmetrix is another excellent tool that provides in-depth performance reports, including page load details, performance scores, and actionable recommendations. Pingdom offers a straightforward interface to test your website's speed from multiple locations around the world, giving you a global perspective on your site's performance.

Lighthouse, an open-source tool integrated into Google Chrome's DevTools, is particularly powerful for developers. It runs a series of audits on your site and provides detailed reports covering performance, accessibility, best practices, and SEO.

By using these tools, you can identify specific areas where your website may be lagging and take appropriate actions to optimise it. Regular speed checks and optimisations ensure that your website not only meets current standards but continues to deliver an excellent user experience in the future.

What’s causing your website to slow down?

Ever wondered what could be dragging down your website’s speed? There are numerous factors that could potentially slow it down, making the user experience less than ideal. In the next section, we will cover the five most common issues that can affect your website's performance and provide practical tips on how to address them. From optimisation techniques to leveraging the right tools, we'll help you identify and tackle these speed bumps, ensuring your site runs smoothly and efficiently.

Most of the common issues related to website speed do come back to excessive HTTP requests.

HTTP requests occur every time a browser fetches a file, image, or script from a web server. The more requests your site makes, the longer it takes for the page to load. Think of it like ordering multiple items from different shops; each individual trip adds to your overall shopping time.

To limit the number of HTTP requests, you can reduce and remove unnecessary visuals such as images and videos that don't add significant value to the user experience. Additionally, streamline your code by combining multiple CSS and JavaScript files into single files. Another effective strategy is to set your website to load JavaScript files asynchronously, which allows the browser to load other elements simultaneously, speeding up the overall process.

While limiting HTTP requests is crucial, other factors also play a significant role in website speed. 

Server performance is vital; a slow server can bottleneck your site regardless of how few requests it handles. Upgrading to a better hosting plan or using dedicated servers can make a significant difference. Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) distribute your content across multiple locations globally, reducing latency by serving data from the closest server to the user. Image optimisation is another critical factor; uncompressed, large images can drastically slow down your site. Techniques like using WebP format or compressing images can help. Browser caching allows users to store files locally, reducing load times on subsequent visits. Efficient coding practices, such as minimising JavaScript and CSS files and avoiding render-blocking resources, ensure that your website loads faster and performs better.

What can you do to speed up your website?

1. Optimise the images for the website

Optimising images is crucial for maintaining a fast-loading website. Large, uncompressed images can drastically slow down your site, leading to higher bounce rates and a poor user experience. For example, a high-resolution image that isn't optimised can take several seconds to load, causing visitors to leave before they even see your content. Ideally, the weight of images should be kept under 100 KB for most web use cases to ensure quick loading times.

One effective way to optimise images is by compressing them into WebP format. WebP is a modern image format that provides superior lossless and lossy compression for images on the web. This means you can reduce the file size of your images significantly without compromising on quality. Using WebP can improve your website speed by reducing the amount of data that needs to be loaded, making your site faster and more efficient.

Implement lazy loading

Lazy loading is a technique that delays the loading of images and other non-critical resources until they are actually needed, typically as the user scrolls down the page. This helps improve website speed by reducing the initial load time and bandwidth consumption. By only loading images when they enter the viewport, lazy loading ensures that users can start interacting with your content sooner, without waiting for all elements to download.

Implementing lazy loading can significantly enhance user experience, especially on image-heavy pages. It reduces unnecessary HTTP requests and saves server resources, resulting in a smoother and faster browsing experience. This technique is particularly beneficial for mobile users who might be on slower networks, ensuring that they can access and interact with your site quickly and efficiently.

2.Monitor and adjust your servers

Monitoring and adjusting your servers is crucial for maintaining optimal website performance. Poor server performance can lead to slow load times, causing frustration for users and potential loss of business. If your current hosting plan can't handle your website's traffic or complexity, it might be time to consider upgrading to a better hosting plan or switching to a faster hosting provider.Using a content delivery network (CDN) can also significantly enhance your server's performance (more on this below). When you look for a cheaper hosting option, you often sacrifice speed and reliability, which can harm your business in the long run. A slow website can deter customers, reduce conversion rates, and negatively impact your search engine rankings. Investing in high-quality hosting and regularly monitoring your server's performance ensures that your website remains fast and reliable, providing a better experience for your users.

Consider using CDN

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a network of servers distributed across various geographical locations. The primary purpose of a CDN is to deliver content to users more efficiently by serving it from a server that is geographically closer to the user. This reduces latency and load times, significantly enhancing website speed and performance.

Imagine you have an online store based in London, and a customer in Sydney wants to browse your products. Without a CDN, their request travels all the way to your server in London and back, which can be slow. With a CDN, your site's content is cached on multiple servers worldwide. When the customer in Sydney visits your site, the CDN serves the content from a nearby server, say in Melbourne, making the experience much faster.

CDNs work by caching your website's static content, such as images, scripts, and stylesheets, on multiple servers around the world. When a user requests your website, the CDN directs the request to the nearest server, ensuring faster delivery of content. This is particularly beneficial for websites with a global audience, as it ensures consistent performance regardless of the user's location.

While it's true that not every small business may need a CDN, they can be beneficial for businesses with a significant amount of traffic, a global audience, or large amounts of static content. CDNs can also help improve security by mitigating DDoS attacks and reducing server load during traffic spikes. However, for a small local business with minimal traffic, investing in a CDN may not provide a significant return on investment compared to other optimisation techniques. It's essential to assess your specific needs and traffic patterns to determine if a CDN is a worthwhile investment for your business.

3. Set Up Browser Caching

Browser caching is a powerful technique that can significantly enhance your website’s speed and user experience. By storing copies of static files on a user’s device, caching reduces the need for the browser to re-download these files on subsequent visits. For instance, if a user visits your website and the images, stylesheets, and scripts are cached, their next visit will be much faster as the browser can load these files directly from the local cache. This not only improves load times but also reduces server load and bandwidth usage, providing a smoother and more efficient browsing experience.

Eliminate unnecessary plugins or scripts

Setting up browser caching involves specifying cache headers in your server configuration or .htaccess file. Some hosting providers offer this as part of their services, while others may require you to configure it yourself. Here’s a step-by-step guide for those who need to do it manually:

1. Access Your .htaccess File: Locate the .htaccess file in your website’s root directory. If you don’t have one, create it.

2. Add Cache-Control Headers: Insert the following code to specify how long browsers should cache certain types of files:

<IfModule mod expires.c>

ExpiresActive On

ExpiresByType image/jpg "access plus 1 year"

ExpiresByType image/jpeg "access plus 1 year"

ExpiresByType image/gif "access plus 1 year"

ExpiresByType image/png "access plus 1 year"

ExpiresByType text/css "access plus 1 month"

ExpiresByType application/pdf "access plus 1 month"

ExpiresByType text/javascript "access plus 1 month"

ExpiresByType application/javascript "access plus 1 month"

ExpiresByType application/x-shockwave-flash "access plus 1 month"

ExpiresByType image/x-icon "access plus 1 year"

ExpiresDefault "access plus 2 days"

</I fModule>

3. Save and Upload: Save the .htaccess file and upload it to your server if you edited it locally.

Many hosting providers, especially managed hosting services, offer support or automated tools to help you set up browser caching. If you're unsure or uncomfortable making these changes yourself, it's worth reaching out to your hosting provider's support team to see if they can assist or provide guidance. Properly configured caching can dramatically improve your website's performance, reducing load times and enhancing the overall user experience.

4. Decide on 1 to 2 fonts maximum

Limiting your website to one or two fonts can significantly improve its performance and user experience. Each additional font adds to the number of HTTP requests, increasing load times. By sticking to a maximum of two fonts, you streamline these requests, speeding up your site. Moreover, using a limited number of fonts supports consistent branding and helps create a cohesive look across your website. Uniform fonts ensure that the design remains clean and professional, avoiding the visual distraction that multiple font styles can cause. This not only enhances readability but also strengthens your brand identity.

Consider hosting fonts locally

Hosting fonts locally means downloading the font files to your server instead of fetching them from external sources like Google Fonts. This can reduce the number of external HTTP requests and improve load times, as the browser only needs to communicate with your server.

To host fonts locally, follow these steps:

  1. Download the Fonts: Obtain the font files you need from a reputable source.
  2. Upload to Your Server: Place the font files in a designated directory on your server.
  3. Update Your CSS: Modify your CSS to reference the local font files instead of external URLs.

For example:

@font-face {
   font-family: 'YourFont';
   src: url('/fonts/YourFont.woff2') format('woff2'),
        url('/fonts/YourFont.woff') format('woff');
   font-weight: normal;
   font-style: normal;
}

5. Make sure your website is responsive on mobile devices

Ensuring your website is responsive on mobile devices is crucial for maintaining a fast, user-friendly experience. Mobile and desktop speeds differ significantly due to mobile devices having smaller processors and often slower internet connections. As mobile browsing continues to grow—currently accounting for over half of global web traffic, according to a 2020 study Mobile vs. Desktop Usage in 2020 by Perficient —it is more important than ever to optimise for mobile users. Responsive design ensures that your website adapts seamlessly to various screen sizes, providing an optimal user experience regardless of the device. Failure to do so can lead to longer load times and higher bounce rates, especially among mobile users who expect quick and efficient browsing experiences.

Optimise your images for mobile, separately 

Optimising images specifically for mobile devices is essential due to their smaller screens and often slower internet connections. Large, high-resolution images that look great on desktops can significantly slow down a mobile site. By resizing and compressing images for mobile use, you can reduce load times and improve the overall user experience. This not only ensures that images load quickly on mobile devices but also conserves bandwidth, which is particularly important for users on limited data plans. Implementing mobile-specific image optimisation techniques helps maintain visual quality while ensuring efficient performance, keeping mobile users engaged and satisfied with their browsing experience.

There’s always room for improvement

In the world of website optimisation, there's always room for improvement. What we've covered in this blog post is merely the tip of the iceberg. Ensuring your website is fast and efficient is an ongoing process that requires constant monitoring and adjustment.

The five steps we discussed—optimising images, monitoring server performance, setting up browser caching, reducing the number of fonts, and assuring a seamless mobile responsiveness—are excellent starting points. However, there are many more factors to consider, such as minifying code, optimising database queries, and leveraging advanced techniques like prefetching and preloading resources.

Website performance factors can change over time as the industry evolves. New technologies and tools are continually emerging, offering more sophisticated ways to enhance site speed and user experience. For example, advancements in AI and machine learning are beginning to influence web performance optimisation, predicting and preloading content based on user behaviour.

As the digital landscape evolves, so do user expectations. Today's standards may not meet tomorrow's demands, making it crucial to stay informed about the latest trends and best practices in website optimisation. Regularly auditing your site's performance and staying up-to-date with new developments ensures that your website remains competitive and provides the best possible experience for your users.

While the steps we've outlined provide a solid foundation, the journey to a perfectly optimised website is ongoing. Embrace the ever-changing nature of web technologies and continue to refine and enhance your site. By doing so, you'll not only keep your current users satisfied but also attract new ones, staying ahead in an increasingly competitive digital world. If you need expert assistance in optimising your website, we are here to help. Contact us today to learn how we can support you in achieving a faster, more efficient website.

Not ready where to start? Visit our Web design services page to learn more about our approach and book a discovery call today!

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by
Matt Woch
Published on:
June 20, 2024
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