You know the performance of your site matters. But everytime you venture into site speed optimization you feel like you stumbled into a land of foreign geek speak.
Unfortunately site speed is a complex topic and technical (“Configure Entity Tags” anyone?). Some changes can require a web developer to implement the changes. With this post you’ll understand better where performance problems can crop up so you can have a better conversation with your developer. We’ll also cover the low hanging fruit that you can tackle on your own as well as the tools you’ll need to get started.
Part of the complexity, as I explain the video below, comes from just figuring out where to start.
When you request a page from a web server, performance can be impacted by a slow web server, inefficiencies with the code when it is rendering in your browser as well as the size of the files that the server is sending over the network. All of these can impact site speed.
SEOs will tell you that Google considers site speed as a ranking factor and therefore it is important for SEO. It’s true that site speed has been a Google ranking factor since 2010, but it’s also true that there are more than 200 ranking factors that Google considers. In the grand scheme of things, your site’s performance might impact your site’s SEO …. or it might not.
So why should you care about site speed?
Instead of SEO, what you should really be thinking about is your visitor and your bottom line. Website visitors are notoriously impatient and fickle. Studies repeatedly show that slow sites:
This is not recent news. Amazon found every 100ms of latency cost them 1% in sales and has been optimizing for speed ever since. And back in 2006, Google found traffic dropped by 20% when it took a half second longer to retrieve search results.
Improving site speed may have been a factor in Barack Obama’s 2012 win, by making his donation website 60% faster, the platform team saw a 14% increase in donations.
So if higher engagement and more revenue sounds good to you, you do need to pay attention to your site’s performance and take at least the minimal steps to improve it.
Google’s PageSpeed Insights is built right into Google Analytics (it’s also available as a standalone tool if you would like quick feedback on a URL).
In Google Analytics, set your timeframe to 3 months or longer and head on over to Behavior -> Site Speed.
What I look at:
Next click on “Page Timings” to find out which pages are slower than others. If you then click on “Speed Suggestions” you will see the same list of pages but with “Page Speed Suggestions”.
The Page Speed Suggestions are actually clickable links. If I click on one I get:
Each suggestion can be clicked on to get more details. For example if I click on the “Optimize Images” it gives me a list of images and a potential savings of size (in this case: a 56% reduction, saving 793KiB) if I optimize them.
Optimizing your images is usually the easiest place to start when it comes to improving your site’s performance.
If you followed the above steps with PageSpeed Insights you now have optimized images you can use to replace your existing images on your page. But really the best practice is to start with optimized images in the first place. You can:
Whatever you do, don’t upload an image that is 5298 by 2498 pixels to your site and then use HTML to scale it down (which is done by using the height and width attributes on the img src tag). Why is that? Because you are sending a big file over the network from your web server to your browser (the height and width attributes is being applied by the browser). Remember, as much as possible, you want to reduce in size the files that are being sent along with your page.
If you have plugins (in WordPress) that you are no longer using, be sure to deactivate and delete them. Also if you have internal linking on your site that result in redirects, update those links so they are pointing directly to the target URL.
Although tracking scripts should be loading asynchronously, you should remove tracking scripts that you are not using.
Also Social Share buttons often create extra redirects and slow down a site.
Today’s websites are built on platforms that dynamically generate the HTML for a page on the fly. WordPress is a good example of this, it stores your content in a database and uses PHP (a programming language) to fetch the content and create the HTML code to show it. But all this technology is slower than good old static HTML.
If your platform supports it, you should turn on caching even if you don’t think you have a server response problem. It’s just one of those “low hanging fruit” items you should just do. WordPress has a number of plugins that implement caching, including the popular W3 Total Cache. Magento has caching as well.
I’m going to introduce you to three more tools: Webpagetest.org, GTmetrix and Chrome Developer Tools. Use these tools to zero in on additional problems that your slow URLs (that you identified in PageSpeed Insights above) may have as well as to get a more complete picture of your site’s performance.
When you enter a URL Webpagetest.org gives you a “waterfall” view of the files that are sent from the server to the browser. You can see which files are taking the longest, as well if the server response is slow.
What I really like about this tool is that it shows you when the render starts (so how long before the user sees something on their screen) and when it completes.
GTmetrix is one of the most comprehensive tools for evaluating site speed. If you want to get a complete list of problems this is a good tool for that. Make sure you check out the YSlow and Waterfall tab as well.
If I really need to troubleshoot and diagnosis where a particular slow file is coming from, I use the Network tab in this tool. Chrome Developer Tools is built in right into your Chrome browser and can be activated with the CRTL SHIFT C keystroke (CMD SHIFT C on the Mac).
A few more suggestions for the more adventurous.
If you are on a platform like WordPress, there are plugins that will minify your files.
There are WordPress plugins that help with this site speed recommendation, but I haven’t checked any of them out yet, if you have and it’s worked for you, let us know in the comments!
Kathy Alice Brown is a SEO expert specializing in Technical SEO and Content. In her spare time she loves to get outside.