Have you ever clicked a link in Google or on another page and, because the site you wanted to visit takes a long time to load, immediately hit the back button and made a different choice? It’s a common experience for web users, and it can make a serious impact on a site’s bounce rate.
Internet users are an impatient bunch: they don’t want to wait for information and they are aware that if their first choice of site offers a bad experience, they can more than likely find what they need elsewhere.
Google is aware that slow sites make for a poor user experience, and because they can measure site speed with their crawls and poor user experience by the number of people that immediately return to their results pages after clicking on a link, site speed is an important ranking factor. Additionally, if your site frequently takes a long time to load or returns errors, Google will send its crawler visiting less often, which is going to have an impact on how quickly your pages are indexed in the SERPs.
Following a few easy-to-implement best practices can help keep your site speed up to snuff and help its SEO. We’re going to concentrate on WordPress sites here, but the basic techniques for improving performance apply to most sites.
The first thing to do is to measure your site’s current performance so you can compare the “before” and “after” speeds. Pingdom Tools is an excellent resource for measuring your site’s speed and the waterfall graphic provides useful information about exactly which aspects of your site are causing slowdowns.
If you’re using a dynamic content management system like WordPress, many of your sites pages will be built on-the-fly from PHP code and database queries. These take time and can slow your site down. Caching stores a copy of the pages in memory or on your server’s hard drive so that they don’t have to be recreated every time they are visited. W3 Total Cache is an excellent caching plugin for WordPress, and similar solutions exist for other CMS’s.
Images are often the biggest single component of a page’s bandwidth use. There are several techniques for reducing their size and improving their download efficiency.
Smush.it is a very handy tool from Yahoo for optimizing image sizes without impacting their appearance by removing unnecessary bytes.
While it’s possible to indicate an image size in HTML, doing so doesn’t reduce the size of the download. The full file will still be sent to the browser. Making your images the correct size before putting them on the server will ensure that no unnecessary bandwidth is used.
Use Image Sprites
Image sprites combine a page’s images into one file and then use CSS to select which area of the image to download. This doesn’t reduce the size of the images, but it does reduce the number of HTTP requests. Sprites can be a little difficult to manage if you aren’t skilled in CSS, but there are tools that make the job a little easier.
All modern browsers are capable of decompressing Gzipped files. Implementing compression can considerably reduce the size of HTML files. For WordPress users, once again, W3 Total Cache can handle the setup of compression, and for other sites, here’s an excellent guide to implementing compression.
Content Distribution Networks
A content distribution network distributes a site’s static content to edge servers around the world. This has two main benefits: firstly, the content can be loaded from locations that are nearer to the client browser, and secondly, the CDN reduces the load on the “home” server, preventing bottlenecks and reducing bandwidth usage. There are a number of CDN services available of varying price and complexity, but CloudFlare is free and easy to configure.
Use Quality Web Hosting
The single best technique for ensuring a high-performance site is to use a hosting company that provides fast servers, good uptime, and reliable bandwidth.
Implementing all of these tips could improve your site’s performance considerably, often reducing load time by up to 80%.
About Daniel Page — Daniel is the Director of Business Development for ASEOhosting, a leading provider in SEO hosting and multiple IP hosting. Follow ASEOhosting on Twitter at @aseohosting, Like them on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/aseohosting, and check out all the services they offer on http://www.aseohosting.com/.