Why making your website run as fast as it should is a top priority

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Andrew McEwan

One quarter of all website visitors will abandon a website if it doesn’t load in under four seconds.

Not only does a slow site jeopardise a quarter (or more) of your traffic, it can signal to Google that your site has a poor user experience and dock your influence in the search engine results.

I had a chat with Singlehop Cloud Hosting’s Rick Talavera about the best practices for helping your website to run as fast as possible.

Following these general rules can not only increase your site speed, but also your potential reach and ultimately customer conversion.

Something to point out is that many of the points to check are definitely on the geeky side and will require the attention of someone who knows what they’re looking for.

Rule 1: Test, test, test

You can’t track improvement if you don’t have a base variable to compare it to. Regularly testing your website speed is crucial to developing a clean-up plan and monitoring all speed progress.

There are plenty of resources online to test the speed of your site for free – we suggest testing your site on at least two different platforms, e.g. Google PageSpeed Insights, Pingdom Website Speed, Yoast Google Analytics Plugin (for WordPress) and Speedy (for Drupal).

When testing your site speed and developing your blueprint, keep the following points in mind:

What errors are consistent among tests?

Could multiple speed bumps be resolved with one change?

Are there any old site functions that could be removed altogether?

Rule 2: Run a frontend
diagnosis

Running a website is a lot like owning car: if you invest in trying to make it look nice on the outside, but forego investing in the infrastructure under the hood, you run the risk of having a shiny but absolutely useless car.

A brand new spoiler isn’t going to save your car from a dead engine in the same way that an excessive number of plugins won’t save your website from outdated code.

What’s the use of having a great-looking website if your customers aren’t patient enough to load it? When it comes to optimisation, checking under the bonnet of your site a great place to start.

Take a good, hard look at both the layout of your content and code. Can your content be restructured?

Can your code be simplified? The world of web development is changing, so what made sense for your site five years ago might not make sense for it now.

Re-evaluate your site structure and remove any duplicate content to help reduce site “weight” and improve user experience.

Replace any dense plugins like Flash with HTML5. While Flash can breathe life into your pages, it brings with it a whole host of baggage, both in terms of actual weight and in terms of user experience.

As its name suggests, Flash has an infamous reputation for being a diva and hogging your PC in all the wrong ways: resource-hoarding, clunkiness, poor user experience.

HTML5 can not only do the majority of what Flash can do quicker, but it comes with a significant advantage: HTML5 is optimised for all mobile platforms, whereas Flash is not.

That means that if your site is dependent on Flash, you’re losing a significant amount of mobile traffic, which is one of the biggest reasons why many of today’s industry leaders are calling for an end to Flash.

Speaking of mobile, consider the mobile responsiveness of your website. This year, after a lot of anticipation, we’ve finally seen mobile search volume outweigh desktop search volume, and its upward trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. While you’re adjusting your site’s structure, be sure to take into consideration how your site currently reacts to being accessed through tablets and smartphones.

Optimising your website to go fully responsive – in other words, adaptable and accessible across many different platforms and devices sizes – can not only help improve your site speed on these platforms, but can give you a tiny boost in the search engine results over competition who have yet to make responsive site changes.

Next time, we’ll conclude this quick guide with some final tips on squeezing every bit of speed possible out of your website.

Andrew McEwan of And We Do This in Morebattle (www.andwedothis.com) helps businesses in the Borders and beyond with website design, ecommerce, digital marketing and video production.