Your website is often a customer’s first connection to your business. If your site loads and moves at a glacial pace, you may be losing droves of business and not even know it. On top of that, search engines are beginning to rank results based on how fast sites load. A slow site can sink in search results, which means less visibility for your business.
If you used an off-the-shelf website building service such as WordPress or Drupal, your site may not be operating up to the standards of busy web and mobile web surfers. But here are five simple ways to boost its speed:
1. Determine how slow your site is.
Google offers a number of site-performance analysis tools to help determine your site’s comparative speed, including the free Google Webmaster Tools.
As long as a site loads faster than 75 percent of all the sites Google checks, it should be fine, says Emily Winck , director of web and application development for Nebo Agency, a web design firm in Atlanta.
Another speed monitor tool is Yahoo’s Y Slow, a free plug-in for Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera that grades your site’s speed on a scale from A to F.
2. Reduce or eliminate large images.
If you’ve ever fretted over how long it took to email a photo, imagine a website trying to load a large image or several images on a single page. To reduce large photo clutter, you can try three approaches.
First, keep images small: between 500 and 800 pixels across, and 72 dots per inch (dpi). That goes not only for photos and other images, but also for background graphics. WordPress can be set up to automatically reduce image resolution under Settings-Media.
Second, consider stripping your photos of their meta data — the date and location the photo was taken, the type of camera used and the resolution. This information is part of a photo’s background code and adds to its girth.
WordPress users can try a plug-in called WP Smush.it, says Pete Bernardo, digital strategist at Gainesville, Fla.-based web design firm 352 Media Group. It can help shave as much as 30 percent off the photo file size by simply removing meta data, he says.
Third, instead of posting several full-size photos, either create a slide show or use thumbnails that can be clicked on to produce larger images in a separate window, says David Masters, president and founder of Austin, Texas-based web design company iMedia Studios.
There are dozens of free thumbnail generating software programs for both online and offline use, including Quick Thumbnail. Most do-it-yourself web services include templates for creating slide shows.
3. Reduce plug-ins and Java scripts.
Besides presenting text and images, your site does many other things that involve Java scripts and plug-ins. There are forms to fill out, Like buttons, Twitter feeds, comments, navigation page tabs and even the essential Google Analytics that tell you who’s visiting your site, how often and from where.
Sooner or later, these extras can pile up and clog your site. Your browser loads from top to bottom, so if a Java script is slow to load at the top, the whole page stalls. While Java scripts are local, plug-ins such as a weather app originate from another site. So if that site is slow to deliver data then your site also might be sluggish.
Consider removing the coded elements you don’t need and spreading the others over a series of pages to increase site speed.
4. Eliminate Flash.
Web animation software Flash usually isn’t efficient since flashy animation takes time to load and arguably offers limited value to users. “Users don’t have time to wait … and leave the page before waiting for the Flash to load,” Masters says.
Even Adobe recognizes that websites want to reduce their reliance on Flash. It has introduced free tool called Adobe Wallaby to help convert most Flash elements into HTML5. For those of you who are still unclear on HTML, it is integrated into a page’s native HTML coding and generally requires less processing and less battery power than the Flash plug-in.
5. Cache your site.
Your website includes dozens of elements, which are often located on several servers. Web browsers have to collect all these disparate ingredients to create your site. This made-to-order approach slows down page loading.
Web designers advise that site owners cache their sites regularly. Caching is like ready-made fast food: Your site is essentially pre-assembled on the server, so it can be more quickly served to visitors.
WordPress offers caching plug-ins such as WP Super Cache or WP Total Cache to make your site fast-food fast.