Have you ever wanted to pull your hair out in frustration waiting for a site to load and, in the end, just gave up?
Considering that the average site speed has increased by 22%, with the average page load time being nearly 8 seconds, according to a Radware report, we’ve all had to deal with this situation more often than we care to admit.
The fact is that the internet has made us impatient and we expect a fast page load speed, regardless of what site we are visiting. The problem is that while for some people site speed is just an irritant as they have many other options, for business owners, it can significantly impact your sales and profitability.
A number of studies have discovered a direct connection between website performance and revenues. While it should be obvious that a slow site will affect your sales, there are also statistics to support this fact, beyond just common sense. Thus, the Aberdeen Group conducted a study and found that a delay of only 1 second results in 11% fewer page views, a 16% decline in customer satisfaction and a 7% drop in conversion rates.
Amazon took things to the next level and conducted their own study, only to find that for every 100 milliseconds of site speed optimization, their revenue increased by 1%, which is a lot of money when you consider the size of the company’s turnover.
Walmart also discovered this connection when they saw that their conversion rate increased by 2% for a 1-second faster website loading speed.
So, clearly, improving the speed of your website is vital. It’s essential to improving your ranking in Google’s search engine pages but also to improving conversions and, generally, to not irritating your customers. In this article, we’re going to take an in-depth look at 15 mistakes you may be making that are slowing down your site speed and how you can fix them.
Before we start, though, it’s important to note that an Akamai study found that 47% of consumers expect website loading speeds to be 2 seconds or below and 40% will leave a page if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load. In other words, the ideal situation would be to get your site loading time to 2 seconds or below, but if that’s not possible – though it should be if you follow the advice in this article – then make sure it doesn’t exceed 3 seconds.
There are a number of sites offering site speed tests such as Pingdom and Gmetrix, so finding out how fast your site is won’t be difficult. Now, on to the mistakes that could be putting a serious dent in your website performance and, implicitly, in your sales.
Memory Intensive Pages
Once upon a time, 30kb was considered the ideal size for a web page. Nowadays, that is considered tiny. While you might never be able to get your pages down to that size, it is good practice to keep them as small as possible.
After all, a page that’s 3MB is going to load a lot slower than one that is 1MB. So, if you want to optimize your site’s loading time, then you need to make every page of your site as small as possible.
To make things a little clearer, we decided to show you what a difference you can make by reducing the size of your pages and how much you can improve loading speed.
Below, you can see the speed of a page we tested before optimizing it, and then after.
Initial speed of a webpage
Speed after optimizing
Initially, it took 3.75S to load this webpage with a size of 3.8MB. After optimization, we reduced the size of the page to 856.6 KB, resulting in a load time of 1.22S. In other words, the page loads more than three times faster now.
As the above test shows, you can do quite a lot to improve the speed of your website. You just have to be realistic with all the elements on your page. Loading all that content might make your site look amazing, but it will take so long to load that no one will ever see it. So, isn’t it better to have a slightly less amazing website, but one that your visitors will actually stick around to see?
Poorly Optimized Images
Check out 10 slow websites and 9 of them – we think all 10 but we’re being kind – will have a ton of images that are huge and haven’t been optimized at all. A full-size image will take up a lot of bandwidth when it loads, especially if you’re using extremely high-quality images, which are usually ridiculously big.
For example, a very high-quality, large image can be 3.1 MB. That’s for a single image. We were talking earlier of web pages that were 3 MB for the whole page taking too long to load. If a single image on a web page is 3.1 MB and you have 6 of them, you can wave goodbye to anyone sticking around for the three hours it takes your site to load.
So, you need to resize your images, reduce their quality, and even consider changing the format of the image. These will all help to reduce the size of the file. And don’t worry, because reducing the quality of the image won’t make it look bad. The difference between a 72-dpi image (which is the recommended quality for the web) and a 300dpi one is so small to the naked eye that it doesn’t make much of a difference. However, the difference in file size is tremendous.
For example, a 2380 x 1260-pixel image at 300 dpi is 1.6 MB, whereas an 800 x 424-pixel image at 72 dpi is 250 kb. That’s a big difference in size, and it will have just as big an impact on your site load speed. And, note, that even at 800 x 424 pixels, that’s still a pretty big image for the internet.
Load time of images before optimisation
Load time of images after optimisation
After optimizing the image, we were able to reduce size of the image from 600KB to 33KB and the load time from 1.2S to just 56ms. And keep in mind that most people have much larger images to start with. So, if going from 600KB to 33KB can lead to your image loading more than 20 times faster, imagine what will happen when you do the same for all those 2-3MB images on your website.
Here’s a link to a Comprehensive guide on image optimisation which will you help you in this process.
Improperly Scaling Images
In the previous point, we talked about reducing the scale of your images to lower the file size. However, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. If you’ve been scaling your images directly in HTML, you’re only making it look smaller and not affecting the file size in any way. It will still take just as long to load, even though you see a smaller picture. This is because you’re still using the same bloated source file.
Instead, use a graphics program to scale the image and create a new source file. You can certainly scale it down further in HTML if you want, but it makes more sense to do so directly in the graphics program because every kilobyte you save will go towards increasing the speed of your website.
Size of the image after scaling using HTML
Size of the image after scaling the original file externally
As you can see, when you scale the image using HTML, the actual file size doesn’t change. However, it will change when you scale the original file in an external graphics program.
In our case, the size of the image decreased considerably from 207 KB to 30 KB when we scaled the original image in a graphics program and only then uploaded it to the site.
Too Many Redirects
If you have too many redirects on your website, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Using redirects is like sending someone to a specific store, only for them to discover it’s closed down and moved clear across the city. How many people do you think are going to trek across the city to get to that store? If you answered almost none, then you would be completely accurate. They’ll just find another store.
And that’s exactly what will happen with your website. A redirect creates additional HTTP requests and increases load times. Essentially, it’s like loading a page twice, meaning that you’re doubling the load speed. People are not that patient and will go elsewhere, so you need to minimize redirects as much as possible.
If you have a responsive website, you can’t avoid them completely because you do have to send users to the mobile version of your site. However, that doesn’t mean you have to go crazy with them. And other than those redirects, you shouldn’t have any on your site at all.
The above result shows that redirects create additional requests, leading to an increase in response time of up to 0.6S, which adds up to your loading speed.
There are also ways you can redirect users to the mobile version of your website without sacrificing speed, but we’ll be covering that in another post.
Also, have a look at this article on Redirects and how it affects your website speed?
Not Caching Your Site
Caching your site helps improve page load times significantly for returning visitors. When you have caching enabled, your web page will save its static files, like images and HTML documents, in temporary files on the visitor’s computer. Thus, when they revisit the site, all those files can be loaded virtually instantly because the database doesn’t have to retrieve them from a remote location, thereby reducing the overall load time of the page.
Tenni Theurer, who used to work at Yahoo!, conducted a test and found that a page with as many as 30 components and a 2.4-second load speed took only 0.9 seconds to load thanks to caching as it only had to download 3 components. So, clearly, caching makes a significant difference and you should have it enabled on your website.
Below, you can see how caching played an important role in decreasing the load time of a webpage.
As you can see, before we enabled browser caching, the page took 3.75s to load. After caching was activated, the load speed reduced to 1.22s, meaning that the page loaded more than three times faster.
To discover how you can enable caching, check out this post.
Wrong Server Location
Though the internet is supposed to be global, the fact is that distance does make a difference. If all your visitors are in the United States and the server storing your website is in China, it will affect the speed of your website.
Data does move quickly, but it still has to physically travel from point A to point B. It’s just like with long-distance calls, which take a little longer to connect than local calls. With websites, though, it’s even more complicated.
Your US visitor clicks on the site, the request travels to the server in China, has to wait to gain access to the server, and then has to travel all the way back to the US user. In relative terms, it doesn’t take all that long, even when the server is on the other side of the planet, but when you’re dealing with seconds, a few milliseconds up or down can make a significant difference.
Now, by their very definition, websites are supposed to be accessed from all over the world, and it simply isn’t feasible to have your website on a server in every country where you get visitors from. What you can do is start with your target market and location, then analyze your traffic and determine where the bulk of it comes from, and, based on that information, you can decide where it would be most beneficial to have your website based.
We tested a website hosted on SiteGround web hosting from two different locations, i.e, Dallas, USA and Stockholm, Sweden. It should be noted that SiteGround’s servers are located in Dallas and not in Sweden.
The result was that a visitor from the US was able to load the website faster than someone from Sweden. In the US, the page loaded in 1.08s, compared to 2.96s for the visitor from Sweden. In other words, the latter loaded almost three times slower than the former.
Website Speed test of visitors coming from USA
Website Speed test of visitors coming from STOCKHOLM
The above is why it is advisable to choose a hosting service whose servers are located in the region that generates the majority of your traffic. Moreover, Google will rank your website better for the area where your website is hosted because of faster load speeds, among other factors.
Also read: Bluehost and HostGator Web hosting review 2017.
Poorly Configured Servers
The server where your website is hosted plays a huge role in page load speed. When a user clicks on your website, the first thing that happens is that their browser pings the server, asking for the information and data it needs to load your site.
If the server is poorly configured and has performance issues, the response time won’t be stellar. No matter how much you optimize your site, if the server is slow, it will severely slow down your site.
Unfortunately, if the server is slow, there’s not much you can do about it because the web hosting company you are using is to blame. A budget service will usually put your website on a server with tons of other websites, which means you’re sharing the same resources – and why these cheap plans are referred to as shared hosting.
Things get even worse because these hosting companies try to get as many sites on one server as they can to keep their prices low but still make a profit. To do this, they disable various important features, such as KeepAlive and compression.
Compression makes the files your server sends out smaller, thereby improving the transfer speed and, implicitly, the load time of your webpages. HTTP KeepAlive is a function that allows multiple HTTP requests to be sent and received via the same TCP connection, ensuring all subsequent requests are responded to much faster.
So, check if these two features have been disabled by your web host. If they have, all you can do is switch hosts.
Going with the Cheapest Hosting Option
Choosing the most advantageous hosting package is important for your budget, but you have to consider that the cheapest plan could be losing you money. If you have a large web store with over 5,000 products, for example, a $5 hosting plan will not be enough to keep things running smoothly.
You might be saving a few hundred dollars per year on hosting by going with cheap hosting, but you are potentially losing thousands – or even more – because your site takes forever to load. Not only will visitors not hang around and go to another site, but you’ll also find that the few who do push through the first time will not return.
You are much better off choosing a hosting plan that is more expensive but ensures the best loading times for your website.
We tested two websites for their server response time, one hosted with SiteGround on their Growbig plan (a lower level plan) and another with SiteGround on their Gogeek (a higher level plan) and here’s the result.
Website Hosted on SiteGround GrowBig Plan(Lower level)
Website Hosted on SiteGround GoGeek Plan(Higher level)
As you can see, hosting your site on a higher level plan from SiteGround loaded in 219ms, compared to 1.67s on the lower level plan. That is a significant difference in server response times, which once again proves that you really do get what you pay for.
Check out this post, SiteGround vs Bluehost web hosting comparison.
Forgetting About Dedicated Services
There are a variety of dedicated services you can use for various components of your website to reduce the load on the server. For example, instead of loading videos directly onto your website, which would mean more information traveling through the same connection, off the same server, you can use a service like YouTube or Vimeo.
You can do this for a number of other elements too, including comments on posts, for which you can use IntenseDebate or Disqus, or images, which you should be using a Content Delivery Network for.
So, if you have a site that gets a lot of traffic and is video- and image-heavy, consider using these third-party dedicated services to significantly improve your website’s performance.
Bloated coding can significantly reduce the load times of your web pages. Too many spaces, empty lines, inline stylings and a boatload of unnecessary comments will increase the size of the stylesheet. The bigger the stylesheet, the longer things will take to load.
So, if you’re using a theme and are uncomfortable with looking at the code, consider switching to a more streamlined theme. You might have to pay slightly more for it, but the faster load times will be worth it.
Too Many Elements on the Page and Excessive File Requests
A server can only respond to a limited number of requests every second. So, let’s imagine that you have 35 elements on your homepage, which means that it makes 35 file requests to the server every time someone loads it. Going further, let’s say that you have quite a bit of traffic and 250 people decide to access the page at the same time. This means the server gets requests from 250 sources to load 35 elements or 8,750 file requests at once. A small server won’t be able to handle the load and people will not hang around for more than 3 seconds, waiting for your server to get its act together.
The solution is to reduce the number of elements on your pages, keeping only those that are strictly necessary as well as combining others. For example, multiple style sheets can be merged into a single one, reducing the number of requests the server has to respond to.
Reducing the number of elements on your page is good practice, but if you’re still having trouble with your site speed, also consider changing your hosting plan to something that can better handle the volume of traffic and requests, or completely changing your web host to one with better servers.
For more tips on choosing a web hosting company, check out this post.
Excessive Use of Plugins
If you’ve used WordPress for any length of time, you’ve probably already discovered that there are a gazillion different plugins for everything you could even contemplate doing with your website. And you’ve probably got quite a few of them running in the background.
What does that mean? Even more file requests your server has to handle and more files that needed to be downloaded. So, the more plugins you have running, the longer your pages will take to load.
The solution is to minimize the number of plugins you have running. Ask yourself which ones you need and, where you can, try to get around using a plugin.
And don’t just forget about them. Make sure that every 6 months or so, you review all the plugins you have active and make sure everything is running properly and they’re all doing their job. The ones that aren’t have to be removed because WordPress plugins that haven’t been updated are often responsible for security issues. They also waste space and can cause various other technical issues, including crashes.
Forgetting to Enable Compression
Previously, we mentioned some web hosts will deactivate the compression feature to save space and fit as many sites as possible on a single server. However, it’s not always the web host’s fault. If you aren’t using compression, then you are hurting your load times significantly.
A server can compress a file using a tool called Gzip before it sends it to be downloaded, making it quite a bit smaller and reducing the bandwidth your pages require, increasing the speed with which they load significantly. Yahoo! Stated that using compression can improve the load time of your pages by approximately 70%, which is significant.
Initially, check how much Gzip compression is needed for you website using this tool CheckGzipCompression
Moreover, you dont need to be a geek to enable Gzip for your website. Place the below code in your .htaccess file and your website will compress the files for you.
Of course, we tested the difference in load speeds before and after enabling Gzip compression, as you can see below.
Speed before Gzip compression
Speed after Gzip compression
Before Gzip compression, the page took 4.3s to load, and after, the load speed dropped to 3.8s. Of course, it’s clear that there’s still a lot more that needs to be done to this page to bring its load speed to an acceptable level, but that 0.5s that Gzip compression shaves off the overall load speed is impressive and a good step in the right direction.
Using an Outdated Content Management System
If you’re using a content management system like WordPress or Drupal and have been ignoring the popup asking you to install updates or switch to a new version of the program, you are causing problems you don’t need.
Developers don’t put out updates or newer versions of their software just for the sake of it, or to irritate you and give you more to do. They’re designed to improve the software, eliminating problems and improving speed. So, if you want to make sure your website is running as smoothly and as quickly as possible, make sure that your content management system has all the updates installed and is the latest version.
Not Seeking the Advice of a Professional
While there is plenty you can do on your own to improve the speed of your website, which will lead to better rankings in the SERPs, a higher conversion rate and a better experience for your users, there is much more that is best left to a professional.
You could certainly spend time trying to figure it all out on your own, but you’ll be wasting time you could otherwise use to focus on more important tasks in your business. In the long run, you’ll find that using the services of an expert will lead to results that more than offset the costs involved.
If you follow the advice in this article and correct the mistakes we covered, you are certain to see significant improvement in your website performance and page load times. A faster loading site will mean happier users, which will lead to more sales as people no longer run away from your website because it takes ages to load.
Noor is a well-known webhosting blogger and industry analyst. Since 2006, he has tested a wide variety of web hosting services and posted the results on his popular blog, InlineHostBlogger.com. For each review, he extensively tests each web hosting company personally, or with his hand-picked team of technicians.