As we draw closer to the second decade of the 21st Century, one thing is strikingly clear: speed is truly king of the digital world.
From desktop to mobile devices, failure to adhere to the ever-decreasing duration of acceptable page load times means failure to remain competitive. As 2018 began, Google made a series of astonishing announcements regarding its long-mysterious ranking algorithms.
While content quality remains an invaluable factor, to achieve top rank in your niche, you must not only sustain user attention for an average of 3 minutes and 20 seconds, but also provide a consistently fast and responsive experience for both desktop and mobile users.
In fact, Google has adopted a mobile-first ranking system, which essentially means your official rank is no longer determined by desktop web page load times. Instead, Google looks at the speed and functionality of mobile pages BEFORE taking desktop page design into consideration.
What does this mean for the average website? Well, to put it bluntly, everything. Without focusing on boosting mobile and desktop web page load times, your site will soon find itself in the quiet and dimly lit room of de-ranked sites.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula when it comes to decreasing web page load times and increasing overall website performance. However, there are several universal best practices in which you can build your own unique maintenance and performance-focused development plan.
The following best practices are designed to be used as a stepping stone. Take the information within these sections and extrapolate what you can and adopt them according to the unique infrastructure and design of your site. If done correctly, the forthcoming speed expectations from users and search engines will help your visibility and conversions rather than hurt.
Essential Tools for Monitoring Web Page Load Times
Before diving into the overarching best practices for faster web page load times, it’s important to take inventory of your monitoring and analytical toolkit.
Without accurate monitoring and performance management tools, it’s impossible to determine exactly how your actions are either helping or hurting web page load times, which is why it’s important to audit page speed on a regular basis. We offer a host of free website performance tools, from website speed tests to streaming media availability and performance.
- Website Speed Test
- Web Applications/Script Recorder
- Web Servers
- Network Trace
- DNS Blacklist
- DNS Trace
- Email Servers
- FTP Servers
- Media Streaming
- Check Network Latency
The benefits of using our free website speed test tool is that we provide testing from 25 global locations – including cloud services (AWS) and from behind the Great Firewall of China – versus just a few locations like some other speed test tools provide. You have the option to select which locations (or all locations) you want to test from and choose from a list of desktop and mobile browsers.
#1 | Compress Images and Use Visuals Wisely
Image compression and optimization is considered a fundamental pillar in the house of fast web page load times. In fact, if you perform the rest of these best practices without focusing on image compression and optimization, you’ll still encounter performance-related issues.
Since images are responsible for anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of web page data volume, or weight, it’s beyond imperative to focus on shrinking and optimizing these important page elements.
The cornerstone of this process is never uploading original image files, unless they’re extremely small, but even then, its quality is probably gross. Always scale your images prior to uploading according to their desired rendered size. Forget about CSS as a scaling option. This crutch will do nothing but slow your site down and strengthen unsavory site design standardizations.
Once images are scaled accordingly, it’s time to shrink them even more via compression. Consider using the following compression tools:
Lastly, use discretion when adding visuals to any web page. Yes, images, infographics and other visual designs are imperative. However, using them simply to add some visual flare is a recipe for sluggish websites.
Not only does careful image selection keep pages loading fast, but visitors will appreciate your refined use as images and graphics will ENHANCE their experience rather than just add noise to your overall message.
#2 | Minify Website Code
We’re not going to dive deep into this topic as it’s one that’s been covered time and time again. However, one statement is worth repeating:
The easiest way to prevent this common issue from destroying your page load times is to minify these files. Also referred to as minification, this essential best practice reduces code file weight by eliminating whitespace and inefficient coding standards.
Check out this guide by Google Developers for a complete list of code minification resources.
#3 | Leverage Outside Tools (CDN, Browser Caching, etc)
To say we’ve moved into a global marketplace is an understatement. As the Internet grows, our world simultaneously shrinks. Unless you’re solely targeting a local audience, traditional web hosting and server expectations are a thing of the past.
One of the most efficient and effective ways to boost your web page load times is by leveraging third part resources to your advantage. The two most valuable assets available for any website are:
- CDN (Content Delivery Network) – Offers access to a collective grouping of dispersed servers throughout a specified geographical region. Your website is mirrored on each of the servers and when your site is accessed by an end-user, a server closest them responds. Should servers be equally far from an end-user, data is transmitted the shortest distance possible. Ultimately, this results in boosted page load speeds as data isn’t required to physically travel as far as it would if you used a traditional single web server.
- Browser Caching – When configured appropriately, webpage files are stored on end-user computers. Leveraging this functionality means web pages load much faster upon subsequent visits as essential page files aren’t required to be resent and rendered. This is necessary for all sites, but especially those who experience a heavy return rate.