Normally I would start with a few words about the reason why the topic is important, but such introduction would be meaningless when it comes to website speed. Asking an owner if they want a lightning-speed website is like asking little kids if they want to go to Disneyland – the question is kinda rhetorical. And when you take into account the raw statistics that almost 75% online users abandon a website which doesn’t load in at least 5 seconds, then you have a solid case at hands – this is one of the first things you need to prepare in order to showcase your online venture. After all, even if you have something great to show or sell, what is the point if no one is there to see it.
So without further ado, here are five common factors to consider, when building that super fast website of yours:
1. Application – even the greatest web-building scripts out there can use a little bit of manual tweaking and optimization. This is especially true for resource-hogging applications like Magento or MediaWiki. Even though their requirements make them possible to use on a Shared Hosting environment, the sad truth is that the server configuration and possible overselling of its web space often make those websites pretty slow. A frequent issue I’ve observed is the large number of MySQL queries they call for. Having your database execute a new query for every action is something that will significantly slow down your webpage performance. A properly optimized site will store a new query in variables and then recall results from those variables whenever needed.
2. Code Optimization – a crafty developer once told me that “15 minutes of thinking and examining can save you 100 lines of code”. And that’s where the issue lies with far too many websites. They are not coded wrong per se, but they are written like a fantasy trilogy – even the description of a supporting character can take 500 words. While this works well for fantasy authors, it’s exactly the opposite with websites. You, or whoever is building your site, should be skilled enough to see which parts can be shortened and optimized, without losing the functionality. As a common example I can point out the Java scripts on the frontpage – either use as little as possible, or at least try to minify them, thus excluding the spaces between them. There are many free online tools that let you easily minify the JS and CSS. Simply choose one that suits you best.
3. Theme – everyone wants a visually appealing and engaging website, but that doesn’t mean you should jump into this head at once and pick the first nice looking theme out there. You should actually do exactly the opposite – take your time and find the template that not only looks good and covers your basic functionality needs, but also one that is lightweight or easily modifiable. Many people that neglect this factor often find themselves in a dead-end when they need to perform basic changes and have to start over with a new outlook soon after. Adding this to your search criterion when looking for a nice theme will surely act in your favor in the long run.
4. Images – this is the big party pooper for fast webpages. And they have so many ways to slow everything down – from too big of a number to abnormally large size. In any case your image optimization is something to look out for. Keep everything as compact as you can. If your images are too big, you can use a lossless or lossy compression, depending on the image type, and cut the used web space, while keeping the overall quality. This is especially valid for galleries and sites that generally use a lot of images.
5. Plugins – additional perks in the forms of modules, widgets and plugins are also a double-edged sword. While they can do us much good, often people are acting on the “free ice cream” principle – if you have a whole ice cream shop for yourself and an unlimited choice of flavors you will most probably want to try as many as possible instead of limiting yourself to eat only your favorite one. This is a regular behavior of the human mind but when it comes to building your website more is rarely better. A good example of my words are the WordPress sites. WP is really a great script and it gives you so many plugins to choose from, that you can easily get in over your head. You don’t have to compromise here, you just need to know what you want and choose after a careful research. A user in the forums a little time ago shared his creation, listing all its used plugins – 19 in total. His website wasn’t performing well and after some advise and logical thinking he managed to get them down to 9, without losing ANY of his desired functionality. Needless to say that one thing DID make a change – his pages were now opening much faster than before, improving the user experience and making him a happy camper too.
And there you have it, friends. Things are not so hidden and complicated as they may seem at first, you just need to know where to look for their solutions. So next time you think that your pages seem to be dragging and losing you valuable visitors, you can make some quick checks and miss the hassle of going back and forth through multiple parties until you can get some proper information.
How about you – do you think your site can be faster and what methods have worked well for you in the past? Share your experiences in the comments below.