Assessing your website speed is easy enough — Google offers a free tool called PageSpeed Insights that provides a color-coded green/yellow/red score reflecting your site’s overall performance — but what happens if your results aren’t great?
If you’re not sure how to optimize website speed, we’ve got you covered — here are 17 strategies to supercharge site loading times and increase end-user satisfaction.
17 Strategies for Optimizing Your Website Speed
1. Audit Your Site
Before making any changes that impact how your site loads and handles content, it’s worth auditing current performance. This starts with tools like the PageSpeed Insights option mentioned above but should also include actual experience: access your website from multiple devices and see what the experience feels like. Is it seamless and speedy, or cumbersome and clunky? The more data you have about how your site performs, the better your ability to identify and implement key fixes.
2. Prioritize Potential Fixes
Once you’ve identified website speed issues, it’s tempting to fix everything at once. Don’t.
Instead, prioritize potential fixes based on what matters most to your visitors. For example, if your site takes a significant amount of time to start loading, focus your efforts on server-side concerns such as hosting provider problems or DNS issues. Here’s why: Even if the content on your site also struggles to deliver at speed, it won’t matter if loading the page itself takes so long that visitors give up and go somewhere else.
3. Evaluate Your Current Hosting Provider
As noted above, your hosting provider could be a potential source of speed problems. While several factors could contribute to speed issues, including the geographical location of your provider, their physical infrastructure and the overall bandwidth of their network connection, the type of web hosting — shared, VPS or dedicated server — your website is using can also impact performance.
Although shared hosting options are the most cost-effective, they see hosting resources split among multiple sites, lowering overall performance. Virtual private server (VPS) options logically segment services on a shared physical drive to improve performance but still face speed issues if resource loads are high. Dedicated servers are more expensive than shared or VPS options but will significantly boost your speed.
4. Consider a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
When all data required to fully load your site is stored in one place, initial and ongoing load times suffer. Content delivery networks (CDNs) use multiple servers to store your content across multiple locations — when users visit your site, the CDN chooses the server (or servers) closest to their physical location to optimize content delivery. Worth noting? Not all CDNs are created equal, so it’s worth evaluating several providers to find your best fit.
5. Optimize Your Images
Images boost the impact of your site but can drag down loading times, especially if they’re high resolution. Compressing these images before adding them to your site can save precious time — many photo-editing programs now include “save for web” options that optimize images for websites but there are also free, online options available for compressing common files types such as .JPG, .PNG and .TIFF.
6. Reduce Total Redirects
Redirects send users away from the page they’ve clicked on to another page — in many cases, they’re a great way to connect high-ranking, high-traffic pages to newer content you’ve created. The problem? More redirects mean more loading time, which can negatively impact the user experience.
While it’s worth using a redirect initially to keep content views steady, replace old redirects with new content ASAP to keep load times short.
7. Limit HTTP Requests
Every HTTP request — for images, stylesheets, scripts, and fonts — adds to your site’s overall load time. As your site grows, these HTTP requests start to stack up and eventually create a noticeable delay between user click-throughs and actual page loading.
In-browser services such as Google’s Developer Tools can identify all the HTTP requests made by your site and help you pinpoint old or overly-complex requests that can be eliminated or combined with other functions to save time.
The more you can reduce file sizes without compromising quality, the better your website performance. One of the most robust and reliable compression frameworks is gzip, but other methods can also deliver reduced file sizes without impacting the user experience. Best bet? Ask your web hosting service what type of compression they’re using. If they’re not using any, consider a new provider.
9. Capitalize on Caching
Caching allows browsers to pre-load some of your content to speed up webpage delivery. Many content management systems (CMS) will automatically cache the most current versions of your site, but it’s also possible to extend this caching timeframe through CMS settings — this is especially beneficial for content that doesn’t regularly change on your site.
10. Track 404 Errors
404 or “page not found” errors occur when users try to access a page that you’ve deleted or moved — and once they’ve run into 404 errors it’s unlikely they’ll try accessing your site again, meaning you lose a potential customer. Solve for 404 errors by running free, external tools to track down 404 outcomes and remove dead links.
11. Make Mobile a Priority
As more users switch to mobile devices as their primary browsing and shopping mediums, speedy mobile sites are essential. While it’s possible to simply display your desktop site on mobile devices and hope for the best, this often results in load time and interactivity issues that quickly frustrate users. Here, it’s worth spending on development for a mobile-native website designed to maximize loading speed and improve response time.
12. Streamline Your CMS
The right content management system can significantly improve website performance by streamlining content retrieval and offering robust options to modify site operations. Both free and for-pay options exist; do some digital legwork to find out which CMS works best for your site.
13. Combine Key Files
14. Determine Your DNS Speed
The longer it takes your domain name server (DNS) to respond, the longer your time to first byte (TTFB) and the slower your site loads. Free online tools can determine where your DNS provider ranks compared to other offerings, which in turn helps pinpoint specific performance issues. Worth noting? In some cases, your hosting provider will also supply DNS services, while in others these two functions are separate.
15. Opt for Asynchronous Loading
Many files and functions on your website are loaded synchronously by default, which means they’re loaded in the order they appear on the page — elements will only load once the script or service immediately prior is fully loaded, increasing page load times.
16. Choose Fewer Fonts
While web fonts can help your site stand out from the crowd, they can also negatively impact performance, especially if they’re uncommon or require unique character sets. To maximize page loading speed, use the fewest number of fonts possible, and focus on fonts that are optimized for new browsers.
17. Pinpoint Problematic Plugins
Last but not least? Pinpoint performance-sapping plugins. While plugins offer a host of useful features to help manage your website they can also negatively impact performance, especially if they’re used to load a significant amount of assets or perform large database queries. Here, the speed rule is simple: Only keep the plugins you need and always deploy the latest, fastest versions.
The faster, the better.
The faster your website loads, displays content, and responds to user input, the lower your bounce rates and the higher your conversions. Here, incremental improvement is critical — while going from slow to supercharged doesn’t happen overnight, any of our 17 website optimization strategies can help jumpstart your need for speed.
Originally published Nov 23, 2020 7:00:00 AM, updated January 12 2021