When it comes to websites, many designers focus on an attractive look and feel and a user experience that is easy to use and matches the brand expectations of the company.
However, functionality is always the most vital aspect of any web design—and one area that should never be overlooked is the speed factor.
You could argue that website performance is the most important factor because no matter how pretty or functional a web page is, if a user has to wait too long for all the elements to load, then they will probably take their browser elsewhere.
We live in an age of immediacy on the software front, where people rightly expect things to load almost immediately, and it’s only fair that companies ensure their websites are built to provide this level of high-end performance and speed to their end-users.
However, page speed is more than just expecting a website to load fast, especially when certain sites and pages may be inherently data- or graphics-heavy based on their need.
It’s important that companies understand how to optimize certain content for different users to better ensure they can maximize the performance of their websites—perhaps even more so when many people are finding websites through search engines, where one of the key measurements the likes of Google and Bing use in ranking sites is their ability to return responses quickly and accurately (a measurement called Page Speed).
What is Google Page Speed, and how is it measured?
- Time to First Byte (TTFB): The time between calling up the website and the first byte loaded by the web server.
- First Contentful Paint (FCP): The time at which a display element is displayed in the browser for the first time.
- First Meaningful Paint (FMP): The time at which the user perceives the website to be loaded.
- Time to Interactive (TTI): The time at which the website has been rendered and is ready for user input.
How does Page Speed affect organic search ranking and search ads?
If a website is slow, it will receive a low quality rank from Google Search, Google Ads, and other search engines and ad platforms. Google and others use this to help determine your website’s search rank or whether to serve your ads.
If you want your website to appear at the top of search rankings, or for your ads to be served ahead of your competitors, you need to ensure that your website loads quickly and can return values back to search engines as fast as possible.
This is important because it affects the number of impressions and the click-through rate (CTR) of your search results and search ads, which directly affects your website’s traffic volume and the cost of your paid media.
Thankfully, Google does provide some tools to aid in benchmarking how websites should perform against the above measurements, giving businesses and developers a target to aim for to improve their speed ranking and ultimately get to the top of those search engine results or outbid your competitors for ad placements.
How does Page Speed affect traffic, bounce rates, conversions, and revenue?
So, building a fast website is not just a lofty goal for a tech team or a nice-to-have feature of your website; it can be critical to landing clients, which will directly affect a company’s revenue and ability to make a profit.
How to optimize your website for a good Page Speed score
So, we’ve established that Page Speed is critical to the success of any website. But how do you develop a website that is fast? It’s not something that many have mastered, as a 2019 study on Backlinko found that most sites are drastically missing the mark, taking longer than 10 seconds to load on both computers and mobile phones.
It’s no surprise that the big tech websites dominate, as they all achieve a fast Page Speed with ease, while many smaller websites struggle.
Speed itself is a relative term, as there are many things that can affect a page’s ability to load quickly, including website optimization, server performance, and often even the network itself.
This is why you can’t just look at one thing but need to make a wide range of optimizations to build a high-performing website. And while there are many ways of doing this, below are some of the big things companies can do to improve their Page Speeds and optimize website performance.
Websites are a visual medium, and as such, pictures, logos, and images are important for creating the right look for customers. However, it’s important that sites compress their images to achieve the right balance of clarity and speed.
You should heavily compress most images for a significant reduction in load time. Most of the time, you can do this without reducing image quality perceptibly for most users.
You should combine files where possible to reduce the number of requests and remove unnecessary code and whitespace to reduce file size.
Optimize server performance and location
The underlying performance and location of a web server also play a massive role in how fast your website will load. This is especially true if a customer is far away on the other side of the globe. Search engines are aware of this, as when a search is made from a particular country it is measured from the nearest search engine server to that location.
You should evaluate their own web server performance and geographical distribution – which could mean embracing the cloud to allow you to easily serve your website from more locations.
Minimize apps, plugins, or widgets, such as Flash
Hopefully, most websites have abandoned Flash now that it is no longer supported, but the truth is that whenever a company makes use of a third-party app on their website, they are unable to optimize it themselves and will fall victim to using a content generation tool that is not optimized for their needs.
You should have as little code or HTML on your pages as possible to improve page performance—but you can’t optimize this when using apps as part of your webpage.
You should evaluate your apps, plugins, or widgets, and find alternative solutions where possible, to reduce the total amount of code and the number of requests on page load.
Remove complicated themes and designs
Sometimes, we want our sites to stand out and captivate potential customers with their bold look and exceptional design. However, these can also have an adverse effect on the performance of a site, and while it’s important to have a site that catches a customer’s attention, you need to prioritize speed ahead of spectacle.
You should evaluate your themes and designs, determine their impact on performance, and find alternatives where possible. Some styling frameworks, like Tailwind CSS, enable you to create modern responsive websites with very little performance impact.
Don’t embed media
If pictures slow down Page Speed, videos will do so even more. So, be careful with embedded media, especially if pulled from other sites, as it will drastically slow down a website’s Page Speed.
You should only use media if absolutely necessary, keep it as compressed as possible, and if it is a video, possibly link to a YouTube video (where YouTube handles the load) rather than trying to embed it yourself.
Reduce complicated ad tracking
This one is probably a sensitive topic for many sites that rely on ads to make revenue. Complicated ad tracking systems slow down websites significantly for end-users because the different ad algorithms need to calculate what to display before the page fully renders itself.
While ad tracking is necessary for many companies, it’s important to optimize what data is used for ad tracking and to optimize the process for speed to find the right balance between effectiveness and performance.
Prioritize loading page elements
While we might look at a website in its entirety and think all elements are important, the truth is that certain elements are more important than others, and you can improve Page Speed by prioritizing what loads first:
Enable HTTPS and HTTP/2: Support modern HTTPS to provide site integrity, encryption, authentication, and a better user experience.
Limit server requests where possible: Each mobile page makes an average of 214 server requests. Some requests happen in parallel and some happen in sequence. Review each request on your site to understand the benefits it provides.
Do proper performance testing
To determine your success in all of your optimization work, you must test your site repeatedly to ensure that it is achieving the required level of performance. This is to ensure you can maintain performance at all times of the day and after each environment or code change that is made.
You should develop appropriate performance and load tests that will help you assess the effectiveness of your web application performance and then run these tests repeatedly.
Snapt’s LoadTest service takes the challenge out of stress-testing your applications. We use our high-capacity testing network to create hundreds, thousands, or millions of simultaneous virtual users – with realistic user behavior – from up to eight locations around the world allowing you to truly test large-scale events.
Mobile Page Speed optimization
I want to make special mention of mobile phones, as most mobile phones and browsers not only access the internet at slower speeds but optimize content differently. Therefore, companies need to ensure that they make use of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) to render pages to mobile phones faster. Search engines do penalize sites if mobile speed is slow,
You should ensure that your websites are suitably optimized for the mobile experience and that you do not focus exclusively on the desktop web experience.
The role of ADCs and web accelerators in optimizing website performance
There is a solution that can help many companies rise to the challenge of achieving great Page Speed results, grow their presence on the web, and potentially bolster their revenue: making use of effective Application Delivery Controllers (ADCs) in their online environments.
You can install ADCs at different nodes and endpoints in your application system to accelerate the speed of the application on the internet.
ADCs can do this through a combination of the following features:
- Intelligent load balancing. ADCs distribute the load across different servers to optimize the performance experienced by the end-user.
- Scaling. This enables an ADC to spin up further snapshots of an application across a data center, cloud location, or even different regions, depending on how the infrastructure is set up, allowing the ADC to better meet the demands of where people are accessing the site.
- Compressing and minifying files. We’ve already mentioned needing to limit the number of server requests made on a site. In scanning all data that is filtering in and out of a site, ADCs can identify wasteful external calls and algorithms that are slowing a site down, help developers better optimize their sites, and often even filter out many of those unnecessary calls that are adversely affecting your site performance.
- Caching. One of the most important aspects of website performance is latency. No matter how fast the site is, if a person is far away from the core server, it will still take a fair amount of time (even if only a few extra seconds) for information to travel around the globe and for the respective site and page to load. ADCs can counter this by caching aspects of the website in the memory on each endpoint and by sending this preloaded data to the user, allowing sites to load faster and reducing the threat of latency.
- Security. A safe site is also a fast site. The internet is filled with many malicious actors and bots, scanning websites for vulnerabilities. Security threats such as DDoS attacks can massively degrade website performance or even take a website offline entirely. ADCs can block this traffic from your website, ensuring that it remains secure and performs well for your end-users.
So, if you haven’t looked into a high-performing ADC for your site yet, then perhaps you can explore Snapt’s offerings, Aria and Nova, two of the industry’s leading tools that can help drive and enhance your Google Page Speed.