Nothing is more frustrating than a slow website. Not only it is bad for end users, but it’s also very bad for website owners. In the day and age, we live in, having a website is a necessity not only for businesses but also for anyone who wants to share useful information with the world. Whether they are photographers trying to showcase their work, artists trying to make their voice heard, stay-at-home moms, providing DIY tutorials or teachers who want to share their knowledge, it’s of crucial importance to have a website that’s effective. One of the key factors that make a website effective is speed.
Why Does Your Website’s Speed Matter?
Speed can make or break a website. It affects your traffic, page views, conversions, sales, and your overall reputation. By making it faster, you can improve your business or your fan base and help it grow. Studies have shown:
- 47 percent of people expect a website to load in less than two seconds.>
- 40 percent of people are very likely to leave a website if it takes more than three seconds to load.
Therefore, website speed plays a very important role in making your business successful. It should be one of your top priorities if you want to stand out from your competition. By speeding up your website, not only will you yield positive results in terms of page views and conversions, but you will also provide your visitors with a better user experience.
A great user experience is a key to building a strong customer base and building a strong brand. If your website takes forever to load, then what’s the point of having an awesome website in terms of its other elements, when people aren’t even likely to stay and check it out? Therefore, by not making sure your website loads fast, you risk losing a lot of customers or followers and, thus, a lot of revenue.
Moreover, your website speed is very important for your SEO. If your website loads fast, your ranking in search engines will be higher. This is because Google prefers fast websites, and it rewards them by ranking them higher in search engine results. Apart from speed, the user experience is another factor in Google’s ranking algorithm. So, by boosting the speed of your website and improving your user experience, you will eventually improve your SEO ranking.
As a result, you’ll get higher traffic and attract more quality leads that you can convert into customers, ultimately increasing your sales and generating more revenue.
How to Test Your Website’s Speed?
- PageSpeed Insights is Google’s free tool for testing your website speed and it is very easy to use. All you need to do is enter the URL of your website and the tool will analyze its content and generate suggestions on how to make your website faster.
- Pingdom is also a very useful tool that not only tests your website speed, but also reviews and grades your website’s performance. It also tracks your website’s performance history, so you can have insight into any potential changes regarding your website speed.
- YSlow is a tool that tests your website speed and offers advice on how to improve it. It can also provide you with a Chrome extension for checking the speed of your website.
15 Ways to Speed Up Your Website
There are many ways to speed up your website, making it truly effective and successful. Following are several of the easiest and most effective ways to speed up your website and make your every effort pay off in the long run.
Upgrade Your Web Hosting Plan
Many people opt for cheap web hosting planswhen they are first creating a website, so they choose shared hosting. Over time, they provide more content and their websites grow, ultimately slowing down. If that is your case, the best choice would be to upgrade your web hosting plan. Upgrading your web hosting plan is the simplest and easiest way to improve the speed of your website.
If you have shared hosting, you should either move to a VPS or dedicated option. Either way, you will notice a significant difference in your website speed. Making a decision between the two options depends on your own business needs, so make sure you explore both of the options carefully and thoroughly.
Here’s just a quick note on both of them. VPS (Virtual Private Servers) hosting is perhaps the best option to go for, since it uses multiple servers for content distribution (sometimes even hundreds of servers). It is also a scalable solution and appeals most to small and medium businesses, as well as bloggers.
On the other hand, with dedicated servers, you get full control, since you get dedicated resources. You don’t have to share RAM, CPU, bandwidth or anything else since all of the resources are dedicated only to you. Also, the bandwidth limits are higher but, since you don’t have multiple computers, this hosting option is a lot less flexible. However, it is much more expensive than VPS hosting.
Enable Browser Caching
When someone visits your website, the elements on the web page they are trying to access are automatically downloaded and stored on their hard drive in a cache (temporary storage). That way, the next time they visit your website, their browser will load the requested web page very quickly, without having to send an HTTP request to the server again.
However, caching works for repeat visitors only, since, obviously, first-time visitors don’t have a cached and stored version of your website. Nevertheless, enabling full caching for your website can reduce your page load time from 2.4 to 0.9 seconds. This is due to the fact that there may be 30 or more different components that need to be stored in the user’s cache the first time they visit your website, but only a few components need to be downloaded for subsequent visits.
Depending on the website platform you’re using, there are different ways to enable browser caching. For example, if you’re using WordPress, the easiest way to enable caching is to install a plugin. The best WordPress caching plugins are W3 Total Cache, which is the most popular performance plugin, and WP Super Cache, which is best for websites with high traffic and underpowered servers.
If you are using Drupal as your CMS, you should use the Varnish Cache software for leveraging browser caching. If Joomla is your CMS, you can enable browser caching in your Joomla dashboard: go to System > Global configuration and click on the System tab. You’ll see the Cache label under the Cache settings label, where you click to open the drop-down menu and choose the option ON – Conservative Caching from the list. Click save and go to Extensions > Plugin Manager, where you can enable the System – Cache plugin.
You can also enable browser caching at the server level, that is, integrate caching into your server-side scripting, which is something your web developer can help you with.
Static resources that are stored in a cache should have a caching lifetime of at least one week. You can set that by adding Expires Headers and setting them to a minimum of one week and a maximum of one year. The best option is to set late expiry times for static resources that aren’t updated frequently and short expiry times for resources that are updated on a regular basis.
Expires Headers tell the browser whether a particular file needs to be requested from a server or from the browser’s cache. They also tell the browser how long it needs to store those files in the cache so that they’re not downloaded again during subsequent visits.
Enable Gzip Compression
If you’ve ever compressed files on your computer as ZIP files, then you must know how much that method can reduce the size of files. Gzip compression works exactly the same, except with website pages. It’s the best and most effective compression method that can considerably minimize HTTP requests and reduce response time, sometimes by as much as 70 percent.
By enabling Gzip compression, your website’s files will automatically be compressed in a ZIP file. This will significantly reduce their size and boost the speed of your website. A lot of bandwidth will be saved and the page load time of your website will be improved. When someone visits your website, the compressed files will be unzipped automatically so the content can be accessed.
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/plain
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/html
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/css
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/xhtml+xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/rss+xml
If you want to compress certain file types by extension, add the following code to your .htaccess file:
The second way to manually add Gzip compression to your website is to add the following code to the top of your HTTP or PHP page:
Remove Unnecessary Plugins
Every plugin you add requires resources to be able to run. However, more resources lead to a slower website. If you have some plugins installed that you no longer use or find unnecessary, you should deactivate and delete them. Not only can too many plugins slow down your website, but they can also cause security issues and crashes.
You can easily identify which plugins are slowing down your website by selectively disabling them and then measuring server performance. If you created a website using WordPress as your CMS, for instance, you can install the P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler) plugin, which is the best and most useful diagnostic plugin available.
This plugin will show you exactly which plugins are affecting the performance of your website so that you can decide whether they’re unnecessary and should be removed or confirm they’re providing you with actual benefits. If the latter happens to be your case, you can try and keep them only on the pages on your website where you think they are absolutely necessary. You may also want to find alternate plugins to replace them or even code the content of such plugins into the theme of your website.
By removing unnecessary plugins, you can considerably improve your page load time and speed up your website. However, you should know that when it comes to plugins, it’s not just a matter of the number of plugins. You can have 50 plugins and still have a faster website than someone who installed 10 plugins on their site. The number of plugins is important, but there’s something in their quality as well. For instance, social sharing plugins can greatly affect your page load time, so you may want to consider embedding social media buttons into the source code of your website theme.
Therefore, you should avoid plugins that load a lot of scripts and a lot of styles, perform many remote requests and overwhelm every page on your website by adding a lot of database queries. Of course, plugins contribute to the functionality of your website and there are quite a lot of them that can help you improve it. But you should definitely keep only those you find absolutely necessary.
Note: If you’re using Drupal or Joomla, for example, you have no plugins to deal with in the first place. So you can speed up your website by disabling modules or adding speed optimization extensions. The best advice for Drupal is to never run more than 50 modules. Only run those that are absolutely necessary for the functionality of your website.
Minimize HTTP Requests
This is why you should minimize HTTP requests. There are some excellent ways to do this.
- Combine CSS, JS scripts and HTML files together.
- Use CSS instead of images whenever possible.
- Reduce the number of elements on every web page.
- Install a caching plugin.
- Reduce redirects, which create additional HTTP requests to your server and increase your page load time.
Enable HTTP Keep-Alive
When your web server receives an HTTP request from your website visitor’s browser, that is, when a visitor requests a certain file, the browser asks the server for a permission to download the file. It does so for each and every file individually. This takes up a lot of bandwidth and memory, not to mention that it uses more processing power. Eventually, it causes a lot of load on your server and slows down your website.
You can make your website faster by enabling HTTP Keep-Alive, which will create a single open connection for multiple file requests to your server, thus greatly speeding up your website. Simply put, the server tells the browser it can download multiple files at the same time, without putting too much load on the server. When the number of connections to your server is limited, a lot of bandwidth will be saved.
You can enable HTTP Keep-Alive by copying and pasting the following code into your .htaccess file:
Header set Connection keep-alive
Optimize Your Images
Images take up a lot of bandwidth. When they’re not optimized, meaning they are large in size, they use a lot of server resources and take more time to load. When your images are not optimized, your website can be much slower.
Therefore, consider reducing the size of your images without negatively affecting their quality. You can accomplish this by using a plugin that can compress your images and ensure they don’t lose quality in the process.
If you use WordPress, try WP Smush, a plugin that will automatically compress your images the moment you upload them to your media library. On the other hand, if you use Drupal or Joomla as your CMS, check out Kraken, which is also a great tool for compressing images.
Furthermore, consider using CSS sprites, as they can also greatly speed up your website. A sprite is one file that contains all of your images. You can create sprites with the use of CSS, which can specify coordinates and hide everything in an image except the section you need. Therefore, all of your images will be put in one single place and your web pages will load much faster since one big image can load faster than a lot of small images.
When you optimize your images, apart from their size, you need to focus on their format and the src attribute, which is the URL of the image. You should stick with the JPEG format, while PNG is also good, but not fully supported by older browsers.
When it comes to the src attribute, you need to make sure the code is right. Avoid empty image src codes. Namely, the code for an image in HTML includes the following:
When there is no source inside the quotation marks, the browser makes a request to the directory of the page or to the page itself, which can cause a lot of load on your servers and even corrupt your data. Therefore, make sure you always include the “src attribute” with a valid URL.
Change Your Website Theme
The theme of your website can also affect your website speed. No matter how good your server configuration is, if your website theme has a complex code, your website will load sluggishly. It’s not uncommon, especially in WordPress, to change nothing but your website’s theme, only to find there’s a big increase in page load time.
Therefore, consider changing your website theme and make performance one of the priorities when choosing a theme, instead of only looking at aesthetics. You can check the page speed of a particular theme’s demo with the help of one of the tools for testing website speed so you can see how quickly the theme runs.
Use a CDN
A CDN (Content Delivery Network) is a network of multiple servers located around the world that deliver web content to end users according to their geographic location. A CDN can host the static files of your website in order to deliver them more efficiently and reduce bandwidth and your server load.
With a CDN, the requested web content will be delivered to end users much quicker, since a CDN will use a server closest to users to deliver the files they request. As a result, not only will there be no latency, but your website will also become much faster. This is due because your visitors will access your cache instead of requesting files directly from your server.
Using a CDN can be very expensive, but it comes with quite a lot of benefits, so it’s worth every dime, especially if you happen to use a lot of bandwidth. So, if you have a large website and a lot of visitors, a CDN is your way to go.
Reduce External Scripts
Although you should certainly not eliminate all your external scripts, you should reduce them, as that will help you speed up your website. You can use Pingdom, for instance, to check which external scripts are taking the longest to load and, if they happen to be unnecessary, you can eliminate them.
If you embed videos and other multimedia files from websites which happen to be slow, your website speed can be negatively affected. To improve your page load time, make sure you request external files only from fast and reliable websites. You may also want to consider limiting the number of external requests your website makes altogether.
Fix Broken Links
Broken links are most commonly found in image source files, which happens when the URL is wrong. These links can easily be overlooked, especially when the size of a certain image is defined as very small. When there’s a broken link in your image, that is, when a 404 error appears, that broken link creates a wasted response from an HTTP request, which makes your website slower. The browser attempts to download an image that’s not available, so your web page spends more time trying to download the image, slowing down your website.
Broken links can also be found in the CSS link tags in the head of your HTML documents. Just as with image files, if your CSS file is not where you have linked to, an HTTP request will result in a useless response and it will return with a 404 code. It’s especially important to regularly check for broken links if you use a lot of external CSS files since they can be moved and result in a 404 error.
You can check for broken links with WordPress Broken Link Checker for free.
However, sometimes broken links aren’t caught by broken link checkers, so the best way to check for them is to regularly look at your server logs. There are several tools you can use to scan for URLs that are getting 404 errors to see which pages are causing them and then take action to fix them immediately.
If you don’t disable hotlinking, you allow people to use the content that’s hosted on your server for their own websites. By allowing them to practically use your servers and your content for their websites, you’ll get a lot of server load for no reason.
This is why you should disable hotlinking and prevent people from stealing your server resources. However, in order to do that, you need to add the necessary code to your server. There are some tools that can help you generate the right code, but your web hosting provider can also help you with this.
Hotlinking usually involves images and other multimedia files, which generally take up a lot of bandwidth. Therefore, if you run a website with few to no images, disabling hotlinking will actually not affect your website speed.
Speaking of hotlinking, you should not just disable it, but you should avoid it altogether. Instead of linking to images on someone’s website, load them on your own server. You may think that image links will save you a lot of bandwidth, but they can actually slow down your website if the website with the image you linked to is slow and unreliable. What’s more, they may experience downtime or crash, so always load every image on your own server before you link to them.
Use a Reliable CMS
A CMS (Content Management System) is critical to your website’s functionality and performance. The best and most reliable CMS you can use is definitely WordPress, but there are also other excellent CMSs, such as Drupal and Joomla. If you use any of these as your website platform, you’ll do right by your site’s performance.
However, if you use some other less popular CMS or even something that you built on your own, you risk having a website that is very slow. In order to avoid this, make sure you conduct thorough research and choose a CMS that’s reliable and best suits your needs.
What’s also vital when it comes to your CMS is to regularly check for the latest updates. Make sure your website’s scripts are up-to-date since new versions are constantly popping up with the goal of improving websites and making them faster. Therefore, upgrade your website’s scripts on a regular basis. But always make sure you have your backup files in place first.
Optimize Your Database
Optimizing your database is yet another very effective way to speed up your website. This is something you should do on a regular basis, especially if you use WordPress or some other CMS that relies a lot on database usage.
When you use such a CMS or even some complex plugins, the data in your database increases and your website becomes slower. This is especially true for plugins that save user data, statistics and logs, as they can take up a lot of data storage. Before you know it, your database will become filled with trackbacks, pingbacks, post revisions, trash items and unapproved comments, which can make your website significantly slower.
Therefore, clean your database on a regular basis, but always make sure you back up your files first. Never do anything with your database before backing it up. There are many plugins that can help you optimize your database, so do your research and find proper ones for the CMS you use.