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How to Speed Up Your Site’s Load Times

How long does it take your website to load? According to surveys conducted by Akamai and Gomez.com, roughly half of all internet users expect a site to load in two seconds or less. If it takes longer than three seconds, users may back out and choose a different site.

Furthermore, Google and Bing both use speed as a signal in their respective search ranking algorithms, giving preference to fast-loading websites over their slower counterparts. If your site takes a long time to load, you may struggle to achieve a top search ranking. Thankfully, there are ways to overcome sluggish speeds while promoting higher search rankings in the process.

Check Your Website’s Load Times

If you haven’t done so already, check your website’s load times using a web-based service like Pingdom‘s speed test. You specify a physical location from which to perform the test (e.g., Dallas, Texas, or Melbourne, Australia), and it reveals your site’s load time from that location. Additionally, Pingdom compares this load time to other tested sites, giving you a better idea of how your site fares against the rest of the net.

Shrink Images

Images account for a substantial amount of a typical website’s total size. If a web page features dozens of large high-resolution images, it will take longer to load than a web page with fewer, smaller images.

However, you don’t have to delete all images from your site to achieve faster load times. Use an image editing tool such as Adobe Photoshop or GIMP to resize your images before uploading them to your site. While the popular content management system (CMS) WordPress features a built-in image resizing tool, it doesn’t reduce the size of images. Visitors must still load the original image, after which WordPress shrinks it according to your specifications.

You can also run your images through a compression tool like Optimizilla to further shrink them. It even supports bulk uploads, allowing you to compress 20 images at a time.

GZIP Compression

Enabling GZIP compression on your website can reduce load times by as much as 70 percent.

Developed by web programmers Jean-loup Gailly and Mark Adler, GZIP is a free-to-use software application that’s designed to compress and decompress files. Once enabled, it automatically compresses your website’s files, making them smaller. And because small files download more quickly than large files, GZIP compression reduces load times.

There are two ways to enable GZIP compression:

  1. For websites running WordPress, download and install a plugin that features GZIP compression, such as WP Rocket.
  2. Edit your website’s .htaccess file to include the compression code. Contact your web hosting provider to determine which compression code works best for your server.

Content Delivery Network

Using a content delivery network (CDN) can reduce load times by shortening the physical distance between your website’s server and its visitors.

The greater the distance between a visitor and your server, the longer it will take him or her to load your site.

A CDN solves this problem by storing and serving your website’s files from multiple geographic locations, known as “points of presence.” When a visitor accesses your website from Australia, the CDN will use a point of presence in Australia to serve the visitor. When a visitor accesses your website from Canada, the CDN uses a point of presence in Canada. By shortening the distance between your server and visitors, you’ll experience faster load times.

Fix Broken Links

In addition to promoting a poor user experience, broken links drain bandwidth and create sluggish load times. Visitors’ web browsers will still attempt to call the linked page, regardless of whether it exists. A few broken links isn’t going to significantly increase your site’s load times, but hundreds of broken links can certainly make a noticeable difference.

Enable Browser Caching

Forcing visitors to download the same web files every time they access your site isn’t an efficient use of bandwidth. Enabling browser caching allows visitors to download your web files — HTML, CSS, JavaScript and images — only once.

With browser caching, visitors download your web files the first time they access your site, after which the files are stored locally within their web browser. So, the next time a visitor returns to your site, his or her web browser loads your web files. This reduces bandwidth requirements while speeding up load times.

To enable browser caching, you’ll need to modify your site’s .htaccess file with the appropriate code. You can find the code for browser caching published on several websites, including gtmetrix.com/leverage-browser-caching.html.

An alternative for WordPress websites is a browser caching plugin like WP Super Cache or W3 Total Cache, the latter of which supports CDNs as well.

Place CSS at the Top and JavaScript at the Bottom

When developing your website, place CSS code at the top of pages and JavaScript at the bottom. CSS at the top promotes faster load times by allowing the page to render while the visitor waits for the rest of the HTML to download. And placing JavaScript at the bottom also promotes faster load times, as it’s downloaded after everything else.

Choose the Right Web Host

Finally, choosing the right web host can help you achieve faster load times for your site. Avoid web hosting providers that don’t offer a 99 percent uptime guarantee, and look up reviews from past customers to see if they were satisfied with the service.

Web hosting providers typically offer shared, virtual private servers (VPS), or dedicated servers. While shared hosting is the cheapest, it’s also the slowest. A shared web hosting package means your site is hosted on a server with hundreds or even thousands of other customers. A VPS also shares server resources between multiple customers, though you are allocated a specific amount of resources (e.g., memory and CPU time). A dedicated server is the most expensive, but as the name suggests, you have exclusive access to all resources.

Following the tips listed here will help you achieve faster load times with your website. Just remember to check your site’s load times periodically to determine whether they are increasing or decreasing.

Mohamed Alazzawy
About Mohamed Alazzawy
Mohamed is a Senior Search Planner at Sandstorm Digital FZE working on high profile accounts such as National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD), Etisalat, Meraas, City Index and Souqalmal.com. His experience includes both the technical and content aspects of SEO.
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