Site speed is a major concern for website owners. Web development should focus on clean, high performance website code as well as a website design that gives you an attractive layout. Google Analytics has a site speed tool that tells you where your website performance is failing. This article discusses four major ways you can improve site performance and identify issues that can be fixed by your web developer and web host.
Site speed is a major factor when you want to improve user engagement and funnel more search engine visitors to your sales pages. If your pages take too long to load, you lose them to competitors. Google Analytics has a report function that tells you how long it takes users to load pages on your site. Most marketing experts estimate that it takes five seconds to lose half of your visitors.
The longer your pages take to load, the more visitors you lose and the less frequently search engines will show your site in results. You can avoid these common website mishaps by using Google Analytics to find the problem and then implement the following tips.
Check Your Site’s Redirects
Your server responds to users with a certain status code. When the status code is 301 or 302, the server redirects the user to another page. A 301 server status means the page has permanently moved to a new URL. A 302 redirect means the page has temporarily moved. Regardless of the status code that you use, the server sends a message back to the user’s browser and forces the user to reload another page. The roundtrip adds more time to your site’s performance.
Too many redirects increase the time it takes for users to load your pages. When you have multiple redirects in a row, it’s called “chain redirecting.” You should only have a chain redirect of up to two or three URLs. Some search engines only follow a certain amount of redirects, so improving this functionality on your site can also improve your search engine rank.
Redirects are invisible to users, so you need external tools to see them. Use websites such as web-sniffer.net or Firefox Firebug to see redirects. You can also use these tools to follow chain redirects until the server responds with a 200. A 200 response is the standard message that tells the browser the page loaded HTML properly. The technical description of a 200 response is “OK.”
Improve Server Connection Time
Server connection time is problematic for most site owners, because you probably host your site with a hosting company that controls server hardware. However, it helps to understand the problem and if you need to change your host provider. Server connection times are mostly due to the server’s hardware. The user’s connection speed also plays a part, but servers should be able to establish a connection with the browser quickly. If your host has old server equipment, the outdated hardware slows down the server’s connection. Server memory, CPU and network cards also play a role in connection speeds.
Unless you host your own web servers, you have no control over these server components. The only way you can fix a server connection speed issue is to move hosts. You can also improve this metric by moving from shared hosting to VPS or dedicated servers. A virtual private server (VPS) lets you host a virtual machine on a server that is typically faster than what you get with shared hosting. A VPS is more affordable than a dedicated server, but a dedicated server hosting account lets you lease the machine without dealing with any other users on the physical server. For most site owners, a VPS is a viable upgrade that doesn’t cost too much each month. The cost to you depends on the operating system and host account, so shop around until you find the best deal. Do your homework and read reviews by other users to find a reputable host that takes care of customer service issues and provides at least 99% uptime. Amazon EC2 is a great option too (have a look at my previous post on Setting up WordPress on Amazon EC2).
Speed Up Page Download Time
Before HTML renders on the user’s browser, the browser and the user’s computer must fully download the code. The time it takes to download code is dependent on several factors, but you can tweak certain parts of your site that you control. Of course, the user’s broadband connection, computer, operating system and browser determine the speed at which the code displays and renders. You can control the speed at which the code is generated and sent to the user.
Code can be a bottleneck in two places: the database and the front-end design. The database is usually where site owners fail to optimize, because they don’t realize that poorly coded and designed database tables greatly affect the speed at which queries retrieve data. Your database can be the main bottleneck and complete reason why your site is slow. For poorly optimized databases, a good database expert and performance tweaks can solve most of your slowness issues.
If you’ve optimized your database programming, the next speed issue to tackle is the front-end code. Dynamic sites are written in PHP, C#, or any other number of server-side language. The language doesn’t matter as much as the way code is created. A good programmer can find loops and code structures that can be better written for faster performance. When you hire a developer, hire someone with experience and the ability to improve performance. Most developers with several years of experience under their belt can identify when code isn’t optimized.
When you have completed the four performance improvement tips discussed here (assuming they were relavant in your case), re-run the Google Analytics site speed tool and notice any performance improvements. Review any additional suggestions to help you identify where you’re going wrong with server tools, plugins, external libraries and any other identifiable site problems. Use these suggestions as a guideline to further tweak your code, server settings and possibly change host providers.
Google Analytics has several other sections that help you improve your rank and conversion rates. Use Google Analytics wisely and you can turn a startup site into a well-oiled moneymaking venture.