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A second goes by.

Then another.

And another.

Finally you hit the back button on your browser.

Sound familiar? You are not alone.

Online users have little patience for sites that take too long to load. Extensive research has shown that visitors expect pages to load within three seconds or less. Any longer than that and visitors will not hesitate to click the back button.

The first few seconds are absolutely critical.

Even with a new website design that is mobile friendly, the fact remains that it will a wasted investment if visitors aren’t even making it to the site due to page speed issues. Here we look at why site speed matters, the many issues that bog down web pages, and best practices to improve your loading times.

Site Speed Now a Ranking Factor

Even Google understands the value of fast loading pages. The search giant announced back in 2010 that site speed is part of its ranking algorithm:

You may have heard that here at Google we’re obsessed with speed, in our products and on the web. As part of that effort, today we’re including a new signal in our search ranking algorithms: site speed. Site speed reflects how quickly a website responds to web requests.

A faster website ultimately fits in with Google’s objective to provide the best browsing experience possible. And pages that take too long make it frustrating for its users to find the information they are looking for in a timely manner. Sites that load quickly are rewarded with higher rankings which could be just the advantage you need to rank over your competitors.

Impact of Page Speed on Conversions

You lose a potential sale each time a visitor decides to click the back button. Which is yet another reason to pay attention to site speed. A faster website benefits your business in the following ways:

  • Visitors are able to quickly browse through your site from page to page and read about your offer
  • Visitors can easily find the information they are looking for (definitely a plus for users on mobile devices)
  • Visitors get an overall better impression of your business especially if competing sites have failed to meet their expectations

Walmart is one of the largest companies in the world and has extensive experience with retail. The company has conducted extensive tests on its online store and found that:

  • Every 1 second of improvement led to a 2% increase in conversions
  • Even a 100 ms of improvement increased revenue by 1%

Other online retailers have experienced similar findings. The key takeaway from these studies is that site speed matters as even a small increase (or decrease) in speed can have a huge impact on sales.

What Causes Sites to Slow Down?

In a perfect world, sites would load instantly. But unfortunately this is not the case (yet). Some sites load quickly enough without too much delay but others take what feels like a lifetime. Poor loading times often result from:

  • Unsupported plugins: Flash may have been a good choice to add a dash of flair to your pages. But now it is largely unsupported and can seriously affect the performance of your site.
  • Cheap web host: Going with a lesser known hosting company could be saving you some money each month but is generally not a good in the long term. Pay the extra cost for dedicated hosting for better performance.
  • Too many ads: Publishing companies depend on ads for revenue. But pages that are cluttered with them use too many resources and could actually have the opposite effect.
  • Uncompressed images: There is definitely a place for quality images as they can make a great impression on your visitors. But just like ads, they tend to be heavy on resources especially those that have uncompressed.
  • Widgets: Widgets extend the functionality of a WordPress site but too many of them can negatively impact your page speed.
  • Unoptimized code: Even the code on your site could be impacting loading times. Optimizing code by enabling compression and minifying code can do wonders for your page speed.

These are some of the most common culprits of slow loading sites. One thing you should also be doing is testing your site on other browsers such as Windows Explorer, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox. There are other browsers but make these a priority.

Addressing these issues can be a rather intensive process but the effort is well worth it. Here we look at some ways to improve page speed.

Use Google PageSpeed Insights

It helps to first establish a baseline before making any changes.

PageSpeed Insights is a free tool from Google that delivers insight about any issues that are affecting loading times. Your site is also given a score out of 100 for both the desktop and mobile version.

Page Speed Insights

Enter in your URL and take note of the score.

Use Compression
Gzip is a highly recommended software application that reduces the size of your CSS, HTML, and JavaScript files. So when visitors arrive on your page their browser is fetching less data.

Compress Images
If you sell products on your site, you likely have hundreds of images. While you can use Gzip with images, a better option would be to use a program such as Photoshop for full control over their quality. CSS sprites can reduce the number of server requests for images and also save bandwidth.

Minify CSS, HTML, and JavaScript
Optimizing your code makes the site run much leaner without the excessive weight. This involves removing any unused code and unnecessary characters. Google recommends YUI Compressor to minify code.

Reduce Redirects
A redirect is when visitors are sent to another page. Each redirect means that visitors need to wait for each browser request to complete. One example is on mobile sites as some sites will automatically redirect users on mobile devices to a mobile dedicated site. Take steps to reduce the number of redirects.

Use Browser Caching
Browser caching works by storing certain types of information directly in a user’s browser. The next time the same visitor comes back, the browser doesn’t need to reload every single element on the page. Fewer requests are made to the server which help to speed up page speed.

Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
To really boost loading times, considering investing in a CDN which is a global network of servers that are used to load your content depending on where the user is. If a visitor is accessing your site from a different country, they get served content from the nearest server.

Individually these may not make make much of a different but together they will make a significant difference in how your site performs.

Page speed is an incredibly important aspect for every site.

Online users simply do not have the patience to wait longer than a few seconds for pages to load. If analytics data reveals a high bounce rate, visitors could be leaving due to page speed issues. Use the PageSpeed Insights tool for a detailed assessment of your site and to establish a baseline. If you are in need of a local SEO company who can implement the suggestions covered here, then do not hesitate to give us a call.

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