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5 min read

A Beginner’s Guide to Site Speed: Did I Buffer?

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

As SEO’s or any digital marketers, our job is to grab the attention of our target audience, keep them engaged and interested, and above all, coming back for more. Seems pretty straightforward, right? Well, it’s a bit more difficult than one would think. Did you know the average Joe only has an eight-second attention span? Which, if you’ve read this far, is longer than the average human can stay concentrated for (well done you for not being a statistic). Even our aquatic friend, the goldfish, can beat a homosapien with an average 9 -second span before losing interest; and I’m not blowing smoke up your bass.

So what does this mean for the digital world on land? A website’s speed, or the amount of time it takes to load a page, becomes increasingly important. The faster the better. 47% of users expect a web page to load in less than 2 seconds. 57% of visitors will leave a webpage that takes 3 seconds or longer to render. Shaving off seconds can make all the difference these days. So how do you improve your site speed? What do you sacrifice? Is there an easier way? What came first, the chicken or the egg? All valid questions, but never fear as we are here to help you out with 5 tips on how to increase your site speed.

1. Keep your web design sweet & simple

In most cases (unless you’re Walmart or ASOS) this rule is key to increasing site speed. Plain and simple. Using a simplistic site structure not only allows you to be more concise and clear with your content, benefits user experience but also reduces the number of HTTP requests needed to render the page. These requests include all the elements that make up your page including JavaScript, CSS, and any image files you may have. The more you have of this, the slower your page is. That’s not to say you should remove images and style elements for the sake of page speed – but definitely don’t oversaturate your page with gimmicky code that doesn’t add value or too many images. Another helpful tip is moving Javascript to the bottom of your page code (if possible with your CMS/ content management software) so that the content loads first and JavaScript last.

2. Optimise your images

Moving on to the topic of visible on-page elements, image optimisation is another key factor in improving site speed. Images are instrumental to any website, and increase user experience exponentially. Imagine browsing a site for a product or service (for example, a new watch) and only seeing descriptions of brand, shape and size? I for one wouldn’t make a purchase. As previously learned we humans may have poor attention spans, but we are visual creatures. Yet, there is a difference between using high quality and low-quality images. You can’t just slap any picture up on your homepage. The key to maintaining image optimisation is using high-quality pictures but scaled appropriately. For instance, if your image is 500×500 pixels but you only need 50×50 pixels, your image is loading 10x more than needed, adversely affecting site speed. The bottom line is, you need to find the sweet spot between featuring engaging images and boosting user experience through testing, calibration, and resizing.

3. Catch their eye with caching

Caching is the storing of static files (HTML, images, JavaScript, CSS, etc) for users who visit a site more than once. It works so the database does not have to retrieve every single file as a new file, but instead have it automatically downloaded and stored on their hard drive in a temporary storage, or cache. Think of it like this, if you go to the same online watch store all the time, eyeing that particularly sparkly beauty until payday rolls around, you don’t want to have to wait for the page to have to load from scratch every time; and if the site has enabled caching you don’t have to. Sites that have full caching enabled can increase their site speeds drastically, sometimes by as much as from 2.4 to 0.9 seconds. Depending on your preferred platform there are different plugins you can use to enable this, for example in WordPress W3 Total Cache works to aid sites with moderate to high traffic and underpowered servers.

4. Use gzip file compression

Have you ever tried to send an email with a lot of attachments, only for it to be undelivered? So you sigh, compress them into a zip folder, cross your fingers, and resend. Usually, this works, and the same goes for your website pages. Gzip compression minimises the HTTP requests (sometimes by even 70%!) by compressing files, reducing the size, and saving bandwidth. In return, it increases your site speed. You can enable Gzip compression manually, or through a handy plugin. And don’t worry (if you were worried), the files will be automatically unzipped and full user access to the content allowed (they’ll never know you’re sneaky zippy ways!).

5. Remove pointless plugins

We’ve discussed plugins a few times, so it’s important to also note that plugin oversaturation can be a leading cause of long load times. In turn, this can mean that your site can get overloaded with files that don’t all need to be loaded, become render-blocking, and ultimately slow down your site by not letting your users see things as easily as possible- which, in case you’ve forgotten, is the goal! Therefore, make sure to be wise with what you install, and get rid of inactive, long forgotten plugins. On the same note, if you can find optimised plugins that combine two or more functions that one of your old plugins was performing, it’s time for an upgrade. If you aren’t sure how to evaluate your plugins, the P3 profiler plugin can give you insights on which are slowing your site, but it is best to remove it after using it so it also doesn’t slow your site.

At the end of the day, you want your website to be fast and functional. Unfortunately we can’t have it all, so some sacrifices to features will have to be made for load times, and vice versa. Cutting off the fat is the key to a speedy site. If you’re looking for a full SEO audit guide to bring your site to the next level and ‘up to speed’, look no further. All and all, remember sweet and simple is key to being in the fast lane on the information superhighway.