Do page load times matter and how to improve them?

Cars racingWe’ve all known for a long time that snappy page load times are key to a positive user experience. Google understands this more than most due to their extensive testing of how much “speed matters“.

Does the speed of your website really matter?

As of April 2010, a website’s page load times have been a ranking factor for Google search engine results. Even though Google thinks the speed of your website matters, they certainly don’t weight the speed of a website higher than its relevance, reputation or the value they perceive it provides. In fact the impact of speed on search results seems to have been minimal at best. That said the recent graduation of Page Speed Online from Google Labs signifies that this is still something Google thinks website owners should invest in whether or not it impacts their rankings.

Like Google we think you should care about the speed of your website. The reason for this is simple: people will be happier to use your website. Studies have shown that faster websites result in increased engagement and conversion rates.

How to speed up your website?

Optimising the speed of your website isn’t all about your infrastructure. Switching hosting providers or investing in a content delivery network won’t eradicate all of the bottlenecks that are having a detrimental effect on the load time of your web pages. To do this you need to invest the time to identify and resolve issues that generally fall into the following categories:

  • content
  • server
  • cookies
  • CSS
  • JavaScript
  • images & videos

There’s a list of a few entry-level tools and resources below. These are great for identifying and resolving the issues you are encountering. Once you’ve done this we’d strongly recommend you put in place an ongoing testing and governance policy too.

Must-use tools:

  • Google’s Page Speed Online tool analyses the content of a page and details recommendations on how to speed it up. It’s also worth playing around with some of these other tools too.
  • YSlow, is a browser add-on that will allow you to analyse web pages and identify ways to speed them up based on a set of rules for high performance web pages.

Optional tools:

  • Gomez Networks free testing tool allows you to conduct a real-time instant test for an individual web page. We particularly like this tool as it allows you to test the performance of a page from an external node location. This is particularly useful for websites and applications with a global audience.
  • LoadImpact is a simple tool that allows you to load test your website to discover performance limitations. The free plan allows you to run up to 50 concurrent, simulated users. Doing this will allow you to stress-test your website and identify issues that only appear under heavy usage conditions.
  • Pylot is a free open source tool for testing the performance and scalability of web services. It runs HTTP load tests, which are useful for capacity planning, benchmarking, analysis, and system tuning.

Next steps

Start off by allocating a day for your developer to spend speeding up your website. All of the tools listed above are free so the only cost will be your developer’s time. Doing this will enable you to identify and resolve a number of bottlenecks immediately. You are also likely to find key areas in which content administrators require additional training (e.g. image optimisation). After this initial pass implement an ongoing testing schedule that will enable your developer to allocate the time required to monitor and improve page load times on an ongoing basis.

Switching hosting providers or offloading heavy assets to a content delivery network (CDN) is always an option that should be considered. However, this is likely to come at a substantial ongoing cost. What’s more you will not be addressing the underlying issues that are slowing your page load times down. That’s why we always recommend that you get your developers to see what they can do to improve page load times before you investigate any changes to your underlying infrastructure.

If you need any further advice on optimising the speed of your website, selecting a content delivery network or undertaking a hosting audit please feel free to get in touch.

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