Why is web site speed important?


Understanding how your sites speed can impact its performance.




Understanding the impact of poor site performance.

Poor performing web pages can have a serious impact on end users. Various studies show a consensus that the average user expects a page to load in 2 seconds and that half of users will leave if the site has not loaded in 3 seconds.

Introduction


There are many metrics by which you can measure a business sites performance but they all reduce down in to one thing - how much revenue has your site made for you? Similarly, there are a lot of contributing factors to the success or failure of a site, including design, marketing campaigns, depth of content and functionality. One key area that often gets missed is speed. Speed is a difficult metric to predict. It can depend on many factors including the end users internet connectivity, their device, the devices hardware performance and their physical distance from your server.

One thing is clear. There is a general consensus from multiple studies that end users expect a page to load in 2 seconds, and many will simply give up if it takes more than 3. The potential for lost sales is significant if your page takes longer than 3 seconds to load.

How to measure my site speed

There are typically two speed measurements that matter, mobile and desktop. These are treated differently because of the different limitations of the devices. A mobile site must render quickly, on a relatively small screen with support for touch interactions across a potentially slow mobile network, whereas a desktop site will typically have a much faster internet connection speed and more computing power to handle rendering better.

A commonly used tool to measure the performance is Google Page Speed Insights (here) which is what we will focus on in this article. Simply type in the URL of your site and it will generate a mobile and desktop score out of 100 such as those shown below. It will also provide technical recommendations on what you can do to improve that score.

Mobile Score:
Desktop Score:


Easy Wins

There are typically a few quick wins which are easy to implement:

  • Optimise Images
  • Minification of Java Script and CSS
  • Ensuing GZip is enabled on your server
  • Use CDN services for common files

Optimising Images: - The Page Speed Insights results often contains a list of images which could be optimised - an example is shown below.

There are two main types of image optimisation, lossy and lossless. Lossless optimization applies techniques to reduce the file size without reducing the image quality. Pixel for pixel, a lossless optimized image will be identical. Lossy optimization applies techniques to reduce the file size primarily by reducing the image quality. Greater savings can be achieved with lossy image optimisation, but this may not always be desirable - for example, on a logo.

There are a lot of tools available for image optimization, both offline and online. Compressor.io is a good example of an online tool that allows you to select your compression type and bulk upload files. Offline tools like Imagemin for Node.js can help with the automation of image optimization through a simple command prompt approach, but these tools typically require some level of knowledge of development frameworks. Many packages like Photoshop also offer the ability to optimize an image as part of the export process.

Minification of Java Script and CSS - Developers tend to add comments, formatting (spaces) and friendly variable names to their Java Script source code in order to improve readability and subsequently make it easier to maintain over time. The process of minifying Java Script involves the removal of the comments and spaces to reduce file size as well as the renaming of variables to reduce their length. The end result is a file which does exactly the same thing, but uses less bandwidth. The same basic process applies to CSS minification, although variable names (custom classes) are not generally renamed as this would require renaming in other source files too (unless you are using a sitewide integrated optimization tool).

Online tools such as Minify allow you to copy and paste JS or CSS code in to their web page and save the optimised output. Most developers will have done minification as part of the development process as there are many tools to automate this. If not, and you need to optimize, it is very strongly recommended that you do not overwrite the original source code (create a backup copy first) before saving as the same file name.

Enabling GZip - GZip is a file format used for file compression and decompression. It is used by web servers and client browsers to seamlessly compress and decompress content to minimise file transfer size between the two. This is a server side setting, and it may require support from the hosting provider, but in many cases it can be enabled or disabled by the control panel. Below is an example of the CPanel setting under the Multi PHP INI Editor.

You can check to see if GZip is enabled using this online checker here.

Using a CDN - CDN stands for Content Delivery Network. It refers to a geographically distributed group of web servers that 'host' common files. For example, a site which uses the JQuery library may link to a CDN instead of its own server as the CDN may well by physically closer to the end user. This has multiple benefits including:

  • Improved load time for end users
  • Improved fail over redundancy (multiple file hosts available instead of one)
  • Reduced bandwidth costs (typically not much of a factor unless you have a lot of traffic)
The main benefit of course is speed. There is another indirect method of using CDN's which is that an end user may already have the same file cached on their machine from a different web site, which means the file will not be downloaded at all.

Going further


In this article we have stuck to the easy wins which can be achieved with minimal technical knowledge. There are many more things that can be done, and the Page Speed Insights report gives a lot more information which can be used to improve performance but this will require more in-depth knowledge. There are also a multitude of other tools which also provide valuable insights, such as Web Page Test.

Site Performance is only one (albeit important) contributing factor to success. It is important to also consider the SEO, UI, UX, Marketing, device support and content.




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