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How to Fix a Slow-loading Website

Imagine your website is actually a physical shop front.  It looks amazing, has the best window displays, the shelves are well-stocked with appealing items and the staff are always helpful and friendly.  The problem is, when a customer walks up to the door, they have to wait for the door to process their arrival and open. Let’s say this takes up to a minute.  How many of your potential customers will give up and go next door, where they have the latest, high-tech door that glides open, as soon as someone approaches?  

Now, think of that door as being your website loading speed.  

The majority of traffic is routed via a mobile device, with it first overtaking desktop traffic in 2016.  In 2017 it went up to 53% and continues to increase, with some research now reporting figures as high as 57% in the US.  This is significant, because the more clunky your website is, the longer it takes to load and on a mobile device, it can take longer.

According to research carried out by Google last year, the average time for a landing page to load on a mobile device is 22 seconds.  That may not sound long, but given the average attention span of a web-user, it’s an age. The research also showed that 53% of visitors will leave a webpage, if its load time is longer than 3 seconds.

The impact of a slow-loading webpage hits hard on your stats, your visitor experience and ultimately on your bottom line.  Google will also penalise you, if your site is slow, making your site less visible and accessible. Google made this official with an announcement telling web developers and owners that from July 2018, “page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches.”

You can easily check the performance of your website, by using Google’s own free, tool, PageSpeed Insights, which uses data from the Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX) to produce performance data for a web page.  As well as telling you what your page speed is and how well-optimised your site is, you will also get a links to resources that help to solve any issues it flags up.

In the meantime, here are some of the key issues that slow your site down:

  • Server Response Time

This is the time it takes for the page to load from your host server.  If it leaps into action immediately that a request comes along, your site will be responsive and quick.  If however, there is a delay before your server responds, your website will be slow and take longer to load.  Google recommends that you aim for a response time of less than 200ms. If your response time is slower than this, you need to investigate and find out why.  It could be any number of things including slow apps, lengthy database queries and routing issues.

Once you have assessed your website data and found where the problems lie, you can research the best ways to resolve them.  The first place to start is with the server itself; make sure it’s properly configured for optimal performance and that its software is up-to-date and up to the job.

Next, assess your hosting service; make sure there is enough memory available and that CPU resources are sufficient.

  • Check your widgets, plug-ins, add-ons and apps

You might love them and individually, they may be amazing, but consider whether you really need all the widgets and gadgets you’ve painstakingly installed on your web pages.  They might make it look impressively techy, but if they all have to be loaded before the site is useable, they will impact on speed and overall visitor experience.

There are many very useful plug-ins and add-ons that can improve your site no end, but if you have some that you don’t need, remove them.  This can make a huge difference.

  • The order in which elements are loaded

If your above-the fold content is mainly graphics and video, it will take longer to load if it must first wait for other resources to complete.  Render-blocking JavaScript and CSS need to be eliminated, or optimised to ensure they do not impact negatively on your landing page.

  • Images

Compress and optimise your images.  This may sound obvious, but is often forgotten.  It’s also one of the most effective ways of improving your website’s performance.

You can also use CSS to load some images in the background and then have them hidden under certain circumstances, such as on mobile devices.  Also, avoid using decorative graphic features, such as frames, shadows, mirroring, etc.

  • Check your Redirects

Redirects can seriously affect speed and even prevent a page from being loaded at all.  “Too many redirects” will lead to a brick wall. The problem is that redirects can be pretty useful.  If someone wants to reach your website, but can’t remember exactly what the URL is, they can trigger a redirect with a mutilated attempt and still get to your home page.  If you’ve moved content, you can also legitimately use redirects to get visitors to the content they were looking for. The problems occur, when those redirects slow down your load time.

Ideally, you want no more than one redirect for your home page.  So for instance, if someone types any of the following URLs:

…they will always get to the MXMG home page with only one redirect.

Checking how many redirects you have is easy with this Redirect Mapper from Patrick Sexton, it’s free and give you clear results.

  • Watch your JavaScript and CSS use

If you have a lot of JavaScript and CSS files on your site, it’s very likely that this will affect your visitor experience.  If each file is processed individually by the browser, the time it takes to load your page will be increased. Logical really, isn’t it?  If you minify your JavaScript and CSS files, you will improve the speed of your website by having them all in one place, reducing the amount of data being processed.

  • Keep it local

Embedding content from slow and unreliable sites will slow your website down.

Avoid a high number of external requests by limiting the number of images and other resources that are hosted on external websites.  Whenever possible, host resources on your own server and for content that you do need to embed from elsewhere, only use credible and reliable websites.  

  • Research a CMS before you use it

Choosing the CMS is a critical decision in planning your website.  It’s vital to choose one that’s reliable and widely used, such as WordPress.  Risking a slow website by taking a punt on a cheaper option just isn’t worth it.

  • Maintain your Database

Your website will rely on a database to store information.  This includes page edits, updates, post amendments and old comments that you have deleted or marked as spam.  As times goes by, the amount of data being stored will directly affect your website speed. Schedule regular maintenance for your database and clear this old, unused data to free up space.

You can do this manually, but there are several automated tools that can do it for you.