Way back in February 2011 Google announced that “page speed is now a ranking factor”. The announcement wasn’t exactly revolutionary as site speed is something SEO’s have considered for a long time. What was revolutionary was the fact that Google was now using usability signals as a ranking factor. Site speed became a priority because a slow site can affect your conversion rate and user satisfaction, ultimately sending a negative ranking signal to Google (not to mention a bad user experience). At the time there was a truck load of stuff about this subject floating around the web. However, I thought now would be a good time to revisit the subject and share some tips on what you can do to your own website to improve its speed.
What can I do to my website to make it faster?
There are usually some quick wins to be had regards the speed of your website. Here are a few best practices and tips that may help:
Server-side caching – use server side caching to cache pages that would normally need building on the fly. This means that dynamic pages don’t have to be built each time that a URL is requested.
Optimise Images – make sure that all the images on your website are optimised for the web and are as small in file size as possible. This includes Jpegs, PNG’s and GIF’s. See Sitepoint for a useful tutorial on how to do this in Photoshop.
CSS Sprites – essentially this involves combining all commonly used images into one background image to reduce the number of HTTP requests made by your web pages. Try this excellent CSS Sprite Generator to help speed up the process.
Compression – use GZIP compression to compress the size of the page sent to the browser. Sites that use GZIP can reduce their file size by upwards of 70%.
Content Delivery Network – if you use a CDN this allows users to download different elements of your web page in parallel, ultimately helping your website to download faster. For a cost effective CDN I would recommend Amazon CloudFront.
Reduce 301 redirects – 301 redirects point the user’s browser to another URL, requiring the user to wait for another HTTP request to come back. Wherever possible try not to use them.
One quick way to assess how much work you have to do to get your site “up to speed” is to head over to the Google Page Speed Tool and analyse what you have or haven’t done.
What about my web server?
Obviously the server that hosts your website has a huge impact on the speed of it. Most people who we work with are on shared hosting platforms, so below are some quick tips on how to choose a web host that can supply you with a fast enough server.
Select a host in your own country – not only should this help with the load speed of your website it helps when you need some support.
Platform support – if you are building a site in Magento, WordPress or any other off-the-shelf platform quiz potential suppliers about how much they know about the platform you use. Magento in-particularly can require a specific type of server setup to run quickly.
Cloud Computing – using cloud computing can provide a scalable web hosting solution that can cope with any increased demands put on your website i.e. increased traffic. If you are currently using a physical server to host your website you could even recycle it and get some cash back in return. Maybe give a company like Buy IT Back a try, who is one of numerous companies that offer this service.
If you want to perform further research on improving your site speed, there are a number of tutorials provided by Google that should help you out.