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How to Optimize Your Site

 

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Nothing is worse than a slow site.

 

When a site runs too slow, it drives users away, reduces productivity, and generally makes people less likely to use your site in the future. Every single site needs a touch up from time to time, and Site Optimization provides exactly that.

 

So, what is a fast site, and what is a slow site? A commonly-used website speed tester called GTMetrix compiles a list of 1000 websites and their speed on a daily basis (see the list here). How does your site compare? If your site takes 10 or more seconds to load, then your site is considered extremely slow. If it takes 3-5 seconds, you’re at an acceptable but average rate. If you can get your site down to a 1-2 second load time, you’re in the fast zone.

 

When determining how fast your site is running, it’s important to use the right tools for the job. There are several sites to choose from, but they may report different results from each other. Once you find a tool you’d like to use to test your site’s speed, it is important to always use the same one so you can have consistent results. One great site that we like to use is PageSpeedGrader. They provide a robust and accurate tool for finding your site’s bottlenecks.

 

Also keep in mind that your site’s speed can vary. For this reason, we recommend you run between 5 and 10 scans of the same site to ensure a data set that provides the most accurate average speed. Of course, the more scans you run the more accurate average you’ll have, but we have found that after 10 scans you gain a pretty good picture of what’s going on.

 

Every major web browser should have a tool built into it that will not only show you how fast your site is running, but also break down what is taking too long to load. This can be invaluable when improving your site speed.

 

How to use a browser’s built-in tool.

 

  1. Right click anywhere on the page and select “Inspect Element”. This will open up the web browser’s developer tools.
  2. Select the network tab.
  3. Reload the page.

As you view the results, keep in mind that your browser will sometimes report a much higher number than the one you’ll see in a tool such as PageSpeedGrader. This occurs because the browser also times the javascript, which runs on the browser itself instead of running on the server like core php files do.

 

While each site is unique in its optimization needs, we have seen a few patterns. The biggest perpetrators for slowness we’ve seen are very large, poorly-optimized images. An image-heavy site is fun to look at, but can bring any site to a standstill if they’re not formatted correctly. To avoid this issue, make sure all your images are as small as possible – that includes both the size (how much space it takes up on a hard drive) as well as the actual dimensions of the image. If an image has to be resized, it should be resized before it’s uploaded to the server. By doing this, you can shave entire seconds off the total load time of the site.

 

Tools such as PageSpeedGrader are great because they let you see the stats that really matter. Most page graders will give you an actual letter grade. For example, I just scanned my site, and I got a B+ on it, but this doesn’t matter that much. What really matters is what my page is actually doing. The stats to really pay a close eye to are 1) the number of requests your page has to make in order to load, and 2) how large the page actually is.

 

When you have a page that has more than 500 requests, or has to download more than 3MB, you could run into problems based off the sheer amount of data your internet connection has to process in order to load the site. One of the best steps you can towards a faster load time is getting the number of requests and the actual size of the page as low as possible. Image optimization will help reduce the size of the page, and minimizing page redirects as well as the number of dynamic contents on a page will reduce the number of requests greatly.

 

Another way to help speed up your site is to make sure it has a working cache. When you store a site cache, it helps your site load faster by doing a couple of different things. A browser cache will keep a copy of the images, javascript, html, and css that make up your site so that the next time you load it your browser won’t have to download as much information. A server side caching system will save copies of the content that are usually created at runtime (such as the results of a mysql query) right on the hard disk so it doesn’t have to take the time to look up information that it already has. Most major website builders have very good working caching systems that you can install and configure.

 

It’s important to configure any caching system you install, as each system will have more a generic default set-up, which may not fit the needs of your site. As always, testing is the key to finding which settings work best. Try configuring the caching system to run with a specific set-up, then run a few speed tests and see what the set-up did for your site. If you don’t like the results, change the configuration and test again. Trial and error are the best tools for figuring out your site’s specific needs.

 

We hope these tips will help you improve your site’s speed, user retention, and SEO rankings. If you have any questions, feel free to take advantage of our Site Optimization services at +(30) 698.32.92.046 and we’ll get your site up to speed in no time.

 

Good luck and happy optimizing!