Users of the web have ever-increasing expectations. These days users expect content to be delivered swiftly and smoothly, and with as few obstacles as possible. A slowdown measurable in microseconds can affect conversion rates and thus the profitibility of your website.
Google made speed an index ranking factor five years ago. Amazon discovered that a slowdown of 1 millisecond caused sales to drop immediately.
So if you want to keep visitors, improve your ranking and turn visitors into customers then you need your website to load fast and perform with excellence.
So how do you achieve this
Performance must be built in from the ground up
This is something that developers have know for a long time. If you have an existing site and you want it be faster, there are things that can be done. But if your foundations are poor then any improvements to speed and performance could be minimal. If you are starting a website from scratch then you are in a great position: you can make decisions right from the beginning that will assure great performance.
Start With Solid Hosting
“Pay peanuts, get monkeys” applies here. Hosting is a commodity, and the cheaper you go the less performance you can expect. Furthermore, if you buy at the bottom of the market to get started with then you can expect trouble when attempting to migrate your site to a better host.
The solution here is to get hosting advice from someone with experience in the world of hosting.
Hosting is a complex world with many different types of hosts across many different vendors, including shops that offer hosting specifically for WordPress sites.
Use a well-engineered theme
Assuming that you are using WordPress then you need a theme that is built well.
Of the thousands of themes on the various marketplaces – many look great. The demos available through envato’s marketplaces or through the many theme shops will show themes that look great. But just because a theme looks great doesn’t mean that all is well under the hood.
Many themes come loaded with redundant, inefficient database calls, a zillion options which will go unused and poorly performing, poorly tested code. Showrooms are designed to make products look great. But only qualified programmers can tell what’s going on beneath the surface.
To get a performant theme you have three options:
Have a qualified programmer build your theme from scratch, choose a theme from a good theme shop, or have a qualified programmer choose your theme for you.
Themes to avoid
There are some very popular, very well-marketed themes that are just going to slow down your content delivery. Not everyone is going to like hearing this. But some very popular themes simply shouldn’t be used by people who are ambitious about their project.
Avoid any theme built with many options. One such popular theme is Avada. Its only one example. Such themes are built for all all possible scenarios, and finely tuned for nothing.
Optional: use a Content Distribution Network
Using a good CDN can really speed things up. But to get this advantage you need to have the foundations sorted first. The advantages of a CDN will be minimal if you haven’t got great hosting and a well-engineered theme. Paul Irish, a chief developer at Google has said “CDN’s are the gluten-free of the web” when talking a lack of solid foundations.
Cloudflare is a CDN offers a free level of service that includes some protection from DDOS attacks. It’s a great start. Amazon’s Cloudfront is a popular service that can store items of your content across it’s global network. There are many other such services.
Asset Management: minify images
This can be critical.
The file size of an image can be relatively independent of it’s visual quality. That is, you can have two versions of the same image on a screen. They can both look the same to the eye. But they can have very different filesizes. Your website should be using the version with a lower filesize.
A lower file size will result in faster delivery.
Before uploading images to your site: reduce the file size.
Photoshop has a filter for saving images for the web. So does Gimp. If you don’t have either of these programs then you can use an online service for reducing your image file sizes.
Use as few images as possible per page
You probably worked that out from reading the last point.
Images are important for web pages. Images should reinforce the message of the page. They can illustrating a point or draw the user to another related message. But the more images you have, the slower the page will be. Even if highly-compressed images are being delivered from CDN’s: more images makes for heavier pages.
Fine-tuning the speed and performance of website is something that developers are always working on. Every page should be built with speed as a consideration. Great developers have an arsenal of strategies and tactics to keep website performance as fast as possible. There are many things that site operators can do as well. But speed must be built in from the very foundations.