One of the occupational hazards of working in the online world is having to keep on top of a constantly and rapidly changing market landscape. Methods and practices that worked great as recently as a year ago often will need updating or review—whether it’s your design or your web hosting service. In managing all of it from different angles, from web design aesthetics to hosting technology, a clear goal emerges: a speedier website.
Besides just wanting a better experience for your site’s visitors, the growing dominance of mobile accessibility and Google’s “mobile-first” indexing are the primary drivers of this trend. It’s just a fact that most visitors won’t stick around for 10 seconds waiting for your site’s pages to load! So, what helps a website load quickly?
- High-quality hosting! In my experience, hosting quality is the biggest factor affecting page loading times. If you’re on a standard shared (cheap) hosting provider, your site is sharing space with potentially hundreds of other sites on the same server. A traffic spike on just one of them can slow everyone down. For WordPress sites, look for managed WordPress hosting that offers speed optimization as part of the deal. I love WP Engine and SiteGround, but there are other new players in the market that are also excellent choices. Basically, if you’re on a crappy host, no amount of lean design practices will help you very much.
- Clean and simple design with lots of “white space” and lightweight graphics. Avoid complicated sliders, excessive animation and huge image files. Use of stock illustrations are, if downsampled correctly, a lighter-weight alternative to photography, which can add page bloat.
- Emphasis on great typography as a basic design element that can stand on its own. This approach is easier and more flexible than ever with Google and Adobe font kits. Even with fonts, keeping it simple is important. More than a few typeface varieties used on the same site can also adversely affect speed.
- Limited use of scripts and plugins (sometimes easier said than done); keep things to what’s needed to get the job done.
The best judge of how your site is loading is you. Check it in a new browser (in “incognito” mode) with an open mind, and ask your friends and family to do the same. While it’s true that your location and Internet connection type will affect loading speed, noting that your site routinely takes 3 seconds or more to load is an issue that should be addressed. All web servers will have their ups and downs, so if you’re not sure, just check your site a few times at different times of day—and from different places. If there’s a consistent pattern of slowness, you’ll notice it.
If you’re looking for a more scientific approach, check out these free page speed testing sites:
Note that these tools really get into the weeds, and truthfully, most sites don’t score that well. The site may appear to load quickly, but actually may not totally render all page elements for 5-6 seconds. What you really want to watch out for is a hanging white screen that would prompt impatience for the visitor. If that’s an issue, these tests will provide concrete data points that you can use to address specific factors that are slowing your site down. This site, for example, didn’t score as well as I would have liked—but I learned that the chat prompt was slowing things down and that I might benefit from using a CDN (content delivery network), something I’d been thinking of implementing. Knowing these specific details will help me tackle the right things to achieve a better result.
If you have a WordPress website, consider getting a WordPress site audit report! An audit report will not only offer information about site speed, but will address other essentials such as search visibility, security, and more and includes a consultation to discuss the results. Check it out here, or schedule an introductory call!