It looks like Google are taking a serious look at how fast websites perform. There has been a lot of website chatter about whether Google are going to use website speed as one of the factors that can affect your ranking in the search engines.
Sharp-eyed webmasters will also have noticed the 'site performance' tab appearing in their Google Webmaster Tools in the last week or so. You can see the information that it provides in the diagram below. Google state that “You can use this information to improve the speed of your site and create a faster experience for your users.”
It’s not clear at the moment whether Google are going to use speed as a ranking factor, but it still makes sense to ensure your site is quick. Users just don’t have the patience to hang around while your beautiful webpage loads. And your competitors are just a click away if your site has a poor user experience, such as slow loading pages.
With that in mind, here are some tips to get your site whizzing along.
1) Images – Ensure that your images are optimized for the web. This is quick and easy to do if you have a software package such as Photoshop or Fireworks. Images can be shrunk in size with very little loss of quality.
2) Use a Quality Webhost – Choosing a free or ‘budget’ host for your website can be a false economy. As they try to cut corners, the responsiveness of your website could suffer. Also try to steer clear of shared hosting where your site can be slowed to a halt if another website on your server gets lots of traffic.
3) Use External CSS Files – using CSS can greatly reduce the amount of code that needs to be written for the page to display. It also means that the user’s browser can cache the styles used in the page instead of having to read every tag used for formatting. On the flip side, do not use lots of separate css files. Using more files increases the number of HTTP requests needed to load a page which can increase loading time.
4) Web Server Modifications – If you’re technically minded or have a good webmaster, you can use some server side modifications to speed up your site. For instance if you’re on an Apache server (the most popular type), you can use mod_deflate to compress files prior to delivering them to the client’s browser. This is particularly useful for high traffic sites, as your bandwidth can also be reduced.
5) Use Image Sprites – Instead of creating lots of separate images for commonly used parts of your design (like menu backgrounds and icons) place them all in one file and use CSS to only show the relevant part of the image. This reduces the number of HTTP requests and means your page can be displayed much sooner.
6) Use CSS Page Layout – There has been a long standing argument in web design circles about the relative benefits of CSS and table based layouts. There has been a movement away from table based layouts to CSS over the last few years. One of the benefits is that CSS is quicker to load. This is especially important if you have a complicated layout with nested tables – these can be frustratingly slow for users.
7) Testing – You can use a free Firefox plugin called Page Speed from Google to test specific pages on your site and get detailed advice on how you can improve page load times. You will need to have the free plugin Firebug installed as well.