4 Biggest Website Speed Offenders – and How to Fix Them
Internet speeds have never been faster, and expectations for how quickly websites should load have never been higher.
More than half of mobile site visitors (53%) will leave a webpage that takes longer than three seconds to load, according to data from Google. With little room for error, publishers can’t afford to have any missteps. Slow page load times directly impact search engine optimization (SEO), as well as the user experience.
It is generally easy to implement changes to improve page load times. The real challenge is that many publishers don’t realize they have a problem to begin with.
The quickest way to determine whether you have an issue with slow website speed is to run a page speed test. Google PageSpeed Insights, GTmetrix, and Pingdom are all popular tools that publishers are using to test their homepages and landing pages. Using these tools, publishers can quickly gain insights into loading times and determine whether their pages are running slower than they should.
Of course, diagnosing the issue is only half the battle. Once you’ve determined that your website is loading slowly, you need to figure out what’s causing the issue and learn how to fix it.
While there are an endless number of issues that can slow down website speed, the vast majority of problems I see are caused by the same few issues. Here are the four biggest website speed offenders, along with suggestions on what you can do to fix them.
Problem #1: Oversized Images
Large, clear photos are pleasing to the eye. But oversized images also slow down websites, and that can create real headaches for publishers. When images aren’t sized appropriately, following the rules set by a web developer, browsers will shrink them down to the right size. That shrinking process usually doesn’t affect how the image looks to the eye, but it does add to the overall file size of the page and it can cause a website to load more slowly than it should.
The fastest websites are those that run efficiently, and one of the keys to efficiency is for images to be sized appropriately.
Solution: Serving Scaled Images & Optimizing Images
If oversized images are causing your website to run slowly, then the next step is to decrease the size of your images. You might be wondering how you can decrease the size of an image without losing out on quality. The answer is by using a tool for lossless image compression. There are several tools that will auto compress images that are uploaded above a certain size. Two WordPress plugins that work well for this are Imsanity (Free) and WP Smush Pro (Premium Plugin). Some hosting providers also have proprietary tools that will auto compress images when they’re uploaded to the media library.
It’s also a good idea to use a service like Amazon Web Services s3 (AWS s3). This is a reasonably priced tool offered by AWS where you can offload your images and website backups to serve from their servers and limit your worries about web host disk space. You can connect your site to AWS s3 after setting up an account by using the WP Offload Media plugin.
The second piece of this solution is to serve scaled images.
A scaled image is one that’s been adjusted to match the size dimensions of images required for a certain website. Serving scaled images means adjusting images to the correct size before they’re sent to the browser. That decreases the load on the browser, and speeds up the website.
The best way to serve scaled images is to have your website developer set appropriate image and thumbnail sizes in your content management system (CMS). For example, when you add an image to a post, it may be uploaded at 1000x500, but around the website it may display at 800x400 or in thumbnail as 200x200. If the proper rules are set in a CMS such as WordPress, then the image will save in all the sizes used on your website. When the image is called, the website will know to serve the image file that has been scaled for the appropriate display.
Bonus Tip: Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to deliver images and static content to offload resources and speed up your site even further. Also see: Problem #3
Problem #2: Too Many HTTP Requests
Solution: Optimize & Minify
Problem #3: Improper Caching
Improper caching is a frequent cause of slow website speeds. Caching is a technique that involves storing static copies of certain website files to quickly load, so users aren’t having to completely reload the website each time they hit “refresh.” Unfortunately, caching techniques can be tricky, and implementing a caching system isn’t something that most publishers can do on their own.
Solution: Caching Tools
Additional tools to use are a CDN, such as Cloudflare, or a good web host with a proprietary cache server.
Problem #4: Hosting Issues
If you’ve fixed the issues listed above and you’re still dealing with slow page load speeds, then your host might be to blame. Although it doesn’t come up as frequently as image optimization or caching, hosting issues can be related to slow page load speeds. If you are taking advantage of shared hosting, then your website is particularly susceptible to slow processing speeds during times when unrelated websites are experiencing a surge in traffic. You may also find that your website falls victim to malware injections and hacking while on a Shared Hosting Environment.
Solution: Upgraded Hosting Plans
Upgraded hosting can have a major impact on resource-intensive websites, like digital magazines and other online publishing websites. If your webpages are loading slowly during peak traffic periods, then it’s worth considering whether you need to upgrade your hosting plan. Working directly with a premium provider like AWS, Google Cloud, WP Engine, Pagely, or Web Publisher PRO will have a significant impact on your website performance.
Take a close look at these potential problems, and you’ll probably pinpoint what’s causing your website’s slow page load times. If you have any additional questions about the biggest website speed offenders, or how to optimize your website for mobile users, please feel free to contact me and we can chat about your situation.
Related story: 5 WordPress Trends Publishers Should Keep in Mind for 2020
David Walsh is the founder and CEO of Web Publisher PRO, a website development agency that focuses on working with publishers on WordPress. David is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and manages some of the web's most influential publications. You can reach David at firstname.lastname@example.org.