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Site speed, why it's important and how to improve it

Facts about page speed insights

Site speed is often an overlooked aspect of web design, something small that can have a significant impact on your site and its ability to retain and convert potential customers. 

One in four visitors say they would abandon a site that takes more than 4 seconds to load and 46% of users don’t revisit poorly performing websites, if your site speed is low it’s likely costing you sales. In this article we’re going to cover the importance of having a quick site speed as well as ways in which you can improve your site speed for optimum performance.

What is site speed?

Site speed is a general term but the page load speed is what the customer experiences every time they open a new page. Your page load speed is exactly what it sounds like, the time it takes to load a page of your website. However, your overall page speed measurement is calculated using several different individual load times. I know this sounds a little complicated but here’s the breakdown.

Time to first byte (TTFB)

This is the time taken to load the first byte of information on the page, this time is usually a good indication of the speed of your server.

Time to interactive (TTI)

TTI looks at how long it takes for the first interactive elements on your page to load; this is a good way to see if your site is being slowed down by unnecessary or inefficient javascript.

First contentful paint (FCP)

FCP is the time taken to load the first piece of content on your site. This could be text, an image or a video.

Together these three factors contribute to your overall load time, the time taken to load the whole page and all its elements. 

Why is page speed so important?

So Why is site speed so important? Firstly let me ask you these simple questions…
Have you ever sat, waiting for a slow website to load?
How often do you bother to wait it out?
Do you even bother going back to that same slow site?

I was asked recently by someone why their bounce rate was so high, as people were clicking on their website but weren’t staying more than a few seconds and in most cases weren’t even scrolling at all. A quick analysis revealed that their loading time was more than 3 seconds on desktop/laptop and more than 4 seconds on mobile. If you care about your site’s ability to retain and convert customers (you should), numbers like this just aren’t going to cut it.

User experience (UX)

Site speed plays a vital role in the User experience of a website, as I’m sure we all know, staring at a white screen waiting for a website to load does not scream “quality”. On average, a one-second delay in page load time leads to a 7% decrease in conversion rate. Mobify found for every 0.1-second decrease in checkout load speed, their conversions increased 1.55%. Pinterest reduced perceived load time by 40% and found an increase of 15% in sign-ups and search engine traffic. The BBC experienced the damage of slow load times, losing 10% of their users for every additional second their site loaded. These are just a few examples of where successful multi-national businesses have seen significant positive results from just small optimisations with their site speed.

Search engine optimisation (SEO)

The quality of your SEO is the main factor that determines how high you rank on search engines such as Google. As you can imagine this is pretty important when it comes to getting organic leads online, in fact 75% of people admit to never scrolling past the first page of results on Google. Site speed is a crucial part of SEO with poor site speeds resulting in a significant negative effect on where your site ranks. Furthermore, site speed can affect SEO indirectly; as more people leave your site after a few seconds due to the poor loading time, your bounce rate will increase. A high bounce rate tells Google’s algorithm that your site is not customer friendly and people don’t stay for extended periods, as a result this will drop your rankings.

What affects your page speed and how can it be improved?

laptop screen with a rocket taking off on the screen

I can spew facts on why page speed is important all day long, but what actually affects it and how can poor site speed be improved? Easy. You should be aiming for a page speed between 1 and 3 seconds but the lower the better of course. There’s a myriad of factors that can affect your site speed but I’m just going to cover a few that are the most important and some brief points on how they can be improved.

Minimize HTTP requests

It’s best to start with your HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files. You can reduce the number of HTTP requests by “minifying” and combining your files. Minifying a file involves removing unnecessary formatting, whitespace, and code. Combining files is exactly what it sounds like, so if your site runs multiple CSS and JavaScript files, you can combine them into one. There are several ways to minify and combine files, but if your site runs on WordPress, we recommend you use a plugin like WP Rocket, this should make the process fairly simple.

Hosting

Most new site owners choose the cheapest option they can find for hosting. However, skimping on your host is a mistake, get one that you can trust. 

When looking at hosting, you have three different options:

  • Shared hosting
  • VPS hosting
  • Dedicated server

Shared hosting means you share certain resources like CPU, disk space, and RAM with other sites that are hosted on the same server. So we recommend graduating to VPS hosting or better still a dedicated server that provides better uptime (the amount of time that your website is up running and not down) and faster web loading speeds. A dedicated server is still very affordable for any business and is definitely worth the small additional cost.

Reduce image size

Images play a significant role in your site speed. They’re often very large files, which can slow down your page load times. In one study, resizing 22MB of images down to 300KB resulted in a 70% reduction in time to interact, or the amount of time a user needs to wait before they can interact with a site. The best way to fix this is to compress your image files with a few different tools. If your site runs on WordPress, tinyPNG is a great option that is free to use and for something more advanced at a reasonable price, Optimole is the software for you.

Defer JavaScript loading

Deferring a file is to prevent it from loading until after other elements on the page have already loaded. JavaScript files are usually large and take a while to load, so by deferring these files you ensure that the rest of your content can load without a delay. The WP Rocket plugin mentioned prior is an easy way to enable deferred JavaScript loading for all WordPress websites. Simply check the box next to “Load JS files deferred,” and you’re good to go.

Final thoughts and what you should do?

refresh firesafe google pagespeed insights score

It should go without saying that if you have a website and care about increasing your conversions and sales, you should also care about your site speed. A one-second delay in site speed results in an 11% decrease in page views, a 16% reduction in customer satisfaction and a 7% reduction in conversions. The repercussions of having a sluggish website far outweigh the small cost to fix and improve this issue. However, there is a tonne of ways to improve your site speed through internal altercations to your site and its code, as well as external additions such as improving your server or using a CDN. All of this can be a bit intimidating and it’s hard to know where to start, so we recommend you spend some time looking through your site speed test results on Google page speed insights as well as some research on your own site to find where your biggest weaknesses are. Once you have identified where you most need to improve, tackle this first and move on down the list over time. Improving your site speed can be done with little relative expense and can have a significant impact on the performance of your website and the sales gained from it; therefore for any business owner large or small that has an online storefront, it is certainly worth the investment.

If you have any questions about any of the topics, advice or resources I’ve mentioned in this blog, feel free to reach out and I’d be more than happy to help answer or solve any problems you may have with your own site.

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