Four things slowing down your website

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

You already know how important website speed is. Here are some of the ways you might be slowing your website down.


On holiday in the west of Ireland once, I needed to get a few supplies late in the day so I stopped at a now-rare rural pub-shop.

This is a pub-cum-grocers where you can buy your essentials like milk, bread and butter and enjoy a pint of the black stuff at the same time.  Because, back in the day, the pace of life was unhurried and allowed things like that.

This one I had chosen looked inviting enough on the outside but inside beyond the jammed door was a cluttered confusion of half empty shelves and half full boxes lying around with no apparent order.  Even in the gloom I could make out the layer of dust that had settled over everything.

The lone chap sitting at the counter nursing his Guinness managed an "Uh!" when I nodded hello. Apart form him it was deserted.

Eventually, a pleasant little man shuffled through to the counter and managed to help me load up on my urgent supplies: milk for the cupán té (cup of tea). And of course, a few bottles of Guinness, just because I could.

This type of place has all but died out now. It sounds quaint in our high-speed age.  And it is. It comes from another time where people inhabited the present moment and savoured it. It's not the age we live in now.

It's certainly not the type of business most people would slow down for today.  If we came across this type of business today most of us would smile at it's inefficiency. Many of us would get angry.

And it's definitely not what anyone would want their website compared to.

Yet, that's what I see day in, day out! Nice, welcoming websites that are slow to load. As if people had all the time in the world to sit there smiling and waiting.

If this describes your site, well, you know by now that people don't sit there smiling and waiting. They'll scowl for 3 to 5 seconds and whoosh, they're gone elsewhere.

In an
earlier article I explained all the reasons why a fast website is important. Here I'll go through a few reasons most websites are slow.

1. Not Optimising Images


Images account for more than 60% of the content on the average web page these days. You have direct control over the images you publish on your site. So it's essential that you do all you can to optimise them.

Optimising images means processing them so that they have a pretty good quality while still downloading quickly.

Your browser has to download all the images it shows from your web server. The higher the image quality, the bigger the file. Likewise, the bigger the image dimensions, the bigger the file. And a larger image file takes longer to download.

Striking a good balance between high image quality and low file size is more of an art than a science.

A very common problem is that people upload images without any preparation. They don't resize or process the image in any way to reduce it's size. An image from your cell phone can be several Megabytes in size. This is far too big for the internet, even with today's speeds.

There are WordPress plugins (WPSmush, Kraken Image Optimizer, ShortPixel Image Optimizer) and free programs (Irfanview, Tinypng) that can help here.

An oft-overlooked part of image optimisation is sizing images for your particular website. Say your website is designed to show images no larger then 800 pixels by 600 pixels. Anything larger than that has to be resized by your website's code to fit nicely onto the browser page.

Watch me quickly and easily resize and optimise an image with Irfanview

Take the 3Mb image in the video above with dimensions of 5184 by 34556 pixels. Those dimensions are rarely if ever needed on a modern screen. Your browser will need to scale that image down to fit. Yet it still needs to download the 3Mb file that's much bigger than necessary.  Using Irfanview, it took about 40 seconds to resize the image and save it to a size of 55KB!  That's some saving in terms of size, storage, bandwidth and time!

Here's a little-known secret for images: use a lazy-loading plugin! Your images will download only when they are about to come into view on the screen. Perfect for giving an impression of high speed.

By the way, do you Want a faster website?


2. Not minifying

The remaining 40% of your website is made up of HTML, PHP, Javascript, etc.

These are all simple ASCII text files written so that humans can read them.

If you use WordPress, every plugin your site uses adds to this collection of HTML and Javascript files. These can add up quickly. It makes sense to make them as small as possible so that they can download quickly.

Since they are text files they can be easily minified (another relatively new made-up tech word.)

packed

Photo on Unsplash

This means removing whitespace, linebreaks,comments and other non-necessary elements. None of these are needed to run the code.

So, this following HTML code that's easy for us to read

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<body>

<p id="demo">Just testing.</p>

</body>
</html>

can be minified to:

<!DOCTYPE html><html><body><p id="demo">Just testing.</p></body></html>

This can be done manually but, somewhat ironically, the easy way to do this is to install another plugin.

There are many free and premium (paid) options. Usually it's enough to use one of the popular free caching plugins like WP Fastest Cache, WP Super Cache or W3 Total Cache. Each of these has a minify option in the settings.


4. Not Tidying up your stuff

Many websites I come across have simply too much stuff! I mean they are loaded up with lots of plugins they either don't need or aren't using. These load external scripts that just aren't useful.

Your website speed is one area where less is definitely more. Don't get sucked into using all those flashy extra scripts and plugins. Get a basic and effective version of your site running fast first. Only then worry about adding the flashy stuff.

clutter slow website

Photo on Unsplash

As an example, I recently had a large client using a caching plugin, a minify plugin and a compression plugin. A closer look showed that his caching plugin had both a minify and a compression feature built in. I removing those extra two plugins completely and cleaning up the database. Time saved on page load? A full .5 seconds.

3 seconds is the magic point at which your visitors will start to lose patience. This 0.5 seconds is a huge relative time saving for very little work.

To go a step further, do you really need that link to services like Facebook? Or Twitter? These connections mean more calls to an external service. Don't have much traffic yet? Maybe the time saved by removing such scripts is more useful than some cool widget or meaningless analytics. If you don't really understand it and can't really make use of just now, dump it.

Every plugin means more code to download and run, more images to download and resize, more external sites to communicate with.

Ask yourself - do I need this right now?

5. Not Caching

Few subjects confuse the average non-technical website owner as much as caching. Here's what it is.

When your web browser (Chrome, Internet Explorer, Opera, Firefox etc.) loads a web page, it needs to download that page from your web server (the computer your website lives on.)

That means downloading all the text, images, scripts and WordPress code on that page. Plus all that extra plugin code. This happens every time the page is loaded!

WPStrands Privacy

Photo on Unsplash

Caching (from the french 'cacher', to hide) saves all of those downloaded files on your local hard drive. Next time a page on that website is loaded, your borwser can use the already downloaded local copy. Loading the images and scripts from your hard drive is much faster than rechecking online and downloading every time.

This simple technique can provide a massive boost in website speed.

The quickest server request is the one never made. Use caching to instruct the browser to store infrequently changing files for fast retrieval later. -- Rigor.com

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The confusion comes from not knowing how to do this. A good hosting plan will provide caching for you. Otherwise just use a well-known caching plugin for your CMS. For WordPress, the ones already mentioned above are good choices. You'll usually need to experiment with the settings until you find a sweet spot for your particular site.

(Keep in mind that some objects should not be cached. These might include html files and scripts that need to be updated frequently. But this is already more technical than necessary for this article; if you need some help with your cache settings just comment below or reach out and we'll tell you what you need to do.)

A Word about Hosting

Obviously the server your website is sitting on has a big affect on how your website loads. In fact it could be the biggest bottleneck you have. Some of the lower priced hosting plans will simply NOT give you a fast website, no matter what you do.

Most hosting plans are shared plans, meaning you share the same server with many other accounts. A certain bandwidth is allocated to the entire server and each website gets a proportion of that bandwidth. If any of the other sites on your server are busy, it will mean your site may be slower. This is the trade-off you get for a lower price.

With hosting, you really do get what you pay for. Since there's not much you can do about your server speed, I haven't mentioned it above. The one thing you can do is get a better hosting plan.

Conclusion

These are four things you can address quite easily today to speed up your website.  I know there are many many more but the above are a good place to start.

Need any help?  Just let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading and if you found this useful hit one of the share buttons.  It would mean a lot to me and it helps others find the article.

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Seán

Seán founded WPStrands to help ease the frustrations of everyone who runs their small business website using WordPress.

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