The speed of your website matters. It matters for two key reasons:
- First of all visitors to your website don’t like slow running websites. If your website takes too long to load they’ll leave. And even if they don’t leave, they won’t have the best impression of your business.
- Google doesn’t like slow running websites either. Earlier in 2021 Google told us website speed was going to be a factor in determining how it ranked website pages in its search results. Slow running website means you don’t rank as highly. It’s not the most important factor of course (that’s what you write – see our blog post on how to get on page 1 of Google).
Before we all get too obsessed with getting the fastest website, a word of warning…
The fastest website is one with no content. No images. No text. No video. No shop. No functionality. Everything you add to a website slows it down.
Of course a website with no content is not going to help your business. You need good content. You also need some of the extra functionality that will slow your website down. So we’re not aiming for a perfect speed score. It is all about balance.
And at the end of the day you don’t need a Ferrari. You just need a website that performs better than your competitors.
What can you do to speed up the performance of your website without compromising the user experience?
There are many things which impact on your website speed. Improving these is a specialist area. But there are also a few things you can do which have a big impact, as set out below. If you want to go further then employing someone specifically to speed up your website would be the next step…
1. Optimise images
I see so many small business websites with large image files. They take a long time to load. A couple of images of 3Mb can add a second or two onto the time to load your website. Image files don’t need to be that large. 300Kb is about the max that you should have.
Reducing the size of images is something you can easily do yourself. There are three ways you can do this.
Save your image in the correct format.
The first thing is to make sure your images are in the correct format.
PNG and JPEG are the most common image files used on a website. You can usually see which one you’re using by looking at the file name which should be .png or .jpg
The same image in JPG format is usually a smaller file size than if it were in png format. However, PNGs allow transparent backgrounds and so are better for logos and other graphics that need this.
Everything else (including photos) should be saved in JPG format. Screenshots and photos taken on your phone may be png.
Reformatting a PNG file into a JPG can massively reduce the file size. There are lots of tools online that allow you to do this. Just google png to jpg file and find one that works for you. It’s not difficult and you won’t see any difference in the look of the image online. Trust me!
Resize your images
Most photos provided by professional photographers or downloaded from an online source are much bigger than you need for your website – potentially 5000px wide. If you’re using images of this width, your website will load a lot slower than it should do because the file size is going to be larger than needed.
I recommend a max width of 1800 – 2000px. If your image files have a greater pixel width then resizing is a great and easy way to reduce the file size.
If your image is going to be used across the whole screen you will need a width of 1800 – 2000 px. But if it is being used across just part of the screen you won’t need it that wide – probably about 800px wide is enough.
Note, you shouldn’t try to use a smaller image than the space. If you use an image with a width of say 800px as a background image across the screen you’ll likely find it looks grainy on a desktop. You want the “right size” for the place the image is going, not the smallest possible.
Images should be resized before being uploaded to your website.
There are lots of tools you can use to resize images, eg photoshop or one of the many free ones online (I use imageresizer.com – just be careful not to click on one of the ads by mistake!)
Compress your images
Compressing images is different to resizing.
“Lossless” compression removes unnecessary information from the image file (like meta data and camera details) which can make the image file larger than needed. There are a number of online tools you can use to losslessly compress images. I use tinypng.com
You can further compress your image by reducing the quality of the image. You need high resolution for print, but a “medium” quality is fine for websites. Again there are many online tools you can use.
Resizing and compressing images before uploading them to your website can be a faff and take time. It’s one of my least favourite jobs! But it makes a big difference to the speed of your website and is one of the easiest things you can do to get a faster website.
If you use wordpress you can add a plugin to minimise the size of your image files. WP smush, short pixel and imagify are all good options. However, a plugin itself slows down your website. So it is better to resize without the plugin if you can.
And while we’re at it, don’t forget video either. Video files are even bigger than image files. If you use video, you should never store videos directly on your website. Host them elsewhere. You can use YouTube, Vimeo or another platform to host and then embed the link.
2. Choose Good Hosting
Good hosting matters. I see many businesses go for the cheapest hosting, or one they’ve heard of/seen their adverts for.
There’s no point doing all the other actions on this blog post if you’ve got rubbish hosting. It’s like building a house without proper foundations.
Good hosting doesn’t need to be expensive. I use and recommend Siteground. Yes there are even faster hosting companies around (flywheel and wp engine have good reputations), but you will pay extra for this. Siteground’s hosting options are good enough for most small businesses.
If you have a website built with Squarespace, Wix, Shopify etc then you’re stuck with their own hosting. It is one of the reasons I’m not keen on these platforms.
3. Reduce code, plugins etc
All code on a website slows it down.
The choice of platform, theme/template and any add-ons all impact on the amount of code a website uses.
A bespoke hand coded website has the potential to be the fastest (depending upon your website host) as it shouldn’t have unnecessary code, but these are not very flexible – every time you want to make a change you need to go back to the developer who built it. So for most small businesses one of the popular platforms is going to be a better option. It is “worth the speed reduction” to use one of these.
Website builders like Squarespace, Wix and Shopify all come with lots of code that you won’t need to use because they are designed for lots of different applications. Many WordPress themes can be “bloated” with code too. It’s the price for “ease of use”.
I’m a big fan of WordPress for many reasons. WordPress is a better option for speed than the other popular website builders, subject to not loading the website with additional code with your choice of theme and plugins.
If you are using WordPress then the choice of theme is the first thing you need to consider. You want one that allows you to do what you want (both now and in future) whilst being as “lite” in terms of code as possible. I use Divi. The developers of Divi have made huge improvements recently to the way Divi works to make it a lot faster than it used to be and a lot faster than much of its competition. I also like what you can do with Divi and how easy it is to use (given I teach all my bespoke website design clients how to edit their own websites this is a key factor for me).
You also want to use good quality plugins from good developers that are actively updating them.
Most importantly though is to only add the plugins/ functionality/ features/ additional code that you actually need. Every one of these added to your website will slow it down a little. So it is always worth thinking about each one and whether it is going be overall beneficial for your website. Is it worth it?
There’s no “right number” of plugins on a website. A very basic website can get away with less than 5, but an e-commerce website will need a lot more. I’ve seen websites with over 90 plugins (as well as reducing speed this much additional code can introduce conflicts and security vulnerabilities). I reduced it to about 20….
There’s lots of “cool” things which you can add to your website but they’re not necessarily worth it from a speed point of view. Sliders and integrated social media feeds are two which you need to take care with.
Reviewing your use of plugins, code, features etc is a really useful exercise to do – not only from a speed perspective, but also for code conflicts and security. Again not the most exciting task!
Other things you can do start to get a bit more technical…
You can use caching plugins to take a “static” version of each page and load that instead, which is a lot quicker. But getting the caching settings “right” takes some work, as it takes some understanding and the right settings vary from website to website.
You can also use a CDN (content delivery network) which uses servers located closer to the end user to speed up delivery time.
I’d suggest using an expert in website speed if you want to go further. Beware that some of the factors which reduce the speed of a website loading will need tweaking every time you make changes to the website. It’s a dark hole to go down!
The most effective ways of speeding up your website are not the most exciting! There’s no magic wand that can be waved…
The choice of website platform you use has a big impact. It’s one reason I like wordpress (there are many many others!). But just using wordpress itself is no magic bullet. You need to use good hosting, a good theme and minimise the number of plugins, code etc.
If you use Wix, Squarespace, Shopify etc then reducing the number of features/functions you use is important.
In any event, optimising your images (choosing the right format, resizing and compressing) is one of the best things you can do for website speed. As can hosting videos off your website. And make sure any additional code added through plugins or other functionality is worth while.
A well built website should be user friendly and relatively quick. Because website speed is important to both users and your Google ranking.