Google are very up-front about their using page load time as a metric for ranking pages and sites. Other search engines aren’t quite as open about why they rank websites the way they do, but there’s an excellent chance they measure it as well.
There are a lot of ways you can reduce the time it takes your pages to load, and as much as I’d love to produce one, this is not an exhaustive list.
Just as I did with the previous entry in this series, I’ll rely on bullet points to help keep this post useful.
Unsurprisingly, the smaller the file size of your images, the faster they load. As a rule of thumb, any image which is made up of text, line-drawings, or icons is best saved as a PNG. Photos, and realistic images are best saved as JPG.
There are all sorts of other bits of information kept in image files to, called “meta” data. Striping that out can be a great way to save a few kilobytes.
Yahoo Smush.it is a great free tool to help you with this process. I also recommend the use of professional graphic software like Adobe Photoshop, which will show you how various quality settings for images will affect the file size and visual quality.
2. Optimise your code.
3. Minify your code.
Minify tools simply take out all that unnecessary stuff, your comments, line breaks you simply don’t need, and do all they can to serve as little information to the visitor as possible.
4. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN).
A CDN will store cached versions of your site at various data centres around the world. So when a visitor from New Zealand want to look at your site that’s located in the UK, it can get most of the files it needs from perhaps Australia, which appear to speed up your site.
There are lots of services to choose from, but for a start I recommend CloudFlare, not least because it’s free. Their guff claims it should half the load time of an average website. That’s a pretty big optimisation right there.
Caching is a key way to speed things up. If you can, use page caching on the server, and browser caching to make sure visitors hold on to local copies of your images, pdfs and other things that don’t change very often for as long as possible. I’ll be honest, making caching work for you is pretty technical, even WordPress plugins like W3 Total Cache aren’t for the feint-of-heart. Caching is really worth doing though, systems like Yahoo!’s yslow and Google’s pagespeed that are geared toward showing you ways to improve your site speed (and certainly in Google’s case, they use your pagespeed results when ranking your site) all have it in their “very important” recommendations. Most people will want professional help with this one though.
One of the easiest ways to speed up any site is to improve your server’s specifications. Adding more RAM, or more processing power nearly always shows a good improvement, and with modern day modular hosting many webhosts can up your specs for you for a few pounds a month. I added an extra 512MB of RAM to the server this site runs on, and it instantly loaded 145% faster. Easy.
There’s a lot else of course. Pre-loading content, different forms of caching, various web server add-ons etc., but if you start with the six listed above, you’ll be in good stead.
A word of caution: it’s all too easy to obsess over your site’s speed, because it’s a metric we can get results for really quickly, whereas regular SEO work can take weeks to affect your rankings. But keep your eye on the big picture, and remember, this is part of a larger goal, and absolutely nothing beats quality content in the SEO game.