Website optimisation – the biggest obstacles

One of the most crucial tasks for website operators is to make sure a visitor’s experience on their site is as smooth as possible. Factors such as how long it takes for the homepage to load are important to consider, especially with the increasing number of traffic coming from mobile devices. If the loading time takes too long, your website will lose a lot of visitors – and quickly. To optimise speed, you should keep your website performance in mind: regularly strive to improve it, and you will soon realise that visitors are spending more time on your site and are viewing additional pages instead of just the one that brought them there. Improving your website’s performance will also have the added bonus of appearing more attractive to search engines, meaning you will ultimately benefit from better rankings.

You can measure your current website speed with free website speed tests such as Google PageSpeed Insights or Pingdom. These tools measure and evaluate web page performance. In addition, they can be helpful when taking network-independent aspects into account, such as media content or HTML code structures. The Google tool, for example, analyses both the desktop version and the mobile version of your website, providing you with an overview of what to improve.

If you’re wondering which aspects affect the load time of a website, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll reveal what factors typically slow down a website; if your website speed has indeed been affected, and we’ll go through possible solutions to improve it.

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Hosting

You should first ask yourself: does your current hosting platform fulfil the requirements of your web project? Most website operators want to save money when choosing a host and tend to select the cheapest option available. But this comes at the expense of server performance and capacity. And there’s a downside to frugality: for instance, the platform could lack the necessary bandwidth to handle all user requests. With cheap hosting solutions, several parties share a server, which doesn’t allow much growth or increased visitor numbers to a particular website. Another typical mistake is to host your website on a server located abroad, which actually increases your website’s loading times.

What to do:

  • Use flexible hosting solutions with unlimited web space and traffic
  • Only hire servers that are located in the same country as most of the users
  • Take care of the hosting yourself so you can adjust it to the needs of your project

HTML, CSS and JavaScript

When visitors click on your website, their browser requests the HMTL file on your server and displays it according to the contained CSS formatting. The same applies to integrated JavaScript elements, such as banners or news tickers. The loading process can last long, depending on how large the files are and how much code needs to be read and converted. Inclusion of design sheets and scripts is essential for dynamic sites – forgoing CSS and JavaScript in favour of higher website speed is not advisable. As a result, the focus should mostly be on optimising the website’s code.

What to do:

  • Use HTML only for tasks that aren’t possible with CSS 
  • Use separate files for CSS and JavaScript, and only include CSS and JavaScript code in a HTML page in exceptional circumstances (JavaScript should always come at the end of the document, before the closing body element)
  • Combine and compress code files (more information here on CSS compression)
  • Use the latest programming technique such as WebAssembly

Images and external content

Multimedia content is an essential component of a good website. Much like the design and layout, it dominates the appearance of your website and helps to frame and contextualise body text. In e-commerce, in particular, it’s important to present your products using high-quality images. The loading time increases with each extra image or photo – especially if they’re stored on a remote server rather than your own. The same goes for other media files such as music, videos or PDFs.

What to do:

  • Load as few elements as possible from external sites
  • Avoid unnecessary images, videos, etc.
  • Compress images using tools
  • Outsource images to an external server
  • Specify the width and height of images (otherwise the browser will calculate the dimensions itself)
  • Use SVG icons (scalable vector graphics)
  • Use the jQuery plugin Lazy Load, which stops images from loading if they’re out of the display range (they will only start to load when the visitor scrolls to them)
  • Use the more efficient imaging format WebP

Caching

Many websites are slow because they forgo caching. But what some website owners don’t realise is that a well-configured cache can help to optimise your website – with very little effort involved. That’s because cached content doesn’t need to be called up by the webserver every time it’s clicked on, which means the page loads considerably faster. It also lifts the burden on the webserver, since it has fewer requests to process. All static elements, such as JavaScript and CSS files, images or documents can be cached. Here, the time for them to remain cached can also be defined.

What to do:

  • Use the visitor’s browser as a cache: activate the 'mod_expires' module on the Apache webserver and define how long the corresponding file types should remain in the cache; the rest is done by the respective user’s browser
  • Set up a reverse proxy server and use it as a cache. Alternatively, you can use a content delivery network, where you have access to a whole network of globally distributed reverse proxy servers
  • Use cache software like Memcached to temporarily store dynamic content in the memory, which allows you to minimise database access

More tips and tricks for website optimisation

In addition to the above-mentioned ways to optimise your website’s performance, there are many smaller steps you can take to help minimise loading times. These include:

  • Keeping redirects to a minimum
  • Specifying character encoding in the HTML document
  • Removing any faulty content
  • Avoiding excessive use of plugins in the CMS
  • Limiting collected information in cookies
  • Using favicons (since browsers always search the webserver for the favicon.ico file)
  • Activate HTTP/2

If you’re yet to use one of these tools to make your site run faster, you should start now to keep up with the competition. According to a survey by Google in 2017, the chance of a user abandoning a mobile website increases by 123% if loading times exceed 10 seconds. The chance of page abandonment is 90% higher where page load speed exceeds 5 seconds. Hence, website speed should become a priority. 

If you don’t want to lose potential customers due to inadequate loading times, you should optimise your website to succeed in the mobile era.

The website builder from IONOS

MyWebsite is the ultimate solution for your professional web presence, including a personal consultant! 

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