One area of website optimization to never overlook is page-loading speed. The average attention span is shorter than ever, especially online. If your site doesn’t load quickly, potential customers won’t hesitate to head to your competitors.
The average human attention span is fast declining, and no longer can we boast having a better attention span than a goldfish.
A recent study conducted by Microsoft, that surveyed 2,000 people and studied the brain activity of more than 100 people using electroencephalograms (EEGs), found that the average human attention span dropped from 12 seconds (in the year 2000) to eight seconds (in 2013).
In the three years since the survey, your attention span might be even shorter. In comparison, a goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds, so we actually do have a shorter attention span than a goldfish.
For a long time we’ve been emphasizing the importance of ensuring a faster website experience but nothing drives home that point better than this recent Microsoft study.
What This Means for Website Owners
With human attention span on the decline, what does this mean for online businesses and site owners working on website optimization?
For starters, our attention span of eight seconds or less means that you’ve lost the game if your website takes longer that long to load, especially now that Google considers site speed as a ranking factor.
However, here are some more interesting, concrete data that drive home the importance of having a faster website:
- 47 percent of people expect a web page to load in less than two seconds
- 40 percent of people will abandon a web page that takes more than three seconds to load
- An increase in website loading time from two to 10 seconds increases page abandonment by 38 percent
- A one-second delay in site loading time leads to a 7 percent decrease in conversions, an 11 percent decrease in page views, and a 16 percent decrease in customer satisfaction
How to Optimize Your Website for Better Results
Now that you know how essential it is for your website to load quickly and that Google counts it as a site ranking factor, the main question is, “How do you optimize your website to make it faster?”
Here are some page speed tips for you:
1. Start With Your Host
If you aim for a faster website, the foundation must be addressed first. Without the right server infrastructure and configuration in place, the other suggestions here won’t be very effective.
To show how much of a role a web host plays in website speed, Marcus Taylor observed the websites of two of his clients that are very similar in nature.
The only difference between the clients was their web host. One of his clients used a cheap shared server while the other client used a managed hosting service. The difference was clear; the DNS response time of the client on a managed hosting was seven milliseconds compared to a response time of 250 milliseconds for the client on the cheap shared server.
When choosing a web host, pay special attention to the average load time. Ideally, you want to go with a web host that loads your bare-bones website in less than 500 milliseconds — the lower, the better.
If a server takes longer than one second to load your bare-bones website, you’re in for a higher user bounce rate.
2. Ensure Load Time Isn’t Slowed by Your CMS
Depending on the size of your organization, you might be using a custom, or not-so-popular, content management system (CMS) to power your website. Often, this is due to wanting to implement unique features, or you’d like some flexibility with your website, but it’s worth asking yourself if having your own custom CMS is worth the tradeoff in speed and performance.
Try to test your current CMS against popular alternatives; if there’s a remarkable difference in speed and performance, it’s time to make a switch.
There’s a reason why the number of WordPress users rivals the entire population of Turkey (over 75 million users!), and speed has a role to play in this. The same goes for other popular CMSs. If your current CMS doesn’t fare well against the popular alternatives performance-wise, you can either work on improving it or consider a switch.
3. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) for International Users
Your website will generally be faster for people who are trying to visit it from the location your server is hosted in. For example, if your website is hosted on a server in the U.K., it will load much faster for people trying to visit your website from the U.K. compared to, say, China.
With the internet, it isn’t unusual to have people visiting your website from over 100 countries, and in this case it becomes quite tricky to ensure that they all get consistently fast speeds.
This is where CDNs play a useful role for website optimization. A CDN helps host a version of your website across servers in multiple locations, providing visitors a version of your website closest to them. For example, a version of your website hosted somewhere in Asia will be served to someone visiting from India, instead of a version hosted in the US — a process that can result in faster loading times.
4. Enable GZIP Compression
If your web host hasn’t enabled GZIP compression by default, it’s time to take action.
You’ve probably experienced how ZIP compression works on your computer; for example, you take a group of files that are about 267MB in size, and you compress them to ZIP. This results in one much smaller, compressed 48MB file with all of your files still intact. The good news is that this technology is also available for websites, through GZIP.
GZIP automatically compresses your website files into ZIP format, resulting in a massive speed boost.
5. Optimize and Compress Your Images
For most websites, especially image-heavy websites, images alone take up a huge chunk of their site loading time. If the size of your website is 1,200KB and images take up 1,097KB, you can imagine the kind of boost in website speed you can get by reducing your image sizes by 80 percent or more. Thankfully, there are tools that can help you reduce the size of your images without resulting in a loss in image quality.
Here are some recommended options:
6. Combine Background Images Into Sprites
There’s a high probability that your website design is made up of many individual images that combine to make up the background image that gives it an appealing look.
The problem is that all the smaller, individual images require visitors’ browsers make a new request for each when trying to load them, significantly impacting site speed as each image needs to be loaded separately. The more requests a users’ browser has to make, the slower your site will be for that user.
Instead have your background be just one single image. Combining background images into a single image sprite significantly reduces server requests by pulling one major image that is then served properly using CSS commands.
SpriteMe is a great tool that you can use to combine your background images into sprites.
7. Limit the Number of Plug-ins and Add-ons on Your Website
It is natural to want more features for your website, but, unless a feature is absolutely important, the performance you sacrifice by installing a new add-on usually isn’t worth it.
You can boost your website speed significantly by limiting the number of plug-ins and add-ons on your website. If you use the WordPress CMS, plug-ins like the Plugin Performance Profiler can also help investigate your website to see which particular plug-ins are using more server resources than is necessary.
Page speed is an important part of website optimization, ensuring that potential customers don’t leave your site for your competitors’. Use these techniques and other technical tips we’ve provided to land and keep visitors once they find your site.