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April 6, 2011

6 Easy Ways to Improve Your Site Speed for SEO

snail

Help your website be faster than this snail. (Photo from Flickr CC by Randy Son Of Robert.)

Faster Websites Can Rank Better

Having a fast site – or at least a site that’s not slower than the average – can help you gain or maintain good search engine rankings and traffic to your website.

Site speed refers to how fast all the elements of a web page – its text, images, video clips, etc. – appear in a web browser window after someone clicks a link to that page, or types its URL into the browser navigation bar.

Early in 2010, Google added site speed to its website ranking algorithm. Now a website’s loading speed is one of about 200 factors that help Google determine which websites to rank highest in results for a specific search term. That means site speed has to be considered when you’re working on your website’s search engine optimization (SEO).

Google added site speed because a faster site is better for people, and Google wants its results to be of high value to searchers.

First: Check How Fast Your Site Loads

Use any of these free tools to check how long it takes to load your website into a web browser window:

  • Pingdom’s site speed test is a popular tool for checking website load time. It’s easy to use.
  • Google Webmaster Tools has a section with information on the speed of your website, from the source that may matter the most. Once you’ve logged in to Webmaster Tools, click “Labs” on the left, and then “Site Performance.”
  • WebPageTest.org‘s website performance test lets you check the speed and performance of your website in different web browsers such as Internet Explorer 7 or Firefox. It also allows you to test how your site performs in different geographic locations.
  • GTmetrix.com‘s website speed test combines info from Google Page Speed and Yahoo! YSlow in a nice presentation with a nice list of things you can do.

What’s Considered a “Fast” Website?

Alexa says that Facebook has below average site speed.

To give you an idea, Alexa says that Facebook.com takes just over 2 seconds to load, and that 70 percent of sites are faster. Alexa.com provides traffic statistics for most of the world’s top million websites. If your site is in this group, you’ll find some good information about your site on Alexa, and you’ll be able to compare your site to others in the top million.

In general, a website that loads in 2 seconds or less is doing well. A website that loads in 2 to 5 seconds isn’t fast, but it’s probably good enough.

A website that takes more than 5 seconds to load is likely to annoy some of its visitors. The longer it takes a website to load, the more likely the site is to be hurting its standing with Google. The search giant considers site speed as a factor when ranking web pages in search results.

How Can I Make My Website Load Faster?

Here are some relatively simple and quick fixes to speed up your website.

Some of these things you may be able to do yourself. For the rest, your hosting company or the person or company that created your website for you should be able to make these changes pretty easily for you.

#1 Website Compression

Compressing your website’s content – using gzip compression, for example – can help reduce the time it takes your webserver to send your website’s content to site visitors.

Compression affects the text elements of your website — HTML, javascript, and CSS — and speeds up the time it takes them to load. For more information on website compression and how to do it, read our article about compression.

Compression does not affect the images on your website though, so read on.

#2 Optimize Your Images

a) Don’t Use Images Any Bigger than Necessary
Don’t use a large image. Yes, you can set the width and height in HTML to 100 pixels by 100 pixels, if that’s the size you want to display – but your site will still be carrying a large image that loads slowly. If you want to display an image that is 100 pixels by 100 pixels, use an image of that size, or scale down your large image before placing it on a web page.

I asked AboutUs community members to share their experiences with compression tools. Ed Mus of Deals2Save.net recommended a tool he’s used to optimize images for load speed: Smush.it, available at Yahoo.

b) Choose the Best File Format
The file format of your images can help you or hurt you. Don’t use a JPG file unless you want to include a photograph with a huge range of colors. For most images, using a GIF or PNG file is usually fine, and these types of files load faster.

  • GIF is great for images with few colors – for example, most company logos.
  • PNG is a file format specifically for websites. PNG images have good quality, but sometimes they don’t display in Internet Explorer 6.
  • JPG is a traditional and common file format for photos. It’s best to convert a JPG image to a PNG, unless you really want a highly detailed, slow-loading photo for a specific reason.

c) Don’t Use Images If You Don’t Need To
Your logo or a photo must be included as images – there’s no other way to convey them to your site visitors. But many websites put things like a phone number, address or other text into an image, even though it’s not necessary. And really, it’s not a good practice. Images are not only slow to load, they’re also essentially invisible to search engines, unless they include descriptive alt text. Search engines can’t “see” the information in an image, so use text to convey any information that can be rendered as text.

#3 Put Your Code in Optimum Order

Placing your style sheets near the top and JavaScript near the bottom of the coding for each of your web pages can improve the perceived speed of your website for human visitors.

When someone directs a web browser to a web page, the browser starts from the top of the code and works its way down. The style sheets are one of the more important pieces for human viewers, because they determine how the site will look. After that, your website’s actual content will load pretty quickly. It’s as if the style sheets set out a framework, and then the content loads into that framework.

The JavaScript – or <script> tags – provide things like interactive features or actions that your viewer won’t notice unless they perform an action on a web page. So allowing the JavaScript to load last means your visitors see everything on the page that’s visual, even while the JavaScript is still loading. So your visitors see your page as loading faster than it really does.

Why does this matter? Because people are impatient. If a web page seems very slow, they’re more likely to leave.

#4 Remove Unnecessary External Code

Many websites have some code whose purpose is to pull something from a service that’s out of their control. For example, a website may use:

  • A “share” button from a service such as AddThis
  • An e-commerce shopping cart provided by another company
  • A widget that displays the company’s recent tweets on Twitter

The code for Google Analytics can also slow your site down a bit, though the insights you’ll gain from using analytics usually outweigh this slight disadvantage. I recommend that you take advantage of other speed improvements, and keep the analytics.

It’s wise to check the speed of any external features on your site. If you aren’t using a feature, or if it is of minimal value to your business and website, you should remove it.

#5 Get Specific Recommendations for Increasing Site Speed

Google Webmaster Tools’ section about site speed. If you use Google Webmaster Tools for your site, you can find out how fast your site loads for Google. You’ll also find some general technical suggestions for improving your site’s performance, speed or both.

If you browse the web using Firefox and already have the Firebug add-on, you might find Yahoo’s YSlow and Google’s Page Speed extensions quite helpful. While you’re viewing a web page, you can click on these extensions to pull up information about why that web page is slow, and get ideas for improving its speed.

Google introduced a new tool on March 31, 2011 called Page Speed Online. It analyzes the speed of web pages — and the mobile version of pages — and gives suggestions for improving their load time.

#6 Get a Better Website Host

“Really, the best thing someone can do to speed up their website is to have a site hosted at an operator that knows what they are doing.”
Karl Matthias, system administrator at AboutUs.org

For the majority of websites, many factors that can speed up a website – or slow it down – are in the control of the company that hosts the site. That’s why it’s important to have a competent host that responds quickly when you have a question or problem.

If your website is loading too slowly, you probably want to look at your hosting company’s service first. You may want to consider upgrading to a better hosting package with your current hosting company, if the better package includes a promise of increased speed. Otherwise, shift your site to a hosting company with a better offering, reputation, or both.

Note: Depending on the type of website software you use, not every host or hosting plan will be able to accommodate your site. Before you switch, make sure the company and hosting package you’re considering can handle everything on your website.

Some good hosting companies:

For the more technically inclined, consider Amazon EC2, Slicehost and Linnode.

How Do I Make These Changes?

You may be able to implement some of the suggestions above yourself through the system you use to edit your website’s content.

If you use WordPress, the W3 Total Cache plug-in may be a good do-it-yourself solution.

For anything you can’t do yourself, ask your website hosting company, or the person (or firm) who created your website for you.

Want more? For more complicated and technical methods for speeding up your website, see Yahoo’s list of rules for site performance and Google’s articles on site speed.


Check out how your home page looks to search engines and people with the free Home Page Analysis. Want a deeper look at all your site’s pages? Try an AboutUs Site Report.

This article, originally published on AboutUs.org, was contributed by Kristina Weis of AboutUs.org (visit). Kristina is a community manager for AboutUs.org who talks with a lot of website owners who are trying to promote their business online. Have a question? Contact me.

3 Responses to “6 Easy Ways to Improve Your Site Speed for SEO

    avatar Ed Rude says:

    Very useful article – the link to Google’s articles on site-speed is a nice touch.

    Thanks

    avatar William Rose says:

    It is things like these that are often over-looked by webmasters. Great read, thanks for sharing.

    avatar celexa online says:

    Really great article with very interesting information. You might want to follow up to this topic!?! 2012

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