While en vacances it’s unlikely your guests will find fault with the slower pace of life that permeates rural France. But don’t count on the same response if your website’s pages take more than a second or two to load.
Francophile or not, no one relishes waiting longer than they have to, especially online. Studies have shown that around half of all web users expect a site to load in two seconds or less. Take more than three seconds and they’re gone – perhaps to a competitor.
Lost sales aside, page load speed also plays a part in getting traffic to your site in the first place. Page speed is a ranking factor in Google’s algorithm for desktop and mobile sites. So the more you can do to make your pages load faster, the better.
Taking on the two-second challenge
I confess, page speed wasn’t high on the GiteWise list of priorities until spring 2015. That’s when a client emailed me to say her new site seemed a bit slow. I checked it and had to agree.
Some of the site’s pages took several seconds to load. I decided to investigate. In the days and weeks that followed, I learned everything I could about page speed optimisation.
And there’s a lot to learn.
Indeed, I made a couple of key discoveries that led me to rethink my basic site setup. I tested various permutations of plugins, resources and CDNs. I tried out dozens of different ways to cache the site’s content. I tweaked and tested and tweaked again.
And voilà! I made major progress.
Once I’d got the home page load speed down to 1-2 seconds, I went to work on the other pages. That’s something it’s easy to overlook when you run your tests. You need to make sure all your pages load fast, not just your home page.
Anyway, when I was satisfied with the setup I’d arrived at for that site, I moved on to each of the other GiteWise client sites and optimised those too.
Optimising for mobile
This was particularly tricky in a couple of cases, because for those sites the theme wasn’t responsive.
That’s essential these days, so I took it upon myself to create a responsive version of these two sites using a special plugin. Then I made sure the responsive pages were optimised for fast-loading on mobile and tablet devices just as well as they were on desktop and laptop.
Phew! This was turning into an epic grapple with the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of WordPress. But I soldiered on and finally succeeded in getting every single client site – and of course the GiteWise website – fully optimised.
My goal was to get every page loading in under two seconds. And if that was ‘too easy’ then I aimed to get the time down to under one second.
How did I do?
Well, it was a far from straightforward journey. But after a while, I started to get consistently high scores across all my client sites’ pages and even notched up the odd Your website is faster than 99% of all tested websites rating on Pingdom!
How to speed up a page with lots of images
Pleased as I was with the progress I’d made – and slightly taken aback at how I was fast becoming a bit of a page speed optimisation expert – I had more work ahead.
Although it was no mean achievement to get a page to load faster than 99% of all sites Pingdom had tested, this was for a page that was relatively light on content – the page size was just 440.8kB. I had my eye on a bigger prize.
Now that I was getting to know what I needed to do to really hone page load speed, I wanted to see if I could get image-heavy pages to load in less than half a second.
More to the point, I wanted to create a blueprint I could use to build my client sites that would let me design page layouts with large background images and quite a lot of content, yet give the fastest-possible page load and the best relative page grade.
It was around this time I decided to change my hosting provider for reasons I won’t go into now. Which meant I had another variable in the mix.
But after extensive research and a couple more try-outs, I found a hosting solution that helped me improve even further on my page load scores and achieve something I could never have done without all the hard work that came before.
In fact, I even threw out the optimisation setup I’d arrived at a few months earlier – one that had given me high 90s scores in GTMetrix – and rebuilt my model from the ground up.
As a result, I think I can fairly claim if you’re looking for a fast-loading website, look no further than GiteWise.
How fast does your site load?
Put it to the test and see for yourself
There’s a growing number of free online tools you can use to check how fast your site’s pages load. Many also offer suggestions on steps you can take to improve your score. These include:
A word of warning
Don’t take every suggestion as gospel though. Especially the recommendations made by Google PageSpeed Insights, which is long overdue an update.
You may also find that you enter a game of swings and roundabouts and can only make gains in some aspects at the expense of another. Your primary objective at all times is your page speed rather than your page grade.
Not all recommendations for page grade enhancements are worth the time and trouble. And some can actually cause their own problems.
Don’t get too obsessed with trying to hit the high numbers. The better your score, the harder it gets to significantly improve it.
Do test your site using at least three of these tools, rather than sticking with just one. You’ll get a much broader insight into how well your pages are optimised.
Don’t just test your page once, especially with Pingdom. Because of the way caching works, you can get quite different results over three or four consecutive tests on the same page.
With all of these tools except Google PageSpeed Insights, you can choose variables for the testing, such as browser, location and device. Google does, however, give you results for both mobile and desktop.
The best way to use these sites is to get an idea of your current page load speeds. Once you have that, you can look to improve on those figures by exploring a proper optimisation strategy.
The Secrets to Optimising Your Site for Faster Page Loading
More on how I got my typical page load speeds down to less than one second – and sometimes less than half a second – in future articles.
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